There are no pretty metaphors tied with lace and ribbon to tell your story.
It wasn’t like the end of the world or as if tragedy came knocking on my doorstep. It wasn’t like anything.
It was just a slow unraveling of time, the greater part of the last eleven years, leaving us with an equation that always ends the same: tragedy one plus tragedy two equals losing you.
I thought there might be a way to write this in third person, you know? Like maybe I could pretend I wasn’t talking about us, the collective us, so much as some man I had never known but stood next to in the deli line, scrutinizing meats for carving and cheeses for grating.
In my memories, you hold a baby boy and whisper made-up melodies into his ear while his mom looks onward from the kitchen sink. You pull a white cloth handkerchief from your pocket and wipe his mouth when he spits up all over his Gap hoodie. You reach for diapers in the maroon Jansport backpack by the staircase and change him when he needs it.
You never grow older. Never past your sixtieth birthday party, my knees digging into that turquoise plush carpeting, my breath held, until you walked up the landing and found us all waiting for you.
That was before you decided the past didn’t exist anymore. Before you decided you’d rather not remember a Tuesday in September or a Saturday in April or a funeral for the only woman who’d ever been able to keep you in line.
That was well before the Towers dusted your shoulders with the ashes of strangers, clinging to you all the way to a home that belongs to somebody else now.
Nobody really wants to sit inside a tragedy and call it home, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. That doesn’t mean the whole nation didn’t get down on hands and knees alongside you and inject the same fear and shock and rapid awakening into their own hearts.
You’re not the only one who lost someone. But you’re among a select group who chose to let that hollow you out and separate you. From your family. Your friends. The people who were there long before you woke up one Tuesday morning and decided to go to work even though you’d retired.
You went to work that day.
And don’t you know how it feels to be eleven years old and come home wondering why your mother is crying and you don’t even know your own grandfather takes the subway to those Towers every morning? Don’t you know that being naïve can damn near break you?
You went to work.
It was just every day after, for eleven years now, that you have chosen not to.
Chosen not to show up the same way you would’ve when I was just a girl who refused to keep her dress on or stay out of the mud or please dear God, would you two stop bickering?
That’s the real tragedy. The one you’ve left us with. Deserting the past and leaving us in the rubble.
This tragedy could’ve devoured our nation—it didn’t. For years, you’ve let it change you.
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