September 11

A re-run, from 2011. Because I think about it whenever we transition into September.


The tenth anniversary. I hate that it’s coming. I hate that there are so many shoulds surrounding that day.

I hate that there are so many “never before seen” pieces of raw video footage from the September 11th attacks, and that there will be hour upon hour of retrospectives in the week to come. I hate how we mark it in years and in television specials, in t-shirts and bumper stickers, in coffee table books and in window decals.

I hate that it ever happened, and that so many people are forever changed, damaged and cheated. Wives without husbands. Sons without mothers. Aging parents without adult children. Friends left alone wtih their memories. Marriages that never took place. Empty spaces in family pictures where people should be.

I hate that it’s still the first thing that I think of when a plane flies too close overhead. Or that I think of it sometimes when the power goes out. I hate that I will never again be at ease if I travel by plane, and that I worry more about flying without my family, about dying without them and leaving them behind to grieve, than about all of us perishing together. I hate that I’ve actually thought of that. I hate that my children will fly without me on a plane someday, or live in a large city far away, and that my fear will always be there, right there, no matter how I rationalize it.

I hate that the news media tries to make 9/11 victims into two-dimensional heroes. They weren’t sound bites.  They were people. People who held hands and jumped out of windows together from unimaginable smoke and flames, who ran up flights of stairs with forty pounds of gear on their backs, towards — and not from — the horror, who ushered everyone out of the buildings, who made a split-second decision to help someone else without thinking of themselves first.  It feels ugly sometimes to hear those snippets and see those photos, because it has come to define them as all they were.  To their families, to their friends, to their mothers, to their commuter bus buddies, to their softball teams, to their neighbors, they were an immeasurable amount more — not to be minimized in thirty seconds or in a still image.  It’s painful and breath-snatching to absorb that incomprehensible loss, over and over again, so many times, to so many families.  But we need to remember them that way. They deserve that, at least.

I hate that I’m going to have to explain the reality of 9/11 to my almost ten year-old daughter, who will have more questions than I’ll ever be ready to answer.  How do you explain the deaths of so many people, all at once, in a hushed, horrible black cloud of smoke, who were simply gone, taken, stolen? How can you tell a child that such a thing won’t ever happen again?  You can’t.

Then I hate how weak I feel when I think that this is all that I’ve had to do — to simply live through it, grazed but unscathed. I think of the mothers like me, giving birth to first-born children in the days and weeks after 9/11, but who had to give birth and push through pain and parent alone, and see the unmistakable face of the love they’d lost in their newborn child — husbands and lovers who’d died in those towers and on those planes, and who never once saw their babies.

I hate that there are naive, childish, delusional parts of my psyche that want someone — anyone, anyone who holds the magical turnkey — to say it never happened, it was all a mistake, and that every single person who was lost that day can somehow return. Everyone in those towers and planes, in the Pentagon building, and in the FDNY fire trucks, can all be returned to their families and their lives. I’d return the gift of the last ten years to make that happen.  As long as all the good could remain, as long as what I’d been given in marriage and motherhood could stay, as long as I could still be who I’ve grown into in spite of and because of it, then I’d hand those years back, so all the girlfriends and cubicle workers and brothers and mothers and toddlers and uncles could have them again and hold them, right where they were on September 10, before that God-less, still unimaginable day ever happened.

I hate that there are certain songs, like Train’s “Drops of Jupiter,” that strangely transport me to where I was a few hours and days after the towers fell, numb from crying and watching the explosion over and over and over and over and over again on the TV until I had to turn it off.  After days of sitting together on our couch in front of the television, stunned and dazed, my husband and I suddenly realized that we had no food in the house and needed to go to the supermarket. I drove down Marina Boulevard in San Francisco, where we were living at the time, and I noticed how white the sidewalks looked, how bright and empty they were, because no one was outside, standing upon them.

When I arrived at the supermarket, the store was silent, and the cashiers stood huddled together, whispering to each other.  I got back in the car, robotic, driving, not remembering how I got there, not even feeling contained in my physical body, and “Drops of Jupiter” wafted from the radio. It seems foolish and odd to say it, but there were lines like “tell me did you sail across the sun did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded and that heaven is overrated” and I thought of those thousands of souls, all together, somehow peaceful in spite of how they’d been taken so violently from this world. I cried at my desperate, fantastical hope that they somehow saw all of us down here on this pitiful planet, lost and terrified and mourning, and that whatever place or state of being that they’d gone to was one of infinite love and eternal peace, somehow all-encompassing and holding them so tenderly, sparing them from the pull and grief in needing to return to all of us.  That they were alright, I guess.  That they still were, in some beautiful form. That’s what I needed to know.  Tears still come when I hear it.

I hate that there will be an expectation of closure when we come to September 12, 2011, as if we can somehow quantify or encapsulate our grief, neatly and plainly.  It doesn’t work that way.  It shouldn’t.

I hate that I don’t know what else to do but write about it, and that whatever I write will never be enough.

I hate that I haven’t gotten over it. Still. Ever. I hate that none of us ever can.

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