Sunday, September 11, 2011

911

10 years ago today, I did not live in New York City.

I was getting myself ready for my WKU classes that day, which meant getting into my swimming suit and gathering my books.  Mom came home from dropping off Kelly, who was so small then, at school, and said she'd just heard on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  She turned on the news just in time to for us to see the second plane hit the second tower.  I don't think either of us could process it - I retreated into the bathroom to change, contemplating what could possibly have gone wrong to cause such an egregious accident, with two pilots in two planes on the same day...

I opened the door to the bathroom and walked down the hall towards the living room where the tv was blaring and my mom sat with her hand over her mouth, her eyes watery, and my heart sank.  In retrospect, it was like my childhood disappeared with that realization that there was no accident.  

I went to class, and I don't remember if we swam that day, but I remember our swimming instructor talking to us about the choice we faced to continue as normal or not, and what each choice meant on a deeper level.  And I remember all the TVs in the complex being tuned into the coverage, live images of the towers, smoke, and the stomach-churning images of poor souls jumping from impossible heights to certain death.

I don't remember where I was, but I remember seeing the towers fall...first one, the smoke, the running, the fear I felt for the people who were not yet my neighbors, and then the gut wrenching realization that the building was just gone ...I must have gone home.  I was in my living room again to see the second tower fall - and from that moment on I don't remember that autumn very well.

10 years ago today, I wrote two blog entries, the first a desperate plea to my New England friends to be careful and stay away from major targets.  The other was my 16 year old self's honest reaction to what was happening all around me:

One more bloody history in the making
2001-09-11 - 6:04 p.m.

So they've proved what any good fighter would tell you in the first place: you don't use the big showy kicks to win the fight. you bash their heads in with your elbows, and go for the groin with your knees. you use what you know of course, and you never let your guard down. For all the fuss about multi-million-dollar big shot weaponry, we are tipped over by intelligence. if you always follow the expected-even if you only deviate from that a little-is to play into your enemies hands. Unless you are increadibly well prepared-to an unfathomable degree. Why would they sink fortunes into weapons? you get a better surprise factor if you use their own objects, whose potential to be out of the ordinary has been all but forgotten.

So what now? Does this young generation suddenly lose its prize of being the first in history to grow up and old without a major war going on? or is our media eating their own shit once more, like the hundreds of times it has before? People say "its the second pearl harbor" but where is the war to be dragged into? all around us, for sure; but it is much less honorable to give things an official beggining than it is to join a war thats already begun.

perhaps I'm a lunatic, perhaps we weren't actually supposed to believe those lessons that love is the way to live life, and that violence leads no where. That the best way to get rid of a bully is to ignore them. I can't help but to see this not as a grand adult gesture of intellectual or physical superiority, but as a pair of two-year-old boys on a playground, shoving eachother to the ground.

The great eagle has woken from its slumber, its eyes glowing red as it reaches out and crushes something in its great sharp talons.

that image is my dad's, but I can't get it out of my head. I can't help but to let my imagination wander into places that make my waking self shed tears.
Somehow, I can't think of a single phrase to say.



10 years, and look where we are today.

We are mourning so much.

***

While I was not here for the event itself, I did visit ground zero myself a few weeks later.  I was pursuing my dream of attending NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and studying theater, and my dad and I flew to the Big Apple for my Big Audition.  It went splendidly, I was prepared in every way, I was confident, I loved what I was doing, I had the support I needed...and then Dad and I walked (with me auditioning my Self as we went - Can I really live here?  Can I truly survive? Will I make it on my own?) from what would become my home-away-from-home at 721 Broadway down to where the towers no longer stood to pay our respects.

Or at least, as close as one could get.  The air felt thick and impure, I was shocked at how tangible the particles in the air felt against my lungs, even so long after the attacks. I remember seeing pieces of buildings resting on other buildings, lampposts at wrong angles, a layer of dust still covering much of what we could see - which, in reality, wasn't much.  But what struck me most of all was the smell.  That acrid, terrible odor that went straight from the nose to the lizard-brain, screaming in that primal non-language:  "Danger! Death! Something-is-not-right."

But it wasn't, quite.  It was masked, albeit insufficiently, but the sickeningly sweet smell of roasted nuts.  I don't know why, but it seemed as if the roasted-nut vendors were taking it upon themselves to ease the burden of that constant olfactory reminder of neighborhood tragedy; I remember them being lined up around the safety-zone perimeter - no hot dogs, no pretzels, just nuts - roasting endlessly...I was struck by their presence, beyond the smell, to see them selling to tourists and grieving locals - I couldn't decide if it was a shameful act, or one to be commended; an odd f-u to the terrorists themselves, profiting from their cruel acts in a simple, honest way, going about their business as best they could, and hiding the smell of death from the living wanting to continue on.

To this day, I cannot walk past a roasted-nut vendor without remembering that day, and that smell.

2001-11-16 - 10:46 a.m.

The smell of something rank, vaguely reminiscient of sour milk, that I know must be the scent of rotting flesh and ever settling dust, smoldering in the air.

What they keep from our eyes can't escape our noses.

Or our hearts.




***

My life carried on, haltingly for reasons of its own, and despite the fact that my transcript was quarantined in a New Jersey post office that had been contaminated with anthrax, I was accepted to Tisch and moved to Manhattan in August of the following year.  

9 years ago today, I did live in New York City. I was here for the first anniversary of Black Tuesday, and I was so glad I was. I wasn't here when disaster struck; but I was here to hold up those who were.  I maintained safe rooms for students and faculty that needed a place to go.  I held friends I hadn't met as they let their grief pour out.  I held hands of those who couldn't speak.  I listened to personal stories of the year before, things you'd never here on the news; friends who lived in the dorm down the street, friends who were excitedly going to their very first day of training, friends who watched it all from the park where it felt like the world was turning upside down...

I chose to come here at a time when many people were choosing to get out, and I have never regretted that decision for a moment.

This city is vibrant, and alive as any creature.  She has her good days, and days when her being feels just vile, but there is always a pulse, a drumbeat in the background of movement, of life, of happening.  But on the 11th of September, every year since, that frantic living stops; we hear silence, the city becomes still, as if all of New York is holding its breath, waiting for the pain to subside, before disappearing back into the rush of the blessed 12th.

Today was no exception.  Kelly, grown now, and pursuing dreams of her own, is here today, visiting me and my wonderful family in our home in Harlem.  We watched the reading of the names on the local news, but we ultimately chose to honor the dead by living, by not lingering on the fear and anger such a vile act drums up.  We played with the kids, we cooked, and cleaned, and worked, and ate.  And we went to the grocery store.  I felt it as soon as we walked out the door, that old familiar, otherworldly urban stillness, that feeling of existing in a ghost town.  As we walked home, Kelly turned to me, Cadence chatting at her side, Hazel toddling noisily by mine, and said "it's so silent!" And I knew just what she meant.  New York can't breathe today.  The ghosts are about, it is a day of mourning.

Eerie
2002-09-11 - 2:44 p.m.

The wind blew hard, whipping sand in the faces on the few people left on the street. Somewhere in the distance a churchbell began to toll. The sun was in the middle of the sky, and the clouds rolled mournfully above the dusty landscape.

silence reigned. The sound of the wind carried no voices, no heavy footsteps. I stood waiting for the signal, my nerves on end. There was a complacent tension in the air, everyone had a tacit understanding of the situation. The signal came, Ilooked both ways, and walked across the street. Today, there were no taxis to nearly run me over.

I began to feel that the wind was made up of all the souls who were lost, and that the sand it was forcing under my skin was recreating their wounds in my body. Perhaps this is a way to keep us from forgetting, if the living bear the scars of the dead. The bustle of this famous road is muffled, crowded with people who feel that their lives could be in danger, and those whose memories are plagued. They are all just looking for each others hearts.


As I read that now, I have disturbing inklings of what that 'sand' may have been; there should not have been such particles about - there has been less foreign substance to the air in subsequent years - and with the destruction yet so new and near, I shudder to think how literal my musings could have been.

But today there was no wind, no sand.  The only significant sounds were the newly independent footsteps of Hazel, and the increasingly aware conversation of Cadence as they, these two beautiful, vibrant girls walked down the streets of this city they call home, the city they were born in, the city they don't see as broken because they've never seen it any other way...and it really does all make sense.  Terribly cheesy as it may be; they hold the future in their tiny hands, and to them it is beautiful, full, and open.  

Mayhap it is simply that their inheritance of the reigns has removed the need for sandy scars, and offered the ghosts some peace.