When Hoboken’s September 11 memorial was first planned, I was deeply honored to be asked to write one of the essays to be inscribed on the monument.  It would seem some of the folks I served with had remembered me and suggested my name to the committee engaged in the memorial’s original scheme.   While I understand the memorial’s design has now been revised, to honor the tenth anniversary, I offer the essay I created.  I have called it Mnemosyne, for the Muse of Memory.

I spent over 20 years in Hoboken, most of them in midtown.   I have so many cherished memories of my years in the Mile Square City.  And dear friends,  who will always be considered chosen family.    But my inner American Gothic beckoned---it was time for me to return to farm country, where I was raised.  And so I have.  Now, I listen to crickets---not car horns---at night.(And I NEVER have a problem parking….)

But on September 11, my heart will not be in the bucolic Oley Valley.  It will be across the river from Hoboken.

And it will be with you.

With the Hope for Peace,

by K.L. Mallow

Yes, the weather was beautiful.  I was walking my puppy when I heard news of the first plane.  Something seemed very wrong---suspicious me thought “no accident.”   I’d missed the first World Trade Center bombing by 10 minutes. 

And then the second plane went in.  By then, I was already at the waterfront.  Like lemmings, many of us just raced to the edge.   And then froze.

Hoboken is small ---a mile square---now mostly a bedroom community for the financial industry.  But lots of old-timers, still.  So many familiar faces watching raging flames, the horror of tiny “dots” falling--some singly, some together.  There were hysterical folks, blank folks---all of us transfixed by the dystopia. 

I remember trying to help a woman who’d just gotten off the first ferry over to Hoboken.  Hysterical, she described dodging bodies & body parts as she fled.  She wasn’t a resident.  I got her help to get to the hospital.
Soon after, the first tower collapsed---massive, billowing smoke roiling toward us across the Hudson, like some hideous tsunami.   Police started clearing the park---barking for us to leave immediately.  I raced home & tried to reach two dear friends, engaged to be married, both of them at Merrill-Lynch.  Soon I lost all phone service.

I’d just started as a part-time social worker at Hoboken Charter School.  It wasn’t my workday, but I went anyway.  The school was housed where Sinatra went to high school---with a horrible sight-line to the towers.  The students started one of their first days of the school year watching the attack from their classroom windows.  A number of children had loved ones working at the World Trade Center; so did some staff. 

Again, a mixture of extremes:  uncontrollable crying & intense blankness.    A sense of safety for the children seemed critical.  In the midst of all our poorly-masked distress, my primary concern was creating a safe environment.  We did make an effort to keep classroom tasks going.  I insisted all TV’s be turned off in the children’s midst.   Where they could, stay-at-home parents came over to the school to be with their families. 

I hauled out blank paper & art supplies & encouraged creative expression.  The children created some amazing work.  The next day, we had a ritual & placed it along the waterfront, with flowers.    I remember one 4th grader with Asperger’s.   Deeply visually expressive, he created an extraordinary drawing:  The towers collapsing beside a tiny, detailed Statue of Liberty, incredibly foreshortened & accurate to the perspective from Hoboken.

There was the horrible Doppler drone in the background….the endless sirens & fighter jets.  And smoke.  Ten days later, I lost my voice.  I wasn’t the only one in Hoboken who went mute.

Around 4 p.m., I went back to the waterfront & volunteered at the staging unit.  “Please put me to work.  I’m a social worker.”  No one asked for credentials—just handed me a makeshift name tag & sent me to the EMS coordinators.  Most of the NYC EMT’s had died in their offices at the World Trade Center, so it was Newark folks & the Hoboken Police & Fire Departments & Volunteer Ambulance Corps. 

The MD’s wore Tyvek jumpsuits & booties.  They looked like something from a toxic waste site clean-up.  I didn’t wear one.  I thought survivors might already feel like contagion. 

Until they closed the field hospital just after midnight, I worked with anyone who wanted to talk.  Some were immediately triaged for medical care.  I was stationed for folks after “decontamination.”  We had makeshift tents for hosing off the “dust. “  We started to run out of blankets around the time the sun began to set.  There was a lot of screaming. 

Mostly, I asked “How are you doing?”  “How can I be helpful?”  One man shot me a hateful look & raged, “How am I doing?  F*CK YOU!!  How do you think I’m doing?”   I will always remember the subdued businessman from late in the evening.  He really did want to talk.  He’d fled the towers, made the long, convoluted way across, and then somehow reached his mother.  It was then he learned his father had been on UA Flight 93.

After midnight, we gathered at a nearby restaurant for critical incident debriefing.  It was then I really saw the TV coverage for the first time.  There in the barroom, surrounded by multiple images of that relentless tape-loop.  Before, I’d avoided any screen ---part of the reason I’d shut off the school’s TV’s.   I couldn’t deal---afraid if I watched, I’d be so derailed, I wouldn’t be able to keep going as a helper.  

I sat with firefighters, police, EMT’s.  They’d been so extraordinarily heroic.  One burly policeman---shaved head, big tats, macho on the 30-second take---sat across from me and bawled his eyes out. 

Then--- & for many weeks after---I felt awfully helpless & ineffectual.    It took days before tears came.  They flowed in sporadic waves.   But always during “Amazing Grace,” when bagpipe processionals came through Hoboken.

My fragmented memories still haunt.  Mnemosyne, trading in the best and worst of humanity.


  1. Kathy,

    I'm deeply honored to publish this.


  2. A beautifully moving essay from someone with a keen sense to observe this horror firsthand who did what she could with a loving resourcefulness that so many benefitted from that day.

    Death and grief are difficult to process under the best of circumstances by the strongest of individuals. I still mourn for my friends and neighbors who were murdered that day and I'm grateful that at least for today, Bloomberg had the chutzpah to leave religion out of this - the genesis of and continuing justification for cowardly acts of this nature.

  3. wind rocks the car.
    we sit parked by the river,
    silence between our teeth.
    birds scatter across islands
    of broken ice. another time
    i'd have said, "canadian geese,"
    knowing you love them.
    a year, ten years from now
    i'll remember this---
    this sitting like drugged birds
    in a glass case---
    not why, only that we
    were here like this together.

    they're tearing down, tearing up
    this city, block by block.
    rooms cut in half
    hang like flayed carcasses,
    their old roses in rags,
    famous streets have forgotten
    where they were going. only
    a fact could be so dreamlike.

    -from "Like this together", by Adrienne Rich


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