I walk into Windows on the World; my eyes are drawn to the skyline. The sun is brilliant this day; everything inside the restaurant is glowing preternaturally. I don’t detect the odor of the fine breakfast food, but I see the waiters and they are gimping along with their trays. The people are all at the tables eating, but there seems to be nothing on their plates.
I sit at my table and lift my copy of the New York Times. A bus boy pours some water in my glass, but his hand is shaking and the ice and water run all over the table. I look up at him and he is like a holograph; I can see the skyline right through him.
I look at the newspaper and see the date: September 11, 2011. The headlines are illegible, as is the text of the stories. There are pictures on the front page that are all blurry. I look at my watch and note that it is 8:45. I think I have a meeting or something that I must get to; I start trying to signal the waiters, but they turn their backs on me and stare out the windows.
I open the paper to the next page and I can make out some of the letters. “Tenth Anniversary…” and the rest is a blur. I hear a familiar voice and look up. My grandfather is standing over the table with a cigar in his mouth. “Hey, Pop,” I say, as if twenty seven years haven’t passed since he died. “Want some breakfast?”
Pop shakes his head and points to the exit door. “You have to get out of here.”
I fold the paper and look up again and he is gone, but at the same time the building starts rumbling like an earthquake is hitting the city. The table shakes, my glass topples over, and the floor beneath my feet is turning into gelatin. I look at the exit door and run as Pop suggested. I throw open the door and step out into the sunshine and the blue sky is all around me. I start falling and look back, but there is no building at all. I am falling toward the earth, and I see a crowd of people below me. I see them all standing there dressed in black, and I notice the footprints of the towers. I want to scream but I cannot, and I continue to fall towards the earth, but then, as is always the case with this dream, I wake up.
After all this time and space between then and now, I am still haunted, still hurting, and still looking for answers. People have moved ahead and on with their lives, and their ability to do so is admirable. Many people who lost loved ones have remarried, or gotten divorced, or moved away from New York City, and some have died. Out of necessity and despite things beyond their control, these people have dealt with 9-11, but many of us still have not found peace and perhaps never will.
I still mourn the loss in my family, of old friends, and the devastation of my city that I love. I cannot look at the skyline and not think about what happened. I see an airplane overhead (a sight that once used to make me think of travel to exotic places) and I get agitated and nervous. In the street I find myself looking up, watching the buildings and wondering and waiting if they too will fall. On the subway or bus every package or backpack seems sinister; the passengers could be terrorists. There is a feeling of unease, of things falling apart, and I have no sense of equilibrium or any hope that it will get better.
I hear the naysayers all the time. “You have to get over it,” is frequently said. “There hasn’t been an attack in ten years; what are you worried about?” This is another good one. “Snap out of it!” is yet another, said more vehemently than when Cher spoke that line in Moonstruck. Perhaps a smack on the face should follow those words. None of this matters though. If you are a New Yorker you have been scarred, and all the time in the world won’t hide the evidence, but we can take great pains to cover up and conceal this from others, which only makes the hurting get more intense.
I have much for which to be thankful, and I never forget that, but 9-11 is omnipresent for me in this city. Maybe if I could pull myself away, perhaps live in Fiji or Bali or someplace like that, I would be able to move on. I do fear that out of sight will not be out of mind, and I could go to the ends of the earth, but I would still have my dreams and nightmares, and there would be no denying that it happened and changed my city and my life forever.
We mark the tenth anniversary collectively. There are ceremonies, prayer services, and gatherings to commemorate the day. All this is well and good, but it is also hard to ignore. The media pounds the message home day after day, so to escape the onslaught is nearly impossible. I believe it is good to do all those things because we never want to forget what happened, but it is also painful to remember for many of us. We are the ones caught in a constant struggle; we wish to honor the memories of those lost, but in doing so we lose a little piece of ourselves each time.
I want my children to remember the day and to understand what happened, so I try to confront it as best as I can. When my daughter asks, “Why did we lose Uncle Steve that day?” it is an incredibly more difficult question than “Where do babies come from?” or “Why is the sky blue?” I can talk to her about it, and in doing so it helps me cope, but it still doesn’t stop the pain or the tears.
So this year is the same as last year but infinitely more difficult; ten years of my life and your life and everyone’s lives have been spent in the shadow of 9-11. Some pretend it never happened, but then they could find themselves like I am in my dream: up in the air and ready for a big fall. In this case I know I am like Humpty Dumpty; nothing can put me back together again and make me the same person I was on September 10, 2001. I have to live with that, accept that, and try to move on.
September 11 will always mean something to people. To those who wanted to hurt us, it is a holiday. To New Yorkers it is a day of infamy, right up there with December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963. We who lived through that day know where we were when we heard about it; we will never forget how that day started and how it ended.
As the years go by there will be less people who can say they lived through 9-11. It is our sacred duty to carry the torch, to tell young people about it, and make sure that no one ever forgets. There is a beautiful memorial that will open to the public in New York City, and that will always be a reminder, even after we are gone. Those of us who knew and loved those who died will one day die too, and the voices who tell the stories will change, but the stories will remain for all the generations to come.
Ten years have gone and many people will gather for the ceremony, and many more people will watch the proceedings on television, but the most important audience will be those lost. They are watching and listening, so we had better never falter and never stop marking the day, because if nothing else they have a right to know they are remembered now and until the end of time.