Mistakes were made

New York City meets Munich

September 24th, 2001 · No Comments · Uncategorized


A hint of the smell of smoke haunted me as I hurried to the subway in the dim morning light. When the wind and weather conspire correctly, the smoldering remains of the Trade Center manage to creep up even to the bright lights of Times Square. With such a faint odor, it’s hard to be sure, but being sure doesn’t matter. Like a ghost in the air, it’s not proving it that matters, you feel the presence, and you know.

For a number of people, my family and close friends, I’m the human connection in the closest proximity to this horror. My life flowed through the Trade Center twice daily. The lives of people I know and care about coursed through this place. They’ll ask me “How are you doing?” They say it with deep sincerity and concern. My pat answer, said solemnly, is “getting by.” The more complex answer, which is tangled and ugly, and unpleasant to explore in conversation is different.

I feel guilty.

These days I try not to smile too long or laugh too loud. I feel shameful for moments of joy that manage to seep through the heavy blanket of sorrow and loss that weighs over the entire city. I feel like a selfish ass for feeling overwhelmed by long hours and a disrupted job.

I am not dead. None of my friends are dead. I managed to even luck out and avoid being near the traumatic epicenter. I am thankful for all these things, but I cannot help but feel undeserving. It is hard to place the meaning of my life into that context of tragic sudden death of so many people. A sense of importance and purpose is bleached out of my mundane existence when put against that backdrop.

These thoughts go through my mind during the hours of my commute. I feel like a man with a false limb during these journeys to work. I can still feel the tingling sensations of the commute that once was, now amputated. And the new prosthetic commute feels stiff, awkward and unnatural. It does what needs to be done, but I cannot imagine myself getting used to it. I take the subway in the wrong direction or I miss my stop because the commuter part of my reptilian forebrain wants to follow the deeper instinct.

Each of these gaffs is annoying, aggravating. As I find myself inconvenienced by my own stupidity and longing for a past that’s gone, the senselessness of the situation crashes down upon me, and frustration turns to overwhelming grief. But the only choice to get back on the right train and head home. There’s no answers to be had tonight.

I found out tonight that a man I used to work with is now dead, a victim of a meeting on the 106th floor at the worst possible moment. He managed to get a phone call out to his mother just after the impact. Obviously, it was a quick call, since they were heading to the other side of the building to get out.

But there was no way out.

We weren’t friends, we were never close, but he worked in our small group for almost a year. He wasn’t the best coworker, and after he moved on, we’d have a few laughs about some of his bolder claims and more amusing professional gaffs.

There’s nothing to laugh about now. Those jokes will never be funny now. He didn’t deserve to die. His wife and children didn’t deserve to lose him. His mother didn’t deserve to lose her son.

Both of us worked together at the same company. Both of us left. I came back to the same company. He ended up not far away. From where he was, he may have looked out a window and seen the top of the building of where he once worked, the place I should have been heading to at that very moment, if I hadn’t been home sick.

He is dead now. I am not. It makes no sense.

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