Like every playwright I know, I took a crack at a 9/11/01 piece. It was staged at Babylon's "9 Holes" short play pieces in 2003. Here it is, a monologue entitled "After/Before."
I’ve been going through a bad patch lately. I’ve been wanting to sleep past the point where I can actually sleep. Maybe being cryogenically frozen for a couple of years or so. Like a bag of frozen peas shoved to the back of a grocery store freezer.
I’ve had time on my hands, On my feet, my back, my belly, my head. Manacled in minutes, shut up in hours, and walled up in Castle Time, where the only sound is the tick-tock of the guard’s walk.
I needed to kill time. To slaughter it. To waste it.
So I borrowed a friend’s TV.
I’m really a radio kind of person. I don’t own a TV. Haven’t for years. So at the time I didn’t see it.
I heard it. NPR. I loves me my NPR. Doesn’t matter how bad things get. “As the earth spins out of control and towards the heart of the sun, commentator Bailey White has some thoughts about how the unseasonable weather is affecting her tomatoes.”
So I heard everything.
But I didn’t see anything.
I didn’t want to see anything.
It was good to not see. Really. Some people say, “I had to watch.” But I didn’t. I felt like that’s what was expected of me.
Like that was the whole point of it, to make us watch.
A friend said, “I had to watch. Because my imagination would have made it much worse.” Not me. I pictured them as simply…gone. There one minute, the next not. I’ve got a tidy imagination.
And I had no real connection, you know? Been to New York twice, never fell in love with the skyline, never paid to go up the elevator and take a look. I had no friends working there. I knew no one on any of the planes.
It pissed me off how immediately everyone wanted a piece of the experience. Hungry to link themselves, somehow, to what had happened. They knew someone, they’d had their picture taken there, they’d almost been on that flight. Like some Media Event, like the new Star Wars installment, that they HAD to be a part of, waited in line for days to see it, could recite lines from it, had the action figures.
Not me. I thought it was bad and sad but I didn’t want it in my life. So no thank you. I had permanently abstained from a viewing.
And our leaders! Like they care. Like that little tinhorn dictator in the White House gave a damn about janitors or firemen or even stockbrokers. Like he thought anything at the time except “Jesus Christ! They’re coming after me next!”
So I borrowed this TV for the weekend. Because TV is a great waste of time. And sometimes that’s exactly what you want. Another friend loaned me a couple of bags of videos. She records TV somewhat randomly. Which is great. Tapes with labels like “Tuesday” or “Pizza Guy Episode!” or “Law and Order and Will and Grace.” I came straight home from work, made up some Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and got ready to spend the next three days in sweet oblivion.
I put an unmarked tape in the machine. But nothing happened. So I pressed the remote.
On the tape was smoke, and fire. Billowing clouds, but all cascading inwards, like being sucked up by a vast dragon’s mouth. Then, as I watched, I could see debris falling into the smoke, flying into it. Then more and more falling into the space, growing into a shape, dark and filled with fire. Then finally it was whole, and I could see the people flying up, into the sky, as if on wires.
I had hit rewind. By mistake.
I was watching it all go up again. Rising from the pillars of smoke, glass and metal and concrete shooting back to reattach itself to the sides of the buildings. Little figures flying up like souls called by the Rapture.
But it wasn’t the end of the world. It was a voyage back to innocence.
Okay, that’s bullshit. We weren’t “innocent.” We were naïve and complacent. We were the strongest, most powerful, DUMBEST nation in the world, and that includes the Australians so that’s saying quite a lot.
Nothing of consequence changed because of these events, only that everyone liked to say that everything had changed. And also the Republicans get away with all sorts of crap because they’ve got another monster to scare us, and the Democrats’ new tactic is shutting up and letting them do whatever they want.
But still, it was hypnotic. Watching it. Build themselves up. Construct themselves into a boring pair of office buildings out of fire and pain and smoke.
Up it goes. And up. And up. Reclaimed by the ordinariness of a typical Tuesday. Vanishing like a nightmare into blue sky and morning.
And Kennedy’s head snaps forward, expelling the bullet. And the battlefields of Europe and Asia are vast maternity wards for boys about to be sent home, the Great Wars becoming vague grumblings. Every vast mistake we’ve ever made is a peace born from chaotic and inexplicable implosions of blood and matter and clouds of smoke. The history of the human race reveals itself as sensible, but only when, only when, only when we run the tape backwards.
There are still villains in this revisionist history. Lincoln wakes up while watching a play and goes out to start a war that enslaves a race. But even this story ends happily, as hundreds of years later benevolent sea captains take the chains off and pack ex-slaves into their ships to sail to Africa, picking up some sick passengers mid-journey from the middle of the ocean.
We have a glorious future behind us. We will save the whales and the rainforests and the passenger pigeon and the dodo. We’ll ban the bomb, and the gun, and eventually even the sword and shield, in our race towards smaller wars. Countries will become quaint and charming, languages more diverse and richer, and we’ll finally get rid of TV, movies, and the novel and get back to poetry and drama. We will all adopt, voluntarily, the simple living movement. People will be gracious on a grand scale to each other, settling border disputes, leaving whole continents rather than disturb the indigenous people, and eventually the Romans will build up the Temple as a gift to the Jews and the Chinese, confident and industrious as ever, will dismantle the Great Wall. We will head back towards one race, one language, one country. Eden.
But I don’t need to see all of this. All I want to see is the towers go up again.
And for you to unslam that door and walk back in.
(the doorslam sfx from the beginning is played again, backwards.)