9/11. I don’t know how to get it out of me.
It’s been seven years since I watched, from across the river in Brooklyn, that acrid smoke billow into a sky-overwhelming blot. By the time the buildings fell, they were no longer visible from Flatbush Avenue, where I had gone out to watch. I did see the towers fall, but inside, on TV, behind the head of a shaken newscaster. Soot and stink and tiny pieces of paper and who knows what else swirled onto our windowsills, but our direct view to Manhattan was choked off entirely.
Where I live now, near Union Square, I have a north-facing view of the Empire State Building. I love the sight of it, especially in the very late afternoon when the light over the city turns gorgeous shades of aquamarine and bronze. That view comes with a slight pang, though. The apartment across the hall, where my fiancee lived when we started dating, used to have the corresponding southward view of the World Trade Center. No longer. New York has its beautiful, overbuilt Art Deco emblem still. But that less beautiful, yet just as iconic pair of towers is – still shockingly, after what feels to me more like seven months than seven years – gone.
The other night I got home late from a gig and my fiancee was watching Paul Greengrass’s powerful film United 93 on TV. I’d seen it when it came out in 2006 – I’d hesitated, but then decided it might provide some sort of catharsis – and I then assumed I’d never want to watch it again. But last night I couldn’t pull my eyes away. For once I was thankful for commercials. The raw energy crackling out from the TV and into my spinal column was spurring me to get up and stride about the apartment as often as possible, thinking up unnecessary little errands: check email, wash a mug, make a note to call so-and-so tomorrow.
As the movie ended, with the passengers rushing the cockpit and the plane spiraling down, she and I were both in tears. United 93 was the plane that went down in Pennsylvania, the only one of the four hijacked airliners that didn’t reach its terrorist target. Greengrass’s reconstruction of events on the flight was speculative, of course, but that didn’t matter to us. The tragic shock of the events, combined with the pride in our fellow citizens who fought back, had gotten us both in the gut. Again.
9/11 is still as alive today in me as it was a week, a month, or a year after the event. Days go by when I don’t think about it. But all it takes is a few images on a screen, or, sometimes, a glance out the window to bring it all back.