September 11 Victims: Six Years Later, Maybe Now They’ll Listen!
I woke up early this morning, about 4:30 am, and just couldn’t seem to get back to sleep. If it had dawned on me that today was the anniversary of the tragic events of September 11th, I would have realized the reason for my restlessness. Instead, I just chalked it up to eating a very delicious, but extremely heavy meal too close to bedtime. After looking at the clock, and tossing and turning several more times, I decided to get up and take an early morning drive, as I sometimes do when I can’t sleep. More often than not, I end up sitting at Jerry’s Casino, one of my favorite gaming spots, just north of downtown.
Three and half hours and sixty dollars later, I found myself heading back towards home, thoroughly prepared to take advantage of my day off by hopping back into bed. Not only would I be able to sleep now, but I’d probably end up staying in bed at least half the day. I flicked on the car radio in irritation and tried to take my mind off the sixty I had just blown, all because I had experienced a restless night. My ears perked up when I heard the all too familiar announcement about the destruction of the twin towers. It was the same broadcasting they had made all day long, just six years ago to the date.
A sick feeling clutched at the pit of my stomach, and I felt as if I’d swallowed my heart. The actual thought of September 11th and the loss of so many lives in one day always made me nauseous. I thought about pulling the car over for a moment, but looked around and realized I was in the heart of Las Vegas’ Homeless Camp. It consists of several blocks of nothing but row upon row of homeless individuals and families trying desperately to survive. The streets are littered with all kinds of debris, shopping carts, and cardboard boxes that substitute for shelters.
I swallowed hard and resisted both the urge to pull the car over, and to be sick all over my freshly vacuumed interior. Although I passed through the homeless area and eventually saw the Plaza Hotel off in the distance, the image of the filthy sidewalks and lost souls filling the streets like unwanted waste remained in my head. It reminded me of an article I’d written just one year after the September 11th devastation. The article focused on the countless homeless people that had lost their lives on that horrific morning in New York. I was still living in Los Angeles at the time I wrote the article. I had submitted it to quite a few local papers, suggesting they run it as a human-interest story. Oddly, enough, while I got lots of responses commending me for the content of the article, as well as my writing abilities, not one of the umpteenth editors selected to publish the piece.
Needless to say, I was disappointed on many levels. I can’t be certain as to why the article wasn’t picked up (no one really said). I often wonder if it had to do with the fact that the content discusses the very people most Americans spend their time trying to forget even exist. Pretending they’re invisible seems to be the “politically correct” thing to do these days. No one sums it up any better than Phil Collins’, in his song: “Another Day In Paradise”. Whatever their reasons for not finding this homeless man’s “911”story important enough to share with the rest of the world, it doesn’t change the circumstances of what happened. Thousands of lives were lost, and affected on that fatal Tuesday morning. Some of those lives were homeless Americans.
It is my hope, that anyone who reads this article will take the time today to mourn not just for those who are already in the memories of so many, but for those who were lost and forgotten before they even left this world. Mourn for the invisible victims whose voices were never heard when they were alive. The world didn’t listen then. Maybe they’ll listen now. Here is the article that was written just one year after September 11th.
“ 911 – The Invisible Victims”
September 11, 2002 will mark the one-year anniversary of one of the most tragic events to occur in this nation’s history, the bombing of the World Trade buildings in New York City. What this date means to you, to me, and to concerned people all over the world, may differ from household to household, but in some ways, it means the same thing to all of us, as it does to Bojay Rhines.
Who is Bojay Rhines, and what about this disaster do we have in common with him? Before addressing those questions, take a moment to stop and consider this question. When you hear September 11th mentioned, what thoughts come to mind?
The first thing might be a picture of the World Trade buildings ablaze, or crumbling, and destroying the countless lives that were trapped inside. You might think about the hundreds of firefighters and rescue workers who lost their own lives trying to save the lives of others. You may even be among those who stopped to realize that some of the victims suffered due to being trapped in nearby businesses and other structures, not just the World Trade buildings. But even when we take the time to think about all the everyday folks that died as a direct, or indirect result of the bombings, we seem to have allowed yet another group of victims to go unnoticed.
Think for a moment about the city you live in. If it’s anything like Los Angeles, where I live, a typical Tuesday morning in and around the downtown area is similar to the one last September 11th in New York. People are scurrying to and from work, children and students rushing off to school, and housewives, senior citizens, and those not employed are getting an early start on their daily errands. But when we close our eyes and picture the scene realistically, there are still others that coexist among the throngs of everyday people. If we peer a little closer at the picture, we can see them. They’re always there, but they have become invisible to us.
The homeless bodies roaming the streets and littering the sidewalks and doorways are there with us. The street hustlers, drug addicts, drunks, and women and men of the street reside right along side us, and their comings and goings, and morning rituals are just as much a routine for them as anyone else’s. Because they are viewed as the dregs of society, they are tolerated at best, and usually ignored. It seems that most of humankind has grown a callous over it’s collective heart, and is no longer sensitive to the pain or plight of these individuals. In fact, they are rarely viewed as individuals, and maybe that’s what makes it so easy to dismiss them. They are everywhere, and most assuredly, some were scavenging and living on the streets surrounding the World Trade buildings on that tragic morning in September.
Just how many of these lives were lost that day, and during the aftermath of 911 will never be known, but just as scars were left on the hearts of families and friends of the victims considered worthy of noting, scars also exist on the hearts of those who mourn the invisible victims.
Bojay Rhines is a transient and former New Yorker, now living in the Santa Monica beach area. He spends most of his nights roaming the boardwalk and surrounding spots, playing songs on a beat up acoustic guitar for pocket change. He enjoys serenading couples as they pass by, and offered to play a “love song” for me and my photographer, Ken (whom he mistakenly referred to as my “lover”).
After performing his rendition of Jeffery Osborne’s Love Ballard (which was actually quite good), out of nowhere, he proceeded to share a story of his personal loss associated with the 911 events. Although he had been in California at the time, he still had “people” in New York, and considered it home. I listened intently as Bojay sadly spoke about his many “drinking buddies” that regularly congregated in a park near the World Trade buildings. His voice lowered, and a shadow crossed his face as he told how he’d gotten word from home about the death of his friends. He drifted into his private thoughts and began reminiscing about the times spent “hanging out” in the park, or visiting his “ex-old lady” who worked on the fortieth floor of one of the buildings. He had a far off gaze, and talked as though Ken and I weren’t even there.
I surveyed Bojay’s shabby and tattered appearance, which was surprisingly clean (for the most part). I tried to imagine what kind of work his “ex” had done on the fortieth floor, not to mention how he had managed to get word about his friends in New York, considering his obvious financial state. Ashamed, I criticized myself for being so judgmental. Under such tragic conditions, would this man put forth any less effort than myself, or anyone else, to get news of his loved ones? Apparently there was much more to Bojay than what met the eye, especially based on the way he played the guitar. Although rough around the edges, it was apparent that he had some kind of musical background.
Before returning back to the business at hand, and breaking into another chorus of Love Ballard, Bojay told us that he felt somehow, if he had been in New York on that September morning, maybe his “ex”, and all his friends would still be alive. I asked him had he also considered the possibility that had he been in New York, perhaps he too would now be among the victims. He assured me that he didn’t believe that would have been the case. “We would have all been somewhere way across town drinking and having a good time”, he said with a distant smile on his face and lost look in his eyes. Although he seemed to really believe this, I think it was just his mind’s inability to accept the feelings of helplessness over the events, like so many of us. In this way, we were the same.
Bojay’s feelings of loss and helplessness were felt all around the world. I personally didn’t know anyone that lived in the New York area during that time, and am fortunate not to have lost a loved one, but in spite of this fact, I too felt (and still feel) a great sorrow over the loss of so many lives. The desire to do something burned in the souls of thousands, as evidenced by the constant stream of volunteers at Ground Zero. Those unable to go, or contribute anything, sent their prayers, in an effort to ease the sense of helplessness. The truth is, 911 somehow touched us all.
After thanking him with a warm handshake, and a handful of change, I walked away realizing something. Invisible or not, Bojay was no different from the rest of the survivors and those saddened by the horrific events of September 11th, and his friends and loved ones, will be just as deeply missed.
MAY ALL THE VICTIMS REST IN PEACE.