There’s been a bit of cynical flak floating in the air about the Never Forget refrain. Get off of it, they say. I can’t possibly forget, and with this incessant repetition it just dulls the meaning. Leave me alone. Wipe your eyes, you elitist cur. Your tears do not make you great.
I didn’t have television while at camp all summer, and only a few days out of the week was I able to dig my claws into a newspaper. At college I have no newspaper or television (aside from one with no reception that is used only for PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast). I could get a subscription to the Duluth News Tribune, but I feel that no news is better than poorly written news.
I didn’t have the television on when I left for class that Tuesday morning. When I arrived for philosophy the professor mentioned something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Again? I asked, thinking of the small plane that had collided earlier. Apparently there were two planes this time, and someone attacked the Pentagon as well. That’s new.
I had class straight until 2:00, so all I could do was build a shell of information from the bits and pieces I squeezed from people. By the time my last class rolled around, the lack of connection to the world was driving me mad. I can’t concentrate. My reality had become unmoored. Hardly anyone is showing up to class today. We had a stupid little debate on foreign policy in American Lit class. Why couldn’t they cancel classes? I needed to see a television, I needed to check the internet. “If we cancel class, the terrorists have already won.” I needed to know what the hell was going on in the world.
Finally I got home and saw the horror that I had only seen in words. I watched the towers fall from every angle in cruel instant replays, but the gnawing didn’t hit until I read the first-hand accounts on MetaFilter.com. My stomach twisted. The tears flowed.
During the weeks following September 11, I had this image as my background. It haunted my dreams, but I needed to see it; it kept the memory fresh. I could hear the papers blowing in the cement winds. Those were words. Those were ideas. Those were people. Yesterday I set it as my background again and just stared. One of my roommates saw it from the hall and came in to look, thinking I was playing a computer game. He saw what it was and left.
The last time I watched the towers fall was half a year ago at Tony’s Fine Food in Spooner, Wisconsin. A WTC documentary came up and I could not pull my eyes off the big screen TV. My parents turned to see what had grabbed my attention and turned back. Something inside me grumbled anew, but no one else in the bar seemed to be paying attention. Perhaps it hurt too much to see again. Perhaps they were deliberately ignoring it. Perhaps the image felt banal and overused for them. Either way, after a few minutes someone came along and switched it over to golf.
It’s gone now. We have forgotten, and I know this because I have forgotten. I have barely reflected on the attacks for almost a year, and it is likely that few carry the thoughts around in their breast pockets anymore. It is no longer at the forefront of our consciousness. We have grieved and we have moved on. We have once again grown complacent, which was the problem in the first place.
But for me the gnawing is back. The pain is real again, and I feel alone. I just stepped out onto the balcony in my apartment, and my roommates were down in the living room watching Caddie Shack. They shouted good-natured jeers at me because I tripped on a book in my room and emitted a pitiful howl. I was at the verge of tears from writing this.
My feeling is different now than it was then. Last year it was a collective sorrow, where I could swing by Sir Benedict’s Tavern and see the same sadness reflected in everyone’s eyes. For how awful I felt, I could always take comfort knowing that everyone else felt the same way. There was a community.
My walk to class is now populated by ghosts.
I am scared again.