eleven and thirty-three

I had two friends die in the attacks of 9/11. Not close friends, but friends. One was a member of the book club I was in. We met once a month for a couple of years. He was a nice guy, smart and funny, owned a pair of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels that he pampered ridiculously. I only saw him once outside of the book club — in a bar on the Upper West Side. He was with friends and I was with friends, so we just chatted briefly and that was it. He worked in the North Tower. I don’t recall exactly which floor he worked on, but it was one of those very near the impact site of the first plane. We figure he died immediately. Nearly a year he was officially identified as a victim. Basically that means they found some bit of flesh which they matched to his DNA.

My other friend was somebody I knew from graduate school in Washington, DC. We’d worked together briefly in the Social Science Research Lab. He’d taken a job as some sort of analyst for a research firm in New York City. His office was a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. We assume he left his office and went down to the scene to see what was happening and maybe was hit by falling debris — but that’s just a guess. All we know is he went to work that morning and disappeared, and a few weeks later what remained of his body was identified.

I’d moved from Manhattan a few months before that September. I’ve always felt like I should have been there, which is totally irrational and completely stupid. But there it is. Every September 11th since then I’ve felt a sense of loss — but I’ve also had this uncomfortable feeling that I should feel that loss more. That I should feel the loss deeper. I’ve felt that every September 11th until this year. This year is different.

Every morning I turn on the computer and glance at my email; I almost never actually read my email then — I just glance at the subject lines and the name of the sender. Then I read the news. I never used to check the news in the morning. That’s another thing that changed on 9/11/2001. I didn’t know about the World Trade Center until I checked my email and saw the subject lines. I turned on the television about five minutes before the second aircraft struck. So now, every single morning, I glance at my email, then check the news.

But yesterday morning, tucked away in my email I saw this subject line: jamelah.net [New Post] thirty-three.

My friend Jamelah had her birthday yesterday. She turned 33. Every year on her birthday she writes a sort of summary of the preceding year — things that happened, things she’s learned, things that went well and things that didn’t, things she did or maybe didn’t do. And she posts a self-portrait.

So yesterday morning I didn’t check the news. I didn’t read my email. I read Jamelah’s birthday post. And it reminded me that even when horrible things are happening over here, there are wonderful things happening over there. And that sense of loss I usually feel on 9/11 — I didn’t feel it yesterday. Wherever I went yesterday, I saw flags flying at half-mast, and of course that reminded me of the tragedy. But it also reminded me that it was Jamelah’s birthday, and that’s a sweet thought.

I chat online with Jamelah for an hour or so (with the emphasis on ‘or so’) every couple of weeks. I’m sure sharing a birthday with a national tragedy must be a massive pain in the ass for her, but yesterday I was glad for it. I’ve got two friends who died eleven years ago yesterday — but I’ve also got a friend who is alive today and given a choice between mourning and celebrating, I’ve got to go with celebrating.

So happy birthday Jamelah. I’ll chat with you in a week or so.

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