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Maria Ivanova


The sirens pierced the silence of the bustling streets. With a solemnity and patience acquired within the last week, cars cleared out and people stepped aside. Their gazes followed the fire trucks and ambulances, wondering whether they would cross the police ring that divided the city into war and peace, devastation and "normalcy." Heads turned involuntarily to the sky in sudden fear of a fireball rushing through the spine of the financial giants lining the New York skyline. Noting the absence of any imminent disaster, the weary faces marched on - to work places twenty blocks away that now had to be covered on foot, to empty stores with filled shelves, to airports lined with policemen and dogs on watch, to bus stops covered in flyers on missing persons. And I staggered further, purposefully, through a checkpoint and along a cordoned Broadway whose southern end led to the stage of colossal tragedy.

I sought to reach what used to be the World Trade Center plaza and find solace in the ruins. Like families unable to resolve their loss until they see the remains of their loved one, I harbored hope in the impossible. I sought closure that only the pain of realization of the veracity and enormity of the disaster could bring. In the quest for meaning of my grief, I followed intently in the silent pilgrimage of aching souls to the gravesite of a symbol I called ‘home.’

It is almost ten years ago that I first set foot on American soil. In the fall of 1992, still incredulous, timid, and full of expectations, I was welcomed at an American institution of higher learning. Homesick and tearful, I made that one phone call I will always remember. "I have arrived..." - I sobbed when my mother picked up the receiver thousands of miles away. "I love you very much, but this time I cannot come and pick you up," she said, swallowing the tears that choked her too. In the months to follow, I started building a home away from home - not just the shared dorm room or apartment, but the shared moments of grief and glory with the friends that became my siblings. Splitting life across the Atlantic craved an allegiance to two continents I now called home. A simple mental game kept me grounded in this foreign land. I bid goodbye to the Twin Towers every time the shuttle whisked me away to JFK and whispered a promise to return. And every time I caught them in my sight after the long flight back, I put all sadness aside: "I’m home." Shuffling between continents and realities, entering and exiting people’s lives, I needed a steady symbol of my existence. And I found it in the towering silhouettes of the Twins - through the window of the airport shuttle and the airplane; or on movie screens around the world.

* * *

It has not rained this week. Only once did nature put on a sultry face and wept. The Indian summer still blazes triumphantly and gloriously, without remorse or compassion. The brightness of the day demands bright clothes, bright spirit; it paints in sun colors our hollow reality in the midst of which tower the blackened remnants of life as knew it.

I stand frozen under the scorching sun, as if I had entered a Dali painting and stopped right in the middle of it, enveloped by the atmosphere, yet, not part of it. A crane, bright orange against a deep blue sky, minute against a smoldered skeleton, spins helplessly around complete destruction. What once were two proud giants is now a gigantic mount of twisted steel and rugged blocks of concrete. Across, thousands of hollow windows gaze in horror and disbelief. Inside, thousands of lives rest broken beneath the ruins. Around, thousands of smiling faces envelop bus stops and street corners, bringing tears to all the eyes that meet their gaze.

Amidst all the tragedy a wall stands out - a wall of windows plastered with little white stickers with words scribbled on by hundreds of passersby. "Seek God" is what they say; "Love, love, love and mercy and peace will come upon us."

I love you, cruel world.

September 19, 2001



© Maria Ivanova
© E-magazine LiterNet, 26.11.2001, № 11 (24)