I see the trailer for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close…the papers floating down from the sky. I stop breathing for a second. That has always been one of my clearest memories from that day…the papers floating down, and then the things that were falling much faster. What were they? The realization. No…who were they? They were people. One of my clearest memories from that day.
I didn’t lose anyone that day. At least not anyone I ever met. But those people have stayed with me. And I wonder who did lose them. I wonder who is out there missing them. I still haven’t been there. I view it from afar, but I haven’t been able to go there. I walk within blocks of it, but I never go there.
I remember shortly after that day, someone I know who was visiting NYC went there and took pictures. They were showing them to a group of us. I was actually angry. I left the room. Didn’t they know what happened there? People died. I saw them. It didn’t seem right. Not so soon.
Why haven’t I been there? Maybe because of that initial reaction to someone going there and gawking, as I saw it. Maybe some of that feeling still lingers. But I think it’s also because I have never felt like I have a place there. I did not suffer a personal loss that day. But it did change me in a way that is different than people who weren’t there and didn’t see the things that I did. So it is more to me than it is to a random tourist, but I also don’t feel I have the right to mourn there like the families who suffered unimaginable losses that day. I have never known exactly where my place is there.
I do carry some ghosts from that day with me, but I don’t know who they are. I see a falling person and I try to imagine who they left that morning. I see a firefighter headed downtown on a truck as I escaped and walked uptown. I wonder if he made it home to his family that day. I didn’t know them and yet they have become a part of my memories. Memories of people I didn’t know. Memories of people who belonged to others and who are missed painfully by others. Memories that have always felt awkward because they are so personal and emotional yet seem insignificant when I think of those who lost so much that day. Even writing about them now, as the image of the floating papers hits me, feels awkward.
Maybe someday I’ll go back there. I guess it has all always seemed both loud enough and close enough from here. But maybe it will help me own my memories. My memories of strangers. Memories of people I never met but I mourn for. Memories that belong to me of people who didn’t.