Yes, Monday morning.
Took longer than usual to go as far
as 72nd as the local is now running on the express tracks and the
express is running on the local tracks. Have assumed, as with everything
that has so far occured, that this condition is now permanent.
Here at work my colleague Dee Dee
is back at work today; she came in with her husband, Gavin. It's
a typical story, now: he was on the 104th floor of the South Tower.
When the first plane hit the other tower three guys in his office
got up and immediately went downstairs, catching the elevator to
75 and then taking the express down. By the time the three guys
got to the lobby the second building had been hit. Her brother-in-law
called her sister twice, the second time to say smoke was filling
the floor and he was on his way down. "He fucked up,"
Dee Dee's brother kept saying. He was working in the World Financial
Center, across the West Side Highway from the Trade Towers, was
outside when the second plane hit. Says that dozens were jumping,
you weren't sure what they were at first. When the first tower collapsed
everybody, he said, started to run. Uncontrolled mass panic on the
part of everyone, swarming up along the river walk to the highway.
(There've been plenty of reports of injuries suffered by people
trampled in the two stampedes away from the collapsing buildings).
By the time he got to the Village, the second tower collapsed. As
you might imagine he's got a combat-level thousand yard stare; I'd
forgotten but now remember older brothers etc. looking like that,
back in the late 60s and early 70s, after they came back from Vietnam.
My neighbor, across the hall, a young
Latina woman (and her seven-year-old son) is fine, although she
worked in a building across the street from the Towers. Again, she
was outside when the first one started to come down; her particular
crowd streamed eastward as far as they could go, then up. "I
guess you'll be seeing me around the apartment the next few weeks."
Friday night Valeria read what I'd
written so far. "You are describing events," she told
me. "Not emotion."
And she's absolutely right. So let
me say how I'm feeling this morning, and how I've been feeling.
The first thing I want to make clear
is how gratified I was to know that V was all right, last Tuesday;
how overwhelmed with happiness, how comforted. We weren't sure we
were going to see each other that day, but once the trains to Brooklyn
began, she was able to get back. We have spent as much time as we
have together, since.
I feel deeply blessed, and feel as
guilty. When I think of what Ellen and Ellie & all those of
our friends who live south of 14th went through (and in the case
of Ellie, still going through; her place might not be accessible
again for weeks, at the least; she's headed up to New Hampshire.)
I know we came out very, very lucky. We came out easy, in fact.
I'm feeling terrible nostalgia for
buildings that I never found attractive, except sometimes at a distance.
I think of all the times I went through the mall underneath the
towers, on my way to the PATH station to go visit Valeria when she
still lived in Jersey City. During the past three years I became
very familiar with everything down there. I remember V & I meeting
her mother down there, at the head of the escalators that went up
from the station. She'd stand and wait in front of Godiva, which
was next to an HSBC branch. I remember being down at the Border's
WTC back in June (last time I was there, in fact) when Gaiman had
his tour kickoff appearance. I remember walking with Katya &
Carrie & Robert Legault across the bridge that led between the
towers & World Financial Center, en route to Ellie's apartment,
for the wake after the memorial service for Jenna, April 6. The
orchid show was going on, and the bridge and Palm Court downstairs
(also destroyed, pretty much, though the palms are still standing)
were full of orchids. On our refrigerator is a little card of a
Boston bull terrier Carrie sent us a month or so ago, thanking us
for brunch; she'd bought the card in the mall underneath with Ellie.
Any of us might have been there, and
but for the grace of God, or synchronicity, or something, we weren't.
Not this time, at least. This isn't a comforting feeling, still.
Familiar landmarks vanish constantly
in NY -- they're getting ready, or have been getting ready, to build
a new Columbia building around the corner from me at 110th where
D'agostino was -- but never before have so many vanished so quickly,
so awfully. I cannot begin to imagine what the place will look like,
once it has finally been cleared.
I haven't looked at a newspaper since
Saturday morning except just to glimpse headlines & pages(I
did save them, though); I haven't turned on any of the news programming
except at the request of others when they've come to visit. The
more I saw the worse I was feeling -- jittery, irritable, unable
to focus or concentrate, all the anxieties that signify low-level
signs of PTSD -- so I stopped watching. This morning I read the
Daily News on the way down, and have been keeping up with things
on the Internet. I think I'm probably able to handle print again
but I'm not sure if that will last. This weekend I ramped up my
dosage of Wellbutrin (an antidepressant) from 75 mg back to 225,
and depression in some sense -- the chemical, I'd ordinarily say,
but in this case who knows? -- has lifted.
Last night, in a dream, I looked up
through the sunroof of an automobile and saw a thin dark tower three
times taller than the Trade towers.
I'm terribly sad. And I'm terribly
angry, and nowhere of course to strike out with said anger. And
ergo have the same sense that I suspect everyone has, that of being
buffeted by events. This of course exacerbates the sorrow, and if
turned inward, becomes depression automatically.
The emotion I'm feeling now that is
the strongest and most disturbing because newest is fear. Fear of
a very particular sort.
I was just too young to consciously
remember the Cuban missile crisis (although some of my most powerful
memories in my life are of the Kennedy assassination, a year later)
so have no direct familiarity with genuine, immediate, and justified
fear over ongoing current events. For years of course we all grew
up with the possibility, however remote at times it seemed, of their
being nuclear war, but that was always something at the back of
the head (although I think that fear, suspicion, call it what you
will, influenced the middle of the last century far more than has
been understood or admitted).
This, however, is a different situation.
The fear of a nuclear, chemical or biological event that *may very
well, and probably will, happen,* somewhere, if not New York. Fear
that genuine, and in our new context justified, will influence this
century as greatly.
This doesn't have entirely bad effects.
It may sound like a cliche, or at least reminiscent of what our
parents or grandparents have told us, but I really haven't felt
so alive in my life.
But this past weekend --- on Friday
night, V & I stayed in, and friends from across the street came
over. We fixed pasta and then watched Tarkovsky's SOLARIS, at least
as far as the journey along the freeway to which you'd alerted me.
Saturday we went to Grand Central (which seems now like one of those
temporary buildings erected for the Columbian or Pan-Pacific Expositions,
looking solid though made of chicken wire and spackle) and caught
the train up to Wave Hill, a former estate on the Hudson in Riverdale,
in the Bronx. It is open, it is distant, it is beautiful, and we
had several peaceful hours there.
On the way back we walked from Grand
Central down 42nd as far as 72nd & Broadway. The main thing
noticed in Times Square is that presently it's no more crowded there
than it would have been years ago; the tourists have, at this point,
mostly either left town or are at the airports waiting to get out
of town. No wonder there's less traffic, fewer people on the streets
even today, when things are about as much back in shape as they're
going to be any time soon.
Rather than having one tremendous
drop-off place for flowers etc.(I gather Union Square's is pretty
good sized), there sprang up all throughout town, at various places
-- on 42nd between 6th & 7th, at the Maine Memorial on Columbus
Circle, in Riverside Park -- places where pictures of the dead were
put up, candles were left, single flowers; the shrines are spontaneous,
and of human size. (On Riverside drive, Sunday morning, three candles
were left burning just outside a delivery entrance at one of the
Sunday we had friends over for brunch
-- Ellen, Carrie, Robert -- and then went for a walk through Riverside,
the drive & the park. Ran into Peter Straub & his wife and
we talked for awhile. At Fairway, a fine supermarket at 74th, we
all went our separate way for today.
It's getting harder for me to talk
about what has happened, when friends call (Judith Clute called
last night). There just isn't anything more to say about what happened;
only what will happen.
I noticed that among the movies not
shown this weekend as they were scheduled to be shown (INDEPENDENCE
DAY, on NBC, and I wonder if that will ever be shown again; AIRPORT,
on TCM) was GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA, on AMC. A response equivalent
to suspending 6-year olds for bringing fingernail clippers to school,
I think, but perhaps not.
The most fascinating thing about all
this is that today, for the first time, I can feel, I know, that
the event has become contextualized; that we now expect smoke in
the air, train delays, the papers full of rising body counts (though
still @5,000); that the fear in the front of our heads has settled
into the middle; that the bar has been so lifted for imagination
as to be scarcely understandable, still. That these are aspects
of reality that are, now, real and therefore not as shocking in
some very real way as they initially were. But, as you were saying
when you told me about the person you knew who'd just come back
from the Buddhist retreat, the event taken as history is extremely
different from the event experienced as reality.
In the eulogy I wrote for Jenna, back
in March, after she died so suddenly, I noted the following: Borges
spoke of how his father once remarked that he realized it was impossible
to remember his childhood. He had, he said, come to understand that
what he had always believed to be his memories of events, or scenes,
or people, were in fact memories only of the last time he had had
the memory. That each time the shade of the memory came to mind,
its underlying actuality receded ever further into the irretrievable
past. Today we might use the metaphor of a videotape, duped infinite
times, over endless generations, until only the blurriest outline
remained of a crystalline vision.
But the kind of memories seared into
the head last week, I think, are of the kind that remain painfully
sharp, and clear. I remember my second grade teacher clapping her
hand to her face when the principal came on over the loudspeaker
and said the President had been "ambushed in Texas," and
the immediate thing that came to my mind involved cowboys, sagebrush,
and horses. I remember my mother & grandparents wandering through
the house, the TV on constantly in the background, obviously as
dumbfounded as we all are now. I remember in fact watching TV almost
constantly, the black and white blurs, the constant reiteration.
I remember how it poured rain, all day, throughout the east on Saturday,
the day after the assassination. I remember hearing my mom saying
"what happened?" when Ruby shot Oswald. I remember the
drumming, all day long, on Monday; and I remember them playing Taps
in the background at the very end, around suppertime on Monday.
I remember my mom saying to my grandmother, "turn it off. Just
turn it off." The TV, meaning.
In this instance too I suppose memory
will offer no relief, as parts of it will never fade.