it's a strange day, 9/11. the urge to dwell on the past needs to be controlled. the less common urge to understand and move on needs to be encouraged. the horrors of that day are fresh in my mind, though it seems like that was another life for me. it was, really.
i was living in nyc on 24th street and 3rd ave. my brother was living with me in my apartment. a friend designed a rickety loft bed for him in one part of the large, open apartment, and i cordoned off a section of the room with a poorly secured curtain in the ceiling. had i taken a bit more time with it, i could have at least spaced the hooks evenly in the ceiling, but i was impatient and careless. shotty craftmanship. i'm still like that when it comes to hanging curtains. not quite sure why that is.
my boyfriend at the time, jason, had spent the night. the alarm clock had not yet gone off when my brother got a call on his cell phone. i heard his response to the words he was hearing - "WHAT?!? oh my god. you're kidding, right?" and then he yelled for us to turn on the news. which we did. and what we saw....
a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the world trade center. my first reaction was shock and sadness at the thought of such a horrible accident. this would quickly be replaced by sheer terror as we learned that another plane was en route for the towers. this was not an accident. i thought the world might be coming to an end.
jason showered and dressed for work. his office was about 2 blocks from the world trade center. i suggested that perhaps it was not the best idea to head downtown....that perhaps it was as good a day as any to call in sick...but he insisted on going to work. i think we were all in a bit of shock. he was on the last running train before the city shut down all public transport. he made it down there in time to see the towers fall. and when he came home later that day, after walking up the streets, part of a mass exodus from lower manhattan, his clothing was covered in a thin layer of white dust.
i remember that day so clearly....my friends gathered at my apartment and together we walked from hospital to hospital with the intention of donating blood for the injured people. we were turned away from every hospital. there were no injured. there were no survivors.
and then came the "missing" posters. all over the city, every signpost, the walls of buildings, the armory, which was a block from my apartment - photos of people no longer on this earth - people at their weddings, with their children, wives, husbands, parents, dogs - and the caption "MISSING" below or above the photos with telephone numbers to call in case anyone had seen these people. smiling eyes looking out at me from those sheets of paper. eyes that would never be seen again. bodies that were never found amidst the rubble. that broke my heart every day for months. until the papers started to disappear. until people started to accept the fact that "missing" was not the right word for what had happened to their loved ones.
outside my window right now someone is talking loudly on his cell phone, jolting me out of my past, out of the melancholy i have been feeling as i remember this day, 5 years ago.
past is such a bizarre concept. something is real and then it is not. someone is in your life and then they are not. you are something, someone, and then you are no longer that person. you are a different person with a set of memories that may or may not have been as they appear to be assembled in your brain. people are there and then they are gone. words spoken with the greatest level of sincerity are no longer valid. we turn ourselves into liars. promises we make to each other in times of tragedy lose their power. they are only words. and we move on.
except sometimes we don't. and we keep playing the same memories over and over again like a movie. we know the ending but some part of us must think (wish) that by replaying this movie we can take control. change the outcome.
no one is innocent. no one is to blame. no one has the answers. no one can "save" us.
and this is no longer about 9/11.
although i am remembering the day. mostly the people i spent that time with.
here's one more story before i call it a night.
two days after 9/11 (9/13 i guess it must have been) mayor giuliani was on the news, encouraging people to go out, spend money in nyc, shop in its stores, eat in its restaurants. i thought the world was ending, so i had no problem following his instructions. jason and i went to babbo, mario batali's restaurant in greenwich village. we walked downtown, through a candlelight vigil, well aware of the burning chemical smell which would hang over the lower part of the city for months. i wondered if we should be wearing gas masks. sirens wailed in the streets every few minutes.
the restaurant was half full. unusual for one of the hottest culinary spots in manhattan. we ordered the tasting menu and the flight of 7 wines to accompany our meal. or was it 10 wines? i can't remember. i do remember a black squid ink pasta. and an intense feeling of guilt as i enojyed my meal. the food was superb. the wine, too. i was drunk and full and guilty and sad and happy all at the same time. i was alive. jason was alive. my brother and the rest of my family and friends. we were all alive. and we suddenly felt vulnerable for the first time.
we stumbled down the steps of the restaurant. mario batali sat slumped over in a chair near the entrance. he looked tired. we said goodnight and thank you as we walked out into the street, past the candlelight vigil. we slowly, drunkenly, made our way back up to my apartment where we probably fell asleep quickly. i honestly can't remember.
it was just another day. another moment in time. another meal, another few hours together. another memory that really, in the grand scheme of things, means very, very little.