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Fifty people never came home to Middletown, New Jersey, after September 11th. Wall Street fathers, young Port Authority police, single working moms, the beloved coach of the championship girls traveling basketball team. Three toddlers in one church pre-school lost their daddies. Dozens of widows, young and beautiful girls in their 20s and 30s, some still nursing newborns, watched their dreams literally go up in smoke in that amphitheater of death across the river.
Gail Sheehy traveled to Middletown shortly after the disaster and began in-depth interviews with many of the bereaved.
Middletown, America was written as the year progressed, following parallel and intertwining stories of selected individuals and their families. A mother who was doubly bereft when she lost her only son as he tried to fill the shoes of her absentee husband; the sole survivor in an office of 67 people who escaped the 88th floor of Tower 2 seconds before the floor was decimated.
Here are the fire-fighters, rescue workers and front-line public health volunteers, now training to be soldiers in this new war.
Of equal importance, however, is the way these very real individuals dealt with this disaster and the trauma that followed. Middletown, America is also a story of recovery and of the ways people finally learn to deal with seemingly insurmountable grief and an incomprehensible physical and financial disaster.
From the Inside Flap: The single event that we know as 9/11 is over, but the shock waves continue to radiate outward, generated by orange alerts, terrorism lockdowns, and the shrinking of personal liberties we once took for granted. The stories in this book, of real people faced with extraordinary trauma and gradually transcending it, are the best antidote to our fears. Middletown, America is a book of hope.
All Americans were hit with some degree of trauma on September 11, 2001, but no place was hit harder than Middletown, New Jersey. Gail Sheehy spent the better part of two years walking the journey from grief toward renewal with fifty members of the community that lost more people in the World Trade Center than any other outside New York City. Her subjects are the women, men, and children who remained after the devastation and who are putting their lives back to-gether.
Sheehy tells the story of four widowed moms from New Jersey who started out scarcely knowing the difference between the House and the Senate, yet turned their sorrow and anger into action and became formidable witnesses to the failures of the country's leadership to connect the dots before September 11. Sheehy follows the four moms as they fight White House attempts to thwart the independent commission investigating 9/11 and expose efforts at a cover-up.
What would become of the young wives carrying children their husbands would never see, wives who had watched their dreams literally go up in smoke in that amphitheater of death across the river? Amazingly, each finds her own door to the light. Here, too, is the story of the widow and widower who met in the waiting room of a mental-health agency and brought each other back from the brink of despair across a bridge of love. Sheehy also reveals how bereft mothers who will never have another son or daughter found reasons to recommit to life. And she follows in the footsteps of the robbed children, documenting the incredible resilience of four-year-olds, the anger of teenagers, the courage of sisters and brothers.
Sheehy follows survivors who escaped the burning towers only to find themselves trapped inside a tower of inner torment, from which it took love, family, and faith to free themselves. She is taken into the confi-dence of the night crew at Ground Zero, police officers who worked in that pit for eight months straight and then faced the "returning home" phenomenon. She recounts the confessions of religious leaders who struggled to explain the inexplicable to their flocks. Mental-health professionals confide in her, as do corporate chiefs, educators, friends and neigh-bors, town officials, and volunteers who rose to the occasion and committed themselves to healing their wounded community.
As a journalist who conducted more than nine hundred interviews, Gail Sheehy is an impeccable researcher. As a writer with a novelistic gift, she weaves the individual stories into a compelling narrative. Middletown, America illuminates every stage of a tumultuous passage—from shock, passivity, and panic attacks, to rising anger and deep grieving, and on to the secret romances and startling relapses, the realignment of faith, the return of a capacity to love and be loved, and, finally, the commitment to constructing new lives.
From the Hardcover edition.
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