9/11/2014: A day to remember how I once remembered “Black Tuesday”
WALL OF GHOSTS
At a hospital near my home, there is a memorial to Nine/Eleven. It is a brick wall hung with hundreds of “Missing” Flyers, sealed behind plexiglass. These are the faces of those who were lost that day.
I call them ghosts. Not because they are spectres who haunt the city. But, because their images are disappearing before our eyes. The posters — as we see on walls like this throughout the city — are literally fading. Water-soaked, weather-beaten. Written in impermanent ink. Xeroxed and dissolving. The tape that held them up — disintegrating. The presence of those who hung the posters now gone. Grieving in private for the missing who were really never missing, but dead.
Throughout the city, the reminders of nine-eleven are fading. The candlewax on sidewalks is virtually gone, except for the ghosts of oil stains in the concrete. The fences with soiled t-shirts and notes from out-of-towners and visiting firefighters have now been cleared. Ground Zero is just a construction site. People barely even talk about what happened on September 11, 2001 anymore. They don’t seem to want to. I hear it all the time. “We’re over it.”
It’s a little different for me. I was not in New York City the day it was attacked. I was in Rome. I feel like a father who was not at the birth of his child. I immerse myself in the events and images of that day. I don’t know what it smelled like. I didn’t see the day after day after day of relatives holding up the pictures of their loved ones — have you seen them? Missing. That, to this day, baffles me. Missing. Was anyone ever missing?
There is the story (or fable) of the man whose wife called his cell that morning. He worked in the South Tower. Terrified, it is said, she asked him “Are you okay?” When he answered, “Oh yeah. It’s a beautiful day” (remember — it was a lovely glad-to-be-alive, blue-sky day that Tuesday.)
“Oh yeah,” he says. “It’s gorgeous outside.” It became very clear at that moment that her husband was very much alive. Uptown at the Plaza Hotel with his mistress.
For me — an emotional fulcrum has been the wall of “Missing” posters at the hospital around the corner. It has been preserved under plexiglass. Those pictures are so evocative, especially because these are not formal pictures. They’re photos that were posted in haste. Taken off mantles, side tables, ripped from frames and photocopied for mass distribution.
When I returned, I went to that wall every day. I read every poster on the wall. I looked at the faces, I memorized the names, I wept at the black and white reality of the lives that were lost that day.
I have bonded with one woman on the wall. Her name was Lucy Crifasi. She was about my age. She worked for American Express at Marsh McLennan in the North Tower. She even had a mole, like me. Hers was at her jawbone near her right ear.
I imagine that That Morning, she put on her black pants and long-sleeved olive green blouse with black stripes. Most likely silk. She put on her black shoes, some rings, a bracelet and her watch. She probably always wore her gold chain with the cross. After getting dressed, she took the train downtown, bought a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee regular and took the elevator to her 94th floor office. How do I know all this? The description is on her poster. I feel like I know her. Really, I guess, I feel it could have been me.
If we don’t want to Remember, the least we can do is Not to Forget.
That “hospital near my home” was Saint Vincent’s. I say “was” because it has been torn down to be replaced by luxury condominiums. That site now merely a ghost of ghosts.