Posts tagged ‘kitchener writers’

August 11, 2008

September 11th Remembered

[Retrospective essay by Adrian Brijbassi published in the Sept. 10, 2002 issue of “The Record”]

I had to get to Manhattan, for my own good. On the second Saturday with the sky heavy with haze and smelling acrid, I found the nerve to do it, despite the rumors and warnings and the paranoia that had attached itself to me like a straitjacket. To get there I had to take a train. No unnecessary cars were being allowed over the bridges or through the tunnels. The Long Island Rail Road it was then, and I boarded unable to shake the thought that a commuter train was an obvious target and that this particular line was already notorious because a gunman had opened fire on one of its cars seven years earlier.

Nervousness was a carry-on for everyone. People with tired eyes came aboard clutching hands of companions. Young men sauntered through the doors as if it was nothing, but before long their eyes would skitter, betraying their cool facades. Conductors with swivelling heads walked the aisles, punching tickets and peering at faces. The anxiety was understandable and expected. This was Sept. 22 and this train ride to Penn Station, which had been routine 12 days earlier, was no easy trek.

For me, it took some willpower and some convincing from my wife. We had to see it, she said. We had to get out of the house and away from the TV. Before I knew it, I had found myself holding my breath as the train passed under the East River tunnel and pulled into midtown Manhattan. Yes, I was scared of another attack, but the trepidation I had about entering the heart of New York City for the first time since Sept. 11 was also due to my feelings of trespass and misconduct that were twofold. First, I’m not from New York and I felt I didn’t belong there then, mourning the loss of life and stepping into the poignant moments of a community not my own. Second, and most importantly, I thought it was too soon for this journey. People who are traumatized, I understand now, have a need to stay in the moment that caused their trauma. It’s the mind’s way of buying time to cope with the severe, to reason out an explanation for it. In the first few days after the attacks, I could hardly eat. Sleep was also a problem, because of the need to stay informed and because of the patrolling fighter jets overhead. And I couldn’t write. I was too numb.

Riding into New York, when I clearly needed to get my mind off of it, wasn’t the best course of action, I said in frustration, and I reiterated that once we departed the train to the sight of rifle-bearing military officers and little else. Penn Station, where walking a straight line is usually impossible because of the obstacles of travellers and their belongings, was as desolate as could be.

Outside, the surrounding streets were also quiet. Our intended destination wasn’t the site of the destroyed World Trade Center, but that’s where we ended up after unexpectedly running into a friend who convinced us to join him on the long walk down. Grey soot sat on the face of buildings blocks away, deep, haphazard crevices slashed into the streets as if a runaway train had made them, firefighters sloughed, looking troubled by the task and bothered by all the onlookers. I wanted to leave, but I stayed to watch, for no other reason than I felt it was good to see this. I’m not sure if it was or not. Someday, I might understand it better.

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August 11, 2008

How 9/11 Changed New Yorkers

[Retrospective essay by Adrian Brijbassi published in the Sept. 11, 2002 edition of “The Record”]

Everybody was okay. Me, my wife, our friends and neighbours, the few family members we have here. Friends and relatives had been calling since morning. No one was hurt, I told those who were able to get through on the phone lines; all of us were safe. Later in the day, professional acquaintances began to make contact. They were mostly reporters looking for first-person accounts from Canadians living in or near New York. I couldn’t give them a harrowing story on Sept. 11th, and I am as grateful for that now as I was back then, when I awoke to learn that the twin towers of the World Trade Center had each taken a bullet in the form of a passenger plane and had crumpled on a pristine Tuesday morning that would have been routine if not for the unfathomable machinations of 19 disturbed men.

As we tend to do when huge events halt life, I sat frozen in front of the television. I was barely able to watch and at the same time could not help but. Seeing the carnage happening 35 miles away from my home, then getting glimpses of the catastrophe at the Pentagon and the crash site in Pennsylvania, all I could do was worry fretfully about what might be next.

Since then, life in America has been about repair; individually and collectively, physically and psychologically. For me, it has been easier than for others. Having lived in New York for six years now, I suppose I am fortunate to have no roots here. Then whom might I know? Who might I now say I had known? As such, my life has returned to that “normalcy” politicians and psychologists felt was so important to attain after the attacks. My circumstances, I realize as I reflect on the past year, are not all that unusual. The fact is, Sept. 11 marked the most significant event in my lifetime and that of my generation, but it is not the most significant thing to have happened to us as individuals. For me, it would be my immigration from Guyana to Canada when I was five. For others, it might be a marriage, or parenthood, or the passing of a loved one, an accident or brutal event of another sort. As such, I don’t think I live in an America now that is very different from the one I was living in on Sept. 10. There is less optimism, certainly, more wariness and a broader global perspective. But many of us have not changed, and there is good in that as well as bad.

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