"I don't mind saying I'm scared. It keeps me vigilant." - NPR interview
I'm not much of a city girl. I vastly prefer the suburbs, having grown up in them, to the madness and traffic that city life affords. Every once in a while Dave and I will go into San Francisco and I'll sit in the passenger seat of the car and tense up from the moment we enter the surface streets until we park, and then do the same thing on the way back out of town again. I appreciate the variety of stores, theater, the multitudes of restaurants, et cetera, in the city, but I don't need to live in the middle of them. Living 45 minutes south does the trick nicely for me.
The only skyline I know by sight is San Francisco. Most other cities look pretty much identical to me. Is that Chicago or Seattle? I probably don't know unless I really study the buildings, and even then I'm likely to guess incorrectly. The establishing shot of most movies doesn't establish much for me, except to say, "This movie takes place in a city." I need a ground level shot, with distinct landmarks, to tell me whether the movie takes place in Atlanta or New York.
Until this past year.
Over the last 12 months, I've caught myself gasping a little when I see an establishing shot of Manhattan in older movies. I, like every American, and most anyone else in the world with access to any sort of media, now know the skyline of Manhattan with a familiarity I could never have anticipated. I've never even been to New York, but I know that skyline intimately. Because it isn't there anymore.
When I see the twin towers in movies now I get uncomfortable, as though because they no longer exist, all evidence that they ever existed should also cease to be. I know that doesn't make any logical sense but it's true. Seeing them whole, upright, and not surrounded by flames or smoke is jarring to me. I never noticed them before last September - I honestly didn't. Now I notice them constantly and I'm instantly saddened when I do. It feels almost obscene to see the towers now, like I'm looking at something I shouldn't be. The movies used them to say, "Here we are in New York, where anything can happen." I see them now and think, "Here we are in New York - where the unthinkable did happen."
I don't feel that way when I see pictures of the Pentagon, possibly because I would have recognized the Pentagon before last year, possibly because the Pentagon didn't collapse onto itself - there still is a Pentagon. I don't feel this way when I see pictures of open fields, either, but I almost obsessively silently amend the phrase "the attacks on New York and the Pentagon" with an internally whispered, "and the plane that went down in Pennsylvania". It just seems too easy to lump the three planes that crashed into buildings together and presume that it includes the fourth that didn't. It really bothers me when that fourth plane gets skipped linguistically because it's too much of a mouthful to append it. The people who were on that plane deserve better than that.
I won't be watching much TV on Wednesday. I don't see the point in watching the videotapes again and again. I've seen them enough times to last the rest of my life. I know the sounds, the screams, the horror, more intimately than I want to. I don't need to see them again in vivid color to remember. And I'll probably avoid news radio too, since the last two weeks have been some kind of countdown to the anniversary and frankly, I'm sick of hearing about the planned "sound memorials" and introspection. I remember that day just fine on my own. Even though I might not want to.
I remember that day every single time I see a plane making its approach. I live under the approach for two of the three major airports in the Bay Area, and I work under the approach for the third. In the months following the attacks, I actually thought I heard a plane flying too low and panicked, ripping my headphones off my head and bounding out of my cubicle at work to find that it was just someone pushing a large heavy box across the carpet nearby. I felt stupid, but my heart was pounding just the same.
I remember every time I see a flag on someone's car. We still have a small flag taped in our front window at home. We didn't have a proper flag then, and still don't, but we did go to Wal-Mart a day or two after the 11th to try to find one. Of course, there wasn't a flag in the state for sale, but the fabric department had cloth made up of 8x12 inch American flags, printed over and over. The man ahead of us in line bought the last yard in the store, and then asked the cashier for her scissors and cut out individual flags, which he passed back to everyone else still in line. "We only need one," he explained. We tried to pay him, but he wouldn't take the money.
It made me teary then, and it still does.
I remember every time I listen to the morning news, because now the clock radio in our bedroom clicks on to NPR instead of music. If something terrible has happened overnight I want Bob Edwards to tell me in his calm, even tones - I'd prefer to avoid a phone call telling me to turn on the TV. I want someone professional to give me the bad news, as if that would help. Honestly, I think the real reason I want to wake up to the news now is because I think of it as kind of warding off of bad events. If the news is there the minute I wake up, nothing bad will have happened, but if I've turned my back... that's when the evil can slip in. Again, it's ridiculous, this bargaining, but I do it anyway.
In the end, I remember because I'm alive, because I have a calendar, and because the media has been exploring it's own preparations for September 11, 2002 since, oh, about June and wouldn't let us forget even if we wanted to. I'll remember because I've never forgotten in the first place - and I don't need anyone's help to commemorate, or worry, or wonder. I'm doing all that by myself, and since not one person in the last 365 days has helped it make more sense to me, I seriously doubt that anyone on Wednesday will be able to.
I don't mean to say that if you chose to watch special reports, take part in vigils, or attend speeches that you're doing anything wrong. There's no judgment here. I understand the comfort of gathering with others who are confused, frightened, angry, hopeful, grieving... whatever. I look at Wednesday as a milestone and as human beings we seem to gravitate towards anniversaries to help us mark the passage of time and the healing of wounds. The circle of a year has meaning, it's true. But September 11 will never be just another day for me or anyone I know simply because the date itself is marred by the events, so I don't need the media's help to make it poignant. The fact that there will continue to be September elevenths is enough to make me remember.
- KNP Sept 8, '02