I spent the better part of tonight rereading message board posts I made before the turn of the 21st century, leading up to 9/11. That day, I tabbed between that message board and Metafilter, and sat at my desk until the second-to-last employee remaining on my floor shooed me out.
I also reread my old blog. This is what I wrote ten years, two days ago:
I have nothing to say and I am saying it. It’s taken me the better part of two days to come up with something not trivial or pedantic and I don’t think I’ve succeeded.
I grew up in a family that doesn’t do mourning or sorrow well. We internalize everything, which could be why we have such short lifespans and those of us who are still living are crazier than shithouse rats. We are people who have the instructions turn the spit on that pig, kick the drum and let me down in our wills. We are not nostalgic, sentimental, or capable of empathy, it seems.
I’ve spent the past few months (in some abstract, unexamined way) dreading yesterday. Miraculously, the closer the anniversary got the more that dread seemed to drain slowly away. A relief brought on by a self-imposed moratorium on media reportage. A relief that—as lame as this sounds—came on Tuesday night, delivered by a cheeseburger at Paul’s with a dear friend and the show at the Continental. But later that night, as I watched a documentary on PBS, dread creeped back in.
I realized the feeling: I dreaded that I would have to mourn. A callous, detestable way to feel.
Much to my relief yesterday, the city was amenable to my selfishness. People seemed content to quietly observe the day however they wanted. The weather was nearly the same, though this year the sky lacked puffy white clouds. I remembered thinking last year, as I walked to work, that it was the most beautiful day of the year. (Earlier this year, I had that exact same thought and reflexively winced—not that I’m superstitious.)
I did not leave my office yesterday. This paralleled last September 11 for me—that day I didn’t leave my office until nearly 4 pm, after everyone else had gone, because I had attached a special yet unsubstantiated feeling of safety to the building. A combination of Bachelard (any doctrine of the imaginary is necessarily a philosophy of excess) and a bad acid trip (if I let go of this magical pen I’ll die). When I did leave, I dazily walked to a friend’s house in the West Village. West 4th was absent of anyone else but European tourists, who were politely not knowing where to go or what to do.
Yesterday I finally left work at 6, though I hadn’t accomplished much at all. I really wanted to go to the video store and get a movie to watch, knowing that the enormity of the day would glut all the TV stations but I didn’t want to reveal myself as an asshole—What kind of sick fuck rents a movie on 9/11?—so I continued home. The local fire company truck was outside the butcher shop (an image I know is a stereotype, but it’s true) and some of them walked out as I walked by. I met eyes with one of them.
"How are you?" he asked.
"Fine, thanks," I responded. "How are you?"
"Fine. How was your day?"
"Uneventful. Mellow. Yours?"
"Went to a couple of memorials, you know. OK otherwise."
I felt like we’d had this conversation a million times. The breezy timing, the banality of it—it lacked the archetype, the import I guess I was expecting. The look on his face indicated he probably had this conversation a million times that day. One of his buddies absently rubbed his shoulders. I felt like a tool.
"Well," I said, feeling sheepish, recognizing there wasn’t anything I could say. "Thank you for being here for us." I realized that was the first time I’d ever said that to a fireman. Up until then I’d resisted the desire to do so for fear of my own disingenuousness. I hope I seemed sincere. I hope it meant something.
He thanked me and I walked away. I bought wine, went home, and didn’t mention the conversation to K.
I almost feel like it’s wrong to wish I could still write with this absence of self-consciousness, self-censorship. But it’s not so much method or practice as much as it is 27 vs. 37, or 2002 vs. 2012.