Thursday, September 09, 2021

tragedies and stories...

On the morning of September 11th, I had woken up, like any of the morning of the previous year to get ready for work. It was still technically summer hours, the semester then beginning the last week of September, so I was 9-5-ing it groggily, though at 27, I was better able to manage being tired all the time.  The previous week, we'd gotten a torrential rainstorm that had flooded the libraries basement and sent water spoutng from a now-removed 2nd Floor water fountain, closed the subway and forced the red line to the elevated tracks. But that Tuesday was clear and sunny and much like these early September days. I had a television then, and a cable hookup I wasn't paying for, so daily I watched the local news as I showered and got dressed, mostly as background noise. As I was rounding up my keys and getting ready to turn off the tv, it flashed that there was a plane crash in New York--that an aircraft had plunged into the WTC. It crossed my mind as I flipped off the set, already a little late to leave, how it was strange it didn't happen more often--all that air traffic, all those tall buildings. It did not even cross my mind that something sinister was afoot. 

On the train, which I then took daily to get downtown, I read.  I don't remember what--most likely one of the novels I reviewed for a website that once sent me free books. I could hear murmurings around me before we went underground, where the noise drowned out most things, in the fellow passengers talking about New York and a plane crash, but in those pre-cell phone days (or at least MINE..I didn't have a mobile til 2004) once I was out of the house, I was mostly disconnected.  I arrived in the Loop, climbed out of the subway, and walked to the lobby of my campus building--my first indication that anything was really going on being the security guard standing rather rapt in front of the lobby tv watching coverage as I passed through.  Inside, I stood talking to my co-workers about a surly patron interaction from the previous day..none of us looking at the internet or really aware of what was happening.   Inside, I still had no idea anything was going on besides a plane crash until a few minutes later, when the guard rushed in to talk to the desk staff,, which seems strange in this world now of constant internet and news. But we were unaware until suddenly, everyone was aware.  The second crash. The Pennsylvania Plane.  The possibility of more. Then the towers falling one by one.  By then, the internet wasn't working, no doubt just too much traffic, and I somehow found myself upstairs on the A/V desk waiting for slow news pages to load. (we didn't even have computers at our personal desks at that point.)  Soon the campus was closing--though it actually freaked me out a little more since I wasn't sure I wanted to be out there in the streets if something was going on.  My coworkers eyed the proximity of the Sears Tower--which way it would fall if it went down. 

I'm not sure I would have felt as vulnerable as I did if I was living elsewhere, but the city seemed a perilous place to be. All those buildings and transport systems. All those people.   Before even noon, we all erupted outside into the sun--into crowds the density of which I have never seen outside of things like Lolla and sports stuff. Every single building in the loop emptying at once--people who gradually made their way in the morning, but now all left at once..lots of men in white and blue work shirts, women in smart heels and blazers, eyes narrowing in the midday sun.   The train was crowded, and scary, and I remember, as we came out of the underground on the north side looking back to make sure the city was intact. It was, and remained so, but while 9/11 was a New York particular tragedy, it reverberated through every urban area. In the weeks after--the months after--I had terrifying dreams of planes and terrorism.  I jumped on and off the train many times because of a single foreboding dream message.  (and eventually abandoned it entirely for the bus.) I still do not watch coverage or documentaries about the attacks. 20 years later, I avoid them, even with my love of apocalypse and disaster movies.  Twenty years later that wound is still open a little, which was more, from this distance, a wound to my psyche and sense of safety in the world.  A loss of innocence.  A feeling of vulnerability that never went away. I was also put off by the rabid patriotism that followed  more than any kind of mourning.  By the rush into a war that even now, we are still seeing repercussions from. There are images that stick..the victims jumping from the towers.  The streets covered in ash.  The pancaking buildings.  I cannot help but feel a catch in my breath when NY-set shows of the 90's flash on the towers.  And that's from several states away--I can't imagine how New Yorkers feel when they see these things.  

But then again, it occurred to me that the daily covid toll for one day last week was rivalling the death toll of 9/11 and I could not escape the the same people--many of the very same people--who waved their flags and demanded retribution in the form of war  are responsible for letting thousands die in hospitals every day..not only allowing it,but contributing by not getting vaxxed and not wearing masks. And this tragedy keeps happening, will continue happening.  We are living these days every day, and really everywhere. Sure, there is much less fire and dust, less explosiveness, less of a villain than our own stupid natures.  When I was in Gulfport, MS. and then NOLA a couple times years ago, everyone I talked to, about anything, at some point came around to the phrase "Before Katrina..."  So much loss--in lives and property and history. It circumscribed their days. Charted their paths even a decade or more later.  While less deadly on a personal level, less destructive, we all say things now like "Before Covid..." and what follows ranged from the serious (death. job loss) to not-so-serious (entertainment, social things, hobbies and pursuits. Obviously some things are more tragic than others.  The lives we used to live that we no longer live.  The things we hope to get back to.  The things we cast off.  I don't know what will stick.  After 9/11, everyone still had to remove their shoes and check their liquids when flying.  That gaping hole in the city sat empty for years before it was rebuilt.  It's hard to judge what will remain and what will be forgotten. 

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