When a really bad thing happens the amazing thing to me is not only how terrible the thing is itself, but how unexpected. This is the feeling I remember most as I go through my own personal tragedies: the deaths of my young boyfriend (Ashley), sister (Emma), and stepmother (Saint Elizabeth). More recently, on a much more mundane level, my son’s first real injury: a cut on a can, lots of blood, a trip to NYU ER and four stitches. What I remember about all these events is how vividly ordinary the moments before the news was and how I keep replaying these moments to see if I could stop or change the event. I have a real sense of what the world felt like before and after.
This is the exact feeling I have about September 11, 2001. It is for this reason that I want to write about the day or so before the tragedy, rather than the day itself. September 9, 2001 was one such day – that was both magical and ordinary. In the morning I met my good friend, the artist Jim Campbell, to do a video shoot on the beach in Montauk. We met near Grand Central Station and took the bus out onto Long Island. During the nearly three-hour ride we drank coffee and talked about sex, marriage, and art. His wife picked us up at the bus stop and we drove through the estates of the Hamptons the wealthy friend’s house where she was staying. I remember being most interested in the swimming pool – keeping with my own bizarre obsession. Then, Jim and I went to the beach. Jim’s idea turned out to be grueling for me. As I have cerebral palsy, Jim’s idea was to catch my movement on video, later to be transformed into LTD lights in a sort of oblique portrait. What he required of me was to run in the sand in a circle completely clothed in black and black socks – no shoes. It was difficult, hot, and exciting. I think I slept on the way home.
The next (was it Tuesday?) I arrived at Intermediate School 49 in East Williamsburg to help set up our school. It was my second week officially (of five difficult years) with the DOE, but with no students yet. What I keep relentlessly remembering is how perfectly blue the sky was that day – just like today. It’s this impossible clear blue that I’ve actually only noticed in New York City.
Jim, who lives in the Bay Area, would later tell me of Sept. 11th that he was glad to have been in NY when "the accident" occured. As a someone who is very attached to her hometown, I knew what he meant. To be far away and in an endless state of wondering what REALLY happened would have been infinetly worse. Five years later, both Jim and I have a child (with separate spouses!). I have fled the Department of Education. The Metropolitan Museum of Art bought the Ambigous Icon – after MOMA deemed it too un-politically correct. Jim makes art. I write. We go on.