My life is entwined with the events and aftermath of 9/11. The echoes of the buildings collapsing run through my daily life on many levels. The routines of my day take me physically around the site. My thought patterns run reflexively and repeatedly over issues exposed on that day. I struggle to forget. I go to New Jersey to forget.
This is the last day of the last weekend of a summer spent partly in New Jersey. There is no denying it. It’s time to go back to the city, back to downtown Manhattan, where we are living in our fifth temporary residence since 9/11. It’s back to immersion in a host of issues that originated two years ago. But it’s also back to our home and to a community that I’ve become a part of primarily because of 9/11. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, everything seemed so simple. Since then, everything has become progressively more confused. The road from New Jersey to New York is from summer to fall, and from simplicity to ambiguity.
On Sept. 12, 2001, our family came back together in a small summerhouse on the Jersey shore, after a day of being separated as we fled in different directions. We spent a couple of weeks not really recovering but at least stabilizing. The too-small house we had rented for the summer seemed suddenly big enough. I wanted to be in the same room with the children every minute. I lay in their room at night, considering how to stop another threat. I pictured myself soaring through the sky scanning for advance warning of another terrorist attack. I wanted desperately to completely eliminate the danger that had exposed itself. I wanted to be in control.
Over the past two years, we’ve stayed in fine apartments in various places downtown, but not in a home. Our home, which was across the street from the World Trade Center, was buried in Ground Zero, ripped open at the front, covered in dust, and surrounded in uncertainty. Every place we’ve lived since has been a place we were staying “just for a while.” But that “while” kept expanding. Our place in New Jersey now is a home. It is a place we can run to if we ever have to leave New York again. It confers a feeling of control.
Our four kids are growing up. We have a girl, 7, boy and girl twins, age 5, and a boy, age 4. They have essentially been refugees for most of their conscious lives. For the younger ones, 9/11 might be their first permanent memory. It isn’t just the magnitude of the event. Most of their early lives were spent in and around the WTC, a place that they saw disintegrate into a pile of rubble. Their early memories were of places that are no more. We still occasionally discuss 9/11, the WTC, and going back to our home.
Tomorrow, my wife, Sarah, goes back to work after a couple of weeks of vacation. She has been the rock of this family. On 9/11, she had a corporate job while I was an independent consultant. I finished the project I was working on, barely. Then I got lost in the gravitational pull of the WTC. Witnessing the events of 9/11 took something away from me. It pulled a piece of me out of the real world. How could I worry about paperwork? I was alive and life was short. While I started writing, got involved in our community, and began directing the restoration of our 10-unit condo building, my wife carried the ball of the real world. 9/11 has completely changed my life, but I owe the opportunity and the experience of this change completely to the love and support of Sarah.
Today was a beautiful, sunny day. So beautiful that our plan to leave early drifted into a plan to leave in the late afternoon. Even the kids cooperated with our agenda of procrastination. We delayed the chores of leaving as long as possible. We drove home to a beautiful sunset.