I remember reading about 9/11 in class, seeing glossy pictures of explosion and death caught in a single frame of time. I thought about the date: 9/11. At 9, it pieced together in my mind with emergency. The whole day pieced together in 2 pages and 5 pictures: the what, who, when, where. A beautiful September morning turned horrible. The firefighters were brave, the terrorists weren’t. Buildings collapsed, last voice-mails were left, lives were lost, speeches were given and we went to war. When I was 9 I wondered what all those poor people thought as they watched a plane draw closer to 94th floor windows. I wondered what brought people to do something so terrible to each other. The utter destruction was etched into my mind even though I wasn’t alive for it, I knew what that date meant–it was crystal clear. Even thinking back on it, I still envision the World Trade Towers reflecting light off glossy pictures from a weathered text book.
8/29, I don’t know. I don’t know what it means, why it happened. It’s not in history books, there aren’t any pictures. I think the presentation is still being worked on–it’ll take some time, but I was there.
The water was warm, probably near 80 degrees. I was in up to my knees watching the shore to make sure I didn’t drift far from mom, had to be about 2 P.M. A swath of clouds drifted overhead just above swarms of birds making their way ashore. I could tell nobody’d ever seen anything like this; on land or in the ocean people perched their heads to the dark mass fleeing towards us and blotting out the sun for moments at a time. So much of it’s a blur—I don’t even remember getting out of the ocean or being hoisted over mom’s shoulders and rushed off the beach. Others did the same as birds slammed into the backs of heads and fell lifeless in sand. Their bodies sounded like hail when met with walls, buildings, people. It’s like they were looking behind them at the ocean, so desperate to get away that death was ok so long as it was on their terms.
Mom carried me to the street beyond the boardwalk. We couldn’t see the ocean but something stood larger than a mountain in it. It appeared dark, black against a bright blue horizon and white clouds.
The ocean rose. It grew like a tidal wave far away from the shore, out in the horizon near the beast’s form. I rubbed my arms trying to relax the hairs standing on end. My mom began weeping. Both of us froze, like hundreds of others next to us whispering to gods and ancestors for guidance.
The water rose above the beast and began filling the sky. It was hard to notice, the blue ocean becoming one with the blue sky it reflected. The water arched forward, creating a half pipe and joining the summer sky. The clouds began to fill with blue ruin turned inky black—no way to outrun it. It spread across the sky filling everything between it and the ground with a salty mist. I couldn’t see, but others said ocean life was left to die on the soft clay gasping for breath. As the beast lunged forward it grinded whales, sharks, dolphins and fish under it to a halt. Closer to the shore, the behemoth scraped the waves above, its hairless lion-like head skimming water, fangs hanging out the front of its elongated mouth. It crawled along on four mountainous paws with claws the size of city blocks. An emaciated, large dark tanned body heaved with each breath, its belly lifting and falling as it exhausted oxygen. With each of its inhales, the air for us became thinner. My nose bled. The behemoth had singed dark red featherless wings, torn in places and holed in others. What could possibly challenge this thing?
With each step it took the ground shook; mom stumbled as we rushed away with waves of screaming people. Cracks zig-zagged forward and crashed the shore, too quick for people to escape. The sky and waves bent around the beast and behind it, everything behind it replaced with utter darkness; like time didn’t exist beyond the beast. In what seemed like an eternity the beast tilted forward, putting unimaginable weight on its front paws before launching itself up on its hind legs, its head devoured by the ocean sky. It roared a piercing shriek I can’t describe. What sounds did people on the 94th floor hear just before their tragic death? Shards of Pale blue, sea foam green, mauve and rose petal red burst from the ocean, from the beast’s mouth. They shined like diamonds among the mist, wet with falling ocean water and blood as they pierced humans indiscriminately. We ran without use. There was no escape. On all sides of us people fell, beautiful pulsing colors splattered with blood pinning people to the ground. Colorful pulsing shards were everywhere, like running through a meadow of beautiful wildflowers. The beast eventually crashed the shore, the world bending oval around it, existence degrading to limitless darkness behind. Buildings and people bent around too before being sucked into nothingness. Mom held my hand tight. The reaper had come. It was time to pay our dues.
We survived by moving. Stopping only to see the decimation mom had just missed. Over her shoulder I saw it all, every instance of color ripping the life out of shirtless beachgoers and vulnerable flip-flops. I was too numb to notice I’d been grazed by one: a smattering of blood, torn flesh and a piece of shard left in my right cheek. Mom caught one in the thigh, pulsating blue pierced through the back of her leg and out the front crimson. She didn’t yell or stop, her need to keep us alive too strong to be put to sleep. Among the deadly shower of fragmented color stapling the ripped earth back together, screams and cries of thousands of people drenched the air, mowed down or holding hands of those they couldn’t leave behind instantly nailed to their grave.
A final shriek from the beast and it stopped moving forward. Perched on either shoulder, golden birds took to the sky and circled from above, dive-bombing to the street and creating a puncture in the asphalt and deep underground. When they re-emerged, they saddled the shoulders of the beast who began slowly flapping its winds, pushing gusts of wind in all directions and toppling buildings, monuments and the very ground beneath. It took to the sky, dipping into the ocean above and slapping the earth with crushing water with each downward flap. Like the golden birds, the beast dive-bombed at the surface shrinking in size and disappearing into the hole. The black ocean remained in the sky, mist continued to fall. Some rays of sun poked through the onyx water and touched the ground, a light no longer reflected from the ocean, on the beach and 20 miles inland. It was as if the world stopped existing there, like the monster took it with it. Just unraveled street and nothing—limitless space. Was this thing under us all along? Where did it come from?
I remember some classmates giggling over the pictures of 9/11. This asshole kid Joshua made a shitty joke at the expense of 3,000 lives. A tragedy, but everything pieced together. There were explanations offered. After 8/29, I never knew how important these things were. How paralyzing it is to be left without answers, with ultimate darkness around and under you. 8/29 hasn’t made textbooks yet. When it does, I wonder how it will be taught. I wonder if teachers will carefully address it, careful not to subdue the urgency, reality and horror of the day. 3 years later and I keep waiting but I know it won’t make textbooks or show up in the news more than a development about the stolen earth; some scientific theory about how it’s possible to literally take earth with you and replace it with an absence of time. I just wish something could be said already—we need answers. 212,000 people fed to a force unlike anything this world has ever seen. Just an answer to any of the thousands of questions. Maybe most importantly: when is this thing going to rise again?