NEW YORK — Inez Graham is at war with her memory. She spends her days sobbing and afraid, battling images of flames and falling debris and trying to quell the soundtrack of screams in her head. A ringing phone, a plane overhead or a passing truck make her hunker down in fear. She refuses to go outside. She tells friends not to visit and says the smell of smoke, like some unseen phantom, lingers around her home in Newark, N.J.
She tries to stave off sleep, but when she dozes off, the nightmares are always the same. She is back at the World Trade Center, barefoot and breathless, trying to outrun the tidal wave of concrete and glass. But in this version, her daughters are with her, and she cannot save them.
"I want the old Inez back," she said, giving in to another round of tears. "But I just can't get that day out of my head."
Those who escaped from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 will never get that day entirely out of their heads. But two and a half weeks after the unfathomable happened, there is little uniformity in the ways that survivors are coping. Many, like Graham, 40, are utterly traumatized. Others, like Lynn Simpson, a 50-year-old who worked for a public relations company, find themselves rattled but spiritually intact.
Simpson, who made her way through the wreckage of the 83rd floor of 1 World Trade Center and then was enveloped by the storm of falling rubble, says she feels remarkably whole, although the bruises on her arms and legs have yet to fade. "I was in a state of shock for a few days, but I'm very happy to be alive," she said. "Right now, I'm overwhelmed by the feeling that life is precious."
Those who specialize in trauma-related disorders say symptoms can sometimes take weeks or even months to emerge.
"Just because someone isn't feeling stressed right now doesn't necessarily mean they won't have trauma symptoms two months from now," said George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University who studies grief and trauma.
But experts also say that they have no way of knowing who will heal and who will be plagued by chronic unease. There is, however, a wild card: the continuing threat of further attacks, some psychologists say, may exacerbate and prolong the distress.
"This is uncharted territory," said Dr. Russell J. Kormann, a post-traumatic stress specialist at Rutgers University's Anxiety Disorders Clinic. "We don't have an idea who is going to be affected and to what degree. It's something thousands of people will be dealing with for years to come."
Graham cheated death without physical injury. She and her best friend, Dee Howard, both employees of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, made it down 61 flights of stairs just minutes before the first building cascaded down around them.
"People say, 'Don't give in to the fear, don't let evil win,' all these cliches, but they don't know what I'm going through," said Howard, 37. "I'm trying to get better, but I just can't."