Visiting Ground Zero

When my friend Jules (visiting from Tennessee) and I made plans to go museuming today, I asked her if she wanted to go to Ground Zero. She said yes.

So this morning we take the 1 train to Franklin and walk down to Chambers. Barricades and cops, workers and … The only word I can come up with is “civilians.” People who weren’t here. Who don’t know, instinctively, how wrong it is to feel morning sunlight. How wrong the stillness of the winter air is. I can feel myself starting to shake.

A family – mother, two girls and a boy, are pressed up against a mesh fence, taking photographs. Many people are taking photographs but something about this family angers me. They’re too “gosh!” when the proper emotion is “oh god.”

We move on before I say something someone will regret, coming to another section of fence where memorials have been left. I wish I had brought flowers. I did remember to bring a rock, a polished chunk of granite, white and gray. I place it near the fence, and the tears I’ve been expecting begin to flow.

Surprisingly, I don’t feel the anger or the crushing sorrow that have been my companions since the 11th. I feel, instead, quiet. Still. Not at peace, but at rest. I’ve faced the monster, I suppose, and it is terrible.

We find a map posted and I show Jules where people we knew had been that day, familiar haunts, landmarks now of memory. A man next to me has his friend take a picture of him, the rubble in the background. It’s too soon, damn you, I think. It’s too soon to treat it as a backdrop. So long as I live, it will be too soon.

As we leave the site, a woman and her preteen daughter come around the corner, get their first look at the devastation. The girl lets out a gasp that is half sob.

Yes.

In retrospect I did the right thing, waiting. The wound has had a chance to scab over, distance has softened the blow. But as we walked away a sound – a blowout, a backfire – and my body was halfway to the ground. I look around, sheepish, and note I wasn’t the only one to react badly. To quote Huey Lewis & The News, “you’re never the same when you’ve been under fire.”

– Laura Anne

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