Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Falling Man

Note: This is a more serious post for me. I've tried to document my feelings on this anniversary before --last year in fact--but I...couldn't. I'll try to explain why.

Today is the 9th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center attacks. Everybody knows this. This day will always be remembered. It's strange how one day on the calendar, a day like any other day, can be forever changed. It's there. Always. Ever present. Even seeing those numbers on the clock, 9:11, sparks that memory embedded in my brain. Everyone has their memory. A story to tell about that day 9 years ago. I've decided to add my memory to the masses. 

In Fall of 2001, I was a sophomore in high school. 15 years old. The 11th of September was just another school day. I got up, got dressed, had breakfast, as I did every day. Nothing special. I carpooled with my neighbors, the Orgills. I remember the little red car they had, a stick shift, that we were riding in that day. The radio was on and there was a Breaking News bulletin. A plane hit a building in New York City. Wow, I thought. That's terrible. I bet Air Traffic Control is freaking out. What a terrible accident. I wonder what happened?

Minutes later, we got to school and I went to my first class, Banking and Finance. I walked in and saw the tv was on, which was unusual, but as I sat at my desk and glanced at the screen, the second plane hit. I was shocked. How could a second plane just happen to hit the building right next to the first one? Then it dawned on me. It wasn't an accident. 

I remember watching tv during that class, and in the next class, and the one after that. The bells kept ringing. We kept going to our scheduled classrooms, but all we did was watch the news. I watched the towers fall. Then the news about the Pentagon. And a plane crash in Pennsylvania that was supposedly headed for the White House. I couldn't believe it. Things like this just don't happen. This is the United States of America! We're invincible! Or so I thought. That day changed everything. I remember calling home from someone's cell phone (I didn't have one of my own at the time) and my mom was crying. She had heard already. Did we know anyone in New York? I asked her. No. I felt relieved. 

At 15, I knew that this was a terrible tragedy. That many people had died and my heart ached for them, but I don't think I really "got it". I didn't know anyone who was there or anyone who died, so it didn't affect me personally. And it was so far away. Images on a television screen. That's all. 

I went to New York City in 2004 with my high school choir. We went to Ground Zero with a tour guide. I remember him getting emotional talking about it. In fact, he couldn't say much at all. We just wandered around, looking at the signs and pictures on the fence, taking pictures. It just looked like a construction site to me. 

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I would remember, as we all do. We think back to that day and say a prayer for those who lost their lives. Year after year, the same thing. Remembrance. Memories. Moments of sadness. But it still hadn't sunk in for me. Sadly enough, it took me 8 years to finally "get it". 

I have to interject some information for a moment, just to help you understand. I'm not an outwardly emotional person. My family always makes remarks about how I don't cry in sad movies or books and they can't believe it doesn't affect me like everyone else. I feel bad about it sometimes. Like there's something wrong with me. Ice queen, perhaps. Incapable of emotion. But that's not it. I've figured it out. I don't LET myself get emotional. 

I've learned that I'm a very controlled person. No matter what emotional turmoil I may be feeling on the inside, I'm pretty good at keeping it in. Not letting it show. I don't know why I'm this way, but it's something I'm still trying to come to terms with. Part of it is because whenever I DO let something in, let myself feel the sorrow of 9/11, for example, it stays way too long. I dwell on it. It starts to take over and slowly comes to the surface. This happened last year on September 11. 

Last year, I made the mistake of watching tv with my parents that day. CNN was airing the news coverage from 2001 in a constant loop. They showed the news of the first plane, the confusion over what was happening, and as a camera was trained on the towers, the second plane hit. They showed that footage over and over again. It had happened quickly, so no one really knew what had happened. Was it a bomb? Some sort of explosion as a result from the plane hitting the first tower? And then they showed the footage frame by frame. A frozen image cleared things up. A plane. Another jumbo jet commercial airliner full of people  had hit the second tower. 

I watched the whole thing. All the coverage. I continued watching after it started over again. It was happening. I should stop, I knew. But it was sinking in. Getting stuck in every part of me. Grabbing hold of my psyche and wrapping itself around my mind. At some point, I stopped watching and went downstairs to my room. That should have stopped it, but no. It stuck. I looked up that day on Wikipedia and started reading. There was so much I didn't know or had tried to forget. Then I came upon an entry about the people who decided not to wait for death. The jumpers. These were the people who were trapped above where the plane hit in the towers. Many tried to take the stairs down the 90-something floors, but for some, it was impossible. Smoke, heat, too many people trying to escape...they knew they wouldn't make it. 

On the news footage, you can see objects falling from the towers. Not many realized that they were people until after the fact. Some say that they could never take their own life. I would probably say the same, but until you're in that situation, no one can say for sure. 

This photograph really hit me. The Falling Man taken by Richard Drew at the Associated Press. There are pictures of other "jumpers" where the person is falling, flailing out of control. In this one, he seems to have direction. Control. He's chosen his fate and has no fear. This is ridiculous, of course. The photographer took several photos of this particular jumper and he was falling head over feet, careening out of control. But this particular photograph was taken in the one second where the man is vertical, one leg bent, shooting like an arrow toward the inevitable death below.  There was an article about this photo in Esquire Magazine in 2003. I read it one year ago and it shook me. The author talked about the photographer, that day in general, and the unknown identity of the man in the photo. 

By looking through the other photographs and enhancing the photos, they thought they had found the identity of The Falling Man. By looking closely, the man appears to be wearing a tunic of sorts, not a regular shirt or jacket. It looked like a chef's jacket. Just like the one I wear every day at work. This could possibly be one of my comrades, a fellow pastry chef. This made it very personal for me, oddly enough. I read on. Those investigating the photo tried to contact the man's family, but they would have nothing of it. They wouldn't even look at it. They were convinced their husband or father would never do such a thing. He would find another way. Is it better to not know? I'm not sure.

While looking for this photograph to post, I read something more recent than that article that said it was not the man they thought. Perhaps it was an engineer who worked in the same area. To this day, The Falling Man's identity still remains a mystery. 

After that day a year ago, that image and so many others stayed with me constantly for over a week. It put me in a strange set of mind, almost a depression that was hard to shake. I don't think anyone knew, but it was evidence of why I don't get emotionally involved. Don't let it in. It has a habit of staying. 

I'm still trying to find a good medium between being unemotional and becoming a wreck when I DO get emotional. This may reveal a little too much about me, but don't worry. I'll be okay. :' )