"Never Forget," they say, usually with a condescending and finger-wagging admonishment, as if I could. As if anyone who saw any of that could forget it. Fifteen years. I can't believe it's been fifteen years. It's going to be sunny here tomorrow, like it was there, then.
Fifteen years since my friend tapped me on the shoulder at work to tell me a plane hit the World Trade Center. Fifteen years since we walked outside and craned our necks up at the burning buildings, the fluttering paper, the falling people. Fifteen years since the chaos, the disbelief, and the earthquake when the first tower fell. Fifteen years since the city where I grew up changed forever, and my view of a lot of other things changed along with it.
And what can I do? Write about it, I guess? And think. Definitely think.
I think about Bill McGinn, my parents' next door neighbor and his kids. God, they'd be 18 and 22 or so by now? Who knows what they remember of their father, an FDNY lieutenant in Greenwich Village. Surely they must be proud of him. They don't live in the building anymore, but there's a plaque and a tree in his honor there. I wonder if they ever visit it.
I think about the year after, when I would jump at every sudden loud sound I heard: a cuckoo clock, a squirrel on a fire escape; and I can't even begin to fathom the extent of PTSD that people who have fought in and lived in war zones must suffer.
I think about this health study I'm a part of. They keep sending me surveys, calling me. I got a voice mail the other day from someone who works there. "There," I think, is the New York City Health Department. I called her back while standing outside my office in Anchorage, looking out over Cook Inlet, telling this stranger 5,000 miles away that well, I wasn't sure my ever-worsening asthma was 9/11 related. I don't know if that's why I'm on Prozac now. Who knows? "You can never be sure, there's no way of knowing," she said in a soothing, "talking-someone-off-a-ledge/mental-health-crisis-hotline-worker" tone of voice. Ain't that the truth, I thought cynically. She sent more surveys.
Fifteen years, and my life is very different. I live in Alaska, I'm married with two kids, a mortgage, and a serious full time job that consumes most of my time and mental energy. A little too much for my kids sometimes, I worry guiltily. When it happened I was 23. The only thing I cared or worried about was getting to the gym after work, and a bar after that.
But mostly, I think of their faces. The color-printed pictures that were plastered all over the city, in Grand Central, near St. Vincent's; their tattered corners fluttering in a November wind blowing cold and mean down Houston Street, long after everyone knew and had begun to accept that no one would be found.
I think about their families, how hard this day is for them. How it's not a souvenir plate, or a field trip to Ground Zero, or an Internet conspiracy, or an excuse for war, or a flag pin on a politician's lapel, or the source of an infantile, sanctimonious, fifteen year-long public pissing contest over who's really patriotic and who isn't.
It's just their parents, their siblings, their children, their friends. And they miss them every day, this day most of all. And whether it's 9/11 or any conflict before or since, that, more than anything, is what we should never forget.