(I’m not in the mood to do much editing of this, so I apologize for the randomness and any grammatical offenses I may have committed.)
When I returned to NY at the end of February, my temporary corporate housing was on John Street, right near the Seaport. The relocation company had asked me what area I wanted to be in, and I remember telling them “I don’t want to be west of Broadway”. You see, I still hadn’t come to terms with that place, and I wasn’t ready to be around whatever it had grown to be.
I never walked over that way while I was living there, even though my office was located just a few blocks away.
A few months into my time here, when I had to walk to that side of town to get on the PATH train, I found myself not quite ready to be there. The new “F you” tower, as I like to call it, our ostentatious response to the world, is now complete and serves as a centering point, but not the one I remember. I am still disoriented when I go there. Nothing is where it was before I left, and I am unsettled by the things that are familiar, yet not.
In behavioral psychology there is a concept of dealing with phobias called “exposure therapy” (maybe that’s what it’s called; maybe that’s not exactly right…did I mention that I am not in the mood to do a good job with this post?). Basically, the idea is to give exposure to the thing that the person fears on a gradual basis. So someone who is afraid of dogs might look at a picture of a dog, then a video, then be in the same room as a dog, then come closer to the dog, etc until they can be in the immediate presence of a dog without having a panic attack.
On the day I walked to the PATH train, it struck me that I have had 15 years of not having to go near this place. I think I may have gone once, in the spring of 2002 when visiting with friends (we were staying at a hotel near the World Financial Center), but although I’ve visited NY multiple times since, I never had any desire to go near that mess. It was hard for me to even go into Century 21 to shop…again, disoriented. This tower does not stand where those towers did. Everything is a little bit off, and all I feel when I am there is an unsettled kind of anxiety.
Do I need exposure therapy? Will I ever go visit the memorial itself, search for the few names that I recognize, let myself be in that place? I don’t know. I thought for a minute that today would have been a good day to go, only because the risk of stupid and trite tourists might be slightly lower than usual…but at the same time, it’s not my place to be there today, on someone else’s sacred burial ground.
My writing here doesn’t make sense, and yet I am going to let it stand…because none of it makes sense, and I still haven’t come to terms with it, and although I am beyond overjoyed to be back in this city that I love, there is a piece of its history (and the aftermath) that I was not a part of, and need to figure out my place in relation to that narrative.
I haven’t had time to be desensitized to the military presence in Grand Central Station, or to the random bag check stations as I enter the subway. I don’t know the stories of each of the people I pass as I go about my day, or what their experience of that day has been. What I do know is that they do have stories…so many stories.
Living in Grand Rapids, I was not unaware of the subsequent untimely deaths of many first responders. It was only a few years ago that a friend had to bury her husband due to asbestos-related cancer that the doctors finally admitted was related to the air he breathed that day (You can read his story here, although please be aware that it is quite graphic and could be triggering).
But I am here now, and need to find my way through the rubble of a history that I was and was not a part of, and still am and am not a part of. The “F you” tower stands, and, good capitalists that we are, a pretentious high-end shopping center, shiny and clean and new, is emerging.
Maybe by next year, I will have made some sense of it all. Or maybe not. I guess the thing about “the new normal” is that it really isn’t normal at all, and never can be.