January 20, 2022

DISASSOCIATIVE

Author’s note- With the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks looming just around the corner, the major TV networks are gearing up for a full-throttle slew of retrospectives, tributes, and interviews to give the event ‘meaning’ that it would somehow otherwise lack. Mulling over this, I decided to write my own feelings on the subject, focusing less on the attacks themselves and more on how we, as a society, assimilate disaster.

. . .

With paint in your eyes, it’s hard to focus on the end of the world. Sometimes, it’s easier just to stay in your own little reality, instead.

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The radio was playing all the usual corporate rock Muzak as my friend Case and I were painting the poolhouse for the Aurora public pool. In my mind, there was a floating little calendar on which I was checking off the days until the summer season was over for the Aurora Parks Department, because that’s the earliest that I could quit. Case, all misty-eyed from paint fumes and heartbreak, continued to complain about his girlfriend (well, ex-girlfriend). We were both holed away in our own little worlds that meant so much; our own little dramas that our lives comfortably revolved around.

The song on the radio stopped in mid-verse and the station DJ came on. I silently thanked the gods, because whoever that band was, they were crucifying the Beatles with an awful cover of “Eleanor Rigby”. As I thought about this, Case complained that his ex was disinterested in him. Our worlds continued to spin on.

Then the DJ said something that stopped us both.

“Uh, we really, uh, don’t know exactly what is… exactly what’s happening, but it seems that… yeah, it looks like two commercial jets have crashed into the World Trade Center in New York… and we’re getting reports hat a third plane has hit the Pentagon in Washington D.C.”

It’s at this point that a drop of fresh paint fell from the ceiling and landed in my left eye with military precision.

Case stopped in mid-sentence of his anguish and asks, “What’d he say?”

With my face stuck under a water faucet and the raw nerves of my eye screaming in pain, I shrugged, completely forgetting how much I hate this job and how pissed I am about the paint.

The DJ goes on to say, “that this looks like an attack.”

I looked up at Case, who was distorted and blurred because of the water in my eye. We were both trying to think of something clever and appropriate to say, something to fill in this gap of conversation and give this situation meaning, the kind of thing someone would say in a movie.

Fortunately, the opening strains of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” came on the radio and saved us from having to say anything. We probably wouldn’t have said much, anyway. Case couldn’t think of anything to say about his former flame. I forgot what I was so upset about. Our worlds came to a crunching, universe-grinding halt and were frozen on their axis’. We tried to get back to work, but ended up just sitting and listening to the radio reports, shaking our heads.

Later, on my lunch break, I went to my girlfriend’s house to watch the news. It’s a school day, but her classes were canceled because of an anonymous bomb threat. It’s a coincidence that, at the time, I didn’t find so funny.

As we watch CNN, we’re shown the same three clips: two of them show the second plane plowing through the Trade Center at different angles; the third clip showed the destruction at the Pentagon. These clips are on a loop that plays every five minutes. After a few cycles, they begin to seem more like movie clips than disaster footage. My girlfriend says the same thing. Already, we began to digest what has happened, and subconsciously start to accept it. Already, it started to become something far away, projected to us on a repeating pattern of television pixels: red, green, blue.

Red, green, blue.

Angle 1: shot from above.

Red, green, blue.

Angle 2: shot from below.

Red, green, blue.

Angle 3: Aerial shot of the Pentagon.

Already, on another network, a reporter was coughing up vague but meaningful quotes from John and Robert Kennedy. Already, CNN was giving the event an ominous, piano-based theme song. Already, someone in the room was asking, “They ever find the intern that the senator, or whoever, killed? What’s her name? Darva Conger?” Already, the tragedy and scope of what happened began to dwindle. Already, I began to hate my job, and dread going back to work at 1:00.

Everyone’s little worlds were fighting to start spinning again, lest they confront a situation that was just too real to deal with.

Back at work, my boss blames everything on Muslims. Only, he calls them “sand-niggers.” He says how, after work, he’s going to Wal-Mart to buy some ammo for his at-home gun arsenal, just in case there’s an invasion. I ask him if he really thinks that our little town in Missouri is going to be invaded. He stared back at me, confused, muttering, “you never know what those crazy camel-bangers will do.” I thought, tonight he’ll fall asleep with a shotgun tucked between his legs, and he’ll be that much more of a man. I said this out loud, but the sarcasm was lost on him.

Back at the poolhouse, our eyes red from paint fumes, Case and I wondered who could have orchestrated the attack. Then, after a few minutes, I asked, “how many days ‘till the summer season is over?” Case didn’t know. He asked me, “should I call her?”

We fight so hard to maintain a pattern. It’s so much easier to fall in line. It’s easier to disassociate yourself from tragedy than to embrace it, to face up to it. It’s easier to see it all as some far-away movie, something to be watched on TV. It’s easier to curl up with your little worries and dramas that give your life meaning than to accept something that makes you so insignificant in comparison.

When I get home after work, some of my friends come over and watch the coverage on TV, with all the repeating images and pixels.

Red, green, blue.

One of my friends said, “Come see this crash footage. CBS has an angle that the other networks don’t have yet.”

Red, green, blue.

Another asked, “If Bush comes on TV tonight, will they still air Survivor afterwards?”

Red, green, blue.

And I started to wonder if the summer season for the Parks Department ends in September, or is it in October?

Red, green, blue.

About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website: www.RyanMJones.com