On June 1 the second edition of my book, “The Railroad”, will be released on Amazon, re-edited and reformatted. The book is very personal but it also touches on issues that affect all of us.
The book was inspired by a personal experience on the day of what is probably the greatest disaster in U.S. history. Of course I’m talking about 9/11. It’s still strange for me to see myself in an epic disaster but that just proves that these things can happen to any one of us.
I spent a half an hour in the subway, underground, less two blocks from the World Trade Center as the twin towers were collapsing. Oddly, I didn’t know what was happening, only that the train had come to a screeching halt, so violently that it knocked me off my feet. There was no noise, only occasional meaningless announcements from the conductor.
I was in the car with approximately thirty other people. It was like standing in a pressure cooker as we waited for whatever the transit authority could come up with in the way of rescue. Needless to say the expectations weren’t high. In the end they came through, doing something that no subway train had every done, backing up into Wall Street Station.
“The Railroad” begins with this incident setting the stage for the rest of the story. In the book, the protagonist, Mike Dobbs, is in the subway in my place. Unlike me, the effect on his life is devastating and he cashes in his high powered Wall Street life style for a dingy weekend house in upstate New York. Depressed and angry, Dobbs starts to waste away, drinking and watching television. That is until he meets Eileen Benoit and her daughter, Megan. Both are running from an abusive father and husband, Mike Benoit and they find refuge in Mike’s run down house.
I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how a real, horrifying event became linked to child abuse in my mind. Writing is an odd thing; the mind makes connections that don’t necessarily follow an obvious path. But after years of reflection, I’m reminded of the worst part of 9/11: the aftermath. Depression was rampant. The parks were filled with victim’s children and spouses, creating small shrines to their lost family members. Candles were everywhere, forming rivers of wax that would pool at the curbs. Every available piece of space on walls, street lamps, and doorways were filled with handbills asking the awful question, “Have you seen this person?”. Each handbill showed a smiling face of someone who was most likely dead. Despite this, the message was that each victim’s family was looking for their loved one, “last seen on the 102nd floor of tower two”.
While many people fared far worse than I did, courting dysfunction ranging from full on clinical depression to PTSD, I also was consistently anxious and immobile. For me and many other New Yorkers, the world had crashed in; the very fabric of our lives was ripped apart. Though most of us were still living reasonably pleasant middle class and upper middle class lives, just below the façade of normalcy lived a feeling of utter hopelessness. It was there in everyone’s eyes and in whispered conversation on the subway or in restaurants.
For the characters in “The Railroad”, hope is something that is a memory. For Eileen Benoit the roof has fallen in. She is a fugitive, living off the charity of others. Her greatest hope is a shadowy organization that moves fugitive mothers and daughters between safe houses. The lack of hope, the shaky foundations is a metaphor for my experience on 9/11. And like my experience on 9/11, Mike Dobbs and Eileen are forced to transform in ways they never imagined.
I hope you will share my tale of hope and transformation, “The Railroad”, available on Amazon on June 1st.