I’ve been watching all the TLC documentaries about brave & dusty fire-fighters; seeing pictures of crying women: hairs masked to their face by hot tears, and it all of course, saddens me. It also worries me for the possible vengeance that may come on this tenth anniversary (I guess I’m just jaded by violence and bad expectations). Partly, I’ve haven’t really watched the news because I can’t handle the instant replays of those two planes hitting the buildings. I can’t hear the sound of the glass shatter, or even start to imagine the wails of the folks on each plane. There are black figures falling from buildings and I’ve made myself believe they aren’t human, just shadows of people I don’t know. It’s not something I want to re-live over and over. Just the idea that the date doesn’t even need a year when you discuss it with your neighbor – it was 9.11. That’s it. Three numbers, over two-thousand deaths.
With all of the documentaries and the “We Remember…” on E-news, I’ve obviously been thinking about myself on that day, and where I was, how my mother was coping behind the wall of her cake decorating block in the Produce section of Harris Teeter, or my father lifting loads of furniture at Target, and the thought of one of my long lost, and much older brothers, being caught in the top floors of one of the World Trade Centers.
Here is September 11th by the numbers & statistics.
I was in second period, eighth grade, health class.
The chairs were squeaky metal things that my inner knees smushed against from sweat. I was always tapping my foot, with the energy of an early-on-set coffee drinker and I prayed under my breath for more health classes, and less gyms. This was the year I would win the Presidential Fitness Award and my parents wouldn’t make the assembly. It was the year that my hair started to curl from being stick straight and blonde. I had bark brown eyebrows – did I honestly expect to be blonde forever? My mother was straightening my hair each morning with a blow-dryer only for me to watch it frizz with perspiration from gym. Pimples were farming, cropping and blooming on my chin, in the “t-zone” as the dermatologist put it.
I was dating John Walker, who was the introduction into a world of boys with long-haired-bowl-cuts and making out by the creek on Halloween. He would be my first “tongue-kiss” in the front-seat, neck-aching section of “Remember the Titans.” It was my first kiss, and my best friend to this day, Seth Joyner, sat next to me, singing along to “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” John and I were on our twenty-seventh break-up and I probably wrote him about four-hundred gel-pen notes that year. Not to mention, my hand and wrist decorated with an “I love John” or “I love J.W.” I had every color, my parents had enough money. There would be three years of John Walker in middle school and a few “hook-ups” in high school (I don’t mean sex) and then he’d go to college and get the “Johnnie Walker Black Label” tattooed on his back and become engaged to a blonde girl with more boob cleavage photos on facebook than I can stomach. (She’s hot though, she’s a nine as my teens would say).
I don’t remember what team I was on, or any teacher other than my health class teacher, who I can still see today in my head. Her husband passed away my junior year during swim season and the most I remember from that was signing the giant card one of the girls had folded wrong. I was such a perfectionist about those things.
In 8th grade, 2nd period health, we were learning about sexually transmitted diseases and two days later I was due to give a presentation on chlamydia. I was nervous about calling it the “clap, drip” disease and was hoping the day’s presentations of Herpes and AIDS may clear the hormonal, and pre-pubescent tension in the room. I’m unsure of whether I had my period at this time, but I think I already did and so my mother had made me fully aware of the consequences of unprotected sex. My mother was, and always will be a helicopter mother. She knows all, and is the end all of conversations on anything you think “too-embarassing” for a mother’s ears. I had a book about my body, knew very well the outline of a vagina as it appears on the back of a blue tampon box (See: Joe Millar, “Throne”). I was prepared for the eighth grade and locker conversations of possible oral sex and movie dates where your mother drove you and your gaggle of girls to the theater in the mini-van. I was always the one in the backseat, quickly painting her toenails an obnoxious rainbow-bright color.
These are my thoughts from September 11th. No one gave presentations that day. My health teacher, and later high school swim coach, turned on the television and let the room silence.
I was more worried about my upcoming presentation than the murder of thousands in New York, and the Pentagon.
Now, today, when I realize how many fire fighters and good samaritans are living with cancer due to the smoke, and toxic fumes that were given off inside the crumbling buildings, and the countless stairs they took to reach someone’s grandmother, someone’s faces in photo albums, someone who may have had a birthday cake waiting for them in the fridge at home – I’m disgusted with myself. This is how you feel in eighth grade, on a day of tragedy. No one I was related to, other than my distant stock-brocker brother was anywhere near the Trade Centers on that day, and although my family is from NY, we are from the town of Buffalo Wings, and snow drifts, upstate.
I had palm sweat from presentations, not from death.
Since then, I’ve had my own experiences with death, mostly through my grandmother who I can’t stop writing poetry about. All of my grandparents except for her past away before I was born. After September 11th and figuring out what death means, I think of my ancestors so differently. I cry every time Brad Paisley sings, “I’m gonna walk with my grand daddy/And he’ll match me step for step/And I’ll tell him how I missed him/Every minute since he left/Then I’ll hug his neck” and chills rise up my spine like braille. I realize now what war is about, what justice means to a Nation (and not just one person), what the American flag symbolizes on the dented bumpers of Ford’s and Chevy’s driving around town. My father, bless his heart, hung our American Flag that day from our white-picket porch. No matter how much dirt, or Hurricane debris cloths the Flag, it still waves in the breeze. I think, best of all, September 11th taught me how to be a part of something, and how to see similarities in others rather than differences.
I’m thankful for life, for not dying any which way, just yet, (knock on wood) or experiencing anymore severe USA tragedies in my twenty-three years. While I can watch an earthquake in NZ and feel distant emotion for the suffering, it isn’t quite the magnitude I feel towards New York and all the States in this Perfect Union.
This is our collective sigh of relief, and sob of suffering.
Since September 11th, and always, the one thing that has soothed me, has been reading. So, in an effort to understand 9/11, the indoctrination of mostly young men into a religion of hate crimes (and no I do not believe Muslim=killer, or Muslim=hater, at all), the morals and values of another country, another culture of people, or just another landscape, I’ve read the words.
I’ve read books on Afghanastan, books on Saddam Hussain, books on women prisoners in Iraq, fiction surrounding September 11th and a few short stories. To be honest, people aren’t writing their books candidly about this topic in America, it’s been rather hushed. There are an array of soldier memoirs from their time in Iraq, and even one brilliant poem titled, “Here, Bullet” which can be read here.
Also, here is the video of Brian Turner reading “Here, Bullet,” I think on this day we should all take a minute to think about it.
Here are a few other books on September 11th (or off-shoot topics) that I can recommend:
- Jonathan Safron Foer: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
- Jean Sasson: Mayada, Daughter of Irag
- This excerpt by Samantha Smith that is incredible, absolutely breath-taking. I will be the first to buy this book when she finishes it and releases. You can read the excerpt here. Carry the tissue box with you through the sentences.
- Because I love this, and people may not realize there is a link up there. Here is the actual link: http://www.granta.com/Online-Only/New-Voices-To-Stand-in-the-Shadow
- Here is the link to BlogHer (9/11) Blog posts incase you want to read on: http://www.blogher.com/document-our-911-stories-share-your-posts-past-10-years
- Also, the poem by Billy Collins, “Names” found here.
- My priest, Father David, read this at mass this morning and I felt I needed to share.
The Names – Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name –
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner –
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds –
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.