Saturday, July 26, 2008

9/11 reverberations

It's funny how this sticks with me. I was talking about this to my chiropractor yesterday. It hits at odd moments and I have odd emotional and physical reactions. Mostly I don't want to think about it, because it's too painful. Yet I find myself telling the stories, the where was I's, and the vicarious stuff I've heard.

I wasn't there, I was across the river in Brooklyn, taking Lily to preschool. I saw the smoke but I just thought it was a fire -- a brownstone had blown up from a gas leak recently and I thought maybe it happened again -- and said, Okay, where's the sirens? They started up on cue and I thought, cynically, it'll be on the news if it's a big enough deal. Ha. Little did I know.

It was the end of a kind of innocence. I went upstairs and a parent told me a plane had gone into the World Trade Center. Someone was hot-dogging it in a little plane, I said immediately. No, two planes, someone said a few minutes later. Oh, two guys, playing tag. Idiots. I wasn't thinking about what even a little plane might mean for the folks in the towers. Then a parent, a documentary film-maker, said, no, it's terrorism. I couldn't believe it. I had to see for myself. So instead of heading to the 8th floor, where I had a view of downtown Manhattan, I headed to the gym on the 4th floor, where I knew I'd find TV's for the treadmill users, and talking heads telling me what was happening.

I watched about five minutes and thought, I have to go home now. I remember seeing workmen as I walked down the street and thinking, how can they possibly be still working? Dave, thank god, was sick in bed. I had to wake him up. He had this awful 2-day headache thing that I had caught and passed along. He was spared being on the subway crossing over the Manhattan Bridge just about the time the planes would have hit, and he was spared having to walk home from Soho, and being scared, and maybe seeing unspeakable things.

We sat on the couch and watched. We saw the towers fall. The school called and I went to get Lily. I offered to keep any kids whose parents couldn't get them. At least one woman worked
in one of the towers, for the Port Authority. The story goes that she had lived through the bombing of 1993 and when the Port Authority told everyone to stay at their desks or they'd be fired, she thought, I have two sons who need me. I will find another job. And she left. And she lived, and many Port Authority employees died.

The corollary to that story is about someone who worked on one of the floors in the 90s, in the second building. When the first one was hit, she was told, go home now or you will be fired. Just one more e-mail -- No. Go home. do not turn off your computer. Take your bag and walk out the door. The people in that office lived.

And thank god my friend Kim's husband was home that day, too. His office was like a floor below where the plane hit. His colleagues who happened to be there lived because an architect said, I know this building inside and out, and I can be useful, and he went up to the upper floors and cleared the debris away from the stairway and rescued some 200 people, including those colleagues. The architect died, though, leaving a wife and kids. He was a neighbor. He lived in Fort Greene. I think Kim met his widow and said thank you.

The streets were jammed that afternoon, remember? Everyone walking down Fifth Avenue in the Slope, trying to hitch a ride. A flatbed went by crowded with people. It was an odd time. And for the next month or so we all greeted each other very kindly, asked each other if our friends and family were okay, said we loved each other. We were all so gentle with each other those first few weeks.

Sorry, kind of a downer post. But this stuff stays with me, stays in my body, and I find myself thinking about it from time to time. Today we were at a friend's on a sweet little pond in Belchertown. He'd barbequed some burgers and we ate and swam and took this canoe we'll probably buy for a test run. Then we swam some more and ate some more and the sky was blue and it was quiet and I was chatting with some friends, and I felt present. I thought, how fortunate I am to be here, alive, in this spot, relaxed, under this nice tree, not too hot, Lily running around with some new friends, Dave kind of snoozing and listening. This moment is good.

It was a good day, Lily said on the way home. It was.

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