Thursday, September 24, 2009


#267, Broadway, NYC

The city had been in mourning for weeks, and it wasn't done yet. It had been a Friday of black umbrellas and bad nerves, the air humid and heavy with grief. I woke Saturday morning to the cover of The New York Times with the photograph of the lone bugler at ground zero. The newsprint smelled fresh. His dark coat billowed in the wind.

Across the room, the email with the message "Fw: Memorial" was still in my inbox, just where I'd left it. Where else, I wondered, might it have gone? These things, even when you don't see them, they're there. You feel it sure as the humidity, sure as the thick New York cloud cover.

The plan was to meet on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. It hadn't occurred to me to ask for more details. It was simple enough: I was looking for a group of people who were all looking for our friend, who was no longer there. I thought they would all be waiting for me. That we would recognize each other instantly and the stories would start flowing even before we got to the halfway mark into Manhattan, even before the bar on Elizabeth Street on the other side. Of course, there is an awful lot of Brooklyn on the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Seeing no one waiting at the entrance on Tillary Street, I headed alone along the sloping walkway, the New York skyline coming into view, starting with The Watchtower and its banner imploring one and all, once more, to Read God's Word Daily. I looked at the Verizon building instead, its red swash of a logo ugly as ever. Already the day was lost to them: words, ads, words. Was there no escape?

Alone in a black raincoat I walked, hood up, the afternoon shrouded in mist. It was fitting, the weather, but this gave me no satisfaction. I marveled, not for the first time, at the tautness of the cables, the efficiency of the bolts and steel girders holding up the bridge, the magnificence of the arches, as I walked toward Manhattan. Tourists posed and snapped pictures, backing into the bike lanes to get just the right angle. I thought of my friend, trying to bring the proper mood into view. I was looking for the right angle to understand the tragedy that had befallen him, he who loved his bicycle and wrote clever haikus and loved this city dearly. I couldn't feel it, only observe the thoughts that flitted across my viewfinder. I was a tourist unto my own grief.

Broadway was awash in rain and grime, City Hall a dim mirage. I remembered the Julian Opie installation that had been on the steps some years back, orange LED people walking as if on an electronic treadmill. I'd smiled last winter when I'd spotted more of the light-people installed on O'Connell Street in Dublin, the last of them hula-hooping insouciantly outside the Hugh Lane Gallery. The ghosts were more real than the people. I didn't mind. The ghosts were good company.


Jackie said...

This dream-like prose, these images, your photograph, your honesty,& this visceral memory--all stunning.

It was something I needed to read today. And something I'll be sure to return to again.

Pierre said...

I've come to realize over the years that emotional pain will forever change us. It's good somehow. We end up improved some way. A Bonzai tree must experience terrible agony yet it comes out a thing of beauty. You're different. It shows in your writing.

Echo Jackie

Be good to yourself.

Therese Cox said...

Indeed, some of my best friends are Bonzais. Thanks, Pierre. Thanks, Jackie.

Julie said...

Black raincoat hood = tick