10 September 2008

Teddy Bears

September, 2001.

We finally summon the courage and do what we’ve come here to do. We ask the taxi driver to take us to Ground Zero.

It's well after midnight, and quiet in lower Manhattan. But as we approach the area the sky is filled with the foreboding glow of floodlights.

The night is also filled with sound of wrecking machines.

The wrecking ball slams against the broken structure, then a fire hose sprays down the dust.

Over and over and over.

We are strangely and horribly hypnotized by the endless repetition.

Watch where you walk! Wait, there’s a plank leading over there...

We pick our way along the makeshift, wooden sidewalk with a railing. On it is spray painted: WATER -->

People, lots of people, speaking in hushed voices, walking the perimeter. A policeman. He points and tells people which building used to stand where.

I am shaken by the fact that I can’t remember which building used to stand where, exactly.

. . .

The smell.

Like jet fuel and burning and burnt hair. But all wet, from the millions and millions of gallons of water they poured on it.

. . .

We keep walking. Soon, there are no more people and it’s dark, and quiet. On the south side, we again walk on wooden planks placed over the exposed guts of lower Manhattan.

Then more bright lights, and we hear the trucks. Trucks driving in and out. They rumble past us. Huge, flatbed trucks driving out chunks of concrete and twisted metal; trucks going back empty.

All night. Which means all day, too.

They recede behind us. Dark and quiet again. We are on the Hudson River side of Manhattan now, and it’s the deepest, darkest, loneliest hour of the night. A policeman comes over and asks us where we’re from.

“From here”, we say.

“You seen the teddy beahs?”, he asks.

Teddy bears?

“Wait a minute”, he says. He goes and talks to the other cops and then comes back, opens the barricade and says, “C’mon. I’m taking you in.”

Moonscape. Like those pictures from the moon. Blindingly bright white-grey landscape and a black sky.

Machines, dwarfed by the scale of the whole thing, working everywhere like toys.

Far, far in the distance the wrecking ball slams against the broken structure, then a fire hose sprays down the dust...

. . .

We go back out. He points us towards the teddy bears.

A plaza. A walkway with a low wall. It’s long. New York City long. And there are bears on this wall, thousands and thousands of teddy bears. They are 2, 3, 10 deep.

They’re all holding pictures. Pictures of weddings, of graduations.

Pictures of the people who went to work that day.

“To my dearest wife Debbie, I will love you always... “

“Son, your Mom and I miss you with all our hearts... “

In the Firefighters’ section, a poster with photos of a man and a young boy. Fishing. A birthday party. Playing ball. At the top, in a child’s best handwriting:

“To My Dad – Fireman and Hero”

. . .

Hours later, I stand at the bathroom sink with the water running.

I can’t get the smell out of my nose.

I never will.

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