I love to read (and write) - finding books that I can devour is part of what brings me joy. Yes, devour. I find a book a like and I read it voraciously until it is over and then I think about it and wish I could write something a fraction as good. See, for me, reading is a visible thing - I see the story in my mind the way you see it on your movie screen or TV.
As much as I love to read, the mechanics are lost to me - so I cannot take lessons from what I read to write my own books though I am doing fairly well with writing short stories, so that is a consolation…
I read a book about the Radium Girls (link below)- and just thinking about it gives me chills. This book details the work young girls did from the advent of WW1 into WW2 working at factories using duh Radium. Radium found in the early 1900’s was considered for the general public to be a “health” product. It was included in water tonics and medicines and it also was used to paint watches and more during both world wars as it allowed for the dials to glow.
Despite the fad around radium, scientists learned painfully that it could hurt them as they found their bodies burnt from the liquid form kept in vials or other painful growths - despite that, the element was hugely promoted and “researched” by firms that used radium in products sold to the government and the public all agreeing that it was safe for use.
Young girls (as young as 13) found work in factories in the early 1900’s-1940’s painting watches dials for planes and more. The technique shown to the girls was called the “dip, lip, paint” technique in which they put their brush into the radium infused liquid, then put the brush in their mouths to shape it to a point and then to paint. They were encouraged to eat at their workstation and even paint their clothes and faces with the radium - despite the fact that the science men employed at the same companies had to wear lead aprons and hold the radium with tongs to manipulate the radium.
These girls were known as “ghost girls” as the radium made them glow - they considered it a sign of the health benefits to working with the new miracle element.
Within a few years of the first radium girls hire, they began to get sick and most of them died painful, terrible deaths attributed to the first known case of “workforce poisoning”. The radium settled in their bones and ate away at them - causing cancers, bone disintegration (most of them died via mouth disintegration - their jaw bones literally broke off in their hands.
They and their families fought tooth and nail for medical help, recognition and in so doing also provided help to protect future generations of workers from environmental / work related poisoning. Ones who survived worked with the government to do studies on the effects of radioactivity on the human body and donated their bodies to science - radium lasts for 1600 years so ALL of the radium girls are actually STILL RADIOACTIVE even those who died in the early 1920’s.
This book hit me hard because it brought to mind the countless other injustices that happen here and around the world, even now, today 100 years after these radium girls were lied to and told that the lip method they used was safe despite the few powerful folks who knew it was dangerous and enacted precautions for their more “valued” workers.
Of course, it led me to think of my experiences and that of countless others I know and love working in downtown NYC in the days, months and years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Despite being told it was safe, we now know it was not safe. The air we lived in, the dust we trudged through, the thoughts of those who died in the attacks always in our minds.
And then, 15 years later, I was diagnosed with cancer, the first in my family. My husband was a first responder and was being monitored and checked through the WTC (World Trade Center) medical program and now I am hoping to be, too.
Cancer sucks and the reality is that no one knows why things happen - and my own personal motto after cancer changed from “everything happens for a reason” to “it could be worse”. Here’s to us all staying someplace metaphysically where we can say, “it could be worse”. Here is to us learning as a world to protect others if and when we can, always.
16 years ago today I woke up like every other morning but it was not like every other morning.
I had been traveling and arrived home from Europe on the evening of September 10 2001. I had a charmed life with travel and having lived in Europe during my MBA program going there on my own was no big deal for me at all. My last visit had been in February 2000 and I was missing my home away from home so I did a 6 day visit - 3 in Rome, 3 in London to catch up with my best friends.
It was a great trip and I had tons of new clothes and shoes to show for it in addition to some unrequited love angst - I mean, what 20-something does not love unrequited love angst?
I got back to my home Tuesday night around 10pm and passed out. By 8am I was on the X1 heading to my company's orientation for new employees. Though I had been hired to work downtown at Standard & Poor's 55 Water Street offices in January 2001, the employee orientation was held that warm, clear Wednesday at the midtown offices of the parent company.
That day, I was excited to be wearing some new purchases from Rome - some fancy 1940's styled leather high heels with the ankle strap. This was why I took the bus to avoid walking too much in the new shoes.
While on the express bus, coming out of the tunnel the bus driver mentioned that a prop plane had hit the World Trade Center. It made no sense but seemed like a small accident. I arrived at the building and I was one of the only ones who knew about the prop plane issue so I was telling people the news as we got ready for the even to begin.
Shortly after our event began, everything stopped and the big screens that were used for the presentation were turned to the news and we all stood dumbfounded watching the second plane hit the towers and realizing that we were in big trouble.
There were employees there from all over the world and nary a working cell phone among any of us. There was a phone in the building that I was able to use and I chose to call my dad, who was in Texas visiting friends. He was equally dumbfounded and as I explained to him that I was in New York City and did not know what to do for the first time in my life he didn't know what to do either and told me as much like (paraphrasing here), "hello I'm in Texas I can't help you at all". At 24 years old, that was the first time I had heard that from my dad. Ever.
Whilst in a group of employees from Canada, Britain and beyond, I was able to get through on my cell phone to my mom in Staten Island who had recently quit her job in midtown and was home. I hastily collected a bunch of those nearest to me home phone numbers and tasked my mom with calling families to let them know their loved ones were okay.
Something to think about is that those who had traveled to this event, their families had no clue if they were close to the towers or not - in fact my closest friends in Europe did not know either and were frantic to find me.
My mom spent a few hours making calls and calming people down, explaining the loved one they called about were with her daughter in midtown, far away from the towers. At this point, the orientation event was cancelled and we were all set out to destinations unknown as the building was closing.
I had on a nifty name tag which I wore the entire day telling everyone my name and title. I was interviewed on NY1 on the scene and to this day my interview is included when they air the anniversary footage of the day. I have never seen it and honestly, I do not want to ever see it.
I wound up with my two colleagues from Standard & Poor's and we began to walk. I always stop at this point in telling my story to assure everyone listening that I was one of the "lucky" ones, that I did not lose anyone I knew well enough to qualify as "grieving" that I had only to escape NYC in too high heels and that compared to others, my story was nothing.
Now, I am not so sure if I was one of the "lucky" ones or if my close proximity to downtown NYC and working there every day during 9/11 and beyond is perhaps one of the factors in my breast cancer diagnosis.
At the time I was fighting to get downtown or home anyway I could, my husband (who I had not met yet) was rushing out of downtown Brooklyn where he had a court date for his post as a cop to head straight for the towers with his new command the 9th Precinct.
He was there for the day and for months and months afterwards doing 12+hour tours and being in some ways scarred emotionally in addition to physically. We met in December of 2001, when everything was still so confusing and I went from never wanting to get married to moving in together and getting married within what seemed like short order.
I knew he was a part of the WTC Health and Wellness program and I even helped him sign up for it. Some small part of me always expected the worst to hit him and to come from nowhere whether it be cancer or who knows what. He has never been able to smell since that day and the weeks and weeks afterwards done at the site "Ground Zero" as it was called. However, he has been lucky aside from some severe breathing issues, COPD and other weird things he has mercifully not been hit with the C word.
The person hit with the C word was me. The last person who ever expected to get cancer and the irony or ironies when I recently applied for the World Trade Center health program for ME after having helped my first-responder husband do it years ago.
I made it home that long ago September day but like everyone else, I was no longer the same. I got home to tons of messages and emails from friends and family looking for me which was nice as I had been incommunicado for the entire journey home. We had no smart phones, no built in news source in our hands - we walked around and were taken care of and taking care of others just to try to get through the day. We had no idea if something was going to be next or if it was "over".
Now for most of us, it is never "over" - those who were impacted, those who watched it from far away, those who were trapped and lost their lives (God rest their souls) we can never just get over it. And now, a lot of people are getting sick and the sickness could be traced back to the tragedy of that day.
I still want to consider myself "lucky" though - I will be a survivor and I do not truly care how I got this disease just that I can survive and be here to see my kids grow up and to live my life until my true time to go - not to be taken early because of this stupid disease.
For months after 9/11, we sat in our building at 55 Water Street on the 42nd floor and we could smell the burning. We could see the smoke out of the windows facing towards the towers, where the towers used to be. Out my windows by where my department sat, we could see the water and every plane that went by no matter the meeting, no matter the conversation, we would stop and track the plane with our eyes just to be sure it was not coming near our building.
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