José Troche

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ON 911 –

This will not be a sob story. This will not lament lives lost. This will not lecture about the violence of that day. This will not discuss conspiracy theories or condemn politicians. This will not be edited. This is straight from the notebook to the page. This is just the story of a boy and his love for a city.

When the World Trade Center was attacked, I lived in Puerto Rico, studying at the UPR, Mayagüez. I was sitting in my Intro to Humanities class when I heard the news. There were people running through the hallways yelling. My phone was ringing. I answered my phone.  It was my mom telling me what had happened. I said I was in class and would call her later. Someone came into the room and whispered something to the professor. He said something to the effect of the world would go on and so would his class. He was an ordained priest. I walked out. I would fail his class that semester.

They were showing the news at the Student Center. I don’t know how long I stood there, watching the Towers burn, replays of them falling. I called my aunt who worked as a secretary on campus. I asked for a ride to my mom’s house that day. I said nothing on the drive back home. When I got there, I turned on the TV and sat motionless in front of it for the rest of the day, letting the images of the flames soak into my very core. That was my city on screen, on fire, falling to pieces.

I was born in New York. I lived there for many years, eating the food, breathing the air, riding the subway. From the rooftop of our apartment in Queens, even on some cloudy days, you could see the entire Manhattan skyline. It was fucking beautiful. And then we moved from New York to Puerto Rico. I was thirteen. It was August 5th. My sister and I commemorated that day every year for many years until it became just another day.

A few months before the attack on the Towers, June 2011, I was in New York, on vacation between my high school graduation and starting college. My mother took us sight seeing all over the place, and that included going to the top of the World Trade Center. I remember the perfectly timed speech the tour guide on the elevator gave as we ascended to the top. I remember sitting in the chairs right by the floor to ceiling windows. It was a long way down. I imagined what it would be like to take the stairs; it would be a long way down. Ten years later, those memories are just pictures in my mind, really, no moving, no tape. Just flashes.

I remember the day before we left New York for Puerto Rico. It was June 28th. Coincidentally, five years later, it would be the day I enlisted in the Army. I don’t believe in numerology. Make of it what you will. I stood there; on top of the same apartment building I grew up in, looking out at the skyline. I knew this was going to be the last time I visited New York. I wanted to say my goodbyes, and watch the sun set over Manhattan. The Twin Towers blazed in fiery orange brilliance against the light of the setting sun. My mother was afraid I’d run away. She didn’t let me say goodbye in my own way.

The Towers fell repeatedly on screen. People covered in ashes, coughing, dousing themselves with water as they walked back to their homes in the other boroughs. Those are human beings, I thought. The impacts, the falling, pulverized everything and everyone inside. Those people are breathing the ashes of the dead. Images on screen filled with murals of missing persons. Family members crying against the walls with pictures of countless loved ones. Your relatives will never be found, but they are a part of you now, a part of the whole city, in the very air you breathe. The subways would stink of the dust of the dead, or so friends who visited there months later told me.

People around the world mourned for America’s loss that day. People all over the world held vigils that day, and for days after. Citizens of Tehran, Iran, held a candle light vigil for our loss. It was everyone’s loss. Everyone lost something that day. It was an end to our innocence. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to die. I couldn’t even move.

For five years, I wandered in a shell of a person, checked out. I convinced myself that it was my destiny to live, to do something constructive, to make the world a better place. But I was lost in myself. A part of me died on September 11, 2001, and the rest of me wanted to go with it. A reservist friend of mine, in mortuary affairs, recounted his story of when he was activated that day as part of the cleanup crew at the Pentagon. He told me all they picked up were tiny pieces, there was hardly anything left that was bigger than the size of your hand. He showed me a picture of him, secretly taken, between the B and C sections at the Pentagon. It was a clean, round hole.

I had many friends in the Army, most of them in mortuary affairs. It was their job to bag and tag, categorize and separate dead soldiers’ belongings for the trip back home. After each tour, they told me stories of watching stolen cable and what life was like living next to an airfield. They never spoke of the dead. I was curious. I wanted to know what it was like. Nobody close to me had ever died. I wanted to know what it was like to lose, even if the one I lost was myself. I joined the Army in what I was sure was the best way for me to do something positive, and to witness the true face of war. I wanted to be an Arabic linguist.

The Army had a different idea for me, and life took an unexpected turn. I got married. I had a son. I was assigned to study Korean at DLI. I was sent to Korea instead of a deployable unit. Everyone else but me got deployed, and I had to stay behind to make sure somebody kept Korea safe from itself. Korea was not my war; it had been my grandfather’s war. It was the reason for the Bronze Star for Valor and a Purple Heart hang in my grandfather’s bedroom, and it is why my grandfather still walks with a limp to this day. Slowly my desire to die faded into obscurity. I had reasons to live.

I visited New York twice after, once in March 2009 and once in June 2011. I never felt the need to visit Ground Zero. I knew what was there. Last summer while I was there, I took the first Saturday to spend some time with the city. We rode the subway for hours, rode the bus, breathed in the city air of a fresh summer night, sang in the streets, and ate a fresh toasted poppy seed bagel with sun dried tomato cream cheese while watching New York’s life go by. One phrase kept running through my head. “I literally traveled halfway across the world to visit you, and it’s good to see you’re doing okay.”

For years, I wondered why nobody was able to capture more than a moment’s worth of art toward the events of that day. Why movie after movie, album after album, artists avoided talking about it. Ten years later, I understand why. It’s hard to write. I have a son living in a post 9/11 world and something has to be said so that he understands. This is my feeble attempt. I have to try for him.

But after all that, you’re okay, New York. You’re doing okay. And after our on-again, off-again relationship, it’s good to see that I can still fall in love with you like it’s the first time. It’s been a long time. I have a son now that walks your streets as if they are his to inherit. I have a crowd-shy wife who knows how to read a subway map. For all your quirks, for all your defects, for all your crazies, I still love you.

 

Jose A. Troche, remix artist and aspiring futurist, has been presenting his work at open mics for nearly ten years. His work has been published in Ditch, pastiche, and Poesia Zurde. Hailing from New York by way of Puerto Rico where he finished a BA in Literature at the University of Puerto Rico he did a stint in the US Army as a Communications Specialist in the Republic of Korea. He now lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons. More work can be found at Sudo Success.

 

7 Comments

  1. I just couldn’t avoid reading this. I too was born in New York, but in the Bronx and I had recently moved to Puerto Rico on July 2001. I remember sitting on my fourth grade classroom watching the news in shock and then crying my eyes out because I had no news of my father. 9/11 is a date that changed everybody in the world’s life, but I admire you trying to make the world a better place by going to the army because you wanted to feel what it is to loose someone, but better yet because you found a reason for living and that’s something not many people can do. On the other hand I have never seen someone write so beautifully abiut my New York and thanks to you I now remember my childhood days on those streets and see things differently from the way I had seen them before.

  2. Your essay was a great one showing the horrendous time that was the event of 911. Such a sad event that changed the entire USA within moments of it happening. New York will never be the same after 911 yet it has been picking itself up slowly to try and be what it was. Good work on this essay.

  3. Dear José,

    I still remember the comment on your paper: “How refreshing” and you looked up and smiled. I have to go back and tell you that reading your work is refreshing because it gives you something new to think about every time.

    I travel to New York maybe six times a year and my next visit will be different for sure because of your descriptions. Just like you, I have fallen in love with New York and as I tell my dear friend, I can’t help smiling when I’m there. In spite of all that has happen, I feel the energy from all parts of the world as I walk down the sidewalk.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. A truly moving essay Jose. I think you truly captured the beauty of the city and the horror of that day. I was touched by the ashes of the slaine becoming a part of the city and those who live there. It’s a day that changed us all and one that should always be remembered. Like you said it’s a hard topic to write about in any medium after several false starts my band, MacTalla Mor, completed a song about Sept 11 called “Jacob’s Ladder” as a fellow writer I’d be interested to hear what you thought of the song. If you ever get the chance to hear it.

  5. Beautiful writing. I grew up in New York City, and there will always be a special place for it in my heart. Thank you José Troche, your words have brought the city back to life for me and the moments we lived on that particular day. It was difficult to watch the towers go down. I’m so glad that you, a New Yorker yourself, have shared this with us and the world.

  6. This is a true reflection. This is what remembering that day is. Troche was not sitting on an ivory tower gathering money for teaching snobism. He lived the difficulties, breathed the subway suffocation, he understood. Unlike a poem paraded today written by someone that sits all day in alabaster and earns hundreds of thousands of dollars for being a “professional” token, my fellow writer knows what it is to fight the wars of daily living.

  7. I enjoyed reading your essay. Thank you for it : )

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