This was first posted on Sept. 11, 2011 but WordPress’ servers must be on east coast time….
I have been trying to avoid these 9-11 remembrances, mainly because I think so much damage has been wrought upon American society and politics from the misuse of the fear that 9-11 engendered in the American public (not to mention the literal destruction from 10 years of two wars) that the current situation just depresses me too much. I feel rather helpless and a stranger in my own country as this Conservative tide drowns out reason and fact-based thinking, while simultaneously the rich get richer, economic criminality on Wall Street goes unpunished and swaths of our basic civil liberties have probably disappeared forever.
But I’ve been overwhelmed finally by one Facebook post after another of “where was I when” accounts, in addition to the unavoidable content on TV and the radio that I can’t avoid my own memories of a date that changed my own life very directly and personally.
September 10, 2001 into the 11th, I had been with Jenny till 4 AM in the emergency room, so I was deliriously tired 2 hours later when her brother Brian called to tell her to turn on the TV.
I eventually trudged out to the living room to join her. On the screen, I saw smoke coming from one Tower and just a haze behind it. I couldn’t conceive that one of the Towers had already fallen even though I heard the newscaster say those words. They simply didn’t make sense so I ignored those words. I couldn’t comprehend the fact yet. Yes, I recognized that this was a serious fire, but I had confidence that the N.Y.F.D. would take care of it. So, I said to Jenny, “It’s a fire. They’ll put it out. Come back to bed.”
But she didn’t join me: her brother’s call had more thoroughly woken her.
When I got up again about an hour or so later, yes all things had changed….
I loved Jenny before 9-11. Deeply, deeply, deeply. I still love Jenny five years after being divorced from her. (To clarify, this is NOT to say I still pine to be married to her again… we’ve both moved on in those matters.) But I am fairly certain, if it had not been for 9-11, I would have delayed that life changing decision to propose marriage. Would that delay have become permanent or not – I have no idea. Would that delay, if temporary, actually have improved the chances that our marriage would have lasted longer? Again, I have no way to know for certain.
I am only certain it would have been different if those jets hadn’t toppled the Twin Towers.
You see, I had been planning on buying her a ring – just a ring, as a surprise gift from a Native American Gallery in Vancouver simply because she had been so taken by them from an image in a magazine. The gallery person asked me if it was to be an engagement ring. Actually seemed to assume it would be.
That question took me by surprise – complete surprise – but instead of saying no, I let myself be torn by the idea. I said, “yes, go ahead, email me some pictures of engagements sets” and then proceeded to torment myself, yes or no, yes or no?
While I have NEVER been so compatible with someone who I was romantically tied to (about a 75% exact commonality of personality and interests and of the remaining 25%, most of that difference was made of things we were both willing to explore and learn from), there were nonetheless serious passion problems on her part for me. Thus, I remained resolutely unsure whether I would actually purchase an engagement set.
Then the Towers fell.
My entire young adulthood had been in New York. Enormous changes and consequential experiences happened and I consider it my other hometown.
One of the first things I did when I arrived to go to NYU was take a freshman tour that went to the Observation Deck. Over the years, I was in the subway shopping concourse repeatedly; I preferred going to the Trade Center to get half price theatre tickets rather than go to Times Square. The Towers were my map – quite literally as when I became directionally discombobulated, I looked for the Towers to know where south was and where the Empire State building was to know north. And just a month prior to 9-11, Jenny and I took a vacation to the City, staying in the Hilton right across the street from the WTC. And on and on, i.e. the World Trade Center and environs were very much a part of my New York City life.
And then when all that horrific pain and destruction occurred on 9-11 and mortality spread like a fine powder of ash over the country and blotting out a block of my own history, I believed with all my heart, the only thing that mattered in this world was love. That was the only thing that made all of the pain bearable. So, with new resolve, I ignored my justified fears and doubts that Jenny and I were missing an important ingredient that makes a marriage work.
Two years later I was in such a state of depression about that missing-ness, I had to change the situation or I felt we would grow to hate each other, and she agreed. However, in no way does the fact that we chose to split amicably and cooperatively make it any less painful. It was exceedingly agonizing, and unstuck me for about another 2 years after our split. After all, we may still be friends who talk regularly and see each other occasionally, but I lost my best friend whom I did everything with.
And as strange as this will sound, the end of my marriage is always accompanied by the thought in my head that Lonnie Anderson was right. Most people, I assume, when they think of Lonnie, they remember her ample endowments, her blonde hair and perhaps her comic gifts. But when I think of her, I think of her wisdom and how she shocked me to my idealistic core as a little boy. I was watching her on an interview show… maybe the Mike Douglas Show… and when asked about her break-up with Burt Reynolds, she said that one of the most painful lessons she ever learned was that love does not conquer all. Two people can love each other and it just doesn’t matter. I couldn’t conceive that could be so. It just didn’t make sense to me. (Postscript – I’m being told authoritatively that my memory is playing tricks on me, that I had to have seen this interview when I was older and that I’m conflating two memories… certainly possible, but no matter, the concept still holds true…)
When examples would pop up over the years (splits that occurred where there was no betrayal or cruelty), I suspected that perhaps their love was not deep enough or truly real.
Until it happened to us.
There is no magical umbrella from the reign of ash.
And yet love’s still the best thing we’ve got.
But back specifically to this 10 year anniversary of 9-11. As that event overwhelmed me with intense emotion that was very temporal that faded with the terrors of the everyday, so too that traumatic event ever so briefly created a false unity that quickly coarsened from shoulder to shoulder to eye for any eye, whether it be guilty or innocent.
The Towers fell and while a Pandora’s box opened to release misery and evil, trapped beneath that debris has to be hope… that we will love each other, even though we are all different, both within the nation, and beyond it. It won’t always work, but it’s the best thing we’ve got.
Tangentially related to some of my points, here is a very leftist, (ironically very) left brained analysis about right brain behavior by George Lakoff, Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics… at the least it, it intrigued my left brain: