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9/11 Approaching - Mo's Journal
September 9th, 2006
08:14 am


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9/11 Approaching
and I'm having a hard time of it. I thought I might have enough distance this year that I wouldn't get all weepy for a few days before the anniversary, but I guess not yet.

In so many ways, it completely changed my life.

I've worked a few blocks from the World Trade Center since I moved to NYC in 1980. Lower Manhattan was my neighborhood in a very real way. And New York is my home.

Two out of three of my children saw it happen, live, out of their classroom windows. My kids ran with wet cloths over their faces, the smoke making it hard to breathe. I was able to establish early on that they were safe, and in the care of family friends.

I myself was stuck over the river in Jersey City. I worked for Merrill Lynch and kind of bopped back and forth from their banking offices in the World Financial Center, directly behind the WTC, and the IT offices across the river in Jersey City. I generally spent early Tuesday mornings in the Concourse at the WTC, just staking out a table and drinking coffee and working until my standing meeting at 9:30 in the World Financial Center. But that Tuesday I'd just gotten back from vacation, and I needed some reports that were in the office in Jersey City, so I got there at 7:30 and figured I'd work there a while. Of course I never made it back. We were evacuated but had nowhere to go; I watched the towers fall; I tried to give blood; I eventually got home.

My 9/11 story is, of course, longer and more involved than that. I've told it a million times. I'm struck by how, even now, it's a staple of conversation here. When you meet someone new, from a professional contact to a first date, exchanging 9/11 experiences is de rigueur.

I remember being so touched on 9/11 and in the days afterwards by the response of other X-Men fans. I hadn't been in fandom long (started writing the previous fall) and was just overwhelmed by the letters from readers of my stories and from fellow fans all over the world. I got a number of letters from China, translated and forwarded by the same kind fan who had translated my stories. There was something surreal about well-wishes from the other side of the world in the midst of that tragedy.

In the days after 9/11, I found that a lot of people were processing by writing 9/11 themed fanfic. I was adamant I didn't want to. I felt like I was too much of a mess and anything I wrote would be dreadful, due to lack of distance and perspective. But I ended up writing one a couple of years later.

Taking Chances didn't start out as my 9/11 story. Its working title was "the Risk Series" and it was supposed to be about people taking emotional risks that were hard for them. I saw it as a series of intersecting plots with a common theme: Hank McCoy goes back to the NIH after being sent home because they said that they couldn't "guarantee his safety" as a known mutant; Adam chooses to adopt a child, not knowing what it would do to his relationship with Jean-Paul; Scott pushes for a more committed relationship with Logan; Jean decides to marry Sasha in spite of her concerns about the sequelae of the torture he endured; Billy comes out to his mother. I thought some of the risks they took would end up well and some disastrously, as tends to be the way with emotional risk taking. I wanted to show how my characters dealt with the outcome of the chances they took, and hoped to say something about emotional safety and risk.

What I didn't realize was that I still had a 9/11 story in me. I hope I had the distance and the perspective to write it. To my surprise, the greatest risk my characters took was the same one that the people at the WTC and the Pentagon took - just getting up and going to work and living their lives. What happened to them was quite different from what happened on 9/11 in the particulars, but violence is violence and I think the particulars don't matter so much. Some survived and some didn't and my characters in later stories look at that date and talk about it much as we here talk about 9/11. Writing that made me think a lot about the risks we know we're taking and the unexpected ones and how they interact.

When I was writing the violent denouement to Taking Chances, my elder daughter (11, I think, at the time) asked if I'd read what I was working on to her. I demurred and she asked if it was a part with sex, and if so, I could just skip that (the kids don't read or hear the sex scenes). I told her there was no sex. "It's just that it's kind of my 9/11 story, honey. I think it's a little intense."

"Mom," she said, in that why-are-grownups-so-dense voice that all preteens have perfected, "I lived through the real thing. I think I can handle the X-Men version."

She was right, of course, but it's a sad kind of being right. The loss of innocence of children is a hard, hard part for me of the legacy of 9/11.

One illustration.

My younger daughter was in first grade that year and I came to her first grade Thanksgiving Feast. I brought a turkey, too, having been suckered into doing that without realizing it meant cooking it at 5:30 in the morning to have it ready in time. Two classes had a joint feast in one of the classrooms. The hosting class had written a collaborative Thanksgiving poem.

Now if you've never seen first grade collaborative poems, you need to know this: they're both dreadful and adorable. Not much in the way of poetry, they're so cute and so evocative of thought processes at that age. Kids suggest lines and they agree on which to use and what order. The poems are awkward and often redundant, never really scan, and the kids are oh so proud of them. Here's the poem that was on the wall of the classroom we had the feast in in November 2001:

We Still Have Hope In All of Us

The airports are open,
The trains are moving,
The 2 train is moving,
The TV channels are coming back.
The bridges are open.
And, the tunnels, too!
The firemen, police and EMS workers are still helping people.
So many of us are safe and well.

A poem by class 1-209

It rips my heart out. I still - almost five year later - can't read it aloud without my voice cracking. I said at the time that it just kills me that those same kids would likely have written they were thankful for their toys the year before.

My friend Jennifer said to me "Kids are resilient. They'll be thankful for their toys next year."

I always think of Jennifer when I read that, because I think she was right and they were. But I also feel like their innocence was totally shattered and I'm not resilient enough to be reconciled to six-year-olds being thankful they survived.

A story series I wrote called After the Fall, takes place after X2. In it, Scott is musing about the anniversary of Stryker's attack on the school, which is approaching. Here's what he says:

"We began thinking about what, if anything, we should do to commemorate the battle anniversary, which was approaching. And which day to use as anniversary, anyway. When Kurt had, against his will, attacked the White House? When Charles and I had been taken captive? When Jean had sacrificed herself to save us all? Ultimately we felt that the first anniversary of the siege of the school was most important to the students, and planned a general assembly and moment of silence for that day. We expected it to be a difficult day, but cathartic. Necessary. We were taken aback a little at how hard most of the school found the day before the anniversary, though. More weeping, more hollow-eyed blankness then than the anniversary day itself. Perhaps reflecting on the last day before our world fell apart was harder to take than remembering the first day after."

That was my experience of the first 9/11 anniversary, too. In the days after the tragedy, I found myself thinking over and over again, "I wish it were September 10 again. I wish it were September 10 again." I just wanted normal life back, my life, the life I'd thought I had and thought would continue. That sentence became my mantra. It symbolized the desire for something I couldn't have. But calendars are circular and September 10 came round again. I remembered wishing for it and I got it, but I didn't get my life back. The day before the anniversary was a hard one.

Now it's a couple of days before the fifth anniversary and I've been feeling all weepy again and wanting to do something with that. I'm a story teller, so that's what I tend to do with those kinds of feelings. Thanks to anyone who read this far.

(36 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 01:43 pm (UTC)
I was, of course, a great deal further from the attacks than you were, in every sense, but it still feels like a gut punch; one that, personally, could have been so much worse.

I see things like the Titanic inflatable slide at fairs and wonder what forms the fall of the twin towers will take in our popular culture.

- Helen
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 09:31 pm (UTC)
I've never seen or heard of Titanic inflatable slides. We did sing a really bouncy kind of song about the Titanic at camp when I was a kid. I always thought it was such a mismatch between tune and topic. My girls learned it at their camp, too.
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 04:26 pm (UTC)
You're right. Everyone has a 9/11 story, and remembers precisely where they were when they heard, much like the Kennedy assassination (for those old enough to remember that). I'm glad that you're a storyteller, and can use that to help with the grieving, even if it serves no other purpose.

I had to give a speech the next day, which was not cancelled by the powers that be. I decided to start the talk by explaining that we have to remember, but we have to do more than that: we have to act. Then I said, that doesn't mean using rockets or nukes or violence. The action can be one that increases understanding, like learning a foreign language, or hosting a student from overseas, but the point is, you can't just say 'it's not my job, I don't have to do anything, it's up to the government' after an event like this. I suppose I'd say, for you, the action you can best take, is to write. That seems fitting.
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 09:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your thoughts, which were very helpful. Yes, 9/11 is my children's 11/22 and 12/7 all rolled into one.

I have a friend whose birthday is 12/7. I always make some joking reference when I wish her happy birthday to "a day that will live in infamy." That's in terrible taste, I suppose, but it all happened before she and I were born and it feels very remote to me...

In Jewish tradition we mourn on the 9th of Av every year, the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple. In 70 CE. I guess we haven't gotten over it yet...
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean about wishing it was September 10th again. It'll never be September 10th again. I don't think that's entirely bad, though. I think in some ways we were living in a glass bubble for a long long time.

My strongest feeling on 9/11 was wishing I was in New York City. I grew up in New York and spent a good chunk of my adulthood there, so it felt very weird to be so far away when the city I loved was attacked. I think that ever since then, in a way, I've been planning my return.

I don't know if you ever watched Sex and the City, but the writers did a very good job depicting the aftermath of 9/11 without explicitly mentioning it (no "very special episode" crap). Carrie's feeling that her true love was New York City is very close to my own.
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
I've never seen Sex and the City.

How interesting that you wished you were in the City. I would have thought you'd be relieved you weren't! Yet I do undertand it.
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 07:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this. The Thanksgiving poem has me in tears.

I remember when I told my girls what had happened when they got home from school. Even though I told them their Dad was fine and on his (very very long) way home, they were a little hysterical until they spoke to him themselves. Just knowing he was in the city and close to the WTC was too much for them.
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)
So, did your kids get through the whole school day without knowing? I wondered how schools elsewhere handled it.

When Kennedy was shot (see comparisons between that and 9/11 in faramir_boromir's comment and mine to her) they told us in school and sent us home.

How did your dh get home? Wait until the 33rd Street Path started running again?
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 10:32 pm (UTC)
I've been reliving 9/11 a lot these past few days, especially having watched United 93 the other day.

Random snippets:

• I was in New York two weeks prior to the event and marvelling how wonderful the city was and how joyous it was to be there, especially since I still remembered the dark days in the late 70s, early 80s.
• On the morning of 9/11, 30 of us were crowded into a small lobby at work watching the television as the towers fell. I looked out the window and every tall building looked like a target.
• Snake was teaching in China and I woke him up that evening (his morning -- he was 12 hours ahead) with the news. I felt like I had already lived through a 48 hour day in those 11 hours and it seemed odd that he didn't know anything yet.
• I did some very strange art about the towers that week -- weirdly detached and cartoony images of them exploding.
• I got people very mad at me saying that the attacks were Bush's wet dream.
• I was dead and depressed all week but Friday night was a strange and wonderful cure to all that as I got to be naked and simulating sex on an episode of Queer As Folk.

Thank you for sharing your memories.
[User Picture]
Date:September 9th, 2006 10:45 pm (UTC)
I looked out the window and every tall building looked like a target.

We got evacuated because we were in the tallest building in New Jersey. Who knew? Actually the Business Continuity Plan I'd written and tested had two huge flaws, flaws no one never could have realized they were there pre-9/11. One was that if we lost access to our building in the World Financial Center we'd set up our Command Center across the river in Jersey City, in the tallest building in NJ. Who would ever have thought to not include tall buildings in a plan?

The other flaw was that our plan had our London servers replicating our software and data and our London traders trading on our behalf for 48 hours (we got special permission in advance to do that in an emergency and everything) and our guys flying over there asap. Well, aviation in the US had never *stopped* before - who knew it would? Anyway, with both of those flaws the plan still worked and our business was the first ML one back up on 9/11. Having a plan - even a flawed one - and testing it is what counts, I think. But I digress.

I did some very strange art about the towers that week -- weirdly detached and cartoony images of them exploding.
Maybe you should post some one your journal.

I was dead and depressed all week but Friday night was a strange and wonderful cure to all that as I got to be naked and simulating sex on an episode of Queer As Folk.

You mentioned having done that before, but I didn't realize the timing. So what's the episode about? With whom did you have simulated sex? I think it's a very cool thing to have done.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:September 10th, 2006 02:41 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading.

And I'm sorry for you Dad. Like I said in another comment, I have a friend whose birthday is December 7, but she was born so long after Pearl Harbor that it didn't dampen anything. I imagine it hasn't been so much fun for your Dad celebrating his birthday recently.

Cool Cyclops icon!
[User Picture]
Date:September 10th, 2006 03:06 am (UTC)
From the other side of the world, it's very touching and, to me, important, to see what people who lived through 9/11 in person felt. In Australia, we get a lot of commentary, and celebrity or political reactions reported, but after the initial weeks, very little about individuals. Even less about children who witnessed the attacks: that poem is heart-wrenching

9/11 to me is the ninth of November, meaning that the date itself is not a reminder, but there has been plenty of newspaper reportage of the anniversary - I think I prefer your account.

(And my birthday is the seventh of December but I think I'm too young for people to associate it with Pearl Harbour!)
[User Picture]
Date:September 10th, 2006 01:35 pm (UTC)
Thanks for giving me an Australian viewpoint. I'd never thought about the date issue.

Do you know Sacha Baron Cohen? In his Ali G persona, he talks about the "tragic events of 7/11" the joke being that 7/11 is a convenience store chain here.
[User Picture]
Date:September 11th, 2006 11:26 am (UTC)

thinking of you today

Last night I had a dream that I visited you, and you lived in a very spacious apartment, bright and tidy and quiet.
[User Picture]
Date:September 11th, 2006 11:29 am (UTC)

Re: thinking of you today

From your dream to G-d's ears :-).

Hey, you're welcome to visit anyway. It's not spacious but we love visitors.

You're sweet to be thinking of me. I like to take flowers to our local firehouse on the anniversary. I just brought white lillies over there. This years note says:

On this fifth anniversary of the day our whole world changed, I bring a small offering. I bring it in memory of the brave souls who died five years ago today and the brave souls who survived and continue to do this important work. May G-d preserve and protect that firefighters of New York City, who preserve and protect us all. Please know that our gratitude is undiminished.
[User Picture]
Date:September 11th, 2006 05:01 pm (UTC)

two memories this brought back ...

As I was walking up third avenue to get home, I remember sort of addressing in my mind this sort of disembodied manifestation of the person or movement behind the attacks and thinking, "don't you understand? These were just ordinary people, going to work, living their lives." And somehow the answer came back in a chilling way, "Yes, I understand, and now you do too." Call it actions speak louder than words. A sort of manifesto that there will be no safe, protected normality.

And one of the comments sparked another memory -- the next day, I was home and DH and the kids went out to the playground (I didn't want to go out, needed some time alone, and wanted to put the TV to news which we weren't doing at all with the kids around even though they were small). A call came from one of DH's friends who is a captain on a cargo ship. The ship was supposed to be coming into the harbor but had been told to turn around, and he didn't quite understand what had happened (had been told a few bits, but not the whole picture). So I had to explain.
[User Picture]
Date:September 11th, 2006 05:57 pm (UTC)

Re: two memories this brought back ...

A sort of manifesto that there will be no safe, protected normality.

Which is pretty much the definition of terrorism.

Thanks for reading and commenting, Rebecca. As you know, I was thinking of you this morning.

Is that Montenegro in your icon? I'll put Park Slope in mine :-).
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2006 02:42 am (UTC)

from metafandom

Perhaps reflecting on the last day before our world fell apart was harder to take than remembering the first day after.

That's the truth. I haven't really posted much about it on my lj, I guess it's not knowing how, but it's worse remembering the way things were and how it won't be like that ever again.

I ended up with a different reaction. It was never "being a New Yorker" (I guess I could call it that). I just wanted to stay as far away as I could.

Your daughter's class's poem is heartbreaking.
[User Picture]
Date:September 12th, 2006 01:28 pm (UTC)

Re: from metafandom

I ended up with a different reaction. It was never "being a New Yorker" (I guess I could call it that). I just wanted to stay as far away as I could.

I think that's unfortunate.
[User Picture]
Date:October 18th, 2006 02:54 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your story with us all. I think that sharing 9/11 stories is rather like sharing stories of rape or abuse--it's a deliberate vulnerability about a significant trauma. I'm honoured that you chose to share your thoughts or feelings with us.

The anniversary is always a difficult one for me, as well, and this year was incredibly hard. I just got home (last week) from spending three months in South Africa, so I spent the fifth anniversary in another country. There were three of us Americans there and we really came together on that day. Most of the people I met or talked to on that day were very sympathetic and aware of the day, but there was still a reserve. As much as the whole world participated in that day, the whole world didn't feel the immediate pain and disorientation that we did. That was the thing that emphasized the distance between home and where I was. They'd ask if I knew anyone who'd died, if I'd been to the Towers, how I was feeling, what my story was--but they didn't have to tell me that they didn't know anyone, hadn't been there and all their stories were of the television and confusion, of thinking it was a new movie. I know that there are people who were and are affected by this day in every country, but for me, not in my own country, it was a difficult day.

Take care...
[User Picture]
Date:October 18th, 2006 01:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing your story with us all. I think that sharing 9/11 stories is rather like sharing stories of rape or abuse--it's a deliberate vulnerability about a significant trauma

Yes, but with the difference that - for most of us - we're sharing the story with people who shared the trauma. Thanks for sharing your experience of spending the anniversary in a foreign country.

How was South Africa? How does it feel to be back?
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