This is a post that has nothing to do with film. It’s about something I’ve never written about or really discussed before.
Osama bin Laden’s death after nearly long ten years of extensive searching, endless punchlines, and media hype, dredges up mixed emotions for me. I’m not overwhelmed with euphoria. I don’t feel like taking to the streets, shouting “USA,” and waving the American flag. This feeling of excitement, I’m afraid, is going to go away faster than you would like to believe. No I’m not excited at all. I feel like brooding, like keeping to myself but getting something off my chest. Everything associated with 9/11, bin Laden, and what else brings out the worst emotions from me that I try so hard to ignore and leave behind.
Some of my earliest memories are of the World Trade Center. My father worked there for 15 years.
The day after Thanksgiving for most of my childhood, I would spend the day with him at work. His office was on the 72nd floor of the south tower. I remember taking the elevator – it was always crammed with people – to the 44th floor sky lobby and switching elevators. I would play with Match Box cars in the hallways. Once in my dad’s office, I would stand on the air conditioner, put my palms against the glass, and count the yellow taxi cabs.
But they’re not all good memories.
There is a scar above my left pinky knuckle that I got falling down in some banquet room that overlooked the harbor. Some fourteen plus years later and I’m the only person who can see the scar now. But every day it is a reminder.
Then there are worse memories.
I remember sitting in the car with my mother one day and picking my father up from the train station. He was covered in ash and he smelled like smoke after having walked down the emergency stairwells following the 1993 bombing. I watched my dad wash his face off when we got home. I was four.
Then there is 9/11.
Like so many people I remember it clearly. It was three days before my thirteenth birthday and I was anticipating my birthday party, which for once was actually going to be on my birthday. Then my mom unexpectedly pulled me out of school after my first period class (technology). Someone remarked that I was “lucky” to be going home when they saw me leaving. I wasn’t lucky though. While most of my classmates were blissfully unaware of what was going on, I went home to wait with my mom and my sister for my dad to call. My mom had waited until after the second tower – the one where my dad worked – had been hit to pull us out of school. She was barely keeping it together as the phone kept ringing second after second.
Have you ever watched the building where you spent so much time as a child and your parent works collapse on live television? There is no word to describe it as other than surreal. It brings out the worst in people. At one point – and she denies this – my mom said to me, “I think your father is dead.” Upset I went to find my sister; she just told me to leave her alone. My other sister called from her college and asked my mom, “Was Dad in the building that just fell down?”
And then my dad called; he had gotten the last elevator down to the lobby before entering the emergency stairwell, which is where he was when the plane hit the building. The worst imaginable scenario had ended. I went back to school and acted as if nothing had happened even though kids were being pulled from school left and right (no one was talking about what was happening). Later my mom and I picked my dad up from the train station. My dad didn’t go to work on September 12 but he had moved to a temporary office in Jersey City by the 13th. Just like that, we moved on like nothing had really happened.
Throughout our house, there are mementos to the WTC. My mom saved every newspaper and there are coffee table books in the living room. My dad received a nice WTC keepsake from his company that sits in a display cabinet. In the room I am sitting in right now there is this framed poster and in another room, a picture of a pre-9/11 New York City skyline. We might not talk too much about 9/11, but it is felt in almost everything my family does together, everywhere in my house, and everywhere in this part of New Jersey.
Even though we rarely speak about the day almost ten years later, I think my family has figured out how to just deal with 9/11 in our own way. Since his retirement, my dad gives tours at the 9/11 Tribute Center. I’ve only been back there three times since 2001. I still get chills leaving the PATH station and realizing that the World Trade Center won’t be there when I exit the building. And more than anything I hate how this area has become a glorified tourist attraction. But going on his tour, for me, has been immensely beneficial. It was the only way I could guarantee that my dad would recount his story of what happened to him on 9/11 to me. It was like a free therapy session.
I imagined that people from around here would have similar reactions to Obama’s announcement that I did. That they would be kind of placid and not completely over joyous. Never in a million years would I think of popping a bottle of champagne at Ground Zero. (Not that it bothers me that hundreds of people did just that.) I’m just too connected to the actual place and to the day itself to ever do something like that.
This is where my many misgivings about what happened tonight (last night now) come into focus. It is great for Americans to get some sort of closure, feel like one nation again, and feel victorious. But there is a larger picture. Osama bin Laden was an evil man. But on any given day, he was just someone for people to direct their anger, fears, and concerns about terrorism towards. You saw that even tonight when people quickly turned the news of his death into a Tweetable joke. Yeah, it’s great that he’s dead but it doesn’t change anything. 9/11 still happened, thousands of people are still dead, there are still two wars going on, and terrorism is still a very real threat.
I don’t really have a conclusion to this. I guess I’ll just share what happened I called my dad right before Obama’s speech.
I initially wasn’t going to call him. I didn’t want to wake him up and worry him that something may be wrong with the cat. Then minutes before the speech, I decided to call him.
“What’s going on?”
“You should turn on the news.”
“Turn on the news. Osama bin Laden’s dead. Obama’s going to make a speech. I thought you should know.”
“That’s good. I will. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He sounded somber, probably because his pestering daughter had just woken him up. I have no idea if my parents turned on the news or just went back to sleep. (Probably the latter.) But at the moment I needed to call my dad because I was getting weirdly emotional. An overwhelming sense of numbness consumed my body and my brain went into overdrive. (Twitter and its insta-reactions weren’t helping.) Even though I have dealt with 9/11 as best that I can, it still isn’t easy to process. It is a totally surreal moment in my life that I’ll never shake. When I made that phone call to my dad earlier it wasn’t because he needed to see the news right that second.
I just wanted to talk him.