Woman returns to Ground Zero | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Woman returns to Ground Zero

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Solange Schwalbe isn’t from New York, she didn’t see the twin towers collapse and she doesn’t know anybody who perished during the terrorist attacks two years ago.

But the Meyers0 woman still carries pain similar to when her mother died when she was 16 years old. Compared to others, Schwalbe’s hurt is compounded after working at Ground Zero, where she helped pull bodies out of concrete and steel rubble.

Her life hasn’t been the same since.

“It will never go away,” she said. “I will never forget. I would like to put the experience to one side so I can go forward. I’m not there. Yet.”

Schwalbe is in New York today, mourning the loss of more than 2,800 killed at the World Trade Center site when hijacked planes slammed into New York City’s skyline symbols of wealth and power.

Schwalbe worked in New York City as a waitress for about two years in the early 1980s.

She made return trips for Christmas. Following the attacks, she went to New York. While volunteering for Red Cross at Ground Zero, her outgoing personality with the rescue workers landed her a job as a safety inspector.

Schwalbe, a Hollywood sound engineer by trade, measured air quality and enforced safety guidelines at the site. She helped pull bodies from the wreckage. Her fellow workers called her “Hollywood.”

She returned to Hollywood in May 2002 after three months at Ground Zero. Since that summer, she has tried to recreate her life before Sept. 11, 2001. Attempts have failed and she has seemed to accept that her “other” life will never return.

Priorities, perspectives and realities have changed but her biggest issue is disassociation.

“I disengaged my life for a tragic situation under deplorable conditions and I have not been able to reconnect,” she said, adding that her “fellow rescue workers seem to have more problems in their personal lives.”

Someday Schwalbe will feel comfortable enough to do want she wants to do: speak with firefighters, police and schools about the rescue workers and what it was like to be there.

Schwalbe is in New York City today. The visit is filled with protests, moments of silence and musical performances. While seldom discussed at South Shore, the debate continues about what should be placed at the site.

No matter what year, she will continue to be in the Big Apple for every Sept. 11 anniversary.

“I cannot get within several blocks of the site without my nerves being rattled. I get really upset over what happened and why,” she said. “I feel more anger than any other emotion to this day. Like losing a loved one, I’ll never get over it.”


A ceremony will be held at noon today at the American Legion Hall, 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd., across from Meek’s Building Center.

— E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com

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