Saturday morning I was up early. I had forgotten not to set my alarm, or had set it out of habit, or it was just fucking with me because it could; no matter, the damn thing went off at 6:45AM. For a few seconds I panicked. Was I late? Was I supposed to do something? What freaking day was it?
But I oriented myself, figured out it was Saturday, turned off my alarm in frustration and laid back down to not go back to sleep. This is how it works with me. I'm not an up and down person. It takes me awhile to find sleep, and once I've lost it, it's too much of a process to try and recover. I'm up when I'm up. The flip side to this is that when I do sleep, I'm the immovable force. Good luck waking me up, or stirring me for the slightest thing. I've slept through earthquakes before.
But I was awake, and was supposed to meet a friend for brunch at noon, so I figured I'd go for a run. I hadn't been for two weeks, having the flu can do that to you, so I knew it'd be brutal. But I had nothing better to do, and I wasn't going to get any more sleep.
I made a right turn onto Clarke Street, running down the middle a one way lane the wrong way. When I hit Court, I made a right, and then steered myself down Tillary and headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge. I never run this way, I usually stick in my neck of the woods, I don't run into Manhattan and back, but I wanted to get my legs back under me, wanted to stay by the water, and I wanted to see something. I ran across the boards, up to the middle of the bridge, and then down to City Hall Park and my iPod kept playing the mellowest shit. Songs I would continuously fast forward through, trying to find something more upbeat, something better suited to running with.
I made a left into the park, onto Broadway, stretched another block, and then I saw it. The police barricades, the cameras, the lights, the crowds. There was a ceremony going on, and although it was at the most public of places, it was the most private of gatherings. Families who'd lost someone. You could hear their voices echo up along the building walls even though I couldn't get within 150 yards of where they were.
I didn't set out to run to Ground Zero, at least not in any direct sense. At the same time, though, the place has been in the back and front of my head all month, as it has all New Yorkers.
Something has been itching at me as this third anniversary approached. I didn't know what it was until I got there. In the same way that my parents waste no opportunity to talk about Kent State, in the same way that my Uncle Willie would tell us all about Normandy and WWII, my generation now has its mark. It's scar. I used to argue that ours was AIDS (I mean, we are the first group of people who actually had to, or at least should have, ask our partners if they've ever been tested), but it turns out I was wrong.
I still don't know what to make of Sept. 11. I watched both buildings collapse. We were %BE of a mile away at the time they fell to the earth, close enough for someone standing right by us to say, “Jesus. I think people are jumping,” before the Towers leaned into themselves. There's a thousand images from that day that I'll never get out of my head, and a thousand reactions I've had in the time since.
But the one that bothers me the most is the sense I've had throughout this week. Like I've compartmentalized that day, woven it into my psyche, found a place to fit it. I've gotten used to it. It no longer juts out with jagged points and cuts and scrapes. I've sanded down the edges, smoothed the lines. Not that I can make any more sense of that day and the things that happened to me and to all of us who live here than I could as it was happening, but I've somehow become comfortable with the idea that I'm never going to get it.
It still affects me. I still get bent out of shape when I hear the words “Freedom Tower” (as though “freedom” has anything at all to do with what happened on that day, as though those people died, and the rest of us staggered, for a cause as opposed to being one big, giant effect), I still stand paralyzed when any image from that day appears on a newspaper of TV.
But worse yet is a return to normal that settled over me without my even knowing it. Worse than the confusion and bitterness and fear and enormity of those days is the knowledge that I've moved on, which is good, but is also somewhat unsettling for me. For the longest time, all I had was sense of agitation, it was the only consistent response I could muster, because none of it fit into what I understood. Now I don't even have that.
As I stared out at the crowds who were encircling the crowds within the cordoned off area, I scrolled down my list of songs until I found it. It is the song that I have played every day on Sept. 11, the only one that manages to put a coherent feeling on everything that's happened. And I stood there watching before turning around and heading home, listening to Jeff Buckley sing Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” with something of a sense of normalcy settling in amongst the sadness. And it pissed me off.
That David played and it pleased the lord
But you don't really care for music, do you
Well it goes like this the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah .... Well your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to her kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah .... . Baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
But love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah .... Well there was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me do you
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was hallelujah Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah .... Well, maybe there's a god above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah ....