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Saturday, September 10, 2011

In Which I Grapple With A Difficult Anniversary

Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of that unfathomable day in which America's innocence was lost and our world changed forever.

Where were you when the towers fell?

I've been trying to pen my feelings all week about this macabre anniversary. Each time I sit down to write, I find something else to do. It's not my work-related ADD, either. It's my subconscious refusing to tackle this memory, but I feel compelled to write... something. It's too big to ignore and too devastating to forget. It's indelibly burned on my heart.

Last month, The Atlantic published excerpts from the King-of-all-my-musical-thangs, Rhett Miller's journal of September 11-13th.*** Reading his harrowing experience brought back a rush of emotions I thought I'd successfully repressed in the sub-basement of my psyche.

I posted the link on Facebook which lead to an interesting discussion between me and a couple friends, each of us reacting to the events of that day from varied corners of the country, sharing our individual experience. The conversation acting as a salve on an old scar freshly torn open.

I remember that day vividly.

George and I were at Rehoboth the morning the towers fell. We were getting ready to do our daily walk on the beach, when something possessed me to turn on the television. Maria Bartoloromo was standing in the street reporting that a second plane had just struck the South Tower. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Both skyscrapers belching thick, black smoke from their top quarters. The South tower's upper floors listing is a precarious way.

Not realizing the magnitude of what we were watching, we decided to take off for our walk. In the ten minutes it took for us to walk the stairs down to the boardwalk, the t-shirt vendor screamed out from the back of the store that the tower collapsed. We thought the top, teetering portion had fallen over. Makes senses, right? I mean, seriously, who would have imagined the entire structure would collapse. We couldn't believe our eyes. The building was there just ten minutes beforehand, on fire, but standing. And now it was completely gone.

And now nothing made sense.

I stayed on the beach, trying to shake off the images we saw. I think I was in denial. Poor Geo went back up to the room and witnessed every fear he'd ever had with regards to heights. Planes crashing. Buildings collapsing. People jumping to their deaths. All played out over and over and over on a 27 inch screen. The footage was horrifyingly compelling. He couldn't tear himself away. He's a strong man, my husband, but this rattled him to the core. I finally had to drag him out of the room and away from the constant barrage of footage for his own sanity.

The silence on the shore was unsettling. Several times over the next few days, a large, heavy military chopper would rumble up the coastline. I remember being filled with an infinite sadness that I wouldn't be able to shake for years. I cried for what seemed like a lifetime, getting teary any time my mind was idle. The sorrow and tears living right under the surface of my skin, mourning the loss of our collective innocence along with so many innocent lives.

And the stories, my God the stories from that day...

I bought a book titled, "Letters from 9/11" whose spine I have yet to crack open ten years down the road. Perhaps it will take another ten years before I can flip through its pages.

You know, I thought I was past this, but as I sit here, crying as I type, I realize the sadness is a part of me now. I may be able to muffle it, but It will never be completely gone.

Funny thing is, in all the chaos and uncertainty, I instinctively knew my nephew, who still lives in Manhattan, was alive and a safe distance away from the destruction. I don't know how, but I just knew he was safe. He lost friends to the towers, and probably felt a little guilty about it, but thank God he was unharmed, physically anyway.

We visited Ground Zero that December. It was a pilgrimage I just had to make. I remember seeing little piles of ash on window ledges and realizing that those could be all that's left of somebody's loved one...

Being directionally challenged, I used the towers as a touchstone once I emerged from the subway station. When I found them in the skyline, I could find my way. Stepping out of the dark underground, I'm just lost now.

I miss them.

To this day, when Geo and I see a low-flying plane in the Manhattan airspace, we stop, watch and wait for it to pass.

Here's a weird side note. Until the day I die, I will be forever grateful to a silly-ass robot fighting show on Comedy Central. You see our original plan for vacation was to spend a couple days at the beach then head to our friend's house near Philly where we were to drive into Manhattan for the day. It wasn't prudent to venture to a town in such turmoil where we would likely get in the way, so instead we ordered Chinese take out and stayed in, not knowing how to act, what to do, how to feel. For three days there was no levity. Nothing was funny. It just didn't feel right or respectful to laugh ever again.

As we sat there quietly eating dinner, we happened upon the much-maligned program, BattleBots. It was a show wherein pasty-faced, gear-headed geeks created remote controlled robots to pit against one another in a fight to the death. These bots were loaded with mallets, spikes and saw blades with which to pulverize their opponents in a glass encased arena. It was absolute mindless drivel, and it was EXACTLY what we needed.

For the first time in 72 anguish-filled hours, we laughed. For that brief time frame, we forgot about the  all-consuming tragedy which befell our beloved country and just.. laughed. Yep. I will always and forever have a soft spot in my heart for that ridiculously stupid, wonderfully absurd robot fighting show for affording us the opportunity to shelve the madness for sixty glorious minutes.

***You can listen to Rhett read from his journal on NPR's Here and Now here.


Christina said...

That day I was back from my first trip ever to the US for about 3 month only. Where I was for that trip? New York City.

So that day I was at work (6 hrs time difference) when a friend called if I would have TV close by (yes, in the room of the DVD guys) - there would be some serious fire in NYC.

I went to the DVD boys' office and asked to switch it on. We saw the tower in fire and heard about the plane and thought it was a terrible accident. The group got bigger around the TV and suddenly the room felt silent because we all starred at the 2nd plane crashing. At that moment it was obvious that this was war and no accident.

Quickly more news came with the Pentagon attack. I was horrified because I was sure that this would end in a war. I mean - it did, but thank god not the kind of war that means our homes are bombed day by day. I was never more scared in my life than then.

When the first tower collapsed I could not believe it. I had seen them only 3 months ago. I know how BIG they were. It couldn't be. I was sure when the smoke would clear just the top would be gone - the part above the crash zone. But it was all gone. I was paralyzed.
Soon it was clear the 2nd tower would collapse as well and that was the moment when went to my office, closed the door, sat on the ground in a corner and started crying.

The night I spent with a friend from North Carolina who lived in Germany that time in an Aussie Bar because they had CNN in English. We watched the footage of the day again and again and again trying to UNDERSTAND until we were totally exhausted.

I have been back to New York this year. I was on the Empire State Building again looking South remembering the "I WAS HERE" picture of the 20something me with the twin towers behind me we took ten years ago. It's still weird and wrong that they are not there anymore. It still hurts and will ever do.

Here is by the way a short article (the 2nd one) about what one of our fave Burghers did that day:

Murray said...

Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Christina. It's a day none of us who were cognizant will ever forget.