I was not in New York on 9/11 (I was in New Jersey) nor did I lose anyone I knew. I had moments when I was terrified, but they turned out to be false alarms—notably when I couldn’t get my brother on the phone, only to have him call and reveal the previous night he’d gotten drunk and hooked up with the hottest girl at his college, then shut his phone down to sleep it off properly.
Like most of America, I experienced the tragedy from a safe remove. Nevertheless, it did change me. Here are three things that might not seem terribly significant, but after 16 years, they’ve stuck.
1. When I wake in the morning and discover a new phone message, I get a little freaked out.
On 9/11, I got out of bed and discovered a series of borderline incoherent messages from my girlfriend at the time. I called her and, after confirming I was indeed safe—I remember being baffled she would even ask that—she instructed me to turn on the television. To this day I check my messages in the morning and find it comforting if no one’s been in touch. (As the day progresses and I still find that no one’s contacted me, this feeling gradually morphs into crushing loneliness.)
2. I put some thought into packing.
Before 9/11, I threw stuff in a bag at the last possible minute and rushed to the airport. It was not uncommon to head to a wedding and find I did not bring a tie or a dress shirt or even socks with mates, but had an impressive supply of obscene T-shirts. On 9/11, my parents were scheduled to fly back from Alaska. Needless to say, that did not occur, and they wound up spending an additional five days in Fairbanks and then another night in Seattle before returning to the East Coast. I now seek to ensure I am properly prepared for each day of a trip, plus another few as well. Beyond this, airport security’s post-9/11 habit of ripping my bag apart makes me think, “How will I feel when this is tossed on a table in a room filled with strangers?” I pack accordingly.
3. I still don’t like dramatic interpretations of what happened.
Very soon after the attacks, I saw a performance artist act out what she witnessed near Ground Zero. This triggered something deep inside of me, in that I was seized with an urge to throw up. I still find it hard to wrap my head around the fact that as people either desperately sought safety or rushed to care for their fellow man, she apparently watched and mused, “Man, I can’t wait to do a one-woman reenactment of this!” Sixteen years out, I still don’t want to see any recreations of those events—especially not one involving Charlie Sheen. I can’t think of any other occurrence that inspires these feelings in me, but I believe we all saw so much footage of the genuine article that attempting to duplicate it is, at the very least, superfluous. There are thousands of years of history for artists to address: Leave that morning alone.
Postscript: My brother got the news when the alleged hottest girl showed up back at his room, banging on his door and yelling about the Towers. He told her that was really a tasteless joke. They got in a big argument before he flipped on the TV and saw what happened. My brother never hooked up with the ridiculously hot girl again, making him officially the least inspiring victim of the events of 9/11.