September 11 Survivors Remember

***

Silvion Ramsundar creaks in his black leather sofa, a television remote clutched in his hand, as the jets from JFK Airport whistle overhead. The relentless background keen of the planes has grown so nerve-wracking that he and his wife, Nimmi, have considered moving from their home, in South Ozone Park, Queens. Silvion fingers the bandaged wound on his left shoulder and says, "I hear them all the time, all the time. I can't stand it. Tools of destruction, that's all I can think about. They remind me."

It's not as though Silvion could ever forget, or that he ever truly wants to. He is a head-on sort of person, and he's made confrontation a part of his recovery. In his living room, nailed to the wall for any visitor to see, is a framed pair of photographs of the trade towers, before and after. In the top picture, the metallic duolith gleams in the sun; in the bottom one, there is a smoky void.

"It's part of my history," he says, in a tone that seems to acknowledge that some people might find the photographs oddly blatant. "I worked there for ten years. Everything that I have in my life happened while I was working there - I bought my first house and my first car, met my wife, had my daughter. Now that the towers are gone, it's like my house burned down."

Silvion will talk about that day, but he refuses to believe that his experience are beyond what his own personal resources can handle. The best way to get back to normal, he feels, is to start acting as though everything is normal. He steers clear of shrinks, of twelve-step trauma sessions, of appearance on Oprah. One might say he's in denial of being in denial.

"I've almost displaced the fact that I was there, as though it happened to somebody else," Silvion tells me. His five-year-old daughter, Mariah, wriggles in his lap, careful not to touch his left side. "That's not to say that it's not going to come flooding back someday. But I know this is what's working for me right now. Being home, thinking about other things, not feeling sorry for myself."

Silvion, a genial man in his early thirties, works for Mizuho Capital Markets, which deals with interest-rate derivatives. Like many denizens of the financial world, he does not succumb easily to melodrama. He speaks in the blunt brogue of the borough of Queens, where he has lived most of his life. But he's a native of Guyana, born of Indian parents who moved to New York City when he was a boy, seeking a better life. His mother is a devout Muslim, his father Hindu. His black hair is cropped short, his skin a deep bronze. A long fresh scar tracks across his jawline.

***

Silvion was standing on the 44th floor of the south tower, in the Sky Lobby Café, waiting in the cashier's line with a Danish and a cup of coffee. He was making small talk with Christine Sasser, a friend from his office. He had heard a thud of some kind and thought someone back in the kitchen had dropped a large stockpot. Outside, the morning sky swelled with paper, a glittering budge of confetti. Silvion watched the cloud floating down and wondered what it was. It looked beautiful against the sharp September blue, a trillion motes dancing in the fair light. He squinted out the window for a moment, then proceeded toward the cashier.

He and Christine rode the escalator up to the lounge on the 45th floor, where televisions were blaring. A news show reported that a small commuter plane had crashed into the north tower, but Silvion couldn't see anything out the window. A voice broke over the intercom and announced: "There is a fire in the North Tower. Firemen are on the scene. Do not worry. The south tower is secure. You may return to your offices."

Silvion and Christine decided to go back up. How much damage could a commuter plane do? At the very least, it seemed like a good idea to reassess the situation from their office, then place a few phone calls and collect their most important belongings.

At approximately 8:50, they pushed the up button for the express elevator. Their office was on the eightieth floor.

Their ascent required two separate elevator rides, the first one to the seventy-eighth, and then a second to eightieth. The doors slid open, and Silvion and Christine walked into their office, only to learn that it had been almost entirely evacuated. Only three security guards and a few of the firm's high-level executives remained. Silvion found Charles, a security guard he'd been friendly with for years.

"Where's everybody?" he asked. "It's just a commuter plane."

"No, no, it's big," Charles answered. "An airliner. Look."

Silvion walked around to the far side of the office and gasped. The steel corduroy skin of the north tower had been torn open. Black smoke tendriled through the building's metal grid. Then they saw a man emerge from the hole. He was standing at the edge, looking down, wide-eyed with fright. Then, the man jumped, and Silvion watched him drop all the way down to the ground. That's when he registered the magnitude of the damage across the way, and he pleaded with Charles, "Are you guys leaving? C'mon, let's get out of here!"

"In a few minutes," said Charles. "We've got to check up on the place."

***

"At a certain point," Will Jimeno says, "your house becomes your prison." Will sits at his dining-room table, net to his gun rack, gazing at a deer in his backyard. Ever since he got out of the hospital, in late November, he has sat here - a cop under a kind of house arrest. The view never changes. The TV drones. The deer doesn't move.

In fact, the deer isn't real. It's a target that Will keeps for bow-hunting practice. It's startlingly lifelike, though, a creature comically out of place next to the suburban detritus on the porch. Ordinarily, Will would spend much of the fall in a deer stand in the pine barrens of New Jersey, slathered in camo-scent. But this year he missed the season entirely. For three months he lay in a hospital, his veins coursing with blood thinner. "Next year," he says. "Maybe next year."

Will lives in Clifton, New Jersey, in a modest boxy house clad in green vinyl siding. As we talk, his wife, Allison, bathes their newborn in the kitchen sink, while their older daughter, Bianca, watched SpongeBob SquarePAnts in the other room. Will is a burly man with a round face and black hair cut in a military buzz. He was born in Colombia, but moved to America when he was two and grew up in nearby Hackensack. Before he became a cop for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, Will served four years as a gunner's mate in the Navy, pulling several deployments in the Pacific on a ship that carried attack helicopters.

Because of the extreme trauma of Will's injuries, his left leg is bound in a formidable-looking brace, and various crutches and walkers are strewn about the house. He wears a PAPD T-shirt, black gym shorts, and a pair of hospital-issue circulation hose. "Aren't those lovely?" he says. "They come in two different colors - black and nude." Today, it's nude. The hose are pulled up nearly to his knees and push firmly against the skin to prevent swelling.