2002: September 11th is palpable after a year of grappling with the rage and sorrow pent up in downtown’s root-canal crater. The sky is bright and fine, but our inner dust cloud hasn’t lifted yet, and it feels like it never will.
I am in love, and I take the day off to meet Her in Union Square Park. She is small and brilliant, athletic, gifted and desperate, outgoing and disturbed. She wears brown corduroy bib overalls that make Her look fat in Her head. She is the most beautiful woman I have seen all year. She is 26 and claims 21 to cushion an acting career that will not happen.
We are often in Union Square; her shrink has offices nearby. A month ago we arranged to meet at the Starbucks on the park’s east edge, and we swarmed into each other’s arms, blissful, hungry. Strangers over coffee took paparazzi pictures as we clung together, eyes closed, devouring. Somewhere we must be hung on walls, frozen light in that long chemical moment.
Today on September 11th we miss Minority Report and see One Hour Photo instead. Her favorite flavor is not in stock at the Häagen Dazs, so we buy some chocolate and peanut butter ice cream confection from the market and She devours it on the street. She is tacky and sticky and briefly sweet. She belches, and holds up the empty pint container: “Serving size, one,” She says. Ice cream is everywhere. I want to lick her hands.
There is a kitten’s head tattooed on Her belly, low on the right side, just above Her pelvis. Later, grabbing dinner at Radio Perfecto before Marwood in the East Village, She swaggers at the table, holding up the overall bib with Her thumbs. “Want to see my Pussy?”
2003: This year September 11th is not a giddy day, nor a peaceful one. We don’t need to prove any more that our lives take us around the town — they do that naturally. If anything there’s a sense of dread about the approaching day. No one wants to commemorate it, but on the other hand, how can you not? I go to work. I pretend it is the 10th, the 12th.
At work I do not work. We are all on edge, there are tears barely hidden behind stiff faces. There’s a lot of nervous coffee and a lot of walking around and we’re all a bit too loud, a bit too shrill. A few attorneys were at the office early when the planes hit two years ago, and they remember the glass-walled buildings across the way juddering and rippling with the shock wave. They remember the sound. You can’t describe sound. You can only remember it, and say over and over again, “I remember it.”
I am writing a long post on The Velvet Rope about being in Brooklyn on September 11th, watching the heavy cloud of smoke across the river, and it’s like pulling a splinter of bone out of raw meat. I weep, ice broken inside and water flooding out. Our Pepper partner Seth is a World Trade Center survivor, and he calls from Brooklyn where he’s at The Waterfront Ale House, wanting company. I join him, and we drink.
2004: The clouds finally part early this summer, without fanfare and without notice. Last year you could look at any photo of New Yorkers and know in a moment whether it was taken Before 9/11 or After. No one After 9/11 smiled like they did Before; gay and carefree came with a shadow and a memory of the dead. The endless wet smell of concrete ash and underground fire lingered in our faces like stale smoke in the house after a party. Now at last we smile, when we smile, with all of the heart.
There’s a boat trip today, and I love my boat trips. The Good Ship Ventura leaves from North Cove, just west of Ground Zero. I turn on the radio, figuring a couple of hours for work and errands and then the usual mad dash to get there in the nick of time. On WNYC the World Trade Center memorial is in progress; the families are reading the names, the thousands of names, of the dead. I tune in late in the list — in R? is that where I join? — and an hour later my heart is broken, my cheeks are wet.
That night the columns of light shriek skyward. I hope God will see them.