VULTURES ON A CAROUSEL

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Michael Rutschky

Sep 11 2006 12:00AM

I still think about it every time I fly.  As I’m writing this, I’m flying back to Pensacola after spending a week up in Connecticut where my family lives.  In the five years since 9/11, I must have flown a dozen times, and I have never had any real reason to be frightened (save for one instance where a freak toaster accident at the Dunkin Donuts at T.F. Green Airport in Providence caused fire alarms to sound and all passengers were ordered to evacuate.  Looking back on it I feel silly, but for the first minute or so of the alarms blaring, I felt exactly like John McClain from the Die Hard movies).  Nevertheless, it still lingers in the back of my head.  Not so much the specific fear of a terrorist hijack, but the overall sense of vulnerability in the air.  But I’ve tried going Greyhound, and in the end decided to take my chances with the terrorists. 

Sometimes it amazes me the way everything is remolded under the heat and pressure of time.  Five years ago on September 10, 2001, my friend and I were cutting driver’s ed. class to walk to Wal-Mart and read magazines about Kurt Cobain.  The next morning my friends were in school and heard about the attacks over the P.A.  They didn’t think it was too much of a big deal.  After all, how many people perished in the previous attacks on the World Trade Center?  Not enough to change the world, evidently. 

Five years ago my niece was not yet two years old.  It astounds me to think that she’ll never know what it was like to live in the pre-9/11 state of America.  I don’t know what it will be like for the younger generations to have to grow up under this air of paranoia, to constantly wonder when the other shoe will drop.  Five years ago I had dropped out of school, and was working on the local Navy base.  I turned on the TV that morning and caught the whole show.  At the time I was too scared to notice that what I was witnessing was the inaugural ball dropping on the New American Century. 

Everything changed that day.  I started seeing machine gun turrets and tanks every day on my way to work.  Groton Subase is located about three hours from the World Trade Center, and everyone in southeastern Connecticut was expecting an attack.  Since 9/11, we have watched as this single event has decided the shape of the 21st Century.  Red states and blue states, orange alerts and yellow alerts, fear mongering and xenophobia. 

Now it is five years later, and the gaping wound in Manhattan where the World Trade Center once stood is tragically inconspicuous as anything other than a construction zone.  I don’t know what it’s like for a local New Yorker, but for a tourist like me, I would have just walked past it if it wasn’t clearly marked on the half-dozen tourist map pamphlets that me and my friends brought with us.  And I understand that they’ve been cleaning up the site for five years and now they’re preparing it for the erection of a memorial to honor the victims of 9/11, but the whole experience of going to Ground Zero didn’t feel like an experience at all. 

It was just a hole, a void that I couldn’t bring myself to care about.  I was standing at the site of an event that changed the lives of everyone in America, and all I saw was dirt.  I tried to imagine the fire and the debris and the mothers grabbing their children by the hand and jumping out of windows as an alternative to burning alive.  But there was nothing there for me to mourn. 

I wanted something tangible and profound.  I wanted something that would remove the barrier between me and that terrible image that I saw looped over and over again on every news channel since the attacks.  Something that said “if you had gotten here a half-decade earlier, you’d have been one of those people on TV running away from the tidal wave of dust that covered the city once the towers fell.”  Instead all I got was a wall full of drawings from the children of certain victims and a couple of shady men weaving through the crowd, offering tourists $11 photo albums of pictures taken during the attacks.   There was nothing for me to do but take a few futile snapshots of the construction zone and leave. 

I suppose the only tangible thing that we have to connect us to that day is the fear that has lingered so heavy in the atmosphere that it coats the American people in a thin sticky film.  Maybe it’s been so long that I’ve become desensitized to it.  But it’s still there, in the back of my head, every time I fly.

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