Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Day 261. I Couldn't Quite Bring Myself to Do It.

I know it's a day after 9/11.  I know that everyone went through the grieving of that event yesterday, and now will try to put the pain and memories aside for another year, but I couldn't quite bring myself to paint something for the day.  That's not completely right.  I also didn't know what I wanted to paint either.

I can remember, 12 years ago, walking up the stairs to my office, and a co-worker saying a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.  And then awhile later, a second one had hit.  And we knew.  We knew at that moment that the first plane hadn't been an accident.  We were under attack.  And then someone shouted, "They're hitting the Pentagon now!"  And I can still remember going up to the women's bathroom and sitting in the stall, and writing in my journal.  Writing what was happening, and writing, "Please, God, Please."  I was scared.  We all were scared--terrified, really.

And I can remember flipping around all the news stations, but landing on low-voiced, somehow comforting Shepard Smith, day after day after day on the news...I could never pull myself away, eyes and ears glued for more details. Just like everyone else, I watched those images, over and over again.

And I can remember this.  I can remember a paramedic saying to a reporter that the media was really doing a disservice to the American public, by NOT showing the gruesome carnage.  He said, "People need to see the reality of this situation."  He felt they needed to see the bodies, and the detached limbs--to see and feel the horrific-"ness" of the scene--to experience what they were witnessing and not be anesthetized by clever editing and distance.

And I remember this horrible detail--how rescue workers said, initially you could hear all these cell phones going off--ringing underground.  And as hours went by the ringing became less frequent and fainter, and fainter still, until there was silence.  I imagined people, alive, trapped underground--not dying in the towers, put trapped under so much concrete, air slipping away into twisted metal above them.

I remember someone from France saying, "We are all Americans today."  See, I cry now, just typing it.

And I can tell you, on my bookshelves, I have two books on personal accounts of that day, a story of a woman seeing just a foot in the street.  I have the Time and Newsweek magazine issues, and Life Magazine's commemorative issues.  I have the NY Times' 10th anniversary coverage pull-out, and I have the Vogue magazine article on the woman who had 90% of her body burned by a fireball when the elevators opened up and enveloped her.  She got out, she was lying on the grass outside, but when she looked at her skin, she thought, something is wrong.  It was snow white and completely smooth, waxy.  She fought back.  She thought of her children and she survived.  I think of my Maira Kalman's children's book, "Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey" the story of the defunct fireboat that came to the city's rescue on that unimaginable day.

I have watched all the t.v. shows.  I can remember sobbing; sobbing so much after an all-day viewing of the events, that it felt like I was watching the entire thing happen for the first time, my head so full of snot and tears, and a pounding headache.  I remember going to Starbucks and sitting with 2 people on the 5th anniversary, and one saying to the other, "I'm sick and tired of this 9/11 stuff," and the other person replied, "As well you should be."  Really?  I sat there stunned.  I felt like I didn't even know these people. I can never forget.  I CAN understand not wanting to feel the pain of it.  I can never be "sick" of it.  Sick from it, yes.

I'm not sure if anyone has waded through all this writing.  It's a lot of memories, and I haven't even written a half of them.


And so tonight, always on a walk with Ebert, I was approaching the corner where our post office sits.  And I looked up and there was the American flag, twisted, at half-staff, and limp against the silver pole.  No air was stirring, not a whit.  I stood staring, and the tears welled up inside of me.  It looked like the flag was crying, slumped in grief.  It, too, remembering the day's significance.

We walked more, and I ended the night by walking again past that post office.  This time around, though, there was the faintest of breezes.  And those breezes lifted the bottom edge of the flag and it began to move.  And I felt, America, you are still alive.  Please, continue to fly.

I drew this in a child-like manner to try to capture the vulnerability, the helplessness we felt and feel on this day.


  1. I remember waking up to the news on the tv. It was early in the morning here in CA. I couldn't make sense out of what I was seeing on the screen. I was afraid to take my girls to school because I didn't know if there would be attacks here, and I didn't want us to be separated. My heart ached that day, for those trying to reach their loved ones and getting no answer and for those whose phone calls were cut short when the towers collapsed. <3

    1. Pattie, I know what you mean. It was almost too hard for the brain to process. I'm not a parent, but I can imagine being one, and I can remember seeing (and later reading about) parents on tv, watching NYC smoking and burning from across the river, all hysterical because they couldn't get to their children. I know re: the phone calls--people crying telling their loved ones that they loved them, and then the line going dead. Horrible. And also, I remember the govn. grounded all planes, and I can remember how still, and silent the skies appeared. No jets or lines of smoke amongst the clouds. And then, around 12 or 1 when I went to lunch, there was a single plane overhead--the plane taking the president to a hidden, protective spot. The only one in the sky. It was completely surreal in the most awful way.