Friday, September 12, 2008

I don't want to feel like a refugee

I don't suppose one exactly celebrates 9/11 in this country. My wife and I don't even observe it, though we talk about that terrible day, from time to time.

We were living in New York, at the time - not in the city, but about twenty miles due east of Ground Zero on Long Island, in a village that straddles the Queensborough/Nassau County line. Though we were well out of harm's way, there was such a large amount of debris thrown up into the atmosphere that we felt grit on our faces and lips from the wind for several days after the towers fell.

Also, our home happened to lie under flights paths from both of the NYC airports, so once air travel resumed in the U.S., we had the distinct pleasure of cowering in fear any number of times an hour, when we were home, as we heard planes overhead and feared the worst for what would become of them.

I had never really been depressed before, in the clinical sense, but I was depressed then. For about three months, I came home from work every day and just went straight to bed. We didn't have a child then, so domestic responsibilities weren't that pressing, and I hard a hard time finding anything I really wanted to do. I felt like I, and we - we, as in the American people, we - didn't have much of a future ahead of us.

My job then was travel editor. Since I didn't want to do anything or go anywhere, I just assigned all of my stories to other reporters without writing any. My wife was the first to get impatient with this situation and feel some urge to resume living. She started to insist that I assign myself a story and that we take a trip.

Our magazine did a lot of drive-to travel stories out of New York City. I spent a fair amount of time poking around in Connecticut, because it was an easy and pleasant drive, and because I also wrote for the Connecticut Weekly regional section of The New York Times. That was a real ego boost, to see my byline in The Times - when I had an ego to boost. Before 9/11. I didn't have much of anything for awhile there.

I no longer remember where in Connecticut, but I remember that first trip out of New York we took, after 9/11, was to some cozy Connecticut town somewhere. We checked into the quaint hotel and went to the tasteful, gourmet eatery.

We felt like refugees from a war zone, because we were refugees from a war zone. When a couple at a nearby table laughed out loud, my wife and I received it with a jolt. It was the first time we had heard anyone laugh in public in three months.

Last night, I heard Barack Obama (who was in Chicago on 9/11/2001) reminisce about how the terrorist attacks united the country, for a time. I respect his opinion (on all things), and I do know that many Americans feel that what Obama said is true, but I respectfully disagree, from my own point of view.

The rest of the country may have felt like New Yorkers on 9/11, but I can assure you that New Yorkers felt very alienated and apart from the rest of the country. (People in D.C. must have felt this way, too.) We felt like refugees. I hope we never have to feel that way again.

But then, looking at storm patterns alone - which continue to make ghost towns out of American cities, even on 9/12/2008 - I suspect most of us will continue to have good reasons to feel like a refugee, from time to time.


Photo by Stan Honda/AP from Crossing Wall Street.

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