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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Reckoning, Pt. 2

Published: September 23, 2005
Section: Opinions

Editor's Note: Michael Sitzman wrote this as a personal remembrance of Sept. 11, 2001. He gave The Hoot permission to reprint it. This is part II of II. If you have a remembrance of any other event in your life you wish to share for our next issue, please e-mail us:
[ …continued from last week. ]
VII. A Time To Try The Soul Of Man

“I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be.
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning
To an empty sky.”

— Bruce Springsteen

Five days later on a Tuesday morning, I was lying in bed awake. It was my first week of unemployment and I was in no rush to get up. The phone rang;

it was John, my best friend since childhood: Mike– Hey, just calling to see if you felt anything;

did it wake you up?

Felt anything?? People used to call and ask me that after every little tremor when I lived in California, so naturally I thought of earthquakes. But in Alexandria, Virginia? What do you mean? I asked. John said, I mean I wonder if you heard or felt it happen, since you live nearby, and I wanted to see if you were alright–

Felt what?

There was a silence, just long enough of a pause. Then, in a low voice: Uh, you havent heard the news?

It was that grave tone, and the pause just before he said it. In that moment I sensed that something momentous was happening, bigger than anything we had ever known, or likely ever would. I somehow knew that dreaded day had come. Now bolt upright, I asked, No! What news?

WERE AT WAR!!! his roommate screamed. Now my heart was pounding;

this didnt sound like a joke. John explained: The Pentagon was hit by a hijacked airliner;

two more planes hit the World Trade Center, and both towers have collapsed. Our countrys being attacked;

its worse than Pearl Harbor! It feels like World War III

The Pentagon. I was only three or four miles from it, yet Id slept through the whole thing. And the World Trade Center, where John and I had been, collapsed?? Entirely?

How does one describe the feeling of hearing such news? Its two opposite emotions at once: Utter disbelief mixed with a gut feeling that its absolutely, sickeningly true. But what I was feeling most of all at that moment was a new fear. Raw fear, for myself and my family, not knowing when Id next see them. It felt like those dreams of the Bomb: We were all in danger. Nowhere to hide.

Have the wrenching misfortune to know that feeling;

it will change you.

John and I spoke another minute or so, his hysterical roommate still screaming in the background. I said I had to go put on the TV right away, and good-bye, be careful, and that Id speak to him again as soon as possible.

By this time, on every channel, there was nothing but replay footage, for it was all over and done (though nobody knew if it really was over yet). And there I was, just getting out of bed, while others had already commuted to work and died. Then I saw it: A total collapse, terrifying to watch, as one tower suddenly seemed to melt like a candlestick. And then likewise the other, as if heartbroken by the loss of its companion.

VIII. Waiting For The Light

“And the high ideals and the promises
You once dressed the future in
Are dancing with the embers in the wind.”

— Jackson Browne

In the wreckage of collapsed hope, an unemployed man sat alone in his basement apartment with no lofty view, seeing the place he had so loved become nothing. Watching the news until well into the evening, he spent the rest of the day without further human contact, much as he did on most days, until finally managing to reach his family in Boston by phone.

Have the awful misfortune to lose what you love;

it will change you.

By and by, public life got back to some kind of normal, even as the ensuing Anthrax attacks, and later, the wars, kept our nerves on edge. As for me, I had been changed, resolving never again to be ashamed or to apologize for being American. When I see a soldier, I merely say thank-you;

he doesnt need to ask why. Mostly, I feel more, appreciating other peoples pain more vividly. I shed a lot more tears.

In this time of ruin, I wish religiously for my buildings to rise again to how they were. Dreams of the event come calling less often now, yet they still visit me at night sometimes with visions of being in collapsing buildings or looking for lost friends in the rubble. The other dream: Yes, it too persists, maybe because I have the ominous sense that there is yet more to come.

Perhaps the reader had hoped for a more dramatic story about what I did and saw on the day that needs no mention;

but that was it: I sat alone in my apartment, my city in ruins. I wouldnt even look outside, having drawn the window blinds, just in case, to shut out the blinding flash of the Bomb.

IX. Epilogue: O Tempora

“Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago it must be;

I have a photograph
Preserve your memories;

Theyre all thats left you.”

— Simon and Garfunkel

Once, in a wondrous American century when the Concorde could make short work of the Atlantic Ocean, there stood two towers: One a young childs dreams, the other a young nations optimism. Long they both stood, enduring time and historys capricious whims. Then one day, when set ablaze like candlesticks, the two did what candles will do: They withered upon themselves and expired. When the light went out, a boy and a nation, such as they had been, were no more.

Herewith submitted to posterity with deepest love
— and a wish that you may know happier days,

Michael Reade Sitzman
15 June, 2005