A Fascinating Account of a 9/11 Survivor—What I’ve Learned: Michael Wright
The story of survival is simply harrowingly terrifying. He is a fortunate man indeed. But I’ve chosen to excerpt a bit of the aftermath, which includes his family, who thought him dead that day, realizing that he was alive.
Make certain you read the entire piece from Esquire:
The people at NYU took me in. They were great. I said, “I don’t need anything. Just call my family.” They kept on trying to get through. They couldn’t, they couldn’t. Finally, they got through.
I said, “Jenny, it’s me.” And there was a moan. It was this voice I’d never heard before in my life. And I was saying, “I’m alive. I’m alive. I love you. I love you. I love you.” We cried and cried. Then the phone went dead.
At that point, I went into the bathroom to clean myself off, and suddenly I couldn’t open my eyes anymore. They were swollen. I knew I wasn’t blind, but if I opened my eyes toward any amount of light there was intense, intense pain. I didn’t feel this while I was running. It seemed to happen as soon as I was safe and the adrenaline came out of me.
At the NYU health center, the doctors said, “Yeah, your eyes are scratched to shit.” They put drops in them, but they needed more sophisticated equipment to see what was going on. I wound up having 147 fiberglass splinters taken out of my eyes.
Chris came back from Brooklyn to pick me up, and I held on to him and hugged him. Later, he said, “You know, Michael, this is why I stuffed you in sleeping bags and beat on you all those years as a kid. Just to toughen you up for something like this.”
When we got back to my place, I collapsed and it all hit me. I cried like I’ve never cried in my life. I finally let loose, and it felt better. My brother helped me pack, and we got to Westchester, where my wife and family had gone. Jenny came running to the door. I can remember hearing the dum, dum, dum, dum, dum of her footsteps.
My mother was there. My dad. My father-in-law. They all hugged me. Then they gave me my son. I could tell by the noises he was making that he was happy. I hugged him and sort of started the healing process there.
Later, I went to Maine to sit by the ocean for a few days and get my head together. I saw all of my old friends. It was amazing. Everyone I know in my life has called me to tell me they love me. It’s like having your funeral without having to die.
For a while right after, I wondered,
How the hell am I going to work again? How am I going to give a damn about selling someone a T-1 line? I had a list of people who were going to be my business for the next year, hundreds of people, all on my desk—blown up. For the life of me, I can’t dredge up those names. That will cost me a quarter of my income, maybe more. You know what? Who cares? I’m alive and I’m here. A big deal has gone to big deal.
I lost a friend in 2 World Trade Center. He was one of those guys you liked as soon as you met him. Howard Boulton. Beautiful person. His baby was born three months ahead of mine. He was on the eighty-fourth floor and I was on the eighty-first. The last conversation he had with his wife was by telephone. He told her, “Something happened to 1 World Trade Center. It’s very bad. I don’t think Michael Wright is okay. I’m coming home.” I like to think Howard wasn’t scared like I wasn’t scared in the stairwell. I like to think that he heard a rumble like I heard a rumble and then he was gone.
I went to his funeral. To see his wife and his baby — it would have made you sad even if you didn’t know him. But it was much more loaded for me. Here was a perfect reflection of what could’ve been.
One of the hardest things I had to deal with up to this point — and still do — is that my brother Brian, who’s one year older than me, has cancer. He and I are practically twins. He has germ-cell cancer in his chest. He recently told me that the good news is they can go in and get it. But the bad news is they might have to take a lung with it. Before September 11, maybe the fact that he was going to lose a lung might have thrown me for a loop. But I found out I love my brother for my brother. I don’t love him to run up mountains at a brisk pace with me. My reaction was: Thank God they can get it.
Luckily, I’ve been well equipped to deal with this. I have a family that’s unbelievably close and supportive and a lot of friends. I’ve been to therapy, and I can do the whole checklist: Do you have a sense of fear and not know where it’s coming from? Yup. Can you no longer take pleasure in things you once took pleasure in? Yup. Claustrophobic? Yup. I have nightmares. I jump when I hear a siren. But it’s the smell that haunts me. Talk to anyone who was within ten blocks of it and they’ll tell you that. I had vaporized people packed up my nose, in my mouth and ears. For weeks, I was picking stuff out of my ears.
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