Five years ago I was living in London. Off Battersea Bridge Road on Petworth Street. I had just dropped my brother off at Heathrow Airport. He had come to visit me before College and after ten days he was on his way back to California, early morning. I took my time coming home from the airport. Paced around Chelsea. Did some shopping at Hobbs, walked home from South Kensington station, came home to my flat, to my roommate who was smoking rollies on the couch, watching Eastenders. I joined her in the living room, rolling filters from construction paper for our hand-rolled cigarettes. I had set up my computer to FTP a thousand photos of "shoe trends" back to L.A. for a photo-journalism assignment and it was taking forever and I hated Eastenders.
It was raining in London and my socks must have been soggy because when the BBC interrupted our afternoon soap with breaking news I had one sock on. And for the next three hours, that was how I stayed.
At first it was like slow motion, the shaky images of a single plane, sticking out of the Trade Center, smoking like some sort of nightmare. It didn't look real. It didn't feel real and being far from home I figured it couldn't be real. It didn't make sense. And then suddenly, the camera panned out as a second plane hit the towers and then chaos. Everything went from slow motion to lightspeed. The trade centers falling. The crash at the Pentagon. I would never see my family again because America would be wiped off the map. That was all I could think of. And then I remembered my brother. He was on an airplane. He would stop in New York. And then I became frantic. The flight that crashed was 93. My brother was on United 93. Or was it United 933?
*And suddenly, I can't breathe...
And so I call my parents and everyone is asleep and I keep telling them that the world is going to end and "turn on the TV and see for yourself" and all this time I am still trying to ftp photos of shoes and the rain has stopped and the city is quiet even though people are in the street, and my roommate tells me to stop crying, because this kind of thing happens all of the time in the UK, and she drags me to a pub, where I throw up in the WC because I am afraid for my brother and for my friends in New York and for the people that I love that I am afraid I will never see because the whole world is going to end for sure. The U.S. is toast and I will live the rest of my life on an island in the rain and I dropped my brother off at the airport and I told him to "have a safe flight" and I should have never fucking said that because what if he's dead, and the whole world is on fire and all I want is to be with the people who love me who I love back, and I am on the underground within hours, leaving South Kensington with my camera, on my way to Westminster because I want to feel close to God, if there is one, and if not God then the ghosts of poets who may be of comfort, the cold rock as support as I shake, tracing the words on Darwin's stone with the lens of my camera, trying to capture the moment before there is nothing left. No more days and no more moments and we all turn into dust and leaves of grass.
And so I start shooting photos of everything in view, and there are flags everywhere, British flags and Italian flags and the American flag, not yet at half-mast and I am running now, over the bridge towards the London Eye even though the Eye is closed and I am screaming because I am so far away and I can't do anything. All I can do is wait and have hope and hope is the most terrifying word because it admits that there is doubt and that one is powerless. And I realize that I AM powerless. That I am nothing and nobody and then it starts to rain again and I am writing in my notebook under the Westminster bridge with one sock on.
And then I pinch myself because ALL OF THIS, the fear, the powerlessness, the nausea is what people feel every day all over the world and I curse myself for being free when so many are not, and I pound my fists against my chest because today there was so much death and because tomorrow there will be even more and there are British flags and American flags tied together and people are singing and there are candles and I want to sing too, but there is snot in my throat and I am all alone on the bridge and my brother is in the sky and my family is a bazillion miles away and the world is ending.
But it isn't.
Not even close, not for me... a twenty-year old blonde from upper-class suburban California who has everything. EVERYTHING! and it isn't fair. It isn't fair that I am safe and the whole world is in danger. And so I get up and drag myself through the rain until I make my way to the Tate Modern, along the Thames, alone...
And the city is so quiet and people are praying and I walk until it starts to rain again, and then I take the bus home, all the way to Battersea Bridge Road, to my flat, and my roommate and the slow upload of the ftp, and I wait. I wait. I wait. I watch the news and try to make phone calls but the line is always busy, and I don't sleep for two days, even though my brother is safe in Canada, stranded there until they can fly him into LAX. Even though my friends in New York are okay, whatever that means and the world has not yet ended.
And then, all alone, seeking solace and camaraderie I wake up at 5am the morning of 9/13 and I make my way to St. Paul's cathedral for the memoriam because I really want to be there, to be one of the people they allow inside and so I wait until they open the gate and allow a few dozen people in and the gate closes in my face. "I'm sorry there is no room left," the guard says.
"But it's just me. I'm all alone."
And several moments later the guard returns and he opens the gate and he lets me inside and then he closes it again and I am brought into the cathedral and seated in the one remaining seat in the entire cathedral. All alone. One more seat and so I cry. I cry because the Queen is crying and the prime minister and several hundred people, expats, brits, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Athiests, and it feels like the entire world is inside St. Paul's and I feel like I am spying on the truth, naked and scared, the truth.
And outside the raised glass windows, hoards of people are EVERYWHERE, scattered in the streets, waiting to get in to the service and the doors have been closed and it's about to begin, and I showed up really super early because I wanted to badly to be here, I HAD TO GET IN!!!! and because I was alone, they closed the doors and then re-opened them for "one seat left", and when I take my seat the woman next to me is crying because she worked with someone that died and I am sorry and I put my hand on her leg and she grabs my hand and closes her eyes really tight and the tears are falling on her lap and my hand and then we all stand up because they are playing the national anthem and it is the first time in history that the American national anthem is being played before the British anthem here in England and I see all of the people when I stand up, and everyone is holding hands and I pray for the first time maybe ever and am so thankful to be alive and to have this moment in history and in life, and the woman next to me is smiling now and singing and she has a beautiful voice, I can tell, even though it's cracking, and I stand on my tip toes and I watch and I feel and I make a memory. ...And the service wanes and the days become shorter, and I start to sleep again, and there aren't as many people crying on the tube and the American flag moves back up it's pole and life goes pretty much back to normal.
...And pretty soon it's October and then November and then Christmas and I am back in L.A.
I haven't been back to London since I moved back to L.A. at the end of 2001. It has been almost five years. There was this HELLO magazine that I bought because there were pictures inside of the service at St. Paul's and you can see the back of my head. I have it on my desk next to a photo of two flags tied together, a photo that I took on the bridge right after the rain.
There is no end. Only Beginnings. The present is soon to become the past and the future the present. Time trades itself like stock. The train changes directions, east to west and suddenly the engine is the caboose... The end becomes the beginning becomes the end.
Moments are recycled. Weddings and funerals and the births of our children. The moments that define us, change us, change the world. Days like today. And as Liz so eloquently reminded me, days of darkness and destruction are also days of light and celebration.
And somehow we put the pieces back together and we hold hands and we do what we can, for one another and for ourselves because hope is better than hopelessness, because the human spirit is powerful, because the world is fucked up and it is never going to change and the bad guys will never go away.
And thus, neither will the good guys and that is why I try not to look back. Try not to get angry or become estranged. Loving America is difficult right now. Being proud to be an American is something I just can't do. Not yet. For so many reasons. But there are good people here. Good people everywhere. All over the world and in desperate situations, they appear, angels opening the gates of St. Paul's cathedral to find me a seat.
I love the good guys. The people. People who die for what they believe and the people who survive to tell the truth and the people who wholeheartedly live. LIVE! CAPITALIZED AND WITH MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!!!!!
I was not here to witness the American response to 9/11 but I did witness what was going on overseas. The I love NY shirts and Yankees hats and the National Anthem. Oh Say, can you see? Indeed. And in retrospect the fall of the World Trade Center was as hopeful as it was hopeless, a tragic and memorable afternoon when everything stopped and then restarted. A long blink and then a new kind of awareness, rain-soaked view overlooking both sides of the world, both sides of the human spirit and both sides of myself. Strength and weakness, good and evil. Endings and beginnings.
*From my journal, week of 9/11/01