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Don't panic

September 14, 2001

 

There's a song that has become my soundtrack for the surreal and dark events of the last two days... this subject line is the first line of the song ("Don't Panic" by Coldplay).

 

I've decided I'm tired of reading the papers, tired of watching the news. I sat in my bright studio window this morning, which overlooks from second-story height the back garden with its fuchsias, jasmine, lilac, orange and plum trees. Listening to this Coldplay CD, which had just arrived in an order from Amazon I had made last week... I place the order on a normal day, and the day after this enormous tragedy from which I'm still reeling, the doorbell rings and it's the UPS man with a bunch of books and cd's for me. I just look at him like, why would I need these?

 

But I take them in. And in my blissfully ignorant wisdom of the coming events, I unwittingly purchased the perfect soundtrack to the state of the world today. So I popped it into the CD player in the studio and sat down to read another in the reams and reams of paper I've read since Monday. Suddenly this beautiful, sad, ironic song came on and I looked up into the lush garden, bright with the morning's overcast light, and just then a hummingbird with a ruby-red hood rose three stories past my window like a rocket and disappeared into the trees, like a mighty little symbol of life kicking me out of my funk. Then I just couldn't immerse myself anymore into the stories, the facts, the images of destruction repeated and repeated until they just look like comic book drawings; I had to go write something.

 

Of course I don't have any words of wisdom that haven't been said. I'm not especially patriotic and I hold my country responsible for innumerable atrocities of its own, many of which are kept from us in order to keep our palates clean and ready with savory distaste for the "real" terrorists from dangerous little middle eastern countries. We, of course, are meant to think of ourselves as above that sort of activity.

 

But I digress. Regardless of rejecting the image of my own country as consistently innocent and fair, even here in California, thousands of miles from New York or Washington, I felt utterly violated when I heard the news... just as I felt at 22, when I walked into my little rented house in Pasadena to find it had been burglarized while I was away.

 

My monday morning, September 11 2001, unfolded like this:

 

I slept, dreaming some odd concoction of Ashley and computer graphics. (I dream in Illustrator a *lot*.) The phone, which I had fallen asleep with in the bed,, rang around 7:15am. Thinking it would be Ashley, I groped around for it until I finally found it snuggled between the pillow and covers on his side of the bed, the surrogate disembodied him with his voice, much of the time.

 

But it was Shelly, calling from Portland. The last time she called was a few weeks ago to announce her engagement to her wonderful boyfriend Patrick; so you get the picture that she calls usually when she has news. She asked if I was awake, and I started mumbling some bullshit reply that would have flown on a normal day about how I should really get up soon, my alarm was going to go off soon, etcetera.

 

She interrupted me, sounding more serious. "Have you been watching the news?"

 

TV in the morning? "Uh, no...", I replied.

 

"Go turn on the news," she said.

 

I was up now, naked and trying to wake my brain up the rest of the way. I was slipping into a pair of lavender sweatpants as she continued.

 

"Two passenger jets have been hijacked and both of them were flown into the World Trade towers. Both towers collapsed. The World Trade towers are gone."

 

"What? You're joking," I replied, still trying to shake off sleep. In my mind's eye I saw inside the 100th-floor observation deck where my ex-boyfriend and my brother and I had been in 1993 or so. I have a photo of the two of them standing together in the window facing north, each with a hand up bracketing between them the distant Empire State Building.

 

The image visually shattered out of my mind as I tried on the idea that that building really did not exist anymore.

 

"No," I said to Shelly, pausing from dressing momentarily, trying to wrap my brain around what she was saying.

 

"And," she continued, "A third passenger jet was flown into the Pentagon."

 

She didn't describe the damage there, but she didn't have to. I knew two other jets managed to level the two biggest buildings in America; I could only imagine what would have happened with the Pentagon. Then, as it sunk in that the Pentagon is the nerve center for the military, containing the war rooms and stuff, my heart sank and fear set in. Finally I had a tank top on but no bra, which I wouldn't normally concern myself with but which I picked up for some reason and carried into the living room with me.

 

We have Replay TV, which I totally love but like a computer it takes a second to wake up when you turn it on. I suddenly completely forgot how to use my television, and I ended up seeing part of a cartoon show *and* accidentally setting the player to record every future episode of Home Improvement in a surreal struggle to simply choose a channel likely to be showing news.

 

And then there we sat, watching together from our separate homes, alone but together, and I wrapped the fuzzy blanket on the couch, which I sewed myself, around my naked shoulders, trying to sink farther into the velvety couch for comfort.

 

Eventually she left me in my despair and hung up to leave for work, which I'm sure she was sent home from shortly thereafter. I tried to call Ash, but to no avail; all circuits to the UK were busy. I decided to leave the circuits to the New Yorkers anyway, who probably needed them a lot more than I did. But the phone never stopped ringing, as the people who love me reached out to me for support and comfort.

 

David called first, and said it would be World War III. My friend Lisa called before her yoga class and asked, "How am I supposed to go breathe slowly and meditate now?"

 

I called my stepdad, a war veteran, for his opinion about the events and their implications. "What do you think?" I said when he picked up the phone.

 

"About what?" he asked. Now I became the bearer of nasty news which I never wanted to be, and I left him watching television, comparing it to Pearl Harbor.

 

Gina called an hour or so later, as I was moving in my emotional state from fear and disbelief to acceptance and anger. In that state, it's hard to feel helpless. You want to friggin' do something. So we decided to go give blood.

 

She came over on her motorcycle, and after a long hug we flew off to the blood center a few miles away. It was amazing! There was a line of people out the door and into the parking lot, waiting to offer their blood. I had brought a bag of Red Vines, which I began offering around to everyone in line. It reminded me of Burning Man, only a week ago: the feeling of connectedness, of common purpose... except it was all wrong. It was fear and anger which brought us together now, not celebration and joy. But it turns out the connectedness feels the same, and as people took the Red Vines from me they met my eyes with quiet smiles of gratitude, probably not so much for the Red Vines as for the feeling of common purpose, of needing to be with people and feeling like no stranger is truly a stranger now.

 

In the end we waited almost three hours to give our blood, during which time Channel 4 News came through and filmed us. I was even interviewed as I sat in the reclining chair waiting with the blood pressure sleeve on. Much of my comment appeared on television later on, which I saw myself. They also showed Gina, flat on her back with her mane of fluorescent pink hair spread around her, pointing out her right arm to a nurse with a needle.

 

When we got home, Gina stayed for a while since I wanted company. She made herself a sandwich from ingredients in my fridge left over from Burning Man and sat at my computer checking email as I set to trying to call Ash again, standing beside her chair with our arms slung around each other.

 

I finally got him at home, and he was very somber. He had lived in New York for six months, before I met him. He had lots of friends there, haunts, memories. He knew the skyline better than I do, and he marvelled at its new look. He said that the people in his office in Cambridge had gotten nothing done that day, instead watching the BBC news of events in the USA that day. For some reason I had thought that maybe Europeans would feel a little bit like America deserves this for our meddling and cultural imperialism; but they were just as numb as I was, and very kind and concerned. I felt sorry for ever thinking their reaction would be any more callous.

 

I always seem to have inappropriate reactions to big news; I remember with self-loathing my reaction back in 1985 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded with a civilian on board among the numerous crew members. I was young and stupid, and I was in my PE class when this girl told me, "The space shuttle blew up."

 

"Ha! Well," I replied with a rather sociopathic lack of concern for the loss of life, Tthe Russians must be laughing at us now."

 

She looked at me so quizzically that I realized quickly how utterly ignorant and inappropriate my response had been; and even now more than 15 years later it still haunts me that I could have ever thought such a thing, much less said it.

 

So anyway, the news sinks in and we go on with life. Last night I joined several of my friends for a beer down at Zeitgeist, after the Wednesday night Spanish class I popped in on, taught by the same instructor as my own Tuesday night class which had been cancelled due to the tragedy. A beer with friends was exactly what I needed.

 

It's amazing how tragedy brings people together. I even sent off an earnest email to my ex-boyfriend and his wife who live in New York, even though they aren't speaking to me anymore. This ex-boyfriend is the one I had visited the World Trade Center with, and with whom I had watched the events of the Gulf War unfold with a similar horror and disbelief as now. He is a very sensitive soul and I'm sure he's horrified at the events; I feel very sad for him being right there within view of the chaos; but at least he has the comfort of his wife.

 

I wish Ash were here.

 

"Bones sinking like stones... all of us are done for. We live in a beautiful world."

 

Don't panic.

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