Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Chris Coleman – a sharp and somewhat defiant 22-year-old – studies environmental biology at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. He was born in Ippswich, England, but was raised in the western United States. He’s traveled throughout North America, with the exception of the tundra and tropical regions. His interests include hiking, biking, life and “die Guitarre n muzak.” He describes himself as a pseudo-Buddhist. Chris first heard about the terrorist attack when his mother stirred him from bed with a phone call at 7:30 a.m. Pacific time. His essay, titled “The WTC to Me,” was written around Sept. 16.
My feelings and thoughts are so profoundly fluttered like a feather in the wind, hopping up and around at each new perspective. At one end, two months ago I walked inside the World Trade Center, gazed at my reflection from its very large mirror and opted not to spend the $10 to take the tourist route up the mighty monolith. Later I walked out and got my first up-close view of what was the highest skyscraper in the world for a few years. It was raining, the clouds obscuring the view of half the towers. I risked my camera lens and took a few amazing pictures of what I call the largest phallic symbol man has conceived: skyscrapers. The shots are some of my favorites from the many I took this past summer in the Northeast. After taking the shots, I re-entered the building, going underground this time to the mall under the WTC. As fate would have it, I bought two books of poetry by Allen Ginsberg: “The Howl” and “Reality Sandwiches.”
My mind works as most do, throwing out the many “what ifs,” such as what if the terrorists had taken their flights while I was in the building? Even so, I probably would have survived, being near the floor. But how would I have dealt with that kind of trauma? Or another question, could the terrorists have found the Twin Towers if it was raining during their scheduled flight? Rain is not uncommon in New York. Just how in depth had they masterminded this attack? How much luck was involved?? Did they have the towers GPS’d if the weather was cloudy? I suspect not, because central intelligence reports that the Pentagon kamikaze plane meant to hit the White House. The White House is not nearly as easy a target from the sky as the Twin Towers. Christ! Who really knows where the fourth plane was headed. Suppressed evidence suggests that a fighter jet shot it down, though our hush-hush government is denying it. Even though the act can’t be called unethical considering the circumstances.
You could see those towers anywhere this side of Central Park! It was a navigational device. Just spot out the twins and the urban jungle known as Manhattan became less of a maze. And now it’s gone. The thought enters my head regularly, and my heart makes a leap. Often I’ll deny the thought in disbelief, “It can’t be.” Then I recall that the media with all its touch-up magic and deception could and would never pull off a prank so grand. In fact, a front-page article in the NY Times for September 17th reported that the media was losing hundreds of millions from lost advertising. Indeed, who gives SUVs and Hanes underwear a second thought when thousands are dead and dying under rubble of concrete and steel?
My point being, this has entered my psyche. My quaint little reality of living the quaint college life in the beautiful, isolated town of Flagstaff, Arizona, has been shaken up. I may still try out the latest Mexican restaurant, endure another typical jam band while I drink it up at the bar and take my favorite shortcut through the alley, but my existence feels more tied to a national reality of terror. My God! I have friends in New York! Many friends of friends there. To them, their home is like London in 1942. Friends of my friend’s friends surely died in the “attack.” There is the remote possibility that I could be drafted, forcing me to sneak up to Canada through a hole in North Dakota. That thought excites me in a perverse way. I’ve often had fantasies of saying goodbye to the U.S. of A. But I digress; this is an awful thing. It is a tragedy beyond the comprehension of this post-modern head. And yet, yet …
About a month ago on August 16th, 2001, I was lucky enough to see Radiohead live at Liberty State Park. It was an outdoor venue on the small island about a half-mile behind the Statue of Liberty. The statue was behind the stage, just to the right of Thom York’s head as he crooned images of a world paranoid, confused and corrupt. Directly to my left was the Manhattan skyline, lit up in the night air. The prominent landmark was, of course, the World Trade Center. Dwarfing everything around it. I looked at it in reverence, and fear. While the band played “Exit Music for a Film” I did something that surprised myself, amid thoughts that cutthroat capitalism had its home there and globalization’s greedy fingers crept from there. As Thom sang, “We hope, that you choke, that you choke …” I raised my middle finger at the World Trade Center. The old saying goes “be careful what you wish for.” That wasn’t my direct wish, of course; I was fingering what it symbolized. My abstract symbolism washes away in 70% ethanol when I realize how violent our reaction will be. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” What a strange twist of fate.
I had a nightmare a few days ago that a plane crashed into a five-story apartment in Flagstaff. I checked the news in my dream and they weren’t even mentioning it. As far as I am from being directly impacted by such things as life patterns in Manhattan or knowing victims of the disaster, it’s affecting my psyche. It has affected all people in America, but the real fear now in my mind is our country’s reaction to all this. Blindly proclaiming war, without considering how difficult the war could be. Are we really that much better than the Soviet Union of the ’80s? Even if we do get Osama, will we be safe considering America’s foreign policy atrocities in Iraq, Palestine, Sudan and other Arabic nations? Of course, my non-war solutions are stuck in an idealistic dream world miles away from the right-wing mindset in the Capitol, which aren’t even worth mentioning. Americans are realizing that we are not in a safe little pocket of the planet from which to enforce unilateral power, and we don’t know how to react. Sadly, it appears that it will be the wrong way.