Friday, September 11, 2009

Absentee Survivor's Guilt

It's September 11 in New York, and it's cold, rainy and disgusting outside. A man shoved me arbitrarily as he was walking down Canal street this morning, and my expensive (to my pocket) Metropolitan Museum of Art umbrella was fucked like a deboned chicken hunk in the random hurricane gust that greeted me as I crossed the street to my office.

All of these, I realize, are minor issues that can ruin someone's day but that, today, are supposed to be set aside.

On the train this morning, at work today, it's like a funeral. As though everyone is mourning the death of a mutual friend I never knew.

When September 11 2001 happened, I was in college in Atlanta, GA. I was fighting with my grandparents via phone - they were disapproving of my decision to pursue a minor in gender theory and feminist studies - and getting ready to go to a monologue class with one of the professors who had the greatest impact on me during my time at Oglethorpe, Troy Dwyer. One of my roomates, Rob, had been born and raised on Long Island. Other than my brief and unremembered time in an incubator in Albany and my yankee family that I obviously never developed ties to, he was my primary connection to New York.

I remember the fight with my grandmother, her screeching in the way she did down the line, being cut off suddenly when she told me to turn on the news and hung up.

I did. And the rest of the day, for Rob, myself and our other two dorm-mates, disappeared into history.

Watching Peter Jennings narrate the entire thing, I felt...

I felt disconnected.

And today, that disconnect is nibbling at me. Because where was I when 9/11 went down? I was at a private liberal arts school in Atlanta, having never set conscious foot in New York, trying very very hard to believe anything going on was real.

I mentioned this on Facebook earlier and a friend, author Robert Goolrick, posted the following:

"Sorry to say, Russ. You will never EVER understand what it was like -- for starters, it was the most beautiful day in history. The skies were immaculately blue forever and ever. And then.....

The day never comes that I don't think of and play Patty Griffin singing "Forgiveness," a song I first heard that night, when the smoke and the fumes from the electrical fires were stifling, and the dar was filled with the howl of fire trucks and useless ambulances on the West Side Highway. And I first met Monica Lewinsky, who lived in my building... Read More. I wish there were some way to get you to grasp it, but imagine not being able to breathe and listening to Patty -- We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well. And she promised we would make it through the night, and we did. But nothing was ever the same, or will be."

And I recognize that. I also recognize that I'm ignoring discussing the politics of 9/11/01, and that's completely intentional-this isn't about the political, it's solely about the personal. A personal that never actually hit me at home.

And so I pass through today like a ghost, keeping my head down, quiet and silent for those who lost and for those who remember. Me? I'm at work, and that's what I'm doing. I've smiled today, I've laughed today, and I've cursed, too-and for everything I do, for every time I lift my eyes, I feel guilty that I'm not immobile, that I'm able to go on about my day. But also incredibly grateful. Grateful to be here, and yes, grateful to be able to smile, and laugh, and swear. Guilty that I'm not wracked with or wrecked by emotion today, guilty that I'm putting one foot in front of the other, that the uncle or cousin that everyone on the subway seemed to be mourning this morning wasn't mine, had never and will never be mine.

And so?

So I keep going. Never forget, sure, but remember that this is the gift we have: to keep going.


GrabMoL said...

I was thinking to myself how to put into words how I feel today. Absentee Survivor's Guilt sums it up completely.

Mike Cane said...

Bah. Chin up. I was here. I have zero survivor's guilt.

The only thing you "owe" to the dead is to do your job *properly* -- something the FBI didn't do, thus allowing it to happen.

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