On a perfect late summer afternoon the boys raced around the playground. My friend and I relaxed on the grass a short distance away. I watched my two kids lazily, and gossiped with my pal. Our friends who are brand new parents strolled over with their son and joined us. It was a lovely time even if I did have to get up every few minutes in order to force my children to apologize to whomever it was that they just hit.
A small firetruck sped down the street, sirens wailing, causing the kids to stop what they were doing and watch. It turned the corner down the long side of the park and pulled next to the basketball court. An ambulance followed along with another small firetruck. In the next few minutes six police cars joined them. By then our kids had crowded around us and started asking questions.
My friend noticed a person performing chest compressions on someone before the first rescue vehicle reached them. The teens playing basketball crowed around. Paramedics took over. But after many minutes they stopped. Put the person receiving the compressions on a gurney and into the ambulance. The doors closed. The ambulance sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the teenagers wandered away and got back to their game. The cops milled around. No one seemed to be in the ambulance with the person.
The younger kids didn’t understand, but the pair of five year old boys in our group had so many questions. We explained how all the rescue personnel were there to help someone who had an accident. We did not explain that it was clear the person had died.
Forty-five minutes earlier the kids were playing on the playground. I was lounging on the ground, chatting with good friends. A person was walking around the perimeter of the park. And then that person wasn’t walking anymore. We were in a park with forty or so other humans, most of whom we will never know. We were all there together for a moment, hearts beating, living life, people coming and going. And then one of us was gone while the rest of us watched awkwardly from a distance.
The boys ran off and started to play again, our chitchat resumed although our eyes were on the ambulance. We left the park, went home, cooked dinner, told our spouses about it, checked local news sources to see if it was mentioned, but mostly got on with our lives.
But the people who loved the person in the park? September 10, 2014 will be a day they never forget. Their lives changed yesterday. I thought about those people last night. And somehow the thought of them got tied up in the thoughts about today.
Thirteen years later and it would be fair to say that I haven’t come to terms with September 11th. Every anniversary I feel closer and further away from what happened. I feel angrier. More lost.
When the subway I was riding on that day pulled into the Fulton Street station both planes had already hit the towers. But the majority of the people who would die there were still alive. They were alive as the subway left Fulton Street and made the short trip to the World Trade Center stop. They were alive when we arrived in the Village at the West 4th Street station. They were alive as I climbed the stairs from underground on 86th Street on the Upper West Side. They were alive when I took money out of the ATM and bought a pack of Camel Lights. They were alive while I rushed into the tiny studio apartment that served as an office. As I desperately tried to reach my boss. As I turned on the tiny TV. As I tried to comprehend that a land line in New York City did not have a dial tone. And then suddenly they were dead.
It has been thirteen years and I still don’t understand. I was so close to what happened geographically. And I was unscathed.
I was so close geographically, but I lost neither my life, nor the life of a loved one. Sometimes location means nothing. Grief doesn’t permeate my life every single day the way it does for those who lost family that day. Most of the time I can easily block out the memories. Today I can’t. The morning thirteen years ago replays over and over in my mind as I walk through life pretending that all is well.
But isn’t that how most Americans experience September 11th? Loss can take your breath away even when you don’t know the person in the park or the people on the planes, in the towers, or the government building.
I haven’t come to terms with what happened that day. But it sure as hell has shown me what poison hate and extremism are. Directed at us or by us.
Sometime between ’99 and ’01. A boozy night on our roof with K and a disposable camera.