nine-eleven / 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 South Tower. Later I learned he’d called his sister from the Sky Lobby on the 78th floor to tell her they were evacuating his office as a precaution after the North Tower was hit. That’s about where the second plane hit. We figure he died immediately. Nearly a year later 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. He worked 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, but that’s just a guess. All we know is he went to work that morning and sometime later his body was identified. He was probably killed by falling debris.

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, after coffee and a glance out the window, I turn on the computer to check the news. Every morning. I never used to do that. That changed on 9/11/2001. I didn’t know about the World Trade Center until a friend called to tell me about it. I turned on the television about five minutes before the second aircraft struck. So now, every single morning, I check the news.

Yesterday morning, tucked away in my email I saw this subject line: [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 after I checked the news. 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 usually 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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