…Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
“Dirge Without Music excerpt” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
9/11 is tomorrow, and like Kennedy’s assassination (for those of us who were around for that) everyone has a story about that day. Most of us could recite by rote the particulars of our lives at the moment the towers fell: where we were when we heard the news, our reactions and those of our families and friends who were frantic in their attempts to reach us, if only to confirm that we were alright.
I wasn’t in my adopted city. My partner and I landed in Barcelona that morning (after 4 days in Madrid), had spent the day at Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia before strolling along a beach riddled with seashell shards that pricked our bare feet; throughout, we’d wrestled with the strange Catalonian patois that’d hamstrung my college Spanish, making it difficult to order even the most basic sandwich.
The blow came soon after we returned to our hotel. I was taking a shower when Jonathan screamed (I don’t exaggerate) for me to come out at once. There was J in tears, and on the TV screen an image that would haunt the rest of the trip: two once-glimmering towers reduced to fractured chimneys, spewing ribbons of horrible black smoke. Barcelona was rough after that. During the day we dutifully saw the sights. We ate in tapas bars and drank beer at midday. We smoked. Unlike any of our other trips before or since, we fought about the silliest things—2 Cancers acting out, what a pair…by evening (as we’d done since that night when the news came) we were back at our hotel, our…cocoon. J and I had the prix fixe always, and chased our evening bottle of wine with vodka to tap down our broken hearts. Strangest of all, not one of the natives acknowledged (to us, at least) what had transpired back home–even though every newstand we passed blared photos of the debacle. Unreasonably I felt like a leper and began to imagine Spaniards as cold, unfeeling people.
Eventually we made it back to NYC after a 4-day detour back to Madrid, where our pathetic Spanish received a warmer reception. As soon as our jet lag subsided we bee-lined downtown. Broadway was as close as the barricades allowed but from there, enough devastation loomed to confirm the BBC reports we’d clung to while in Spain. It’s hard to say what’s worse: the towers being hit, or my absenteeism. When I hear the word “Barcelona” the circumstances of that day rise anew. On 9/11 my home was in trouble, and the feelings the day unearths—despair and a profound impotence—have set up permanent shop in my head and heart.