Cloudless sky, I will always remember that. But otherwise, I don’t talk about those first two nights when I couldn’t sleep because I waited for someone, anyone, to tell me there were survivors.
I dreamed I also survived. That I wafted through the flaming air on a piece of scrap metal, maybe the top of someone’s desk, somehow floating more than 80 stories down to the ground. But then I imagine that I remember walking down the flights of stairs and never quite reaching the bottom, going around and down, around and down, hugging the wall. I remember images from the news--the pregnant woman, the waiter, the stockbroker, who all fell and fell and fell until there was no more falling. Eventually, I couldn’t breathe because I imagined the asbestos and bone dust choking me. Or was it the fuel fumes that choked me? Or the constant replay on television of the pancaked buildings that choked me?
I have spent years pretending I am fine. People I know returned to work in the surrounding buildings less than a week later, a month later, two years later, with their desks moved, half turned-toward and half turned-away from windows where below, they watched and didn’t watch and pretended not to watch bulldozers pushing aside steel and glass and charred flesh and bones and dried blood and then, nothing but dirt and bone dust, the bulldozers like some kind of death-clearing Zambonis.
And there, these people I visited for my job who had these offices, once a feature, these corner window views, sat watching, not watching, pretending not to watch the clearing and the construction while pushing paperclips and collecting more paper, pretending everything was fine while a deeper hole was dug and then a new structure was built on top of never-graves, as if they (or I) could ever forget.
Every year, I brace myself for the friend who calls to ask me the question of where I was on September 11 not because she cares, or that she ever listened to my story the first few years, or because she collected paper or paperclips while overlooking or not quite overlooking the never-graves, or because she moved dirt and steel, or breathed bone dust, but because she is waiting to tell me her own story of that day; to regale me with her false normalcy as though the time passed so many years ago and now, it is done. As always, I will give her nothing. I will say nothing, nor will I not tell her that this is not over. That every day, I breathe bone dust and dried blood and pretend I am fine. Everything is fine. Some days, I even forget people are overseas, still fighting a never-war. There are so many distractions. Stolen homes, stolen identities, bodies still burning.
I want to reach the bottom of the stairwell. To walk out clean glass doors into a world that is different. But I understand after all this time and that with each breath my body is still choke-filled with inhaled bone dust and dried blood.
Leap by Brian Doyle (Audio and Text)
Thursday, 9/13/01 by Lucille Clifton
To Waiting by WS Merwin