I had never been to New York Before the Towers Fell. New York City was just sort of a grubby metropolis a thousand miles away or so, mostly irrelevant to my teenage life. On the morning of September 11, 2001, while classmates around me sobbed and called family members, I felt a sort of numbness. The scope was simply too big—I had no frame of reference for this kind of horror.
In the summer of 2008, I moved to that grubby metropolis. The seventh anniversary of 9/11 came around, and I felt the same kind of numbness, but now there was a layer of tension overlaid, a slight guilt over Not Having Been There. I did not visit Ground Zero; nor did I want to. What good could come from me gawking at a place where thousands lost their lives so senselessly? It seemed profane, an intrusion upon those who had a right to be there, who had earned that right through horror and mourning and resiliency.
September of 2013 rolled around, and with it came a person dearer to me than any other. They had Been There, in fact right in the Plaza, when the sky began to burn. They told me stories—of falling chunks of metal and desperate sprints to somewhere, anywhere but there. Of what happens to a human body when it falls from 90 stories. Of choking on the ashes of the dying and the dead. The numbness disappeared, replaced by the full weight of the day, seeing though their eyes the devastation, breathing in the turbid smoke through their lungs. Feeling, for the first time, that unfathomable sense of loss. There was a hole in the world; felt like I ought to have known.
I feel their rage over the fetishization of the Day, of those who Were Not There co-opting the horror to use as an excuse for war, for selling shit to people, for others to express admiration for someone’s public sorrow. This rage is not mine—it’s theirs. It just lives in me, now, exploding over every dogshit chain restaurant that tweets “#NeverForget,” every public figure who makes a statement, every asshole from Bumfuck who Facebooks about their “experience” watching the TV that morning.
For those who Were There, 9/11 is images and sounds and smells seared into brains, panic at every loud noise. It is a Day—and it is theirs. For those of us who Weren’t There, it is a day. Let them have it.