I followed her down the sandy laneway to the lake. The moon was full, thankfully, as it was our only light at one in the morning. She pretended not to know I was behind her, but I never left her alone on this day.
It had been sixteen years, but this date would still only bring forth memories of one thing: terror and towers and too many deaths. Some of us were there. Most of us watched helplessly as the unimaginable graced our television screens. I was the latter, she- the former.
She was taking acting classes by day and waitressing at night- a victim of that classic tale. She was chasing her dreams where everyone else did. Literally living in a closet in the West Village, she was high on adventure and new-found personal freedom. She was twenty-two years old.
The towers were down by ten-thirty in the morning. I didn’t hear from her until midnight. Honestly, I still don’t think I truly forgive her for that because as I write those words, I can still feel that vicious grip in my chest. I can feel my phone in my hand praying for it to ring. I can hear her outgoing voicemail saying “Leave a message” with such normalcy as I wait for the beep to say: “For God’s sake, Tara! It’s your big brother! Call me. I’m losing my mind here!”
And now as I watch her hold herself close against the late-summer’s chill, I realize what I saw on screens she saw in violent flames and floating ash. What I heard over radio she heard in surround: bodies dropping and bone-chilling screams. Her chestnut hair picks up glints of moonbeam and she rubs at her eyes. She mostly likely won’t sleep tonight.
A few years ago she said to me: “If I were to try and describe it to you then your mind would try to know it, try to re-create it. I don’t want that for you, Manny. I like feeling you will never truly know what it was like. It comforts me that you were sheltered from it. What I hate is how it sneaks up on me in the most insidious ways- the way the wind will carry a children’s cry, or men shouting in a distant way, the crackle of a fire, or a mixture of sirens racing down the street. My body responds before I do and then I’m caught up in a riptide of memory and it can be hours before I’m normal again.”
PTSD, I thought to myself.
“This isn’t even my country was all I kept thinking. This isn’t even my home,” her voice quavered. “But it became my home. New York melted itself into my bones that day. I carry it with me like a wound that will never heal.
And I had just listened. These raw and open moments about 9/11 were so rare from her. I knew she could only tell me what she wished to and in her own time. I could never push her.
She moved back to Toronto that following Christmas with shame in her veins. She said her apartment was haunted and she hadn’t slept since it happened. The city was still numb, she said. Some pretended to be OK, but nobody was- not man nor child.
New Year’s Eve was when she finally told me about him.
“I don’t even deserve to grieve him, Manny. We had only been on four dates. But I was falling…I was falling…” she sniffed back tears and rubbed her nose with the back of her palm. “It doesn’t matter. He’s gone and people that knew him better than I are mourning him tenfold.”
He was a paramedic she’d met at the bar where she worked. His name was Solomon.
The amount of hurt the human heart can take is staggering. As I watched my sister looking out at the lake of our family cottage, I considered the fallout for her of that fateful day sixteen years ago. She wasn’t really someone you’d write a movie about. 9/11 broke her and she was never truly the same. She gave up on acting and got a job in a dental office downtown. She dated here and there, but there was never anyone she felt she’d introduce to me. Her face wore a loneliness that aged her prematurely. My sister was among the forgotten- the ones who couldn’t move on, the ones who lent half their existence or more to something done and gone.
I think she’s wrong about New York being her home. I think it’s nothing but a grave. Ground zero, her shitty closet of an apartment, the path she walked to work, the studio where she took her classes- she buried most of herself there. I’d been thinking this for years now: the only way to come alive again was an exhumation. She was finally going to have to go back.
So as my sister was lost in thought with the fullness of light before her, I drew my hands from behind my back preparing to reveal to her what they carried: