The Smoke in the Far Distance
I guess everyone you meet in New York City, that is, if you propose enough time and conversation with the person, and supposing they've lived in New York City long enough, will have their own 9/11 story. Its a date we were reminded of daily for an entire year after its occurrence. Most of us remember the night before and the day after. There wasn't much of anything else on anyone's mind in New York City for the rest of that week, perhaps for the rest of that month. And it might've not just been exclusive to New York City; to say there wasn't much of anything else on anyone's mind in the rest of the country, might not be that far or conceited of a stretch. Going back to my opening sentence, perhaps regardless of where the person lived at the time, everyone has a 9/11 story to tell.
The week of 9/11 was the week after my grandmother died. Technically a week but in actuality, a full seven days had not yet passed since Friday September 7, 2001, when in the early AM, on a hospital bed, Dominga Baptista-Encarnacion passed away. A date was scheduled with Ortiz Funeral Home but had to be moved because many of our relatives were not allowed in New York City, via bridge, boat, or airport. The funeral for which I awoke on the morning of Tuesday September 11, 2001 happened to occupy a much grander day for Death. Postponed for Friday the 14th, I would spend the late afternoon after the funeral in a housing projects' staircase, awkwardly entertaining a girl who wanted to do more than just sit in poorly lit silence.
In general, events rarely inspire a strong emotional reaction from me. Whether my grandmother's death, a terrorist attack, or a sexually curious girl--my unaffected distance made me weightless to any gravity any of these respectively offered. As I sat on those steps in the projects staircase, I wasn't distracted by my grandmother, or Death at all for that matter. It wasn't that I was reflecting on my nineteen year old life, and couldn't respond to obvious hints from the girl seated beside me. It wasn't 9/11. She didn't care, I didn't care--I just sort of didn't like her and was nervous to be there absorbing her intentions. By the time I cleared out, abruptly and perhaps a bit embarrassed, I could honestly say that I wasn't at all thinking of 9/11.
The South Bronx, September 11, 2001 - On rooftops, neighbors watched the smoke in the far distance; children returned from dismissed classes, adults from dismissed jobs. Images, repeated on television gave you a bizarre surreality, like watching a film on screen and then opening a window and seeing the scene become real. Yet, from The South Bronx it seemed so small, out of our reach even. There was a certain level of disconnection on that morning, a certain amount of unaffected coldness towards the September 11th Attack--towards terrorism--towards the future. Its not that I or some of my friends didn't care, we just didn't one hundred percent feel as if it was happening to us. In fact, nothing had happened to us, we each awoke in our beds and if it wasn't for Television or Radio, we wouldn't have known about 9/11 until later in the day or evening, maybe not even till the next day. Of course there was one out of five of us who felt the impact and felt like joining the armed forces, we laughed at him. We spent the afternoon at the barber's shop, someone was getting a shape-up and we said things like,
"Its payback for all the fucked up shit this country does to the middle east."
"Thats what we get for not minding our own business."
"That shit would never happen in The Bronx."
"That shit was sad though--people jumping, people on fire, thats a fucked up way to die."
There are some people who live and die in The Bronx, who were raised and schooled in The Bronx, who eat, sleep, and work in The Bronx, who fuck in The Bronx, get married and have kids in The Bronx. They take vacations to other states, to visit family not to experience a new area; some go to caribbean islands, mostly to party. Manhattan is like Las Vegas to them, a party town, one which they couldn't imagine becoming a permanent part of, one in which what happens there, remains there. Its a bright light circus, a club hopping spectacle--as strange as the idea of viewing The Bronx as a small town, especially considering how close it is to Manhattan (its one of the 5 boroughs after all) some of its residents have small town mentalities.
Everyone had a different reaction, I am not the spokesperson for The Bronx, some people attacked convenient stores during that week, there was a strong anti-arabic atmosphere in the air, ignorant and brash. Others were scared, locked inside, for them the attack was just the beginning, a war was on the verge of breaking open, spilling onto our streets, shattering like a cracked glass that finally gives. There were others who were just confused, who were overwhelmed by excess tragedy and minimal explanation, not necessarily having a reaction, only numb and stunned by the interruption of it all. I'm certain this wasn't limited to only The Bronx, but that's what I saw because that's where I spent the week.
So my friends and I didn't take 9/11 seriously. In the weeks that followed most of us were of the opinion the whole event was staged to get us into war, in a general we-have-no-real-evidence-to-prove-this sort of way; nor did we care to investigate. The birth of Post 9/11 had changed the view of not only the skyline but also our perspectives. In the months that followed Innocence and Trust were concepts that were tested by the governing actions of the country we lived under. Danger and Fear were the new unofficial ad campaigns; boosting isolation and encouraging technological communication (text messages, myspace, facebook). We didn't have cellphones and television wasn't that interesting prior to 9/11, people needed to stay home and safe, to constantly be in contact with one another. Bush "stealing" the 2000 election was hardly an issue as most people forgot about it by then, For myself, it was like pointillism, where you had to stand back to see the full picture. The closer you stood geographically and emotionally, the more the mess of dots would distort the image. American flags annoyed me, angry veterans shook me to Casper, soldiers with firearms in subway stations professed me to a Masters Degree in Paranoia and Anxiety. Whenever I look back I remember how I almost fooled around in projects staircase on the same day as my grandmother's funeral, I remember how much I hate Parkchester because I spent a full, rainy Monday, September 10th out there dropping fliers for NYC mayoral candidate, Mark Green (election day was 9/11). I remember when the 2nd plane hit, up until the two towers fell. I was in bed, listening to the television in the adjacent living room; my sister had yelled out to me to come and watch, I was too tired.
Today, almost a decade later, the event is even further away. Its as if everything that happened after that date went out of its way to normalize the September 11th Attack. To blend the sudden surprise of the attack with a surreal world of constant surveillance, constant diminishing freedoms, desensitized acceptance of our "War on Terror" which might as well be the War with Eurasia or East Asia. Misinformation, distraction, pills for ignoring what should be your natural reaction to this brave new world. Staring at the Seurat becomes more difficult as every time you move back a bit further they blow up the image, enlarging the picture until you, the viewer, either gives in and joins the distortion or leaves the gallery all together.