You know it is funny in a macabre kind of way, just how memories such as September 11 can remain so stark. Crystal clear, where other memories seem shaded and obscure, in fact I could not tell you what my son wore for his birthday that year, but I can tell you exactly what I was wearing when a plane hit a building that was meant to be there forever.
What is even starker is I live thousands of miles away from New York, and yet due to circumstances and technology, I was perhaps closer than those living there were. I remember….
…The time was 11.05pm or it could have been 11.03pm because computer clocks are notorious for being out by a few minutes, and I was on instant messenger to Charles. He was a dear friend, whom I only saw once in 10 years or so, an itinerant photographer living in New York. We were chatting, nonsensical rubbish as always, as you do when you think you have many years to spend doing just that. If only we knew how many minutes we had left, would we have done anything differently? Of course we would have, and the saddest thing is, if we had changed our greeting, then his last moments of normality would have been forever tarnished. Normal being used tongue in cheek of course, because we were never normal. Nor will we ever be again. Or perhaps we both know, him up there and me down here, that what we have become is totally normal, for what is normal?
I remember the news flash coming onto my screen, barely beating Charles with his last words to me. With a feeling that was to be reflected and shared throughout the world in the upcoming day, I watched the television with horror, as the first plane hit. Being of a suspicious mind, I remember thinking that does not look like an accident, a thought that was immediately followed by that can not be happening. The reporters on scene also seemed to be actors, almost nonchalant as this plane ripped through steel like a sharp nail across skin. That was before the second plane, and I had Charles on messenger. I had to tell him, needed to tell him, wanted to tell him to get out, please, I would have said please, which would have made him move, because that was not normal. Charles was silent at first.
I flitted back to the television, the true ghoul, to watch with morbidity the second plane strike, and then back to messenger. I tried to scream at Charles, but of course computers do not translate raised voices very well with text, and capital letters just did not seem enough. Then Charles typed his last message to me, just four words, his last. I couldn’t repeat them to his mother, who lived in the same part of the world as me, because she is a lady, I improvised for her. Then, the towers crumpled, incredibly realistic I thought for something that could not, should not be happening, but they fell anyway. As they swayed and groaned, I remember Charles, knowing his last words to me was the start of the end, just like the towers, and how we perceive human nature now.
Ironically, being in Sydney Australia meant I had the onerous task of letting American citizens via messenger know what was happening. They did not know countrymen and women were dying, falling out of the sky, for the coverage in the States that day was not transmitted immediately, and most were working anyway so did not have access to television, computers yes, television no. Funny, isn’t it, we have this amazing capacity to invent ways to communicate, and yet on this day communication was lost.
Except for Charles. He communicated just four more words to me in this life.
“F*CK what was that….
Charles knew abject fear.
Now the world knows it too. I wish I didn’t.