This morning, the L Train was a complete nightmare. But today, something really cool happened. I was standing on the platform waiting for the train, knowing full well I would have to wait for at least one to go by before getting on, when someone came up to me.
“Hey, did you once work at Crossborder?”
I looked at him. He looked familiar, but for some reason my first thought was that his hair was much shorter.
“Yes. Yes, I did. Oh my god! I remember you! How are you? It’s been years! You cut your hair, right?”
I realized that his hair might have been cut years and years ago. After all, I hadn’t seen Greg since 2001 when we worked together at a software company. He was a programmer – a damn good one – and I was their lone designer. I worked at their SoHo office. And we both spent September 11th, 2001 together, which was by far the most bizarre and life-changing day I have ever had.
“I did. I cut off all my dreadlocks.”
We talked for a long time. It’s the first time that a tardy L Train became a blessing. We talked about our boss, who neither one of us was very fond of. We talked about everyone we missed, who we still talked to, and everyone we could have done without. We talked mostly about September 11th. It’s funny how one day alone can cover up hundreds more together.
After September 11th, I left for Canada for a few days. I vowed I might never return. When I got there, I realized that being outside of New York was worse as there was no one to really talk to about what I had seen. After three days, I returned to New York. I grudingly returned to work and I continued to work for Crossborder. I spent about 8 months comfortably pickled and numb with booze. One year later, Tobyjoe and I woke up living in Washington, D.C.
On that Tuesday, Greg came to my desk holding his brand new camera. His pupils were enlarged from adrenaline and testosterone. His eyes were black, like two, empty holes. He told me he was going to take some pictures and asked me if I wanted to come along. I told him I had to wait for my brother, who was still missing. He left for several hours. When he returned to the office, he looked as though he’d seen a hundred ghosts. And I guess he had. He told me that day he thought he had captured some great footage. For many of us comprehending what we saw was easier done through a lens. Some people have suggested since then that it made everything seem less real. I don’t have much to say about that.
Up until today, I hadn’t seen anyone I spent that day with since that time. And because we were stuck below 14th street, we were together for a long, long time. The months that followed were some very bizarre months. Greg had always been one of my favorite people from Crossborder. I used get drinks with him and his girlfriend after work. I have a memory from that time; it’s represented in an actual photograph. The three of us are standing in a SoHo pub, red-faced and drunk, posing for a self-portrait. For years after that, I felt undeveloped. I felt confused and scared and unsure about everything.
It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to hear that one of the first things I thought about when I saw Greg again were those photographs. I never got to see them. And so I asked about them. (This is the point in the story where I get to the point in the story.)
About The Photographs.
Today, I learned that Greg purchased his camera on September 10th, 2001. Prior that, he hadn’t ever owned a camera. But he really wanted to get into printing. That was a Monday. On September 11th, Greg set out with his new camera and took pictures of our abused city. He came back wired, full of images, full of proof.
It took him forever to develop the pictures. I know that I never saw them; perhaps the wait was a part of our healing. The pictures were eventually developed and Tobyjoe and I were long gone going through a transformation of our own.
Well, the pictures were amazing. Of course they were. Even a modest Greg thought so. He sent them in to a few places. They were eventually published as well as displayed in a New York based gallery. Thousands recognized them.
I congratulated him. I felt pure happiness for his success. Greg is and always will be a great person. I asked him if he continued to take pictures.
“With the death camera? No. It was actually stolen from me about a month later. But I guess it’s kinda a good thing.”
“A good thing? How? Why? Bastard thieves.”
“You know how a camera makes certain and specific noises? You see, for the weeks following that day, every time I tried to take a picture, I was reminded of that day and those people and how fucked up it was. Each time the shutter made a sound or I changed the F-stop, I would twitch. I named it the death camera. It filmed death.”
Tears started to well up in my eyes. This felt like one of the most honest things I had heard in a long time. It was such a small thing to notice. I was reminded of why I liked Greg so much.
“So, you see, some other guy has to deal with the death camera now.”
I had my camera cocked an in my hand. And immediately, I thought about just handing it to him.
“We need to arm you with another camera, Greg. And I really need to see those pictures.”
This morning’s commute actually changed my life or maybe it made me recognize my changed life. I’m not sure. After we parted, after I got on my express train and he the local, I couldn’t help but put more worth or thought into a seemingly pure circumstance.
On September 12th, 2002, I wrote the following:
“Friday turned out to be a entire day of therapy. I can’t say that I feel better about everything, but I can say I understand that I don’t understand and I may not for a long while. I may never. I do know that I love the people I love and that I can’t always plan for things to make sense or walk towards them and know what they will look like once I get there. And I’m not sure what the future holds for me or it or here or there. And I’m not sure I won’t be back.”
“Sometimes I personify this city. And lately, part of my turmoil is thinking that I may actually be turning my back on it, leaving it in a shelter for someone else to try and love. I don’t know. But for now, I have to figure out that I’m not as angry as I have been and that I can relax again.”
Five years after the fact – five years, two cities, and a whole lot of change – I am back in New York City and I am in a much better place. And seeing Greg again made me realize that I may have finally come around.