Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Anniversary Anxiety

They say that time heals all wounds, yet every year September comes and goes and I don't feel any healing. As a matter of fact, a piece of me dies on the eleventh of September year after year. Some may say that after 7 years, it's time to move on with my life and get it together. Some may say it's unhealthy to dwell on the pain and suffering I endure each year. I disagree. I don't dare say that it's healthy, however.

On September 11, 2001, we, as a nation, became victims of a world changing event. It was one of the most heinous crimes ever committed against humanity. I am in no way trying to undermine any of the rest of the world's problems or historical events. Simply, the way in which these events were carried out - sneakily and cowardly - was quite jarring. Everyone became part of the affected that day. Some of us more than others. Folks will, throughout their lives, come in contact with individuals present for the attacks or individuals who lost a friend or family member in the attacks. I, however, can personally speak from both sides of that coin.

I started my morning like the hundreds before it in an identical manner. I had the unique privilege of watching the planes crash, watching and hearing the towers collapse, being chased by dust and debris and being lost amidst chaos and mayhem. I left my house that day at 7am or so and did not arrive home until 1pm the following day. 30 hours out of the house - part of which was spent fearing for my life, others were spent frantically making sense of the events, finding my way somewhere safe, getting in touch with loved ones or laying awake, staring at the ceiling wondering where that sucker punch to the gut just came from. It was on that 30th hour that I finally was safe as safe gets in my childhood home with my family.

What should have been relief turned into further devastation when I learned my uncle was missing. Amidst tears and a knotted stomach I found and scanned photos of him and uploaded them to news sites as fast as my shaky hands would allow. I hadn't slept. I hadn't eaten. I hadn't showered. But what else could I do? Surely SOMEONE had seen him in person, would see the pictures and would make the connection back to us. Surely.

His firehouse was 85 blocks away, yet the 2nd on scene. How could a truck that far get there that quickly? It was done with an 18-year veteran at the helm. This would be my uncle. His experience and position would be what caused the inevitable. As a driver among that mess, he was doomed to arrange the truck while the team went in the first time, separating him from his herd of brothers. This is why we received the news that the house of Ladder 13 and Engine 22 lost 9 men that day - the remains of 8 of which were found. The 1 fateful man who was never recovered by so much as a stitching was, yet again our beloved family member.

Less than 2 weeks later, I was required to bring myself past that spot via a different path back to my office and collect my ridiculous salary like all was well and unaffected. That is, until the flailing economy caused by that day, left me professionally homeless 4 months and 4 days later. Of course in the span of time from the event until I lost my job, I also watched my mother slip into shadow and become and unrecognizable version of herself, attempted to comfort my aunt and cousins, spent our first Christmas without him and suffered through a pretend funeral for a photo only.

I've poured so much of myself, my thoughts, my feelings and my energy into these events that I just don't understand how I could possibly let go of my feelings. Frankly, I wouldn't want to even if I could. As something only true New Yorkers can understand, I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere ELSE on that morning. Not for one moment.

All the world over, New Yorkers are known for being assholes and rude. We are not. We are quite misunderstood. We are just busy. A lot happens in a New York minute. Millions of dollars change hand in that small, but densely populated city in such a short time. We are on a mission in a city that never sleeps. We, much like a public company has, are shareholders in our city. When it thrives, we thrive. When it hurts, we hurt. We are vested in the survival of that city. Growing up, partying and working among the clean, square lines of skyscrapers and grid-lined blocks, it's where I feel most comfortable. It's home. There is a kinship to the city and it's people that I feel.

I don't dwell on it every day but I do feel it. I carry my uncle in a tattoo of the maltese cross emblazoned on my left calf. His photo is on my fridge. An 8x10 is passed, looked at and acknowledged every time I leave my home. It does not run or ruin my day anymore throughout the year. This time of year, however, I'm affected. It is my full moon. I could wander the streets tearing apart innocent bystanders. I choose to barricade myself in a shroud of emotion and hurt until the anniversary passes and I regain control of my emotions. I have no choice; as I am alone in this. Physically I don't share the full appreciation for this, as there is nobody near me who has endured such horrific event. Emotionally, I am always alone. My family shares the loss. Some friends share the memories. I, alone, have both. The visions of explosions, collapses, terrified people jumping 110 stories to escape the horror inside, the sounds, the confusion.

The tremendous impact of my experiences is always present. I am changed by it. It is who I am. It is who I have become. It is who I am meant to be.

I can't escape this. To hide from it, is to forget it.

Leave my wound open.

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