“Ten years ago, as we all know, ‘everything’ changed. And then some things changed back.”–Henrik Hertzberg
“In the end, J.K. Rowling may have outwritten us all.” –Laurie Moore.
My memories of 9/11 are mostly fragments. I was still pretty young–two days from turning 16–and that’s part of it, but part of it is also that they must be fragments. It is too hard to hold together a coherent picture of the day, from beginning to end.
I remember having a dream the night before that something horrid had happened. I remember going to school the next day. I remember Norman, our principal, calling us into the Big Room and saying, with a catch in his voice and an expression I’d never seen on his face–he was normally quite calm–telling us what had happened. I remember his voice as he said he was thinking about all those people. I remember Anne, the math teacher, one of the gentlest women I will ever have the pleasure to know, saying that it had to be Osama bin Laden. I was, as I said, not quite sixteen, and I was totally unaware of the world around me: I’d been as angry as any other teenage burgeoning progressive wannabe when Bush was “elected” and I’d happily tell you that the GOP was made up of morons, but of the larger world I knew inexcusably little. Or perhaps not inexcusably: perhaps my excuse is merely that I never had to, I could live in my own little world, spill my own little dramas. I did not know what was going on in Iraq, Afganistan–I’m not sure I would even have recognized the names. I was concerned with my own private hell–I was not as desperate and depressed and self-destructive at sixteen as I would be at seventeen, but I was getting there–and I could not see outside myself. Even after 9/11, it would take several years before I learned to look around me, to open my eyes and see the rest of the world. For many years I lived as a ghost might, flitting between home and school, lost in books.
And so I had no idea who bin Laden was. I did not understand what was happening. I did not know what the World Trade Center was. When Dylan asked if this was a terrorist attack and Norman said well yes, it looks that way, I had little concept of what a terrorist attack even is. It would take me a long time to even begin to understand that.
A couple of years ago, I was walking some kids home. At the time, I think that S and N were in 1st grade and C was in kindergarten. As we walked, S told me that they’d learned about 9/11.
Oh? I said.
He was solemn, serious. People were–they flew the planes. Into buildings.
I could hear the wonder in his voice, the utter astonishment. We don’t raise our kids to understand that things like this can happen in the world. And that is not a bad thing. But it makes it much harder to explain, then, at the moment when suddenly you have to.
The kids asked me what had happened. Who were these bad guys who flew planes, and did they mean to fly them into the buildings, or was it an accident? If it was an accident, they could understand it well enough: accidents happen. Milk is spilled, crayons are dropped, sometimes grown-ups say or do things they do not mean. But they couldn’t fathom someone flying a plane into a building to kill people on purpose. And I’m glad, of course, that they cannot.
Do you remember all the “well now we are a better country?” crap? I do. And it turned out to be a grand lie. We are not a better country. We are just as fragmented as we were before 9/11. Probably more so. Oh, there were a few nice moments of national unity, and then we went right back to fighting about butt sex. We do not have a sense, still, of what is right and what is wrong. And I am part of that, of course. I have less than no tolerance for Tea Partiers and racists and insert blank here. I just don’t. And I am not convinced that I should: while I think it is important to be tolerant of ideas, being tolerant of behavior that actively oppresses someone else is another thing entirely.
Hmm. That doesn’t really help clarify matters, does it?
This morning I watched the video footage. I don’t think I’d ever seen it before: that day I was not glued to the television. I could not stand to watch. I have avoided it ever since, but I think that it is important, too, to bear witness. So I watched. And I reacted exactly as you’d think: I gasped, I stifled a sob, I gasped again. I cannot imagine (and I have a fairly fertile imagination) the terror of actually seeing that. I really cannot. And I cannot imagine being a newscaster and suddenly seeing that plane fly into the second tower–how did I miss that video? I’ve never seen it, not that I can remember. If I have, I’ve forgotten, or I very carefully did not notice in the first place. Anyway, I cannot imagine suddenly realizing that this was, in fact, not an accident.
I don’t (as is surely obvious by now) have any sort of unifying theme or comforting conclusion to offer here. I remember what it was like. I mourn for the people who died. I remember how stunning and strange it was to have heroes, actual heroes, among us. I remember how my views on what the nation was like were altered, completely and totally, on one day. I remember how scary it was, to realize that we were not in fact invincible, that on the most beautiful of days the world can suddenly turn to ash.
This morning I happened to be supervising a couple of kids. One was 6, one 4. The 6 year old turned to me suddenly.
Osama bin Laden is dead now, she said.
He is, I agreed.
My mom said he was the boss of all the bad guys.
Your mom is right. He was the boss of all the bad guys.
The 4 year old looked up. How did he die?
Well, the girl said, he killed himself. I think with a bow and arrow. Or a gun.
I said, that’s what you think, huh?
The girl said, let’s build the Pentagon.
They built a tower out of the wooden blocks. The girl got the little plastic helicopter. Let’s fly this into the Pentagon, she said.
They flew the helicopter into the Pentagon. What happens now, I asked.
Everybody got dead, she said matter-of-factly.
Words coming eventually…
How do I upload a freakin’ slideshow? Here are the pictures though, my favorite from the whole trip!
And now:trip by the numbers
Books read: 17
Average hours/day at the beach: 5-6
Hours swimming/treading water/discussing sharks in the water per day: 1.5
Percentage of games of Egyptian Ratscrew won by my cousin Billy, he of the freakish pattern recognition: 97
Length of our one Settlers of Catan game, in hours: 2.5
Number of ice cream flavors I tried: 8+
Number of relatives I talked to for more than 30 seconds: 16
Number of hugs I received from a woman I didn’t realize I knew until a few minutes later: 1
Number of awards my dog won: 1 (Best Trick)
Number of awards my dog should have won: 3 (Best Trick, Best in Category, Best in Show)
Number of rainy days: 3ish
Number of movies I took my not yet 13 y.o. cousin to that turned out to be waaaay raunchier than I thought: 1 (Change Up)
Number of overly raunchy movies his parents let him see that allowed me to feel less guilty about that choice: 2343
Shark Weeks watched: 5
Number of unplanned side-of-I 95 stops we made on the way home: 2
Number of those stops that were needed because a bike was starting to slip off: 1
Number needed because the dog was freaking.out: 1
Number of accidental detours made: 1, through the Bronx
Lowest personal safety rating in that area, according to N’s iPhone ap: 5% (/100)
Fun had: priceless (um….does that work in this context? Probably not…)
Things I’ve done thus far on vacation:
1. gone to the grocery store AND Target. I will not be doing either again: in fact, save for biking to the ice cream place, I plan to not leave NQT again until I drive home.
2. Been heading back from the casino after my latest blog entry to see a double rainbow: grabbing the camera and rushing to the beach with my sister and my cousin Katy to photograph it.
3. Swum out to several large rocks with my sister and cousins. Yesterday my aunt took some great photos of us.
4. Jumped CAREFULLY off the pier, taking off on my non surgery ankle.
5. Picked sap and burs out of the dog’s belly, then shaved the bits that were really irritated by sap.
6. Played many rounds of Egyptian Ratscrew with my sister and cousins: Billy always wins because he can recognize patterns and therefore knows when to slap.
7. Played many rounds of B.S., some of which I actually win.
8. Played a two and a half hour game of Settlers of Catan. Katy got fed up and called us all asshats.
9. Biked to the ice cream place: I got my opening night sundae and after that will have scoops until my last night sundae. I have a plan.
10. Lived and breathed the rhythms of the ocean. I will be turning off my computer after this in hopes that I can get a break from technology for at least a few days.
Katy and I are currently sitting on the porch of the casino, which is the gathering place at Nonquitt. We are doing internet stuff. All around us, rain is pelting down. We had to leave the beach when it started to storm, but before that we got in a nice long swim to a rock where one year we were dive bombed by a seagull a year or two ago. Luckily that did not happen this year.
For my final day with Sarah we went to the Garment District, where one can buy costumes, vintage clothing, and used clothes for a dollar a pound. It was amusing, and we got a terrific romper for Katy that I will take a picture of and post soon.
Meanwhile, here is the rain, and the clothes, and we are relaxing. On sunny days I am going to try not to get on the interwebs much: wish me luck.
P.S. So far, I have read the new Meg Gardiner and am nearly finished with the new Ann Patchett. Life, it is good.
P.P.S. My ankle hurts, which is sad. Here’s hoping it gets better fast.
I am currently sitting in a very comfortable chair watching (500) Days of Summer with my lovely cousin Sarah. We just went out adn got frozen custard with hot fudge (Sars: “this fudge ain’t no Hersheys!”) and now we are chillin. Like villains. Or something.
On the way from Milford to Needham I ended up stopping in Mystic, CT, to visit Mystic Seaport. I hadn’t been since my mom took me, my sister and my grandfather when I was around 11 or 12. At the time he was not too far away from dying and had definitely entered the Grumpy Old Man stage of his existence. But at Mystic he lit up. He and I walked along–I vaguely remember the visit and how animated he was, before he crashed. He was related to the guy whose whaling ship has the most prominent place, Charles W. Morgan (my name was nearly Morgan, after that guy: although I recognize that given the time period it is not black and white, I am glad not to be named for a whaler).
This time Zoe and I enjoyed wandering around looking at the boats. She has assorted fears, including but not limited to enclosed spaces, metal grates/plates on sidewalks, stairs without backs, and floors that may possibly be even remotely slippery. Thus although I persuaded her to go into one ship she was having none of exploring the Morgan, since the stairs were high up AND backless. But I did get to poke around in ole old ship, and there was a great see-the-bones-of-a-ship exhibit. And OK, I didn’t actually get to LOOK in the bones, but I saw some of it. We also saw a lot of yachts. I asked Zoe why I do not own a yacht, and she was unable to provide a satisfactory answer.
We had a lovely lunch and then walked around a bit more before hopping back in the car. My audiobook for this adventure was “Heads You Lose” by Lisa Lutz and David Heyman. They are exes who collaborated, each writing a chapter with no planning ahead.It is amusing and interesting and I really like the Spellman books, which Lutz wrote, but I must say that in the between-chapter notes, written by each of them, Lutz comes across to me as a controlling, arrogant bitch. This surprised me a great deal. Heyman doesn’t always come across as nice all the time either, but he annoyed me a lot less.
That said, it’s a fun listen–with the exception of the fact that nobody ever just SAYS anything, they REPLY or ASK or etc and it makes me nuts.
Photos from Mystic!