It would be easy, if a little too obvious, to dedicate this post to today’s anniversary.
But, as Chuck Klosterman wrote in (probably) my favorite book, Killing Yourself to Live: 85% of a True Story:
My memories of September 11, 2001, are—I think—entirely inconsequential. This is partially because I was living in Ohio at the time but mostly because everybody in the United States has an anecdote about what they were doing that day, and almost all of those anecdotes have become boring. The events of 9/11 are often compared to the events of a nightmare. This is a surprisingly savvy analogy, because hearing someone’s memories from the morning of 9/11 is not unlike having someone preface a conversation with the words, “I had the weirdest dream last night.” When someone wants to talk about a dream, you can never say, “I don’t care.” You have to care. You just have to stand there and listen, because people who talk about their dreams are actually trying to tell you things about themselves they’d never admit in normal conversation. It is a way for people to be honest without telling the truth. It’s the same situation with people who need to give you a detailed account of what they were doing on September 11. You cannot say, “I don’t care.” You have to care. You have to listen, because that person is actually trying to show you that they can talk about life without the safety of ironic distance. September 11 is one issue every American can be completely earnest and unguarded about.
The story in which Chuck wrote those words takes place in 2003; the book containing them was released in 2005. They’re still accurate.
I’ve told everyone who wanted to hear (and quite a few people who probably didn’t) my 9/11 story, punchline and all. But, with hindsight, I’d be lying to say that day was the worst of my age 17 year, or 2001, or college for me. It affected me, sure, just like it affected everyone. The way I felt that morning catalyzed a chain reaction of events the repercussions of which are still being felt, to some degree.
Was that really 9/11, though? Were the decisions I made a result of watching the horrors of that day on my dorm-mate’s 13-inch TV, or simply a still-developing brain looking for a reason, any reason?
Sometimes, when I’m alone on my couch, I’ll catch myself not breathing.
An ex used to giggle at me when we’d watch TV shows together, asking if I was aware of the sounds I was making while at rest. I never was, and I frequently grew confused or defensive, because I didn’t know what she was talking about.
Alone, I forget to even breathe.
And yet, I worry about those sounds, about the noises I make that everyone but me can hear. During my 10k a few weeks ago, I paid attention to my noises, in the hope of quelling some of my fears, but the next time I was at the gym, with headphones once again firmly ensconsced in my ears, the same worries bubbled back to the surface. I pushed them away, or at least further down, but they never totally disappear.
Today, while leaving a Target parking garage, I caught myself thinking about the experience of being me, and how no matter how hard anyone tries to explain themselves to someone else, nobody else can truly understand you. The deep-seated neuroses, the defining characteristics. You can tell someone some crucial fact, some Rosetta Stone of information that should help them follow your trains of thought, but that doesn’t mean they’ll use it properly, if at all. It never matters how much you tell, how much you share. Anything anyone else knows about someone is filtered through their own lenses and inevitably viewed wrong.
At Bumbershoot last Sunday, I blew out my voice singing along to Death Cab for Cutie. An ache had been developing in the back of my throat for the better part of a week, but I willfully ignored it, until eventually it caught up.
When I woke up Monday, I could barely speak, but otherwise felt healthy enough to go on my usual six(ish)-mile run. I canceled my social plans for the afternoon, and while my friend didn’t express skepticism in her text reply, I could read it in the subtext.
This is the state of honesty in 2016: Even when you can’t say anything, someone will still think you’re lying.