20 Years On

by wlancehunt, October 5, 2021 in Personal Narrative, psychology, resilience

     Time does heal. As long as you don’t keep picking at the scab. Then, the wound festers. Gets all kinda bad. 

     But if you leave the damage alone. Keep pressure off it and grime away. Time does do its magic. 

  Usually, by leaving scars. 

Scars

     Makes sense for the body—stop bleeding, prevent an infection, protect the break—quickly—to keep us alive and then repair the harm as fast as possible. Gotta keep going after all. 

     You get patches of skin that don’t tan. Have a different texture and tone. Bones thicker in places.

But, one lives. And one can keep moving. 

Better and Worse

     Some scars heal up better than others. When I broke my ankle, the bone knitted up well, and I can walk and run, though sometimes lousy weather makes it ache. And it doesn’t like jumping jacks at all. But, no limp. Only have to adjust some exercises. 

   Now, the craniotomy to remove the meningioma behind my right eye? Well, that did the job, pulling the walnut-sized tumor from over my temporal lobe. Stopped those seizures. But the tissue of the meninges between the frontal and temporal lobes scarred thickly. Now that thickened spot keeps the pressure up on the right temporal lobe. 

    Presto—Temporal Lobe Epilepsy.  

     A chronic but reasonably easy to maintain condition. A few pills a day and mostly all good. (Full night’s sleep is now a MUST; I have to cut out nightcaps and, well, any wine after about 7 pm. Interferes with the medication. Boo.) 

    But, again. Alive. Sans brain tumor. Writing. With my family. Good. Least wife always wanted a man with a scar on his face. Mostly forehead in my case. But close enough.

9-11

   September eleventh wounded. The Country. The two cities that got gashed. And the very many families that lost parts of themselves. 

    It has healed for some. 

    Decidedly left scars.

     In the people who lived through it. In the many who watched. In NYC. Washington, D.C. A field in Pennsylvania. In our body politic.

The Country

    Our country is left with the NSA and the vast resources devoted to keeping eyes on malefactors, real and imagined. So much so that Snowden demanded we at least know the price of Safety versus Privacy. A vague paranoia that “something gonna happen. Some day.” Afghanistan. Iraq. Obsession with Islamic terrorism. Usually from afar. Sometimes closer to home. Both stirring up hatred of the other. 

     It birthed the TSA and a new way to fly. Long security lines. 

     Later, we stopped a man trying to light the fuse in his shoe. Now take our shoes off to fly. 

 NYC

   New York City survived two buildings vanishing. Humvees with mounted 50 cal machine guns in back on Broadway. Military on our subway armed with automatic weapons. Having to prove you needed to be in lower Manhattan. 

     We got the smoking car in Times Square.  Had the jolt of fear that it was happening all over again with the 2003 Northeast blackout.

      Brass Balled real-estate developer Larry Silverstein stared down the Governors of both NY and NJ and got the insurance companies to pay for two attacks—one for each tower. 

     This all while paying $8.5 million a month in rent ($102 million a year) on what was now wreckage.

    Then he built another, taller building in its place. 

  With an appropriately dignified memorial in the footprints of the buildings that came down. Absences full of meaning. Once a year, filled two columns of light shooting into the firmament. 

      A changed but still grand skyline.

The People

     Many lost family and friends that day. Of those wounds, I cannot speak.

      I got to walk home that day. 

     While sirens no longer make me wonder if this is the same disaster still unfolding, I do not like when airliners fly low. Or too close to Manhattan. 

     And then, when a twenty-something airport security officer starts to lecture me about why they have to confiscate a two-inch Swiss-card knife—I get cross. 

      This boy might have watched something on TV when he was little. From the safety of his couch. At home. Afraid. Sure. Angry. Probably. But he didn’t have to worry about a beam falling from a building and smashing his skull into a pulp as he walked through a blizzard of burnt-concrete dust. 

     He doesn’t get to tell me jack about that day.

      I was there. Got it.

      Hell, he probably watched me walk through the worst of it. Watched us. A hell of a lot of us. 

      Sure. He’s just doing his job.

      But to lecture me?

      There are only a few thousand people on earth who have that right. And he ain’t one of them.

      Yeah, I know. 

But most scars aren’t pretty. They’re functional.

     An Isolated Few

And there are few people who would get my outsized annoyance at something so seemingly small.  

     In fact, in the twenty years since that day, I’ve met no one who was down there that day. Never have I met anyone, just sitting in a bar, or at dinner or waiting for the bus, who can speak of what it was like down there that morning. While I know my coworkers, we haven’t stayed in touch.

     An odd sort of solitude. 

     Course, scars like this are inside. We don’t wear badges, after all. So it could be most anyone of the right age. How would I know?

     Most people in NYC don’t dwell on it. It comes up from time to time. But we didn’t pick at the scabs then. We don’t poke at the scars now.

     We who survived the day. Simply surviving was a lot.

     There is one thing I do think about, sometimes. That hasn’t scarred over. Quite yet.

   UA 93

     That’s UA Flight 93.

     And the rallying cry: “Okay. Let’s roll.”

     Most people were caught unawares that day. Sucker punched. Some ran to rescue and were killed when it all came down.

      But Todd and those few men on that flight knew they were going to die.

      They acted to thwart the bad guys’ plan anyway.

      I’d like to think I’d have had the stones to do that.

      Though, I hope I never have to find out. 

  Department of Old Words

These are the three previous essays I’ve written about 9-11

  1. NYC: What it was like on the southern tip of Manhattan that day.
  2. NYC: A year later
  3. NYC: Ten years on


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