I debated for a long while about whether to post these pieces. I just submitted them for my first grad school project and they are definitely early drafts. But it’s also 9/11 now and so waiting until they are perfect seems like a mirage, and maybe part of the lesson from 9/11 was that if we wait until it’s perfect, the moment might be lost forever. I know I haven’t fully captured the horror, in part because I wasn’t there. I was on the outside, effected and holding space but not so drastically rerouted in my life path as so many people. I do know that I’ve never booked a window seat again, preferring the aisle for ease of exit in case I ever need to try to take down a box-knife-wielding terrorist. Still, it feels like a betrayal to the real stories, the people who lost their lives, their loved ones, the forever changed for me to try to capture the pain and the changes in black and white. It’s not that simple. I hope you’ll read these with some forgiveness in your heart for a writer struggling to put the impact of such tragic events into words.
Trigger Warning: 9/11, violence
Part 1: Autobiograpghy
Sitting in the back seat of the Cadillac, the smell of pipe and cigarette smoke curdling my already queasy stomach. My mom inhales sharply, in that way that makes you something important is coming. It might be a scolding or a profundity and as the sigh came on the tale of the breath, I realized it was wistful not shameful.
“I love this skyline so much. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of seeing it. It’s those two towers that always draw me in.”
I looked through the windshield, seeing the skyline for the first time. As a woman, I’ve trained myself to notice horizons, but as a child, they didn’t exist for me yet. I noticed details, small bits of information that tended to keep me safe and made sense of the world. Seeing the whole picture meant holding different points of view as truth and it was more than my developing mind could hold. So I invested in the details.
I felt the joy she was expressing. Looking out the window on a site she’d been seeing for years. The idea was born when she was 30 and the second was opened while she was pregnant with me. The towers represented the resiliency of NYC and the ability to be reborn.
I also had a shadow of foreboding. I didn’t (don’t) understand that moment but when I heard the Towers fell, I remembered my mom’s voice. Did she have sense of the coming loss or did I just hear her processing the profound losses she’d already experienced?
In 2001, I walked into my grad school home, the Evergreen Building, to the news that “they suspect terrorism”. The TV was on and I saw pictures of the plan hitting the first tower. I ran upstairs to pop on the computer. I loaded Yahoo! News and read the first article. As the page refreshed, all new related to the Towers had disappeared. It was still on the TV but I found no mention of it on the internet.
I could hear my mother’s voice and finally decided to call her (on my Nokia brick phone!).
“He wasn’t there” she said as a way of greeting.
“Rick (my brother) he wasn’t in the tower but no one can reach him.”
“I can.” I hung up on her and called him.
He picked up on the second ring.
For the next forever, I listened to him describe what was happening and his feelings. People jumping from buildings. Damn terrorists. Fucking kill them all. Fell asleep on the train so didn’t go to my Tower office.
I had no words for him. At the time I didn’t know what it meant to “hold space” but I found out that day. There were no words for the trauma and heartache he was feeling. These towers were conceived the same year he was. Tower went up in the months after Davy’s death and Tower was completed jut before my parent’s divorce. As a 10-year-old boy watching this marvel be created as his world was crumbling, I can imagine the imagination alight in the young Rick. I felt that boy being murdered in my brother’s voice as he wished for the destruction of those who had hurt him and his friends.
Part 2: A Poem
Rasp of a Nation
Where are the Sassons and Spenders?
The writers who capture the tragedy of a generation, the ones
who see a changed skyline
and know that our entire history has changed?
What are the words that touch our souls vivid imagery
of the destruction of our heart?
Driving over the bridge in the morning,
my breath catches,
The scene overlaid with memory and I still know what is
It only took one day to complete our fall, from
“Give me Liberty or Give me Death” to decide
that safety was more important than being free.
because, like unswaddled babes, we thought the world was ending.
What would the Pilgrims think? Sailing the dangerous seas,
exploring an unknown world,
all in the name of finding a new home. We took our loss
and let the fire
engulf the Constitution.
The empty hole
now a memorial,
impactful but unsure,
conspiracy theories tainting the history.
Concrete and metal pieces turned to sculptures, journalistic photographs
speak for the heart-injured,
quilts pieced together to try to heal the unknown wounds.
“9/11 is a bad day isn’t it?” said the young girl
knowing only the result but no memory of the change.
No knowledge of lifegurding that night while young children played
“jump from the burning building” off the diving board.
No memory of counseling tweens
who watched the 24 hour news cycle without a break
asking if they can go help.
Stories of depressed rescue dogs getting a bath
and realizing the dust in the air is full of blood
as the water runs red.
Like the First People’s we mowed down for progress
our tears mark our timeline.
Part 3: A Goddess Poem
**If you’ve made it this far, thank you
She crashes weddings in the city to dance with the most beautiful women and leaves without saying goodbye.
Tattooed sleeves like lace gloves she won’t let you close enough to see.
I moved to New York after the war, sinking in
to jostling, anonymity of the crowd. Ferrying
all those souls
exhausting. The city that never sleeps
energizes my late night walks.
It’s the hope that drew me here, everyone with a dream
and passion. Building
the highest skyscrapers, making moves, beating back
at the Stock Market in the decades after the crash.
We rebuilt together.
Harlem goes from ghetto to hipster,
man lands on the moon,
Chelsea is the dreamer artist,
Sandy Duncan flies over Broadway.
We believed in never
But those dreams exploded and a layer of ash
still covers the city,
and I can’t keep up with the dying.