9/11: Reflections from 15 Years Ago
September 11, 2001 seems like much more than 15 years ago to me, though, since then, I have had a disquieting dread pushed down deep somewhere. It’s a suspension of reason and logic that, 15 years later, still has no place to go in my brain. But sadly, more of this kind of confusion has stored away since 9/11/01. The horrific acts of violence here and abroad congregate, mingle and support a scary notion that evil and hate are proportionate to the world’s wonder. Though far more safe and lucky than others in other parts of the world, this undercurrent of dread, for me, began on September 11, 2001.
Early that morning at my desk at my job as a secretary at a manufacturer of electrical wiring equipment in Queens, New York, I chirped snidely, “Didn’t they see?!!” after a co-worker walked over to announce that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. If you gave me multiple opportunities to guess how something like this could happen, I would have never guessed “terrorist attack.” Today, it would be the first guess.
We all stood in the conference room, watching the screen in the corner of the the room. Our wild eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Then we watched the Tower crumble to the ground. I remember my heart drop, a feeling that before had only been achieved superficially and temporarily with scary roller coaster rides. They sent us all home. I tried to give blood. I watched the news footage, like the Hindenburg but on a loop and on purpose. Thousands of lives in my beloved city were taken, the city that held the salvation of my angry youth. New York, my friend, in such pain.
The images I will never forget–before the news outlets understood what they were doing. Home. Attacked? This was brand new and nobody knew what to do.
As days passed, I went there, as many did. To see, because there wasn’t anything else we could do and we wanted to do something. Bright and still smoking, the sky that once held them cast light through the narrow streets of downtown. Firemen and police officers were applauded as they walked through debris-strewn streets. Children poured lemonade for passers-by. Clusters of heartbreaking homemade missing persons flyers plastered Grand Central Station. Flowers and memorials everywhere. A palpable collective sadness.
At a small gallery in the Village weeks later, staring at an enlarged photograph of a jumper, I turned away with tears streaming down my face and I pushed it all down inside somewhere. And as a simple onlooker, a fortunate one with no personal connection to any victim, I tried to move on. To know that millions felt as I did and thousands felt much, much deeper pain, was not doing me any good.
I was a dumb youth at the time of September 11, 2001, still mingling the fog of self-centered adolescence. But being dumb is developmentally appropriate in your youth. As a part-child, my world was still small. And I remember the small details. Being waved through the George Washington Bridge crossing as frantic New Yorkers fled the next morning. The look of their faces in their cars. The no-questions-asked complete refunds on a cancelled flight and concert tickers to see Belle & Sebastian in Seattle. The American flag behind Built to Spill at Irving Plaza, September 22, 2001. The American flags everywhere. It was a time when even jaded, dissenting youth, like myself, felt patriotism.
I have passed through downtown Manhattan only a handful of times since the time I took these pictures in 2001. Though the memorial pool looks beautiful, I don’t know that I can ever visit. During the construction I wound up there one day with new New Yorkers. It was 2007 or so. A detailed timeline of the day’s events was posted on the construction scaffolding. Amidst the swarms of tourists snapping pictures of the sacred place, I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t stay.
Onward, I would watch the spaces I knew once held memorials wear away. Watch the American flags lessen. I would teach the children of New York City who, every year, grew more distant from the event. I would witness how the disquieting dread (and perhaps technology and other means of desensitization) has significantly impacted the abilities of the groups of children I get to know deeply every year. Living in Brooklyn from 2004 to 2013, I would look for the blue lights every year. I would listen as the news venues broadcast the anniversary ceremony with hushed, poignant commentary. But the truth is that 9/11, and other current violent massacres, created an environment where these ceremonies feel too familiar. And we too soon return to our lives’ distractions.