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September Twelfth

The day of is too loud and too full of other people’s memories: there is a psychic froth that spills over and gums up everything. I remember that day like everyone else, but unlike everyone else I remember no fear, more a  dumb wonder, like Christmas without any happy.

That waning summer I had left a dot-com circling the drain for a part-time job in the university basement; my now ex-wife had started a new job, her first high school teaching position. She woke me twice, once informing, once upset, distraught, but going to work anyway. There were many like her. She explained to immigrant kids that terrorists were not interested in blowing up their high school, she told me later. I do not remember the TV in the house, or the radio in the car. I remember being on the bus listening to NPR. We had climbed the long hill into downtown, with the cranes of Harbor Island to the west, when the radio went to silence. Not even papers shuffled. Then Bob Edwards even, avuncular voice creaking with a weariness but no surprise to report the second tower had fallen.

Though I worked in the heart of the university’s multiple television services, live news could not be piped in to where I was. No news website worked. On breaks I would walk upstairs and next door to a cavernous student lounge. Normally echoing like a subway station, the place was quiet and dark. TVs dominated with their fluorescent light, the buildings falling over and over.

Those are the memories of the day.

The next day is more real to me, palpable and present, like a thing I can hold. There is only one solid memory. The day is a gorgeous, early fall day, as clear and clean as the day previous a continent away had been: the sky a vault of endless blue, a brilliant light with a gentle heat, the air cool and like a fresh sheet. The living room window was closed but I could see it all out there along with the green trees and the browned lawns, the suburban streets sunwashed and empty.

I do not work the next day. I am sitting on the living room floor in front of the TV. I am of that generation that was worried about for spending too much time in front of the TV, brain rotting on NTSC color and gibbering antics certain to doom us to drooling. I have watched a lot of TV, but I remember little endless watching of clamor and uncertainty. This was new. It was real in a way that defied reality, that had the crazy unsolid filament tenacity of the real that comes when it’s certain the car is not going to stop. The TV repeated the towers falling, repeated everything, and that day was sitting in front of the TV in that held moment just after the crash when the world is deaf.

Peter Jennings did not leave his post for days. I would look out the window and to the TV and I remember the cool block of disconnect. Fall’s beauty could not be assigned to that other fall, the falling.

Ten years later everything is ten years older, and I am thankful the forgetting can begin.


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