In 2001, I lived on the twenty-fifth floor of an apartment building in New York’s East Village, and for the past ten years I have been trying to write about the events that occurred on 9/11.
The turning point of my life, I have written many times.
The first milestone of my adult life, I have written many more.
This is taken from the first time I tried, dated 13 September 2001:
There are two red gaping wounds coming out of a sight she knows all too well, those two tall towers that always stood higher than the rest, those boring monoliths she used to complain about seeing daily, never a fan of seventies architecture. Jon, her boyfriend, eventually came to her side and her next ...view middle of the document...
She turns to the donut man and asks for ‘one glazed original’ and humors his offer of a Dunkaccino or a Coolatta, opting for the Dunkaccino, for no apparent reason, other than perhaps now in light of what she knows, even the word Dunkaccino is chock-full of tragedy.
‘Can I ask you something?’ she asks.
‘One Dunkaccino!’ he announces instead to the girls in the back. And in spite of the minor insult of being ignored in favour of the creation, the rather simple pouring of a highly caloric, mass-produced, artificially-sweetened, ‘coffee-drink’ of dubious caffeine content, she thinks, is beautiful. Human beings, with their meek flimsy attempts to make this wild world fun, sweet, funny, livable, affectionate, maybe even to someone clever or classy, will always come up with Dunkaccinos. And everyone might know it’s stupid or silly or just sickening, maybe nobody will even truly like it, but somewhere in an office, someone came up with it with good intentions, sure he wanted it to sell, but what he really wanted was to feed his family, and if he didn’t have a family, maybe the family he will one day have. The vulnerability, the humanity, the sickly sweetness, of capitalism suddenly moves her so much, and perhaps so mistakenly, that she suddenly almost forgets to ask again, ‘Can I ask you something?’
‘No, I mean, sure,’ answers the distracted donut man, who’s eyeing the line nervously.
‘Please, don’t come to work tomorrow,’ she says, leaning close to him, ‘Will you trust me? Just don’t bother. Something bad – I don’t want to alarm you, and don’t ask me how I know this – something not-so-great might happen and so please, just take a day off. You’ve earned it, I’m sure.’
He is looking at her blankly and nodding not because of any understanding of any sort, but simply nodding in the manner people have learned to nod in New York when they encounter a crazy person.
I don’t stand by the story today, but I somehow envy its immaturity.
Because what could you do but wedge yourself into the narrative, until the story was a story of you, and the crime just against the self, your self to be specific, and the terrorists had downed you, the city hurting for you and you alone?
And yet the minute you try to make sense of all the layers of non-fiction, fiction, with its insistence on order, creeps in to tidy the narrative.
DeLillo talks about how in the future people will insert themselves into the 9/11 scene: ‘For the next fifty years, people who were not in the area when the attacks occurred will claim to have been there. In time, some of them will believe it. Others will claim to have lost friends or relatives, although they did not. This is also the counternarrative, a shadow history of false memories and imagined loss.’ How accurate this turned out to be. On 12 September 2001 I sent an email to a few dozen friends which said, among other things, that ‘two people I know seem to be of the “missing”’.
I don’t know who I meant, which two?...