I had a day to kill between coming back from boston and flying out to miami, so I decided I would walk from mid-town to lower manhattan to see two spots I felt were important.
It’s very impossible to ignore this enormous, gaping hole in the ground. I expected to be pretty inoculated to this stuff by now, but I just wasn’t. It hit me in the gut.
I don't mean for this to take too much of a melancholic turn, but it was a train of thought that persisted that day.
I was just turning 20 that year, my second of college. I can recall so vividly what my life was like at that point because it was so scattered and odd at that time. I don't generally do anything the normal way, and my college experience was no different. I went to what they liked to call 'progressive' school, with no grades or tests and a campus in the middle of the woods.
Being the person I am, I rebelled against even this. I socialized very little and kept mostly to myself and a small circle of friends, dated one girl for almost the entire four years. My time was taken up in large part with studying and a weird collection of hobbies, including keeping weird varieties of fish and practicing obscure asian martial arts. I was of course an insufferable nerd but shied away from letting that dictate the rest of my identity. The picture to keep in your mind is of me with very long hair tied back, an all-black wardrobe under a long black coat. I wasn't shy exactly, just so completely inwardly focused that I never had any real desire to open up to anyone. (Including my girlfriend during this period, who says of that time - "I honestly had no idea who you really were.")
So you can imagine the emotional impact that the towers falling in manhattan had on me - none. I heard the news with shock and confusion but little real emotion. It's callous to say, but all the impassioned speeches and heartfelt words didn't move me. I don't mean to imply cruelty or disregard, just a vague numbness that characterized that period and wouldn't be pierced even by tragedy of such an epic scale.
Of course that's being too hard on myself - I'm hardly the first person to be self-centered at 19. And of course I am now as well, let's be honest, but it was something that occurred to me standing there looking into what can only be described as a wound in a beautiful city. I held a moment of silence, long overdue.
Lastly, it would be too big an omission for me not to mention the deeply mixed feelings it gave me about my plans to travel through the middle east. A nascent thought, and not one I can articulate yet.
I also made a point to jump on the ferry to Liberty Island to see the statue of liberty. I wanted to see it with a fresh set of eyes, having put in at least a decade and a half between the last time I saw it. Undeniably impressive. Of course, the USA being what it is, it was a extra charge to go inside, and there were two giant gift shops on the tiny island. Asian tourists of course all bought a green foam crown and ran around on the grass. It was a beautiful day for it.
However, there was a muslim family on the ferry, a wife with a tight headscarf and a tall, bearded husband pushing a stroller with a young infant. They baby started screaming very loudly and the mother desperately tried to calm it, but I felt their shame and embarrassment and panic. I couldn’t help thinking the last thing they wanted in this place was to be the center of attention and if they looked or were dressed differently it wouldn’t have the same immediate panic.
So then, I say goodbye to the northeast and head south to Miami. It’s cheating, of course – Miami has already come and gone and I’m sitting here in London writing this. I continue to debate the format of this blog – I leave out so many little details and interesting stuff that I would share but it would be haphazard. Things will change when I’m truly off on my own after Turkey, but until then I’ll continue to be introspective rather than anecdotal.
I picked up a copy of Murakami’s Norwegian Wood in the airport and it was haunting. I read it in a few nights like I sometimes do, in a feverish insomnia. I did the same with The Road and it left me unimpressed. There’s something interesting about that contrast but I can’t say what, exactly.