Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11, 2001

I was working in a ticket booth in a live theater (as in a place that puts on plays) in Orange County at that point in my life. I was saving money by having moved back in with my parents after the fiasco of living in Long Beach. I was dating a girl who I was head over heels in love with and planned to marry when she graduated from college, which was why I was saving money. That... didn't work out.

I remember in the days that followed 9/11, work was a mess because the theater canceled two or three night's shows and we had to fit those people into different nights in comparable seats. Strange, stupid butterfly effects. The show was one of those Somerset Maugham "foibles of the upper crust" comedies. The kind where one is expected to chuckle at the butler having to carry the poodle (which I think may have actually been a bit from that particular production. I think I'm not making that up.) I saw it on Friday of that week or rather I saw the first 20 minutes and walked out in tears thinking it was beastly to have such a thing at that point in history. Or any for that matter. I guess events just highlighted that for me.

Anyway, I had Tuesdays off so it's probably safe to assume that I was up until around 3am the night before the morning of the 11th. I remember my Mom opening the door to my room near 7am and frantically telling me that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I lay there for a moment, I still remember this, thinking "Does this warrant getting out of bed?... Yes, I guess it does."
I went out to the front room and watched for hours if memory serves. I saw the second plane hit the second building and I think that was the moment when we realized that there wasn't just some confusing accident but rather there was a large scale attack. I remember the moment when the first building fell. We saw it and the reporter said, "I think a portion of one of the buildings may have just collapsed." I said to the television, "No, the whole building just collapsed." And another reporter on the television said, "No, the whole building just collapsed."
I remember crying for most of the day. I remember getting on the phone and computer soon after desperately trying to get in touch with New York Rob. He was okay. Jess, his fiance, was in a building a few blocks away. She was okay too. She saw the whole thing from the window in her office. I knew another guy who was right there on the streets a few blocks away, was hit by debris and still suffers from lung problems. All told I knew about a dozen people in NYC on that day. None died that day and many were not anywhere near it.

I remember being in a supermarket that evening with my girlfriend of that time and completely losing it right in the middle of the supermarket, weeping openly. I seem to remember I was trying to describe to Nissa seeing the images of people jumping from the windows. And I remember seeing other people in the supermarket losing it too or looking like they'd been crying for hours. I remember thinking, probably also saying, at the time, "this is important. This is something that's changed. Don't lose this." I meant specifically the unmasked sincerity in public and the public acknowledgment of the weight of reality. Laurie's story is almost the polar opposite.

In the months that followed there was a lot of fear in our culture which I'm not sure has really gone away so much as it's been diverted in other directions than planes and white powders, shoes and gas stations which were fever pitch fear objects in those days. But we've gotten used to it, like when you go to a rock concert and then next day everything sounds like you've got cans over your ears. Two days later that feeling has gone away. Not because you've healed, but because you've gotten used to the hearing loss. In the months that followed we had so many opportunities as a nation and as a species. I kept crying a lot. One reason was I felt we were squandering those opportunities.

But more to the point, I felt the side effect of that day, the Naked Lunch moment in the supermarket, the day where we took off our masks, and I wanted it to extend, to become a norm. Not just in our sorrow but also in our joy. I've tried to keep it myself and failed, but kept trying.

9/11 was something that always feels like I ought to say more about it, but also everything I say sounds trite. I was 5,000 miles from Ground Zero. On the other hand, people just as unqualified as I have spoken at length about that day. This seems to be something that people do. In my own way I've carried my own experience that day with me ever since. I've tried to let the lessons of that day inform my behavior. I've walked around these eight years with crucial and insignificant constantly on top of me. Trying to keep in front of my eyes both how interconnected we all are and, at the same time, how very very alone we all are. And act appropriately.

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