New York City, The intersection of Greenwich and Liberty. We’d just walked through the Twin Tower Memorial. The recessed fountains, rimmed as they are with brass – engraved with the names of the dead. Water ever flowing, down and down again. Now the new tower stands with all it’s shifting angularity. Like others, I stood in place looking up. It’s an out of town’er thing, but who cares, I couldn’t resist. It compels those standing at it’s base to stare up and farther up toward it’s spire’d top, obscured then visible again as clouds drift, directed by shifting currents, winds I couldn’t feel.
Fourteen years have passed. The bitter feelings, the ache had receded. Something of a milestone, I guess. That confused welter of thought and emotion, nowhere near as strong. In it’s place was something reverent and something optimistic. The reflection pools – outlines that they are of the foundations of the towers we remember – they’re huge and yet in some way, smaller than I expected. An indication maybe, that time had done that thing that time does – making hard things easier. I still felt it, yes. Body memory moved things inside. But the intensity has faded.
Like most, I was nowhere near when the towers fell. Yet, like most I “took it personal.” No, I wasn’t there when it happened… could count with a few fingers the number of times I’d been in the city. I knew no one who had died. Still, there was the residue of all that emotion – we all felt it, all had things to say and we said them, and said them again.
Tired of the feeling, I turned it off. I’d begun to feel that all I might think I had to say was insipid compared to the experience of others.
Ya, national pride, national sorrow. Shared anger – I felt all that stuff. But not long after, I was making an effort to avoid any mention of the event. There was nothing I could do and it felt horrible, so I shut it down, best I could, just tuned it out. Whether from some emotional weakness or a healthy, protective stance in the face of overwhelming, shitty feelings, I allowed myself to think only so far – as far as it took to wonder how long – how long until the ugly emotions begin to fade?
I guess it took about fourteen years. Max, Karen and I had walked all around the area, looking at the new building and the memorial to the old ones. Sure, I felt something, an ache that wanted to lunge up and out of me. But it was so contained, minimal by comparison. So, fourteen years.
We were walking away when I saw Fire Station No. 10. It’s location, the proximity. The implications snagged the edges of…
“NO, this can’t be!”
I tried to walk past, actually made it another thirty steps before stopping to look back. Two fire guys stood talking where the stations big bay doors met the sidewalk. Cutting across the street, they watched as I approached. Another out of town’er. Sorry, I thought, but here I come. No telling – no way to count how many times they’d had to talk with people like me.
“Was this station here… then?” My first words – hoping they would say no.
“Ya, right here. Always have been,” Something like that. About that simple. Just a few words. All that was necessary. The whole story. End of story.
I felt, saw my hand rise involuntarily – an attempt to shield my mind from horror, our eyes meeting for only a moment before my head bowed. It all came back. But through their eyes, their memories and emotions. I turned almost immediately and walked away. A couple dozen questions had flashed to mind. but I wasn’t going to ask them. “I’m sorry” rose in me but never made it past my lips.
I’m sorry? As sorry as they were? Not a chance. Feeling like a fool I simply walked away.
“Thanks.” Just a few steps into my retreat I heard one of them say it. “Thanks, or, “Thank you.”
Thanking me for what? I’ll never know for sure. Maybe it was rhetorical – “Thank you, you ass-hole, for not caring enough to ask after our dead friends!” No, that was just my projection – me feeling so small in the face of the facts.
“Thank you,” one of them had said. I think what he really meant was, “Thank you for not asking those questions. The ones we’ve had to answer a hundred times every day. The ones we have to hide our hearts from because the answers stare us in the face. Right there. Right across the street.”
Ya… it was a national tragedy. Yes, what we felt in every state, in every town. What we felt was genuine.
But there at the corner of Greenwich and Liberty streets in lower Manhattan it was personal.
“Hey, you two, I’m – I really am sorry!”
I can say it this way – write it here. I didn’t feel like I had the right to say it to their faces. By comparison, I had no idea what sorry really meant.
#911 #WorldTradeCenter #NewYorkCity #FireStationNo.10