Letter From New York September 8, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

I am sitting on Labor Day afternoon at the bar of Café du Soleil, my favorite Bistro on the Upper West Side, a place I know because of my friend Lionel, who is sitting next to me, who is chatting with other regulars here while I work on my letter.

I have been doing my best this weekend to avoid writing my letter. The reason? It is the week leading up to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the city is prepping for it and I am not prepared for it. I have been having harbingers of the anniversary all this year. In Norfolk, VA I heard jets that took me back to that night and I have been running from the memories since then. They are burned in my soul and I feel that day intensely when I think about it. That’s why Norfolk was hard.

Monday was hard too. My brother was in town and before we went to breakfast we wandered through the Time-Warner Center at Columbus Circle where there is an exhibit on the heroes of 9/11, photos of those who lived. The policemen, the firemen, the pilots who flew the sorties over the city that are now so indelibly in my mind that the sound of those jets, the F-14’s, will take me back to that night, all their pictures are in the public areas of the Time-Warner Center and, today, reading them, I was about to start crying when my phone rang and I was dragged back into reality.

I was changed by that day; everyone was changed by that day and to think that ten years have gone by is hard, almost impossible. Could that much time have gone by? Or was it not in another lifetime that all this happened, another world that isn’t really real? But it is real. It happened. I was there. I felt the earth shake when the first plane hit the first building. My partner called me, asked me: do you know what’s going on? No. Turn on the TV. I did. The world was changing in front of my eyes. Our eyes. We all saw it, thanks to live television.

So I have had a hard time facing the fact it’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I am having a hard time having that day come back so immediately into my life. I am permanently changed by that day. I am, somehow, a little, scarred by that day. I didn’t lose anyone but I lost the world in which I lived. We’re not the same. The world is not the same. And I am sorry we are not the same.

It will be interesting to see how this week plays out as we move toward the anniversary. We cannot “celebrate” this anniversary. We can acknowledge it; we will – everyone will.
It was the seminal moment of this part of American history and I was there. I walked those streets with old man death. There was the smell of death and burnt plastic and my street was full of papers that were blown down from the Twin Towers. And I will, next week, walk those streets, will remember, will sort my feelings from those days and see what sense I make of it all.

I will let you all know. I don’t know how many tears are between this moment and next week – I just know that I know that I was here, that I, in the first person, experienced 9/11, have a set of memories from that day, was at the Pearl Harbor of my time, and that I am still experiencing that day because that kind of experience never dies in one who lives through it.

My brother told me in the days following that he was sorry that I was in New York when it happened. There was no other place I would have been. I was here. I was at the point of history. It was hard but it doesn’t get more real than that.

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