Monday, September 10, 2007

Some time earlier one prophet, the almost aptly named mayor of Baltimore, Clifford B. Cropper, had scoffed at gloomy forecasts that the war would hurt Maryland's tourist business. Instead, the mayor declared, submarine activity off the beaches would create a great new tourist attraction for shore resorts. Indeed, when the war did arrive residents and businesses in coastal areas seemed determined to help the lurking U-boats. For six miles along the ocean edge, Miami and its suburbs continued to light up the night sky, turning freighters and tankers into perfect targets by silhouetting them against the glow; blackouts, the locals said, would ruin the winter tourist trade. Similar attitudes prevailed northward along the coast. - Thomas Parrish, The Submarine

We're coming up on another disastrous anniversary. Tomorrow.

Six years. Hard to believe that that much time has passed. Six months after the collapse of the Twin Towers, Dan and I were living in New York. We moved back down here six months after 8-29. Please, Lord, don't let another major catastrophe happen in these here United States, because, if it does happen, I know where we'll be living next...

Three months after we settled into a place in Queens, the pile at Ground Zero was cleared away and deposited at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, save for one piece of metal that was carried out of the "bathtub" with great ceremony, something I listened to on the radio until I couldn't bear it any longer. I have a friend who ran from the towers as they were collapsing and who won't go into Manhattan at night anymore. My husband's business had had offices in the WTC and had lost nearly twenty people whose names were engraved on the wall of the foyer in the new office building in Brooklyn. One of Dan's coworkers would have added another name to that wall: she thought the impact of the plane was an earthquake, went under her desk, and her life might well have ended there if someone hadn't come back for her.

The hustle and bustle of the subways and commuter train stations now includes National Guardsmen and women, and it most likely will as long as our government is keeping the "avenging" machine alive. Recently, when a steam pipe burst underground and left a midtown street looking Ground Zero itself, I knew there were many people who were absolutely, positively on edge and thought the worst, because they knew what the worst could be. They had had a front-row seat, after all. It was these same people who extended a great deal of sympathy to Dan and me when 8-29 happened. They also have made it a point to keep themselves informed about what has happened since - some of them by reading this very blog (hi, all!).

The closest I've been to seeing it is looking at the "bathtub" from the reopened entry from the E train subway station, an entry that used to deposit straphangers into the large underground mall beneath the Trade Center. I didn't want to look at the site while it was being cleared, in part because free tickets for timed viewings from a platform looking out on the pile were being doled out daily at South Street Seaport (which I thought was kind of crass, though possibly necessary for crowd control reasons), but mainly because it was heartbreaking enough to see the nearby church surrounded with shrines, with pictures of the missing and numbers to call - numbers that in most cases would never be called unless DNA testing on nearly microscopic remains revealed that the missing was definitely deceased. Yet another busload of emergency workers was dropped off for a memorial service at the church while I was there.

A short while ago, my friend Shali was riding in a car with me to a final gathering of the summer camp staff, and she mentioned that she had seen the movie World Trade Center. She asked me if I'd seen it. I hadn't. I didn't, and still don't, intend to.

I found myself getting hysterical, recalling that day, though I wasn't in Manhattan at the time. I was making glass vases here in New Orleans and listening to NPR's Morning Edition as I worked, becoming more and more distracted as the bad news took over the radio. I went into the shop in front of the studio, talked to my boss about what was going on, and we turned on the TV only to see the towers fall. I suddenly had to run for the phone and check on my aunt, who lives in Manhattan. I had to make sure that my cousins were okay, that the new law firm my aunt's ex-husband had become a partner in had offices nowhere near Lower Manhattan, that my grandparents hadn't had to go into the city for any reason that day. I managed to leave a message for my aunt, which was more than my grandmother had managed to do. When my aunt called me back, I could hear military planes roaring by her apartment as she asked me for information. My younger cousin had seen one of the towers fall from a distance as he and my aunt left school early, and, once they got home, my aunt kept the TV, the radio, and the computer off because she didn't want him to see any more.

"I'm sorry," Shali said. "I didn't mean to make you upset." And she hadn't meant to.

I was upset by the memory. I was also somewhat uncomfortable that this girl, who had already experienced much in the way of tragedy in her home, could be somewhat detached from those events, which, in the movie Oliver Stone made, were made into a tragic yet heroically dramatic background for the Port Authority cops at the center of the story. Had 9-11 become that distant a memory? Enough to be distilled into entertainment?

Is this also what is to become of New Orleans after its own tragedy? Yet another casualty of war?

On the occasion of yet another yahrtzeit, I can only cling to a small hope that we are not ultimately among the forgotten, that we are not fodder for Hollywood moguls to make billions on our stories.

Believe me when I say that, at this point in time, it is a very...small...hope.

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