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.
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.