One Really Long Seven-Day Day Comes To An End
Tuesday, September 18, 2001.
One week has passed.
So, just to recap: I spent my last night of reality- Monday, September 10th, 2001- at Yankee Stadium. There was no game, postponed by a rain delay that, while frustrating, was truly beautiful to behold. The rain fell in front of the lights like snow in Times Square, the beer vendors nobly distributed their wares, my friend and I happily discussed the merits of the Reverse Zamboni (sucks water off the field, see?) and how much fun it would be to pull a slip-n-slide run across the infield tarp. And we talked about the heaven to be found inside a ballpark, that most American of places to be.
Tuesday morning, we woke up in what has widely been referred to as hell.
Remember that? Remember gasping, choking, swallowing (yes, hard)? Forgetting to breathe and then trying it only to find your lungs filled with smoke? Squinching your eyes tight against the "movie," against the television, against the truth unfolding before you but when you opened our eyes it was still there? Of course you remember it, because it is unceasing. The different angles, perspectives, longshots, close-ups, still frames, slo-mos, memories don't change the scene. Horror is horror. It won't go away.
And time did its marching thing, leaving most of us behind. Around here, we found comfort in the mundane. I remember less about this part. We tried to come up with all the words to "American Pie." We drank. We consumed copious amounts of cheese pizza, which should be awarded some sort of universal title as the only food that will go down when your stomach wants to do nothing but come up.
We dry heaved. And then the week was over.
At the start of this, the new week, I went to work alongside millions of New Yorkers (and Americans) with a weight pressing on my heart the likes of which I never expected to feel at the age of twenty-six. Not that I'm feeling sorry for myself- which, come on, we all are- but the existence of that weight cannot be denied or smoothed over or negated. It was there because like millions of New Yorkers (and Americans), I still very much refuse to believe this happened.
Because, you know- and here's where I'm going to get a little unthreaded- who among us really thought that our idea of hell was possible? When watching Hollywood blow up civilization on a daily basis, or reading our action-packed summer beach novels, or discussing formerly possible-but-always-somehow-intangible scenarios for worldwide destruction, who among us honestly believed we'd wake up one morning to see it with our own eyes? To see friends, loved ones, co-workers, and the nice fireman from around the corner running for their lives down streets that we walked time and time again (usually on bright Sunday afternoons, shopping bags in hand)- who among us, despite our fatalistic tendencies, really honestly thought this could happen?
I guess somebody did. That's the thing. It was right in front of our noses this whole time, and we didn't ever think of it.
[I mean, that's to say "we" didn't. Not that our leaders didn't, or that the Air Force wasn't doing everything they could, or that we could ever find someone in a civil service position to blame for anything ever again at this point. Just that we, my friends and I, the people of the overactive imagination, never really believed that our lives here were susceptible to the same sorts of terror that we've watched on screens or read in books- fictional or true. That months after reading Aleksander Hemon's "The Question of Bruno," a collection of short stories focusing on life in Sarajevo (and after), I would hear someone describe to me an American holding the exact same job held by the protagonist of "A Coin": editing reel after reel of news footage, setting aside the shots too grisly for TV.
That just doesn't happen here. Or something.]
Dude, I don't know. I don't mean for this to sum anything up, the way the news media has been trying to do all day with their stupidly repetitive "retrospectives" on "The Week That Was." It's hard enough for me to fathom that it's been a week, seven days, here without sleep, without real food, without routine to hold me down and keep me from floating away somewhere. The last thing I need to do is claim to have an answer. I'm writing these little dispatches so I can maybe clear the slightest corner of my mind to think about other things. I'm writing these dispatches so you can read something that's not sensationalist or political or blatantly false. I'm writing these dispatches, mostly, just to have Something To Do.
So I'm not even going to try and draw conclusions. What I know is: the dry heaving seems to have passed, until I think about it too much, and then it's just cheese pizza all over again. I also know that the Yankees played their first game tonight and after listening to the whole National Anthem/God Bless America thing in the pre-game, I cried harder than I have in years, and I cried loud, and I cried without shame because no one could see me anyway, and because I hadn't done that yet, not really, not privately. Crying on subway cars and street corners and in the bathrooms of bars really doesn't count. So I had me my cry. And then I watched the Yankees beat the White Sox 11-3, with a grand slam from Posada that landed in the lap of someone wearing a Yankee hat (crying again, yes), and all it took was that one baseball game, those three hours to convince me of the following:
That life is not "back to normal." That normal doesn't exist anymore, and we should just throw the word out. We should now judge our lives on the basis of OKAY. For three hours tonight, watching my beloved Yankees play (this time, rain be damned), I was OKAY. I can't say how I'll be tomorrow, but I choose not to think about that, because it's not here yet.
Strive for OKAY, people that I love (because I know you're the only ones reading this) and when it happens, don't chase it away or doubt it or implore it to come back at a more appropriate time. Clutch it tight to your aching heart. OKAY is fine. It's been a week.