Thursday, January 22, 2009

At Last*

Like many, many other people, when I woke up this morning I felt that I was different.  I felt as if something had unclenched inside me, as if a leaky pocket of poison that was embedded inside my gut had been excised.  

While watching the changeover of power yesterday, I kept writing (mostly on facebook) "I can't believe it's real".  And I couldn't.  I guess I needed to sleep on it, because  this glorious freezing morning, it's finally real.

I hate talking about 9-11.  I refuse to talk about it with people who have never lived in NYC - I guess I mean anyone who doesn't have any personal connection to what happened.  I have a lot of thoughts about that day, and I've mostly kept them to myself.  They don't concern geo-politics or oil or Muslim fundamentalists.  I can talk reasonably intelligently (I hope) about these things but they have no emotional hold on me, and as stupid and solipsistic as it may sound, I've thought mostly about how this city has changed and how this city has felt abut that day.  I've lived in the city for about twenty years and grew up right next door to it.  My parents grew up here.  My grandmother grew up here.  So did my great-grandmother and my great-great-grandparents.  I have family members in both the NYPD and the NYFD.  This city is my home.  

Some time after September 11th, I thought that something I read summed up what I felt about things better than anything else.  This is what is usually called The Flitcraft Story.   Dashiel Hammett's  novel The Maltese Falcon was written pretty much as a film treatment, it hardly differs from the movie at all with one striking exception.  In the scene where Sam Spade sits up with Brigid O'Shaughnessey, he tells her a story about a man he had been hired to find a few years back.  Flitcraft was married, worked in a successful real estate office in Tacoma, played golf, had no secrets.  One day he left his office to attend a luncheon and he vanished.  "He went like that," Spade said, "like a fist when you open your hand."  Spade eventually ran across Flitcraft in Spokane.  This is what had happened to him:

"Going to lunch he passed an office-building that was being put up- just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk along side him...He was scared stiff, of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like someone had taken the lid off life and shown him the works."

Flitcraft was shocked to discover that chaos exists, and he decided over lunch that his quiet, orderly life as a good citizen was out of step with the way the world operated, so he left. Flitcraft wandered around for a few years, then settled in Spokane and got married.

"His second wife didn't look like the first, but they were more alike then they were different. You know, the kind of women that play fair games of golf and bridge and like new salad-recipes...I don't think he even knew he had settled back naturally into the same groove he had jumped out of in Tacoma. But that's the part of it I always liked. He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling."

New York City and 9-11 always seemed just like Flitcraft to me. Shocked as hell when everyone realized that nothing one does is protection from falling beams, and then everything is different, and then back to being the same, but not really.  We all know beams fall.  I didn't realize until today that there has been some part of me that has been terrified every day since September 11, 2001.  I know beams still fall, but I no longer feel as if they are being purposely thrown at us.  What I felt when I woke up this morning was the feeling of not being frightened. And then I watched our new first couple dance as they were serenaded by happy, lovely Beyoncé.  In a movie it would have seemed like too much.  But when I watched it I just sobbed and knew something terrible was over. 

*I wrote this on 1/21/09, but didn't post until today.


Michael said...

Tht's funny, when he was elected, I actually called it the 'anti-9/11' - like, a really big, unprecedented thing happened, and it changed everything, but in a good way instead of a bad way.

Carolyn Raship said...

Maureen Dowd said something similar yesterday, too. I actually had more to this posting, all about New Yorkers and grace and people being kind to each other, once in the face of shock and misery and this time in the face of joy, and I just wound up going on about My Day that day, which wasn't really the point.

Ms. N said...

Looking at facebook yesterday, the majority of the people we know reported feeling relieved. I don't know that I feel relieved, but do feel as if a weight has been lifted and I can get on, for lack of a better word. I feel like doing things I haven't done in 8 years.

Regina said...

odd, also, this feeling of watching the news and not being embarrassed at the idea of someone in another country watching. so unfamiliar. but great.