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For WTC survivor, the nightmare won’t go away

Janet Liso hoped things would get easier as time passed. She hoped her nightmares would end, and she’d be able to sleep more than three hours a night. She hoped life would return to normal.
None of those things have happened. And while they might someday — at least to some degree — her life will never be quite the same.
Liso, 56, was on the 67th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center a year ago, when terrorists slammed a commercial jet into it and its twin South Tower.
Liso was extremely fortunate that the plane hit above her floor because she was able to evade the flames and smoke to escape.
Liso had difficulty breathing, so once she was out of the burning skyscraper, she rested on a sidewalk. Looking up, she saw fear, helplessness and hopelessness, as people with no chance of rescue chose what they considered the less painful death. With business suits and dresses on, they jumped to avoid the hellish flames.
Those images and others, from the fear on faces to the fire above as she maneuvered down the stairway to safety, have become a part of who she is.
“Some of the things were so gruesome. It was like a war,” she said Sunday from her Middletown, N.J., home.
“You saw people on the ground, and you were stepping over them,” said Liso, the former Janet Cook of Milltown.
As New York City prepared to join Washington, D.C., where the Pentagon was hit by a third plane, and family and friends of the heroic passengers on Flight 93, unsuccessfully aimed for the White House, Liso knew the first Sept. 11 since “9/11” would be painful but not impossible.
“We’ll get through Wednesday,” she said, seemingly to reassure herself. “I know we will.”
Liso, who works for the New York Port Authority, which built the World Trade Center, began working from her New Jersey home just two days after attacks. The first anniversary will be no different.
“I have people who work for me, so I need to be there for them, and, hopefully, give them some support as they go through the day also,” she said.
Although the Port Authority is open, it won’t be a normal work day. Not much work will be done; the day will be mainly one of remembrance. Employees will have the opportunity to share and reflect on that fateful day and the difficult months that have followed.
Liso will participate in a therapeutic interfaith service. It will give her a chance to deal with her own pain as well as honor those who lost their lives, including four from her department.
Photos of the four, along with other Port Authority employees who died that day, line the walls of Liso’s office and her co-workers’ as well.
“The people there are really pulling together, trying to help each other out,” she said.
The attacks were too much for some of her co-workers. While some remain on leave, others plan to retire soon, she said.
“They just don’t want to work there anymore,” Liso said. “They just want to get away from the city and maybe away from all the bad memories.”
The Port Authority recently returned to Manhattan from its temporary offices in New Jersey, and is just a 10- to 15-minute subway ride from Ground Zero, making Liso’s daily two-hour trip into the city emotionally difficult. Much of her route to work is the same as before. Liso was in the North Tower when it was bombed in 1993, and she naturally wonders about another attack.
“I know, myself, the subway is very difficult because it’s underground,” she said. “You feel this, like, anxiety that they could try to blow up the subway, or do something like that.”
Those fears, along with the images she saw, make sleeping almost impossible some nights.
“It’s so frightening,” Liso said. “When I wake up, I usually stay awake. Sometimes, it will only be two or three hours that I sleep at night.”
She hopes counseling will help, but so far it hasn’t.
“I had really hoped that as time went by it would get easier and easier, but it really hasn’t,” she said. “I guess coming up to the 11th, it’s becoming more and more difficult to deal with it.”
Liso realizes 9/11 will always be with her. She hopes her life will return to normal, although, “At this point, it doesn’t feel like it,” she said.
“Maybe if I moved away from here, it might be a little bit easier, but every time I see the skyline, you miss the buildings. It doesn’t even look like New York City any more because of that.”
Liso has visited Ground Zero once, less than a month after the attacks, during a Red Cross trip for victims.
“It was really hard to go, but I am glad I did, because the pictures don’t do it justice, what it looked like immediately after,” she said.
She has considered returning, now that the site has been cleared, but she hasn’t been able to. Her husband, Bob, who is from the New York area, has found visiting the site too painful. He led a group of touring Southern Indiana firefighters into the city but stopped short of Ground Zero.
Liso has lived in the New York area for about 20 years. She praised her fellow New Yorkers. Calling it “a great place to live,” Liso said, New York has become a friendlier place, with people being more patient and considerate.
“It’s sad that something like this happened to make people a little bit more considerate, but I guess that’s maybe a good part of it. I don’t know, if there is anything good,” she said.
Liso returned to Milltown in April for her niece’s wedding. That helped a lot, and so have phone calls, prayers and visits from family and friends. Her sisters, Pat Beasley and Shirley Roggenkamp, both of whom still live in Southern Indiana, recently visited her.
While the first anniversary of 9/11 will be painful for New Yorkers and the families of those who died at the Pentagon and on Flight 93, Liso believes that pain will be shared by the entire nation.
“I think it will be a difficult day for everyone, not just here but ‘ everywhere.”