This year we’ll be noting (not celebrating) the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Was it just a coincidence that 911 is our universal code for emergency or was it the warped sense of humor of a terrorist who understood how the American mind works. Emergency? Dial 9-1-1. Death and Destruction? 9-11. That bit of irony didn’t escape me. It’s bothered me ever since. I am a firm believer that the tragedy of that September day affected us all, and has continued to do so. No matter if we live over a thousand miles or fifty miles from New York City, thoughts of that day bring forth emotions secluded deep within the crevices of our brain.
I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is exactly 1,758 miles from New York City. I woke up early that lazy southwest morning eager to greet a day full of warm sunshine and turquoise blue skies. I flicked the TV on for a look at the news. I fixed myself a cup of Earl Grey tea and leaned back against the re-plumped pillows, eager to spend a few minutes more relaxing before I ventured into my studio. When I saw the images of the jet plane headed toward the towers in some imaginary city, I thought I was watching a Tom Cruise movie, so I changed the channel, in search of the morning news. That was the morning news. I stared into the screen, paralyzed by the images I was viewing. No, this couldn’t be happening to us. Not here, not in America, not in the land of the free. It must be a mistake. I called out to my teenaged grandson to wake up. “Something’s happened in New York, “I said. “It looks pretty awful.” We sat together on my king-sized bed, mesmerized, the slow-motion images replaying over and over on the screen. Ten years later, those pictures are still in my head. The impact of the news is deeply embedded in my psyche.
I have never been to New York, but I have passed through it on the way to Boston when Amtrak put all the passengers on a shuttle when the train broke down. And I do have a friend whose nineteenth story apartment overlooks ground zero. She doesn’t’ talk much about the events of the day. She’s been trying to write about them for ten years. The words seem to be trapped in an irretrievable whirlpool.
As writers, our words can be fueled by horrifying events such as these. I was just an observer from afar, caught in the loop of repetition of something so terrifying that I wasn’t able to wrap my mind around it. I continued to be in my own little state of denial for days, until the media storm surrounding it squeezed the life out of every single minute of each ensuing day. I can’t begin to imagine what thoughts would be rooted inside someone who was experiencing the event first-hand. Some years later when I was putting a series of short stories together for publication, I wrote this about September eleventh.
As the road winds its way toward home, I have mixed feelings. Did I find what I was looking for all these years, or was it always there? I was pedaling my bike as fast as I could, running toward myself. Somewhere along the way I saw my reflection off in the distance, but when I arrived at the fork in the road, I was gone.
My heart thumped with the realization of how close I actually came to finding me. But then one day the world changed. Jet engines roared and skyscrapers collapsed into rubble. Silent screams echoed through the dust. Suddenly I no longer felt safe, in this America, the land of the free.
Bogey women peered from jagged curtains covering closed windows, beckoning me to come closer, to look into the depths. But I turned and ran, feigning blindness. Who was there left to believe? The straight and narrow path had become a winding road leading to uncharted territory. Scarecrows sat ominously in fields of corn whose kernels baked in the late summer sun. All that was reliable disappeared from view. In its place came chaos, panic, fear, unrest and a hunger to find, regain, or retain love. I was no longer wrapped in my blanket of security, my American flag.
My tears flowed behind me as I spun around in every direction; a great whirlpool of black dust swallowed everything in my midst. I was alone again. I wandered across the landscape, ever hopeful that a knight would come to my rescue. I had no magic slippers to transport me to the depths of my imagination; no Calgon baths to take me away. I was not the same. I will never be the same.
I gathered the charred remains of my life and gave them up to God; this Lord, this wizard, who had carried me across the yellow brick road more times than I could remember.
Excerpted from “Lowrider Blues: Cantando, Gritando y Llorando”, (which translates to Singing, Screaming and Crying). ©Marie Romero Cash