Secret Pop

Sep 11, 2004

I realize the power of a soundtrack.

There is a memorial program airing on HBO. A program memorializing 9/11. A program that concatenates the footage collected by hundreds of plain old people with their handheld video recorders and their curiosity and their speculation. A program that wants to remind you how that day felt.

A couple of days ago, I was walking my dog, and an older gentleman with a newspaper in his hand approached me and asked if I lived in the neighborhood. I affirmed. He had read an obituary in the paper. An actress had passed away. She used to live on this street. My street. And this older fellow had lived only a block further down. He and his family had lived there in 1938. And his rent had been $27 a month. He told me a lot about the street and the people who had lived there and how much cheaper college tuition had been. And then he said, "I remember one day when the woman who lived in that house over there leaned out her window and told me and my father,'The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor!' And we said,"Really?! Where's that?'"

I remember September 11 three years ago. I remember waking up to a phone call from my closest friend, instructing me to turn on the television. I remember watching it with him still on the line and not understanding what was happening. A very short time after that, I was on the phone with someone whose love I still wanted. He was confused and jarred. He sounded upset. He got emotional on the phone. Tearful. He asked if I wanted him to come up to my apartment. But within a short span, he was distracted by friends who hadn't television sets of their own and co-workers who would egg him on in his comedic antics in line at the blood bank and the lady at the blood bank on whom he had his eye. I would not see him at all that day. And it would not make any difference to him.

I was scheduled to perform in a comedy show on the evening of September 11. For a church, I think. It may have been the first remote I had been cast in. The show was canceled. But we didn't know until the eleventh hour. Everything was so up in the air. No one knew what was really happening. No one knew whether we should just keep on trucking or duck and cover. At some point in the afternoon, I went to a tire service center with Beulah. And later in the day, I went to my parents' house and watched the network news coverage with my dad and felt despondent and disconnected and entirely alone.

The night before, I had gotten home from having practiced with someone from the band I was later to join and having had a few drinks with and a metaphorical slap in the face from the guy whose love I could no longer claim, and I had walked into my apartment awash in a mixture of rage and bemusement and abject despondence, only to listen to my answering machine messages and learn that the company with whom I had interviewed the week before was going to be sending me a job offer by fax the next day. I would be moving to Los Angeles. Screw everyone who had made my final year in San Diego such an abominably hurtful season. What a triumph.

But when I turned on the television and saw that unimaginable series of events unfold, I did wonder if anything was ever going to be the same again. I did wonder if there would be no job offer after all. If there would be no Tuesday. If there would be no America as we knew it. If businesses would fold and borders would close. If we would suddenly be living on war rations. I had no idea what to plan for or what to expect. I had tickets to see Weezer that Friday. And sure enough, that show was postponed.

Tonight, as I was getting dressed to celebrate Angie's birthday out on the town, I had the television on, and HBO was airing this memorial program about that day. There is footage I saw a hundred times. Footage I vowed I did not need to see again. Would not try to see again. Much like the footage of the Challenger explosion that I saw on the television that day before I left for school. It was so vivid in my mind that I had no need of repeat viewings. And the feelings it evoked were too painful to want to be dredged up by even the most masochistic parts of me. But this program brought it all back. And there was a moving score to push whatever emotional buttons might have been missed by the sight of the sheer destruction and the grief of those who saw it happening.

Right in the middle of it, I had to leave. I had to pick up my quarry and head out to celebration town. I held up my end of the bargain. I kept up the conversation. I bought plenty of drinks. I used a friendly rebuff when the one very drunk guy copped a serious feel of my backside. I gave my number to the Australian guy who expressed an interest in having tea. I kept up the volley with the bartender who takes the teasing route. And I bandied late night fast food providers in the car on the way home. It wasn't really until I got home that I let myself drift back to that previous mournful state. Turn the page on the calendar. It's September 11 now. Officially. And all I ever get stuck on is the amount of love that was felt by those who lost loved ones in the carnage. Maybe you never feel such things as poignantly as you do on that tragic stage. But I keep getting hung up on how simple and clear things become when the world seems to be ending. I remember asking myself who I would have called if I had been on one of those planes and had a cell phone handy. And I knew the answer to the question. And I was ashamed of what it was.

Tragedy is an important part of the completeness of being human. I don't wish it on anyone. And yet, I know that it should be treasured when it falls. It is the lens that puts everything in perspective. It is the reminder that life is short. And unfair. It is the eye of the needle through which the thread of everything else must be squeezed. Pain. Loss. How could anything be considered beautiful in the absence of them?

I am not at all the same person today that I was three years ago. And certainly not exclusively because of what happened three years ago. These years have smoothed and scored and shaped me. Living them has been its own gauntlet. But anniversaries make such things more prominent in the recollection. They mark them. They freeze them forever in a vague diorama. For me, everything still exists in three dimensions. For me, the world is still a Viewmaster reel in my head. I can remember what I was wearing. I can remember what I smelled like. I can remember the weight of my long hair as I tossed it over my shoulder. I can remember the look on my face as I said my goodbye and drove home. I remember the wrongs that could so easily have been right. And I have to laugh at myself for having been such a foolish girl. Such a romantic idiot. Such a naive buffoon. I have said many times -- but perhaps never really taken to heart -- that bit about giving up on the possibility of a better past and how it relates to forgiveness. Whatever silly things I have wanted or wished, there is wisdom in accepting that there is no editing to be done. You can tell it any way you want to, but the important people know what really happened. And they will make up their minds. Behind your back if necessary.

I can feel the veil of tipsy on me. I can anticipate waking up in a few hours and striking everything I've written from the public record. But maybe I'll sleep the night through. And maybe I'll wake up and think that everything I've said has value in some universe or other. Maybe I'll let sleeping dogs lie. After all, when you wake them, they get all barky and are usually in want of a wee.

I should be getting to bed. In a very short time, it will be getting too warm to sleep and I will be sorry for having squandered my chance at it.

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