worlds collide

You’re not a writer if you’re not writing something today about that day 10 years ago …

My wife was screaming about something on TV, but I couldn’t get out of bed. My head was heavy with flu, the sounds couldn’t penetrate the haze of mucus and sick. We had moved to San Francisco from New York two and a half years ago. I still missed The City, still missed the feeling of living in the giant beating heart of the world, a heart that pounded with the rhythm of my own. I grew up in a Jersey suburb 45 minutes from the Holland Tunnel. One of the few reliable moments of magic in my youth was the anticipation of a trip to NYC, which peaked the moment the towers came into view around a bend in the turnpike. The towers were monumental, elemental, permanent – I could no more imagine the city without them than the sky without the sun.

But a plane had just crashed into one of them. Surely an accident, I’ll read about it tomorrow when I’m over this flu. My wife is still yelling, and I bury my head deeper into the pillow and ignore the looming reality. And then the second plane into the second tower. Now even my virus-addled mind has enough strength to put together the picture, or maybe, isn’t strong enough to construct an alternate interpretation. It’s not an accident. The towers are coming down, the world is ending. I finally roll out of bed with just enough momentum to come to rest in front of the TV, where I sit slackjawed for the next two days, watching the grim images pile up, the towers falling, bodies falling, people running, debris and dust and ineffable dismay, the pictures and posters of the lost.

A call from the office asks when I’m coming in, gentle but insistent. I don’t know, it doesn’t matter, I’d already decided I couldn’t do this work anymore, before that day. And now, these people, they couldn’t understand, with their happy California sunshine and bleeding optimism. They couldn’t understand what it meant to turn a corner of anticipation and be greeted only by empty sky. I wanted nothing of them. I wanted to go back, back home, back East. Now that trip could seem like a run to a ravaged home rather than a run from a broken promise.

But that was a problem; the excuse was too easy and at the same time, insurmountable. I could tell myself that I was going home to help, but no one could look at that smouldering hole in the earth and believe in selfish lies. I wasn’t running to help, I was running away, away from expectations, dissatisfactions, disappointments. The loss of September 11 deserved better than to serve as easy explanation.

Four months later, I had quit the firm but hadn’t left the Bay Area. My life had become unmoored from a certain stable career path, into a meandering decade of exploration and discovery, of triumph and loss and the subtle closeness of the two, of searching for monuments to fill the hole in the sky.

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