Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is...Was. My 9/11 Memorial

triptych, acrylics, water color and ink on paper.

This is my 9/11 post. It is the first year since then that I am very active on my blog, that I am involved in an internet community, and I want to mark this anniversary date.

But I wonder if I want to relive it.

Above is a triptych from my journal. I painted it in the days after those days, when the images were still fresh in our heads. When the smoke and the smell still drifted over the East River to those of us in Brooklyn. When you could still see it in everyone's eyes, the shock, the fear, the disbelief.

When it happened, I was teaching. I was responsible for some panicked teenagers. We were on 14th street, within view, but thankfully, the windows in my classroom faced north. What we saw were people on rooftops across the street, staring at lower Manhattan, screaming as the second building went down.

Dammit. There I've gone and done it.
It surprised me when I realized that I knew no one who had died. I knew many who were affected in many different ways, but no one who was in a building or a plane. But it almost didn't matter. I was affected. The whole city was affected.

Downtown was abandoned, it felt like a zombie, walking dead. In fact, I made some friends leave downtown and spend the day with me in Williamsburg, where the trees were still green, the sky was still blue, people wandered the streets just to know they were not alone. Strangers connected. We laughed, and it felt strange because it felt normal.
The day of was scary and stressful. But I was busy being a teacher. I was cut off from the media, I only had my Uptown windows, the reports of the kids listening to the news on their headphones, and my one, shocking peek out the back hall window to prove the rumors, one way or the other, that the first tower had fallen. We the teachers stocked up on snacks in case we needed to stay and shelter kids who couldn't go home. But we didn't need to. Parents started coming to retrieve their kids soon. I offered shelter at my home to a friend who needed to ride a subway that would have gone right underneath the fallen towers.

We drank beers in a garden cafe and talked, waiting for her husband came to pick her up, glad to be home in Brooklyn. We met people there. Every one was so open then. We met some strangers and they invited us to watch the sunset over the river, over the disaster, from their loft. I remember the President was on the tv, and I couldn't watch.
The next day was the bad day.

I woke up to my clock radio replaying sound bytes from those bad hours. I heard velvet voiced newscasters scream in shock as the buildings collapsed. I spent the day glued to the one tv station that I still got, the only one that did not have an antenna on the WTC. I saw again and again terrible images. I woke up from a nap with a vision of the buildings going down.

But life continued on. I did not have to go back to school, because my school, on the South side of 14th street, was in the disaster zone. The North side was not. I went instead to Union Square, the point above the blockade where people gathered to mourn, to wait, to pray, to remember, to talk... to not be alone.

My saving grace in that period was my friends. That, and my journal. I wrote so many pages. I wrote reams of poetry. I painted and drew to process everything. When school resumed, I took what I had to give my kids, and tried to help them process, too.

Yes. Life moved on. I recovered from my trauma. The flashbacks went away. The tears took longer. Something broke on that day, but it didn't break down, it broke open. Yes. I really believe it did. I could almost feel the universe jump into a different track, like when one of those old fashioned record players got jarred, and the needle skipped into a slightly different groove.

I still am uncertain where that track is going, but I am almost convinced that it has led to us taking our lives less for granted, to paying attention to the small blessings, the things that really matter.

Oh. And I was wrong about not losing anyone to 9/11. I lost no one that day, but a few months later (was it a year? I can hardly remember) one of my students, who lived downtown, under the shadow of those buildings, had an asthma attack while walking his dog and he died. He was 17. No one said that he was a victim of 9/11, but I'm pretty sure that living in that toxic air, all the days of the rest of his life had to have contributed to his asthma attack.

His name was Shy Ellison, and he loved to read although he wasn't a very good student. I remember him telling me that someday, he wanted to write a Vampire novel set in the Lower East Side, a novel about a young black Hip Hop Vampire. I thought it was such a good idea when he told me.

That novel will never be written. And Shy will never grow old.

This post is dedicated to Shy.


Rowena said...

If you'd like to share your stories of 9/11, leave a link to your post in the comments.

m. heart said...

your triptych really captures it. beautiful post. thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

This is a moving memorial. Thank you. The art is beautiful.

Karen Mowrey said...

Thank you for sharing this memorial and your art. I remember feeling so lost that day at work, so absent, so numb from shock, so lost the following days, so heartbroken. Yes we are better today and yes Shy was a victim. I can't imagine what it was like for you but your post is wonderful and is an honor to honor to be alive to read it.

Kate Lord Brown said...

Hi Rowena - a beautiful post. Here's remembering Shy and the countless others.

Patty Kennelly said...

Wow, Shy. What a great kid. All your art looks great Ro. 7 years. Crazy.

Love you, P

Sugar said...

Wow, Rowena. Of all the tributes I read, this one felt the most... the most... I'm not sure...

I'm tearing up right now for Shy. For all of us.

Where will our new path take us?

Sugar said...

Sorry... forgot to leave my story, too:

I was on the complete opposit side of the country from you that day. And now we are friends in the blogosphere. How odd and beautiful life is...

Rowena said...

Thanks for all your comments, folks. This subject is kind of hard to deal with, and yet I find myself coming back to it.

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