A New Transplant’s Guide to Wanting a New Transplant’s Guide to 9/11 Anniversaries
Three subways passed through the station before I could fit on a train to work. The platform intercom beeped for 30 seconds. My boyfriend was quiet. The car was quiet. Police gathered in the 14th Street/Union Square station. I rode the train an extra stop for a bagel. I exited at Fulton & Broadway and stood in the shadow of the Freedom Tower. My pen jerked as I wrote the date at work.
This is my first time in New York City on 9/11 and I can’t help but hold my breath and wait for 9/12. Not that 9/12 makes any difference–I suspect if someone really wanted to wipe out New York City, they would do it whenever they pleased. But today that doesn’t matter. Today, all the peculiarities are illuminated, even those that have no bearing on national security, like me sleeping in or craving a donut. Today I am afraid.
I feel a sense of shame in saying that here. Mostly because no one seems to be talking about it. About fear, about the attacks. But to be fair, I don’t know what I wish people would say or do, or what they even could say. “So, a lot of innocent people lost their lives 12 years ago…That’s a thing that happened.” No. But I wish the city came with a new transplant’s guide to 9/11 anniversaries.
Last weekend I saw Tribute in Light for the first time as I was on my way to a bar to watch soccer. It caught me off guard as I rounded a corner and I stopped in my tracks. The lights went into the sky forever, I thought everyone in every borough could see them. They were so powerful and haunting I wanted to cry and hide. Again, I feel a sense of shame or embarrassment in admitting this. Dozens of people were on that street with me, seeing the same lights as me. And it felt like everyone ignored them, pretended they weren’t there. For me, Tribute in Light felt as much a message that read “It is your duty to remember” as it did a memorial.
But I am not a New Yorker. Not even close. I still get confused on the subway; I’ve never watched a Yankees game; all pizzas pretty much taste the same to me, and 9/11 didn’t happen in my backyard. New Yorkers have seen Tribute in Light year after year; they’ve seen the Freedom Tower grow with the first brick, and chances are, everyone in New York knows someone that died that day. I feel ashamed to say “I’m afraid” today because New York City already knows I’m afraid. New York City doesn’t need to say “Us too” or “It will always feel like this.”
I work four blocks away from the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial. I ate my lunch in City Hall Park and took a walk to Zuccotti Park today. I walked the entire way with shifty eyes and my shoulders hunched to my ears. And I looked like an idiot. Yes, I am nervous, but so is everyone else. While it might feel like a fresh wound for me, the rest of the city wears today like a scar. And that is why the bagel man still gives high-fives today, and why the construction workers still protest whatever it is they’re protesting, and why the sardines continued to pack on the subway this morning. Because they already know how the fear feels and how today goes. Because 9/11 is something they don’t need to talk about. New Yorkers already know.