Vermont Survivors Reflect on September 11

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(Host) In the days following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Vermont Public Radio reporters spoke with several Vermonters who were directly affected by these acts of terrorism. Recently, we talked with four of these individuals again to see how they’re doing.

VPR’s Beth Schmidt begins in New York City.

(Schmidt) Stas Golubenko stands before the massive plate glass windows in his office in southern Manhattan. As he looks out toward the Hudson River and beyond to New Jersey, he describes what it was like to work in the shadows of the Twin Towers.

(Golubenko) “The towers were taking up most of the view, that you can see out of the window…. Only if you kneel down and you look from like almost the floor level you would be able to see the tops of the towers, that’s how tall they were, that’s obviously how close they were to us.”

(Schmidt) It’s disturbing to look out these windows today. Twenty-nine stories straight down is Ground Zero. Naked. Massive. Hallowed. It’s a view Golubenko forces himself to take in several times a day.

In September, he was a recent UVM graduate. He says that at the time, he bragged to his family and friends back home in Russia, that he worked in the
very heart of America.

Today when he looks down at the barren city blocks below, he speaks of symbolism and irony. He says the whole reason he stayed in America was to avoid being drafted into the war in Chechnya. But he says by staying here, he became part of a different war. A war that started outside his window:

(Golubenko) “I was thinking that America would be the safest place in the world, however, something like this happened and it proved everything wrong.”

(Schmidt) Uptown, just west of Times Square, Jeff Danziger stands in his rooftop garden and looks toward lower Manhattan. On the morning of September 11, this is where he came to.

(Danziger) “It was a like a war zone.”

(Schmidt) Danziger’s a former Vermonter and now a nationally syndicated political cartoonist who publishes books and editorial cartoons about Vermont.

(Danziger) “The whole sky down there was completely black with smoke. It went on for days.”

(Schmidt) During those days, Danziger says he depicted the shock and confusion New Yorkers felt in his cartoons. He admits that a large part of his job is to find humor in current events. But he says in mid-September there was no humor. Humor was inappropriate.

Closer to home, John Gropper sits at a table in Middlebury and talks about the anger he expressed in our first interview back in September.

(Gropper) “I lost friends. I mean, come on. This was very personal.”

(Schmidt) Up until a couple of years ago, Gropper worked in the World Trade Center. He says when dozens of his friends and former co-workers died there, his life changed.

(Gropper) “We, those of us who survived, got a second shot. We didn’t get killed, ok, so go live.”

(Schmidt) Gropper says that with the help of a therapist, he’s learned to live a little less in the future, a little more in the present. And above all else, he says he doesn’t postpone joy anymore.

(Gropper) “If I want to take a lady friend out to dinner, and there’s an $85 bottle of wine on the menu. I don’t blink.”

(Schmidt) Mark Heyman’s another man who turned to a therapist after September 11. Heyman was the only current Vermont resident in the World Trade Center when it was attacked. Sitting today in his Burlington office, he reflects back to the worst day of his life:

(Heyman) “The knowing that I would die, and the being as close as I was when the building fell, is what I am still recovering from.”

(Schmidt) Heyman’s been diagnosed with acute and post-traumatic stress disorder. He says his greatest challenge has been to get past the memory of watching human beings, both dead and alive, fall from the Twin Towers.

These days, Heyman’s back at work as a human resources consultant, but he admits he’s not the same person he was before the attacks.

(Heyman) “The lesson is, life takes effort…. Life is worth living.”

(Schmidt) During our conversation, Heyman is overcome by emotion more than once, but he wants to tell his story. He says he has yet to return to lower Manhattan, but he hopes to one day:

(Heyman) “I will never figure out the why this happened, not just to me, but to anybody, to everybody.”

(Schmidt) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Beth Schmidt.

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