From an E-mail to a Close Friend from High School: September 16, 2001

by Jack Stephens

 

Every time I see a construction worker, Red Cross worker, Salvation Army captain, policeman, fireman, Sanitation Department broom pusher walk by my Greenwich Street window, I want to cheer and weep—this brave parade to the pit of doom.

Now, I’m whipped in the subtler, less colossal, less urgent feeling ways. I went out to the country over the weekend and looked at chipmunks (ground squirrels, actually) for a long time. I looked at grass. I looked at leaves and stones and water. I marveled at these simple things. And I slept some.

Then I came back into the city and saw what was missing. Saw the big cloud of smoke that still permeates the neighborhood I live in with death. Saw the lights out where once they had glittered so tawdry and industrial, and yet so ours. A million reference points, gone in one terrible amputation.

What’s interesting is the way individual mood swings have begun to sync up into a community one. I’m not talking about patriotism or community spirit; I mean mood, emotion, the way we talk to ourselves in our heads and hearts. Out in the country, I was with shocked, angry, mourning people who had trouble talking about the event and all things pertaining, yet could not shut up about it. Me too. Everything said was a tangent or non sequitur referencing one gigantically resonant moment. Humanely, it was comforting, but socially, it was not so restful. But back here in my neighborhood, so close to the cauldron, the returning evacuees are organizing their neighborhoods, dealing with myriad utility problems, collecting coffee to keep the firemen energized and gathering at mealtime. Now I am hearing things said that align what I am thinking and feeling. That is a good thing. A very good thing, as one’s sense of reality careens, from the moment you open your eyes in the morning to the point it seems your dreams are the more real.

Last night at the dinner table, neighbors told the sad, heroic, touching stories—of which everyone down here has many—and I related something terrible I had seen during the collapse of one of the buildings. A woman at the table said to me firmly, yet lovingly, “Jack, you did not see that. You experienced it.” Somehow, this statement had a polarizing effect on me. It told me what I had been trying to get both into and out of my own skull. It is so weird to know and not know at the same time. To look at what you most want to look away from. It takes me back to feelings I had during my terrified childhood, and I don’t really want to go there. Yet one does.

 

BOMB 78
Winter 2002
The cover of BOMB 78
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