(The beginning of a new piece I'm working on, still in progress...)
It was just after noon on Friday, September 14, and I was on the uptown 6 train, on my way to break into my ex-boyfriend’s apartment. I’d called his office from a payphone on the platform at Union Square to make sure he was at work; as soon as the receptionist confirmed his presence and offered to connect me, I hung up and boarded the train. I still had a copy of his keys, which I’d taken the time to duplicate before returning after our breakup three months before, so I wasn’t really going to break in. I was just going to enter, and look around, and maybe take some things, if I felt like it.
Downtown, the city stank like death, a sour, burnt, metallic smell shrouding the streets, a grainy photocopied picture of my downstairs neighbor affixed to our front door: Missing: Avnish Patel. We were in shock – I say we, though there was no more “we” in my life; there was only me and my cats, and Ron Siegal, the comic who’d been crashing on my couch for the past six weeks. Ron was ten years older than me, neurotic and solipsistic, as comics are; we were recent acquaintances – Platonic, though far from ideal. He was newly sober again, after a year-long bender following thirteen years of sobriety; I was newly single again, after a four and a half year relationship following several other stupid, self-destructive relationships. We were both in detox, both lonely, both inclined to stay up until five in the morning after some shitty comedy show, eating ice cream and gossiping about comics we knew in common. I would smoke a joint or two, he would jump on my computer and type ALL CAPS MESSAGES to nineteen-year-old girls off Craigslist. The sun would come up, he’d retire to the couch, and I’d go into my bedroom and fall into bed, if not sleep.
You were there that Tuesday morning, wherever you were, so I’ll spare you the details of what you already know. Our phone rang around 9 a.m.; a nineteen-year-old girl from Craigslist jabbering into the answering machine. I was inclined to sleep through it, but Ron woke up and roused me. Something big was happening. I got the gist from CNN, but I couldn’t believe it until I stumbled downstairs in my flip flops and pajamas, stepped onto the sidewalk, watched the streams of people walking up Fourth Avenue covered in dust, bleeding from cuts, dazed; the buildings burning, black smoke pouring into the blue, blue sky. I had my camera with me, and two teenage boys made a lazy grabbing motion as they passed. “Watch that camera,” one said. “There’s gonna be riots.” I went back inside the building, and while I was riding the elevator upstairs, the second tower collapsed.
I did not shower. I dressed, and went straight to the grocery store with my granny cart, filled it with canned goods, cat food, and bottled water. I picked up a pint of ice cream for me and Ron, though I felt sure that the electricity was soon to fail; who knew what else was on its way. My heart beat loud and urgent in my chest; everything felt both impossibly foreign and incredibly immediate, even as the aisles were empty, the muzak playing Carly Simon like it was any other Tuesday. The cashier looked at me with big eyes, mumbled have a nice day as she handed me the receipt. Thanks, I said dumbly. You too.
The phones were out, so I emailed my dad in New Jersey, my brother in New Rochelle: We’re all right, I wrote, though there was no more we in my life. Ron had drifted out to his favorite café on MacDougal Street, a place where sober people sat around all day, drinking coffee and talking about the emotional abuse they’d experienced. It was just me and my cats, and then Tia and Jason buzzed from downstairs, because they didn’t have cable and their TV was out and they wanted to know what was being reported on the news. Jason was an anarchist, or an anti-capitalist, or something; he was almost excited by the events of the morning, leaning forward with his forearms on his thighs, his mouth open slightly. Tia wanted to go home and walk the dog.
So I was alone again, with the cats, and the sounds of the sirens, and every channel on TV showing what we could hear and smell and feel for ourselves: the end of the world. I checked my email over and over, the way I used to do when I was waiting to hear from Mark after one of our fights, waiting for absolution, for reprieve. I thought about emailing Mark, to whom I hadn’t spoken since our last fight – we’d broken up via email, exchanged personal items through our mutual friend Jill. But this was a life-or-death emergency, this was an excuse to contact anyone you’d ever loved and tell them whatever you’d have them know before you both died.
I’m all right, I wanted to tell him, I’m still alive.