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In The Dust Zone


In The Dust Zone

An Illustrated book by Maggie Dubris (text) and Scott Gillis (drawings).


In August of 2001, New York City writer Maggie Dubris was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Three weeks later, on September 11th, she responded as a 911 paramedic to the World Trade Center attack. In The Dust Zone began as her story of being thrown across the great divide, into a world where the landscape, both inner and outer, is destroyed in an instant...

In The Dust Zone is an illustrated book that weaves the strands of this experience into visions of a now vanished Afghanistan, an eye-witness account of Pliny’s death in the eruption of Vesuvius, the journal of a young man who would become the writer’s great-grandfather, caught in the throes of the ague fever. The drawings layered into the text are threads in a tapestry of dislocation, faces and sights drawn from an “enemy land” whose people spent have years wandering in the Dust Zone. As the book progresses, moving through this world where no one can ever see clearly no matter how many times they rinse out their eyes, drawings and text become entangled, time jumbles together, language begins to fray and Pashto words creep in. The reader travels across this canyon as the authors did, to finally emerge, somehow still walking, and connected to a larger human experience by their time spent in this strange and terrible place.


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excerpt from In The Dust Zone


I have a picture of myself from that day, that one of the other medics found on-line and emailed to me. I’m standing at the bottom of a huge pile of rubble. You can see the twisted remains of the South Tower, looking like metal crosses at the top of a mountain. In the photo, the air is olive green. I’m facing away from the camera, a small figure in the lower left-hand corner, talking to a fireman. I’m wearing an orange baseball cap, and you can read the letters on the back of my shirt. SCH Paramedic. I don’t remember that moment. I don’t remember most of that day. Sometimes I wonder if I was really there at all. But when I look at the picture, I know that I must have been.


I remember the old city like a labyrinth, cradled between the stony mountains. A river flowed through its heart.


Such a subtle thing at first. I wondered if I might be going crazy. I was in the tub and couldn’t feel if the water was hot or cold on my legs.


So I put on my uniform and my orange hat and I took kitchen shears and put two Power Bars in my pocket. I took my medic license and my Clare’s ID. I didn’t have my badge. My mind keeps wanting to put this all in an order, but it doesn’t come back to me in an order.


There were planes everywhere. We didn’t know what had happened exactly. Did I know people were jumping?


I know I had an MRI three weeks before. I still have the films, in a big brown envelope under my bed. Square after square of my own brain, sliced thin, like a laboratory specimen. The sections are walnut-shaped, black and gray, with bright spots scattered across them like stars across a winter sky. Stars where the myelin has been eaten away. I never take the films out and look at them. Even though I’ve gotten better since then. Each year I have another MRI, and another set of films to take home. I know if I held them up side by side, the ones from 2001 and the ones from now, the stars would be dimmer. But I can’t bear to see them again. To know that it was all real, and it happened to me, and my name is on every sheet of film.


The land turned to water beneath me. The past was gone. Something crept inside my brain, where my memories used to be. . .

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