... EW sent this missive to TMP...
I know where temptation lies inside of your heart
I know where the evil lies inside of your heart
If you’re gonna try to make it right you’re surely gonna end up wrong
(Somebody shut the door)
I want to say something about evil, about how it resides in all of us, that it's not extraordinary, it's quite ordinary. We tend to think it belongs to terrorists, that it's the provenance of Osama Bin Ladin or Saddam Hussein, that evil is within Adolph Hitler or Ivan the Terrible. But really it's part of us all. The capacity to drive planes into towers and kill three thousand people, the ability to behead someone because we just don't like him, the cold harsh talent to orchestrate the Holocaust—actually those things are not within all of us. Thank God. But that stuff is not just evil—it's crazy. To act out on our wretched impulses thusly is so plainly crazy.
And actually, most of us are not crazy, are not sociopaths, are gifted with too much compassion to kill. Mostly we have no desire to kill.
But we are full of evil. Evil deep within, evil nearing the surface, evil chilling our hearts. We think terrible awful things all the time. We look unkindly upon others, we look impatiently upon the dreadful slowness of the world, we lose it, we become hateful, we think things we shouldn't think, and we pretend we don't. What doesn't kill us may well make us stronger, but it most surely makes us meaner. Hurt and heartbreak are wearing and tearing, callous us up of course—but it's not even life's little indignities that do us in.
Because we are born bad. Evil is something we've got going from the get-go. I'm not talking about something as sweet as original sin, Christ cannot redeem this, because it's just human nature, it's just who and what and where we are. We are as evil as we are, yes, good. You go to therapy for years to come to terms with yourself, to stop viewing yourself as a bad person, when really it would be more sensible to simply accept the bad because it's there, you're not wrong or mistaken to think so.
Confront your evil, or there is no chance that you will ever be any good at all.
On 11 September 2001, 9/11, a Tuesday, I woke up at eightish as per usual to feed my cat, and looked out my window at the sky and the way it was an unusual bright blue. I don’t usually notice these things and I noticed, it was a clarity so intense, and as one who is addicted to sunshine and brightness, I was struck by that big sky. It was so extreme that a couple of years later when I first heard Bruce Springsteen sing “Empty Sky,” which is actually about the day after it all, about the blankness of downtown Manhattan and looking up at no twin towers, I thought he was talking about the day of, the thing itself. I thought “Empty Sky” was the point of view of the terrorists, climbing into those airplanes, breaking into those cockpits, thinking how lucky they were that the view was so cloudless and clear and easy to fly through, that it was a fine day to crash some planes into some finely chosen targets. To me, that morning was the last day of empty sky, of clear blue. After the terrorist attacks, there was so much smoke and death burning up all the time—my Lord, the sky was never empty again.
Bruce got it so wrong.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Getting way ahead of myself. A couple of years or so. Which is the last thing I want to do.
I don’t want to tell this story retrospectively. I don’t want to tell you about 9/11 and how it was to live it from my apartment diagonally across the street from the World Trade Center in the past tense. I want to tell you events as they happened, I want you to live it with me, to be there now. If I were advising anyone else how to construct this or any other narrative that is, of course, what I would tell her to do, that’s just basic to decent writing: bring your reader there. Immediacy is the only thing I’m certain I can do with any kind of skill. And yet I just can’t do it with this one.
This may well be a story about the failure of memory.
It might be the story of trying to remember what’s happening as it’s happening.
At any rate I only know how to tell it as memories—faulty and flabby ones at best, and yet the total effect is so vivid. Memory: pathetic, leaden, and finally all we are left with.
So yes, it’s about eight, I’m awake, or half so, forking out Fancy Feast, boiling water for some tea, and since I fall asleep to Conan O’Brien, The Today Show is playing on my little TV that sits atop a milk crate at the foot of my bed, there’s Katie and Al, Matt and Ann, the bright brightness of the glare through the window makes the screen barely legible, and so it goes. No there’s no foreboding in the air, this is not a tsunami wind that the animals feel first, and I squeeze lemon and mix honey into English Breakfast tea like it’s morning in America, because it is.
I stretch into bed to sip on tea, pretty much planning to go back to sleep, which is what I do every day.
You didn’t really think I was such an early riser? Of course not. It’s just that the cat needed to be fed and so it gets done, he hits my face with his paws every morning until I relent, so we have our routine, and usually while I’m up I’ll manage to get this or that done even. Maybe I call my mother, who is up at that hour, and who I check in with in spite of myself. Every so often there’s someone to phone in Europe, a publisher or editor, because sometimes I attend to what I must if I must. But mostly I dawdle and think and accept that nothing’s quite worked out like I planned, that this is it just now, and I’ll even look out the window at the World Trade Center over to my left, at the Hudson River just ahead, at the school children just arriving to my right, and it all makes me so sad.
And you didn’t think I’d fail to find my way to the present tense? Sure I would. Of course. For now. For now while it’s all still clear. While we still have an empty sky.
Before I slip back.
Before I tell you that when the first plane hit the North Tower, which was throwing distance but not quite spitting distance from my apartment, I don’t remember hearing a thing.
People say: How is that possible?
People say: Are you crazy?
People, exasperated, finally say: Are you hard of hearing?
Of course, surely I heard it. But I must not have been especially struck. Struck, of course, is an unfortunate word to use in this context, but I think it’s just right, I think I wasn’t hit or thrown off balance by the crash, the noise was a noise like so many you hear in New York City all the time, maybe louder, but as a native of Manhattan, I don’t think big bangs catch me and scare me especially much. I don’t think I hear them the way other people do. I think noise is my natural atmosphere.
Either that, or the shock had already begun.
I guess I just don’t know.
Here’s what I do know: I’ve been waiting all my life for a bomb to drop on my head. I don’t mean that as a metaphor, or not really: I mean that I’ve always had the strange sensation that the sky was falling. When it actually was, I could hardly have been surprised. The noise must have sounded like what I’d always been hearing anyway.