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Traveling outside of New York City:
‘She’s from New York. She worked in the WTC complex.’
‘Not really *in* it,’ I always correct, ‘just right next to one of the towers.’
This seems to be my identity for now. Their eyes fill with questions politely, barely, suppressed. I don’t know. I think I prefer the insensitive idiots, the ones who just assume my solidarity as they intone all the things ‘we’ should be doing in response. I can just write them off. It’s the ones with questions in their eyes that get to me. Because I don’t have any answers.
Okay. Can someone please tell me when I can stop living this, dreaming this, breathing this? Can someone please do that? Because I’m getting tired of myself. I’m tired of feeling. I’m tired of thinking about it. I’m tired. Today I watched a crew cleaning ashes off windows on Wall Street. And instead of seeing progress I thought, 'a lot of the bodies were cremated or atomized and will never be found. They are cleaning people’s ashes off those windows.' I’m tired of it. Can someone tell me when this will stop? Because I can’t see an end to it.
I hate unsolicited advice. It's exhausting to have to explain that I’m quite capable of thinking through the options... LATER. Hell, when I want advice, I ask. I'm not one of those irritating people who request an opinion and then get pissy when my unspoken agenda isn't confirmed. When I really want to know what you think I’ll ask. And when I don't want to be told what to do I won’t ask. How hard is that? You don’t have to agree with me. You don’t have to approve. All you have to do is listen. How hard is that?
Today I hardly thought about the WTC. Instead I engaged in endless conference calls and responded to endless rounds of email as part of the process of tweaking a proposal for a new client. Or we hope it’s a new client. Dead in the water for the last two months and suddenly it’s RFPs all over the place. I guess I won’t get laid off for another week or two. I don’t know about this sudden flurry of activity, though. I was kinda’ getting used to hanging around at home all day. Maybe now they’ll get us a new office.
An unredacted recipe for success:
First you must take trouble and strife and pound them with a mortar; and then pound the rotten meat of evil with a fiery pepper; and pound them all together well; and when it is well ground dissolve the sauce with the juice of sour oranges and sweet white grapes, so that it is not very bitter; and strain it through a cloth and set it to cook in a pot, and cast all fine spices which are good upon it, nutmeg and cinnamon, and cloves; and when it is cooked let it rest.
A tightrope walker has lots of space. It takes careful concentration to stay balanced on the line. It takes a certain amount of tension to pull it off without misstep. It takes an awareness of time elapsed, stay up there too long and you might fall. That’s what the need for solitary time is like, I think—a compromise. Too much time alone and you forget how to come back down to earth. Too much time with others and you forget how to be yourself, solitary, perfect, in space. A good tightrope walker comes down by choice not by miscalculation.
War. Or something. We wait and wonder while the city fills again with soldiers. TV, radio, Internet all tell us nothing. I think about bombs raining down on those people in their night. I think about them sifting through the rubble in the morning. I think I know how they feel, but how can I? I still have a place to live, water, food, a job, a city. I think I’ve seen enough to imagine their losses, but I don’t know anything. I don’t know what it is like to give up hope. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
I stand there watching you walk through the security checks, past the guards with their rifles, and then out of sight. How many times have we said goodbye? Tomorrow it’s three years to the day since we met. You’ll spend it back at work, jet-lagged. I’ll spend it in some new temporary office in midtown. It’s back to that solitary tightrope. That careful tension. I keep trying to reshuffle all the reasons why I stay here, but the cards don’t lie. There’s nothing for it but to stay. And so we’ll both wait for the next chance to say goodbye.
This building is considered a target. I stand in a roped-off area waiting for someone to vouch for me. I am escorted up to a security office and exchange copies of my driver’s license and passport for a building pass. Finally I reach my new office on the 23rd floor. I note where the stairs are. Not too long into the morning we hear the sonic boom of a fighter jet. From the window we see a passenger jet flying not too far overhead. All activity stops and long after it is clear that nothing has happened we sit silent.
I’m so tired of feeling apart. In the New Jersey office I hear colleagues joking about ‘excessive’ security precautions. ‘Oh sure, like anyone would bomb the post office.’ How many times do they need to see the unimaginable? I guess they weren’t in New York on the 11th. I guess televised footage isn’t enough to hold the attention for long. Cross the river, travel less than 20 miles, and it’s as if it never happened. What do they need? Shall we deposit the rubble in their backyards? Me, I was just like that too. Until it was in my backyard.
I'm ravenous. Starving. Dying of hunger. Okay, so I had lunch. So it's just appetite I feel, not hunger. I know. I know lots of things. I know how it feels to sit at a table in the sun at a sidewalk café and look at the clear blue sky and then remember it's dark there and in the dark bombs are falling. I know what it's like to feel separate in a way I never anticipated, too. I really can't talk to people anymore. Either they get it or they don't. It follows that words are unnecessary or wasted.
‘Be alert, but be normal.'
Why not 'Be alert, but show fortitude and get on with your lives'?
‘Go shopping and resume normalcy.’
Why not ‘We know this isn’t normal. Just try to be brave’?
On the 11th of September, after fleeing his command post as it fell apart around him, Giuliani answered questions from the press. As I remember it, one reporter asked, ‘What should people do now?’
Giuliani replied, ‘Do what I did. Wash your face, put on clean clothes, and get on with it.’
That’s good advice.
Of course he also told us to go shopping.
It's pretty outside. Blue sky. Light bouncing off brick buildings. The bottle-tops on Havermayer Street shining beneath my apartment windows. It's not a day to stay inside. Not a day to brood. Not a day to worry. Instead I will shower and dress and go do weekend in New York things: brunch with friends, a stroll around the East Village, an art opening later this afternoon. Perhaps I will achieve ‘normalcy' by spending money. More likely I will listen to more people recounting their stories. Everything I do, everything after the 11th, feels like a memory, even as it's happening.
Loneliness seems to be the one immutable consequence of life. You can try to keep it out with fire, bright lights and noise, but it’s sneaking in the back door while you’re busy with useless distractions at the front. The trick is to let it in, make it comfortable, live with it until it doesn’t scare you anymore. Don’t ever turn your back on it, though, because it’s jealous. With luck, if you’re very careful about it, you can love and be loved without using love to hide yourself from yourself. But I warn you: never think it isn’t there.
You say you still remember after twenty-five years. You still have sleepless nights. So tell me, in the twenty-five years between now and then, how did you live with it and avoid hurting the people who love you? Did you feel this terrible separation from people? How did you reconcile it? Did you also feel as if you had nothing to give? I feel as if I could easily just blow my life all to hell without really meaning to or wanting to. How did you account for the damage? How did you face the baffled eyes? Please tell me.
Today one of my colleagues spoke of how much he hates coming into New York now. It isn’t so much fear of what might happen, he explained, but that it might happen while he is away from his family. And then I’ve heard other commuters speak about feeling unsafe here, about dreading each day spent here. I hadn’t really thought about that—how it might feel to approach the ruined skyline and then plunge into a tunnel and emerge inside it. Maybe it’s easier to simply be here all the time. I don’t know. I am here. We are here.
Small losses: my Chambers Dictionary, photos of Jack and the children, books, cherished drawings created by my daughters, my portfolio, a blue glass vase Will once snuck red carnations into because he’s just that kind of person. Small inconveniences: the missing contents of my hard-drive, no copy machine, no desk, no office, no routine. These are all insignificant when measured against the larger losses. But every single day I miss one or more of them. And these small losses, these small inconveniences, remind me every single day of that smoking pile of rubble where I used to spend my days.
For eight years or more, ever since it was trucked out from California where it kept faithful, if eccentric, time for my grandmother, the clock on my mantel has been telling me it’s 12:09. Even when it was working its ticks and tocks were always out of rhythm, the chimes wavery and erratic. I hadn’t thought much about it, beyond adding it to an undocumented list (item number 3,591) of things I ought to get to someday. But I’m thinking about it today and I am like that clock. Stopped, stuck in some other time and unable to move forward.
The heat came on in the night, and this morning I woke to the smell of warming dust and the sound of pipes expanding. The air was chill when I went across the street for a paper, but it’s still sunny and clear just as it has been forever. Surely it’s one of the loveliest autumns New York has ever had. I don’t remember the weather before the 11th, but I do recall each day since. With one or two rainy exceptions we’ve basked in a string of Indian summer days. How many of us associate beautiful weather with disaster?
I started writing one hundred words a day on September 4, just for me, since I’d registered too late to be part of this website. So I posted them elsewhere, on a forum I’ve been frequenting for years, and others joined in too. Following the 11th, the discipline of writing no more and no less than one hundreds words each day was my comfort and my safety-net; the one voice I had that wasn’t mute, the one place I could grapple with the unspeakable. Thousands of words later, I’m still there. Day by day, one hundred words at a time.
I am weary of watching and weary of caring. You all make me want to step in front of a train. So go on. Taunt each other, hurt each other, beat the hell out of each other. Declare your hollow victories, hold on tight to your spoils, and then step over the line and blow yourselves up. Go on. Everyone else is doing it, why not you? Go ahead. Close your eyes and jump. What are you waiting for? You want me to go first? Here, look. It’s easy. Just walk to the edge. Close your eyes. Stop thinking. Jump.
I was evacuated from the subway again. I was forty-five minutes late to meet my children and the trains were still shut down when we tried to go home. We walked over to the C train at 110th and rode it to Columbus Circle. Then the D to 59th, the F to 14th, and the L home to Williamsburg. It was dark by the time we stepped into our apartment. I heard later it was another bomb scare. This shit is getting to be routine. Just add an hour to your travel time if you care about being on time.
I am a red, white and blue patriot, baybee! I’ve done my share to shore up the economy! I have reduced myself to a charge-slip as all good Americans should in this vital effort to win the war against terrorism! I bought some shoes, and two skirts! And over the weekend I bought three blouses! How about some scented soap! Some new lipstick! Or a pair of those ultra hip pants with the flags all over ‘em! Ooh, I know! I’ll buy some red, white and blue PANTIES! A bra to match! Get out of my way. This is war.
Maybe today is the day to get on with it and write about something else. Maybe today is the day to start to let go. Maybe today is the day to wake up rested. Maybe today is the day to feel anticipation. Maybe today is the day to look to the future. Maybe today is the day to regain optimism. Maybe today is the day to stop trudging and start dancing. Maybe today is the day for singing. Maybe today is the day to laugh. Maybe today is the day when everything will be new. Maybe today is the day.
Someone today said, 'You seem to have a bit of anger in you...' What? I haven’t even BEGUN to express the anger that’s boiling up inside me. The anger I feel is so profound I hardly recognize it. Is forgetting a brain dysfunction, a sign of erosion or a necessary filter to save us from the onslaught? If we had to consciously retain every single thing our brains register in the course of one day we’d explode with overload. I sure could use some forgetting right now. Hey, brain, how about if I get to decide about this stuff, huh?
On the advice of the head of HR I went down into ground zero today. ‘You’re on your own if you want to retrieve your belongings from the building,’ he said. ‘But you can get in now. Just show a business card and ID.’ After six checkpoints and one escorted visit to an OSHA tent to borrow a helmet and mask (the very nice volunteer there said several times, ‘come back anytime you need anything,’ as if it were a social event), I made it to 90 West Street and into the lobby. The building was condemned yesterday. No entrance.
Disaster overload: I’m sorry if I seem distant or uncaring. It isn’t that I won’t cope with it if it’s true, it’s only that I don’t have room for speculation about it. It’s just too close to bear consideration, is the thing. So please forgive me for my callous cheerfulness and for my inability to talk about your anxiety. I know it’s wrong of me to leave you to worry alone. I’m sorry I can’t go there with you. I have to pretend this isn’t happening. I can’t begin to think about what it would mean if you were dying.
I refuse to write about anything sad or scary or depressing today. If I have to I’ll write about what I ate for lunch (falafel sandwich and a seven-layer bar from the L Café), or how tired I am of looking out my window to see the Empire State Building red, white and blue AGAIN (oops… that’s borderline depressing), or how sweet my cats can be (when they aren’t shedding hair all over my clothes), or maybe I should just write about how much I love rosemary soap (I love rosemary soap. It leaves me feeling like a little lamb).
‘Whoever doesn't walk the wire is not living,’ said Phillipe Petit.
In 1974 he danced on a wire suspended 1,350 above the ground between the two WTC towers for forty-five minutes before he ran into the arms of the police.
‘There's no risk involved,’ he tells us. ‘When I put my first foot on the wire, I need to be sure there will be a last step.’
Well, me too. But I think lately my guidelines are tangled and weakened and I’m not so sure I won’t step off into thin air. I’m walking on a wire. And I’m falling.
Jesus Christ. I am blushing in the dark here as I think of how ridiculously well-paid I am to run stupid meaningless projects. I am a business slut, a marketing whore, an e-business slattern. I am a consultant. Yeah, sure, I’m honest and outspoken next to the convenient nonsense of the spinmeisters I work with, so of course my clients love me. But don’t they get it? My straightforwardness works only in inverse proportion to the necessary levels of corporate dishonesty. It has no merit without the bullshit. It’s all a calculated game. They keep me on because it works.
I suddenly feel the need to tell you that my life is more than this. I do laugh and I do talk of other things. I do. And this self-indulgent compulsion to keep on and on about it is temporary. I must seem like some Chicken Little run amuck, still proclaiming the sky has fallen long after everyone has patted me on the head and admitted that, this time, I am right. I want to be looking back at how I once felt, not still be feeling it. In the meantime I ask for patience. I don’t like it either.
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