On a roll now...

And another thing about September 2001. The acting studio we went to was on 27th and Broadway. Some of the classroom windows faced north, and over the low-slung brick post-war apartment building that harbored some kind of porn operation (judging by the sign that read, "Hot Girls Paid Good," and the naked guy who wandered by the window one day, and just... hung out), our widows afforded the most idyllic view of the Empire State Building.

We all shared the feeling (literally - verbally shared it, later, at lunch) that we'd better keep an eye on the now-tallest New York landmark while we could see it, just in case a plane plowed into it, and we had to scramble downtown.

Obviously, that didn't happen, but most of us spent at least the rest of that semester glancing up and out of the windows when we ought to have been paying attention to the emotionally abusive scene study teacher who taught us in that room. Of course, you couldn't help but feel that she was human when she said, in her guttural tone, "It was a very different experience uptown." You could hear her helplessness, her pity, her realization that we were just kids, and we were hurting.

But downtown or uptown, afterward, the feeling was the same. (We're talking, of course, about the two weeks following, before anyone was allowed back into Lower Manhattan. After that, I self-censor any editorial, since I don't know the experience of going back "home," to a ghost town.) For two weeks afterward, the feeling all over, from Battery Park to Indian Point - and probably all over the country - was vulnerability. Exhaustion. Rolling anger. Tiptoeing fear. I remember worrying about a high school friend in Pittsburgh whose (Catholic) parents were born in India. How many stares would she get, from ignorant and paranoid assholes, and how would she defend herself? I remember being drained of any energy well before 4 p.m., and not being able to fall asleep until well past midnight. I'd lie in bed, probably reading Shakespeare, Euripides, or Racine, wondering why the hell I wasn't asleep yet? I remember the idea of rage, but the dearth of it. I should be angry, I always thought, and I am, but at whom? If I hold my breath as I walk through this subway tunnel, maybe they won't get me. Maybe nothing will happen to me here.

Meanwhile, the smoke and ash hung around for I don't remember how long. About a week after the actual day, a high school friend at the University of Georgia asked if it was "true that you can smell the bodies?" I said no, and after that one word, I haven't talked to her again. What kind of person doesn't know not to ask that?

But it was a strange time, for everyone, I'm sure. Whether you were in L.A., wondering if you would be hit next; or Georgia, wondering what the firsthand experience was like; or in the Midwest, earnestly telling the reporter from New York City how the Terrorists could certainly slip anthrax into the cheese supply at your local grocery store and that everyone was a target, meanwhile having no idea that an entire city of 12 million people hated your guts as the story got aired again and again... for everyone, not matter where, I'm sure it was strange. But it was probably a little stranger, seeing the smoke plumes and smelling the burning asbestos months after the fact.

"Yeah, we got out of class that day," my best friend told me a few months later. "You're in Kennesaw," I thought, "Why?"

"Can you imagine what it would be like if those buildings," my fiance gestured to a couple of modest skyscrapers on East 52nd Street, "just... toppled down on you?" I stopped walking. I stopped being glad we were on our way to dinner. This was nearly four years later. And I wasn't even that far downtown when the whole business occurred. "Oh
stop," he said, during the late summer of 2005, staring up at the mercifully standing East 52nd office towers, "Stop being so dramatic."

"So," my mom introduced her cheeriest of cheery tones, "How are you doing with... the whole... September the 11th thing?" It was the five year anniversary.

"Wow," my lungs and mouth simultaneously and inadvertently wooshed, "That was subtle." I paused for a second. "Fine," I answered, in all honesty, "I've been working all day, and completely ignoring it."

"Oh!" She sounded relieved. "Okay. Good!" She didn't feel like getting into it anymore than I did. Awesome.

Anyway, September 12th rolled around pretty much as predicted. Everyone stopped talking about
It. The newspaper headlines were about... something else, I have no idea what, because I forget, which is always nice. There weren't quite so many deadly serious, reflective local news bumpers at 5 and 6 o'clock. On the 12th, it was back to busted brothels, or something. The "n" key just broke off of my keyboard, and that can occupy my mind now. Seriously, you have no idea how annoying it was to just type that last sentence. And that last word - "sentence," that is. The "n" key is just a nubby little rubber thing right now. I wonder, if I just leave the plastic key cover off, if I'll get used to the feeling?

I guess you get used to a lot of feelings, and you feel them, and you accept them, or you ignore them, and eventually they go away, or at least just slink into the corner. You hope that you don't get used to feelings like love, and happiness, and gratefulness, and... let's say love again. You hope that the same rules don't apply to those happy feelings as apply to anxiety, and hopelessness, and anger, and fear. Looking at this whole September 11th business five years later, though, and also paying attention to the little human interaction I also had on September 12th, I'm inclined to say that you get used to, or at any rate, dismiss the positive emotional associations as much as you do the scarring ones. "If all the year were playing holidays, to sport would be as tedious as to work," or something. I guess. Also, if you don't know what that quotation is from, Google it, because you suck.

Whatever. I'm just glad it's September 13th. Three hundred sixty-something days to go.

1 comment:

  1. Wow.

    So beautifully written.

    So moving.


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