Every year it feels a little different.
Different memories are triggered. Different emotions bubble to the top. Different responses to the day occur.
It doesn’t get easier. Or, better. Nor has it gotten more difficult. Or, worse.
But, it is different every time.
This year, I’m feeling rather sentimental, if that’s the right word. In the past I’ve talked about aspects of the day that have stuck with me. While many of those images, smells and sounds are still with me today again, and I still “relive” aspects of the day chronologically and matter-of-factly, today’s anniversary I am remembering more random little things from the day and that’s what’s really sticking with me as I write this.
The crackling sounds of the am radio broadcast as I drove in on route three through the meadowlands that morning. I remember the narration of parts of the broadcast too, but, today as I was listening to AM radio again and the signal went in and out I was taken aback by my recollection of the background static itself. It’s always there, but that days was like a soft, comforting white noise machine underpinning the starkness of the news.
The late morning sunlight came through the office windows as we stared out them peering across the Hudson River at the plumes of smoke and dust. In my memory it was a pretty clear September day, but there was something about how the now particle filled air filtered the sunlight after the towers collapsed. There were some clouds this morning but waiting for the train the breaks of light through them triggered that memory of looking the ‘shaded’ sunlight late that morning.
The nighttime darkness was eerie. I vaguely remember making a note of how it felt there was significantly less light that evening as we huddled up at a friend’s home across the river in Jersey. The night sky felt less bright, the eastern horizon didn’t twinkle the same way, the aura of everything just felt a little darker. It makes sense, lower Manhattan was now dark. You don’t realize how much light comes off the city till a significant portion of it isn’t there. It’s a strange thing to make a mental note of, I guess, but it’s stuck with me.
The quiet that evening was also breathtaking. I never experienced a quiet like that before and I definitely have not since. And, it lasted in some form for days, weeks even. Everything was closed down. There were no planes out of EWR. There were no cars on the highways, or many of the roads for that matter. Everything stopped and in as such everything got a certain kind of quiet. It’s not the kind of thing you think about till you think about it and realize mechanized society had ground to a halt in the tri-state and took a long time to really come back online and return to bustling speed. Being in Manhattan for classes and the CMJ Music Marathon and other things over the course of the next month or so it was definitely weird at how quiet everything really was afterwards.
I don’t remember eating lunch, honestly, but I remember the smell of the steamed veggies I would have had that day. Someone in the office today has something veggie smelling that just triggered that memory of a meal that was so familiar to my daily routine back then. Frozen mixed veggies for lunch were part of my solution to dealing with the extremely tight budget we were living on so I have a lot of memories of them in general. But smelling steamed veggies today sent me back for a brief moment.
The music. I worked at a boutique music marketing company for their heavy music department in 2001. There’s a lots music from that era of my life that I have very strong emotional ties to from working with the people and having success with the release’s marketing. One such band is Most Precious Blood. This morning while listening to a random mix on my decrepit iPod a couple of tracks from “Nothing in Vain” came on and I was immediately taken back. We didn’t listen to music in the office that day and I cannot exactly recall when we received our copies of the record itself, but it was one of the records that I personally spun incessantly and remember distinctly as being part of my post-September 11 experience. Hearing a song like “Apparition” carried a weight today.
It’s because of these kinds of memories and the moments they represent in my own recovery from experiencing the terror attacks of September 11 that I don’t need to be reminded not to forget. There’s routinely reminders of that day, and the days that followed, scattered throughout my life. While I didn’t really want to come into the office today, I will admit, it was much easier commuting to midtown today than it has been the last few years when the offices I worked at were in the Century 21 building down on Church Street. I tell my story almost every year on the blog because it’s therapeutic to get the thoughts out and to be able to look back at the many different ways I’ve dealt with it over the years. No two have really been the same and that’s a reflection of the fact that no two years, or days even, are ever really the same anyhow.
This year I’ve made more an effort than usual to stay away from the coverage. The made-for-TV drama of it all was probably never for people like me anyhow. For me, each year that passes it becomes more true. The way it’s portrayed now, in many ways, feels like it is for people who were’t there first hand. Maybe they weren’t born yet. Or were too young at the time to really remember. Maybe they experienced it second hand through the media’s coverage. Maybe they weren’t able to find out until after-the-fact, hours or even days later. I understand the importance of keeping the day alive in those circumstances – to make sure history isn’t forgotten and ensure the evils of the day are never repeated but also the ideals that helped a nation overcome remain as well. I’m honestly happy to hear New York State is mandating as part of its ongoing educational curriculum that September 11th with receive specific attention so that future generations can have the same reverence for it that, for example, I was taught to have for the Attack on Pearl Harbor’s Day of Infamy. The collective knowledge of an event so defining should not be lost to the passage of time. I just hope that as it is carried on from year to year, generation to generation, so there’s an integrity in it (unlike, say, how the tragedy of the Civil War has been stolen by a bunch of racist, rebel flag waving, anti-reconstructionists, post-confederate, conservatives that downplay the core issue of slavery in order to claim so-called anti-federalism/state’s rights) but, I somehow doubt that.
It gets said pretty often that everyone came together that day, and the days, weeks and months following. There’s a good bit of truth to that. A lot of differences were put aside. And, people came together to support one another.
But, don’t let “nostalgia” of a so-called Unified America fool you. I have some pretty distinct memories of opinions being shared that were definitely divisive and rhetoric that was less than unifying at the time too. I remember being at one vigil a few nights later along Schuyler Ave in North Arlington that some of the conversations I overheard just made me feel plain uncomfortable. There was a bit of an us-versus-them mentality rooted in the partisianism of the time, in xenophobia, and so on. It was born, in part, out of anger, and fear, and confusion (after all, the reality of what happened was still being processed, facts were not always easy to come by). Variations of many of those same sentiments are still quite common still to this day, unfortunately. I heard one on my way into work. It took everything I had not to lash out at the ignorants. But, I have my own shit to deal with without having to directly deal with them too.
Honestly, I just want to quietly sit with my introspective self and not deal with any of it, especially the pomp and circumstance that have come to pass about some aspects of the day. I want to recollect a few specific tales among some friends I once shared a close bond to while making sure we’re all doing as OK as we can be getting through the day. When the rest of the world goes back to their routine tomorrow on September 12 and won’t “remember not to forget” until next September 10th, there are some of us who will carry those scars for the interim 364 days. I’ll be honest, I’ve sucked at checking in in years past with everyone. As I’m getting older I’m trying to do better about it because I realize time hasn’t made any of this any easier to try and wrap one’s head around and I think to some degree society has changed since then in being able to better acknowledge the psychological, and physical, impact of these kinds of events. Not that it means much saying it on the blog here, but, if you need to talk I’m here – reach out. No one has to go through getting through today alone unless that’s what they so chose.
It’s hard to focus really with so much shit in my head bugging me out today. Sirens bug me out. Low flying aircraft bug me out. Unexpected booms and bangs bug me out. The smell of anything burning or dusty bugs me out. And, there’s no shortage of that shit in NYC today. Honestly, sometimes those things still bug me out other days of the year too, and there’s really not shortage of them any other day. I have coping mechanisms. If you can call them that. Comforts really. Things I’ve come to rely on. Coffee. Whiskey. Cheese. Headphones with halloweenish Type O Negative and King Diamond jams. My Century Media hoody. Finding the first autumn leaves. Watching the Great Pumpkin tonight before bed… That’s what works for me. Sure, a random tear is still going to streak down my face. I’ll be nervously tapping and fidgeting all day more than usual. I’ll get up from my desk and wander aimlessly more in one day than I otherwise would cumulative the rest of the year in a vain attempt to get out of my own head. But, I’ll get through today. And, tomorrow too. And, the next day. Same as I did yesterday. And, the day before. And, the day before that.
And, I was one of the lucky ones. I watched in person at what turned out to be a safe distance and didn’t have a harrowing tale myself. I didn’t directly know anyone who died. I didn’t even know too many people at the time who knew someone who died. In my own circle of friends and family there were some close calls that day, particularly for my now ex-wife, and a lot of pretty astonishing storied overall that have been shared with me over the years. And, in the time since I’ve worked, gone to classes and otherwise socialized with many more who have their own tales to tell of tragedy and close brushes with it. All of this has given me a different perspective than had I experienced it any other way and I think about how my unique experiences with it has shaped who I’ve become since and how that differs from everyone else’s experience and how it’s probably shaped them.
In eighteen years so much as changed. For myself. For my friends and family and long lost acquaintances who were part of my life in those moments. For Manhattan and the rest of the tri-state, DC and the greater DMV, in Pennsylvania. For the US, the Middle East, and the rest of the world as a whole. Time marches on. The Human Condition persists. And, yet, the one thing that remains the same – we all have to deal with the anniversary.