I wasn't planning on writing a 9/11 post. But as bad luck would have it, I was flicking channels tonight and saw so many of the same toothless bromides that our president and the media have been trotting out since the attacks, and it got me all steamed up. Because after five years of grief, anxiety, anger, and fear, all we have is a briefcase full of platitudes and a great big empty where the World Trade Center used to stand.
I know people who lost loved ones when the towers fell, and I'm lucky to have been spared such singular agony. I didn't see anyone plummet to their death, and I didn't have to outrun the collapse or protect my face from the clouds of ash and asbestos. But the trauma and loss still feel very palpable. I really miss the building itself.
When I was a kid I could see the Trade Center from my bedroom window on a clear night, and when my dad took me to the city the WTC was the first place I wanted to go. I used to stand between the towers and stare up at the grandeur of these enormous manmade things converging in the sky. Then we'd go up to the observation deck, and I'd look out west at the curved horizon and into the wilds of New Jersey, trying to pick out my window. The Trade Center was so cool, and so large, and so fucking awesome, and my dad worked there, which was fucking awesome, and if I could live here I'd be fucking awesome, too.
During the decade or so I spent coming here on my own from across the Hudson, the towers were the first thing I saw when I arrived and the last thing I saw before I left. They loomed above the PATH station, casting a huge, comforting shadow that signaled I was here, where I'd always wanted to be.
In February 2001 I got a job 8 blocks from what is now Ground Zero, and the Trade Center dominated the view from my office window. Seven months later we heard the first plane roar past our heads and into the north tower, and we were watching it burn when we spotted the second plane bearing down on the south tower. We all ran down 30 flights of steps and out into the street, and by the time the first tower collapsed I had walked up to St. Vincent's hospital, where dozens of medicos were on standby for the casualties that never came.
For months after that, I watched from my desk as trucks offloaded onto barges the debris that was destined for scrutiny on Staten Island. It was pretty depressing, but it at least helped distract me from the gaping hole in the skyline. It was more than two years before I finally went to visit Ground Zero, with Robert in tow. The looming shadow was gone, replaced by a blazing openness that didn't make any sense. I did manage to take a picture, though, for the time capsule. You know, just in case the new complex ever becomes a reality.
So today I'm frustrated and angry, because despite my best attempts to put this all behind me the anniversaries are somehow getting worse. Two-years-plus have passed since this picture was taken, and the place looks essentially identical now as it did then. Each new year brings nothing but more questions, more politicizing, more ineptitude, more inertia, and less hope of closure for anyone who lost someone (or something) precious that day.
If you have any hopeful thoughts, I'd really like to hear them.