BY KELLY COGSWELL | My uncle died a couple days ago in Kentucky. I can’t digest it. Maybe because I’d only seen him once since I left almost three decades ago. At first I’d make occasional pilgrimages back to visit my gay-hating mother, but there was too much suffering involved, it messed me up. So I finally quit going altogether, and lost them all —cousins, uncles, sisters. Even now, with small reconciliations, it’s too late to recover what’s gone or grieve what I already mourned.
I won’t go back for the funeral. Who needs to revisit old wounds? Who needs a memorial, installation, TV program, anyway, to remind us of the dead? I know what I’m talking about. Saw both towers fall with my own eyes. Today, September 12, 2016, it’s enough to look at the sky which is the same bright blue that the passengers saw 15 years ago before they crashed, the same gorgeous blue in which we first saw the two enormous plumes of smoke that would loom over the city for months. Or are burning still.
I’ve never been to the 9/11 memorial, though I’ve seen the selfies of friends who’ve grinned in front of it for their camera phones. I guess that’s better than the fake solemnity you sometimes get. One of New York’s football teams went and during the pre-game show we got to see a video of this beefy white guy trying to bow his head but having trouble because his neck was so stiff with muscle. Probably we don’t deserve better. The streets were still covered with ash when vendors began to sell T-shirts, “I survived the Twin Towers” or whatever.
A DYKE ABROAD
There’s not much dignity in human history. It keeps repeating itself, sometimes in tragedy but mostly farce. We didn’t even get a gloomy sky as backdrop. Worse, it was an election Tuesday in New York with the usual cast of ridiculous Democrats running for mayor. The big, red-faced, meaty-fingered Hevesi. The flip-flopper Ferrer. And whatshisname Green. I want to say Al, but that’s just wishful thinking. Ana and I woke up to shouting from our neighbors behind us, and for some reason turned on the tube. Then Ana went downtown with her journalist’s notebook, while I went up on the roof, saw the world changed, then went back downstairs and, after Ana returned safe, but covered in dust, predicted the rise of a stupid new American nationalism, cycles of revenge and retribution, foreign wars, racism, Islamophobia.
Nothing that came after was a surprise, not even the Islamophilia in which “progressives” absolve themselves of their own privilege and bigotry by letting that religion off the hook for misogyny and queer-bashing we’d never let slide in Catholics or Southern Baptists.
Still, I had nightmares. For weeks afterwards, local TV showed nothing but the buildings burning then falling, then burning, then falling, and people jumping from the upper stories again and again and again, and every night I’d be fleeing fireballs. When the bombing started in Afghanistan, portions of ravaged bodies would also enter my dreams. I was overcome with fury and grief, mourning the victims here in New York, but also those in Kabul, and then all of us who would be destroyed by the delayed real and metaphorical explosions any idiot could see coming in Baghdad, Aleppo, Orlando, Nice, Moscow.
Remember how Putin was emboldened to become less and less democratic after Bush’s unilateral actions in Iraq? Remember that while the world was distracted, the Cuban regime arrested a huge swath of disgruntled bricklayers and independent librarians, many of whom are still in jail, or exiled, or conveniently dead?
Our whole response was so stupid, but it’s too late now. Even this cult of September 11 is weird because we usually mark the ends of wars, not the beginning, except in local ceremonies. And we’re still in the middle of this one as a nation with no end in sight because the “War” Bush declared “On Terror” wasn’t against a human enemy, but an abstraction, requiring not just the usual boots on the ground, but an army of watchdogs, an infrastructure of new language, and a legacy of fear and loathing that we must continually replenish.
There’s something so… made-up about the whole thing I sometimes think we should be able to unravel it. We’ve been duped. Before September 11, we Americans didn’t even have a Homeland to defend, just a home. Or a country that may or may not have embraced us, but was ours. Sadly, the history we repeat doesn’t offer quick solutions. It’s only easy to destroy.
Kelly Cogswell is the author of “Eating Fire: My Life as a Lesbian Avenger,” from the University of Minnesota Press.