Saturday, September 09, 2006

Turn You On, Sonny, To Something Strong

Anya reminds me of what my family was doing on September 11th: taking a terrified roll call. I had forgotten that after the first plane hit the Trade Center, nobody knew anything, and until the second plane hit, it all seemed like a crazy accident. It had happened years ago with a small plane and the Empire State Building. And when the second plane hit, my extended family panicked. Miss Sasha called me at work and asked if I'd heard from her father about his brother and sister-in-law, and where was Anya's husband? I didn't know. Nobody knew. Hours passed before it turned out the Fabulous Ex-Husband's brother Jacob had dismissed his department in the unaffected tower after the first plane and despite advice that they should remain in place, and this probably saved their lives; his wife had stayed home from work that day. Even with this unbelievable good fortune, Jacob was so traumatized he didn't speak for a month. Anya is a little philosophical.

Anya: I lost my husband for one day. We had a fight that morning and he was late, but I didn't know that then. He went every day to the World Trade Center station, that much I knew. His was the first train they didn't let in. If he'd been on the train before, he'd be dead now. As it was, he saw the people jumping.
Tata: Jumping?
Anya: The people jumped.

Anya could have been there, too, but she wasn't. In the days that followed, I heard that same story over and over again, theme and variation: I was supposed to be there but I wasn't. A guy I bartended with slept late and missed an appointment. Trout's cousin took the day off from Windows On the World to celebrate his wedding anniversary. My former sister-in-law stayed home. My friend Audrey was in Brooklyn, monitoring the election; her best friend was there but unharmed. My former partner in ten years of art crimes was there, but unharmed. People I knew and knew of died, yes, but if it'd happened twenty-four hours later - even an hour later - the death toll would have been far, far worse. Paulie Gonzalez lost a bunch of friends that day. I don't think he'd be ashamed if I mentioned one night months later I found him standing over his bathroom sink, counting them off on his fingers, tears running down his face.

My family did not lose anyone. We were very fortunate.

I have no rights, no ownership, no leverage; in fact, I refused to set foot in the Trade Center. I was always frightened, just looking at the towers, however irrational that admission might seem. I've mentioned this before: my friends and I drove by one Sunday morning to pick up something one of us had left in her office. They went in. I stayed in the car and stared upward, paralyzed by the words of Genesis 11:
5 But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6 The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

8 So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel - because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

As I said, my feelings weren't rational. I still have dreams about this moment of flat refusal. What I am saying is that I have no authority to ask this but I'm asking anyway. In fact, I'm begging:

Please, please, stop using those photographs of the towers burning and falling. What you are posting, when you post those phtographs, are burning buildings, as we all know. What other people see are their friends and loved ones being burned alive, over and over, endlessly. Fathers, mothers, lovers, husbands, wives, children, buddies, girlfriends, boyfriends, that kid I sat with in third grade, my friend's friend, your friends' cousins: crushed, burned, torn to pieces. Stop posting these pictures and concentrating on the horror.

Please, I'm begging you: move past morbid fascination and concentrate on life. If you believe in spirit, then those spirits will do what spirits do. Release them. Do not keep them here. If you do not believe in spirit, then quit torturing survivors. I was walking down a street in New Brunswick and saw photo essay of burning buildings and was grateful I wasn't walking with a friend whose girlfriend died in Tower 2. If you read the transcripts of phone calls from the top floors, you know those people were still hoping in vain to be rescued when in fact there was never a plan in place for what to do if fire ever cut them off from escape. If your husband, wife or child was up there, do you want that terrible knowledge to overwhelm you annually, and cut you off from the joy you take in your loved one's life?

Please. Stop posting those pictures. Go tell someone you love him or her. Life is fucking short.


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