I've finally sat down to write this and I can't help feeling like Scully: tapping away at my laptop, in the silence of the aftermath, painstakingly recording observations, reflections, hopes, fears, nightmares --- all in that same steady tone that perennially quivers on the verge of an utter outbreak of tears. The irony of writing this entry is that my hard drive is at a friend's --- being repaired or replaced, depending on the verdict it receives --- and I hadn't given any serious thought to keeping an alternative offline journal for the week. Then the night of September 11 reverberated with the booms that were heard around the world, and I can't help not writing, not to merely record or vaguely entertain, but because I need this to render everything burbling inside me into some form of coherence --- something that will help me make sense of things, or at least stop feeling like every time I hear a tantalizing new detail about the event, that I'm going to burst into tears there and then.

It began in the most unlikely of ways: we'd just returned home with a friend after dinner and the news was on. In our two-person internet-reliant household, we hardly ever watch the local news, unless something major has happened locally. I was in the middle of griping about some new educational initiative that had just been announced --- something that, like most details of my life, is but a paltry echo of the world that was --- when the letters began to stream across the bottom of the TV screen: two planes had collided into the World Trade Center in New York. We didn't think it was a joke, but the enormity of the scene hadn't hit us either. The local news broadcast ran a short snippet, featuring what on hindsight proved to be the least spectacular of all the footage that was played over and over on our TV screen for the rest of that night, and moved on to other sundry news; we impatiently switched to Channel NewsAsia (the local, aspiring-to-be-regional, aspiring-to-be-the-Asian-CNN news network), then a friend called and we were onto CNN. And we stayed there for the next four hours --- not that it made any of it seem the more real to us, despite our in-between mutterings about Osama bin Laden, Palestinian liberation groups, the impossibly empty skyline of Manhattan after 10:30 pm and finally, World War 3.

I spent those four hours alternating between the computer room, with my laptop and modem, and the living room with the TV. My Palm and the phone tagged along with me, as I tried to reach the few friends and family I had in New York and DC, as I clenched my teeth at the frustration of only having e-mail addresses and not phone numbers because it had never occurred to me that I would need to call them so desperately, as I finally resorted to calling their families in Singapore because all the lines connecting overseas were hopelessly jammed, as I went online and found friends crying and shaking and watching the sky in fear. I cursed the fact that C was in New York on an assignment from her paper and recalled with chagrin that a cousin had just taken a posting there too; I worried about an ex-student from last year who'd just enrolled as a freshman at Georgetown --- she'd have no excuse to be at the Pentagon, but as it turns out, the Pentagon is just five minutes from Georgetown and she was plenty stricken; I bit my tongue as I asked my husband about a college friend of his who last wrote to him from New York and then did a frantic and ultimately fruitless internet search for him. The surreal moment was when my mother, as I asked her how to reach my cousin who'd just left for a posting in New York, didn't sound too concerned at all and had even nonchalantly logged on to send some random e-mail to my brother --- as if what was transpiring half a planet away was just that: images from another dimension, that had no bearing on our daily lives.

Surreal is, of course, how many people I know in America have described the situation. It's surreal for me, too, but in a completely different way. At home, by night, Terz and I were glued to CNN, reluctant to switch channels, even where our stomachs were turning over at the same horrific images of the World Trade Center --- they never seemed so noble, so unshakeable, as in their final few minutes --- and there was little new news to compensate for reliving those moments. The world, for us, was what was happening in the US. By day, we went to work and everything was eerily normal. I had expected it to be, as we finally went to bed at about 1:30 am on the night/morning of the 11th/12th, and dreaded it as well. The hopeless inanities began on the drive in on Wednesday morning. The BBC provided the necessary link to what was going on for the 45-minute drive (why wasn't the local news station doing the same, I wanted to yell), but when a colleague who rode with me mentioned the need for blood donations and, in the same breath, "More Aids", something inside me twisted. When another colleague, over breakfast, was lamenting the implications of the incident on the world economy and how the Singapore economy, already in doldrums, would be affected, culminating in a complaint about "higher COE prices" (A COE is a certificate of entitlement, which you must buy before you can buy a car. It's a rather draconic system that I'll explain some other time for you non-American readers. Just know for now that it's pretty much a grassroots issue in Singapore, just like gas prices and property prices.), I looked down at my food and didn't feel like eating anymore. When people saw me looking at news websites and asked me if anything was new, I smiled wanly at them and didn't know where to begin. When I overheard snippets of what were potentially crass jokes about the situation, I closed my ears and refused to listen. I didn't do anything at work all day Wednesday except read news websites and e-mails from safe friends, and log on to my roleplay games to check on other shaken friends. What else could a person do?

The guy who made the comment on COE prices asked me later in the day on Wednesday if I was okay; he's really not heartless or anything --- just, like most Singaporeans, not very sensitive to tone or nuance. The other reason I didn't want to talk about it with anyone besides my husband or hear the local media reports was that I know someone --- be it government type or man-in-the-street --- is going to cast this horrible incident in a jingoistic light, to turn it into another 'lesson' with which they can beat the local citizenry over the head with the fact that nothing is certain, nothing is secure, but goddammit, we have the best military in the region and have no fear, the same thing will never happen here as long as you keep voting for this government.

Even typing that made me feel sick. I'm not going to pursue that train of thought, not even to counter it, except to state that it's out there, lurking on the streets, and if anyone has the gall to say it to my face, they've got something else coming, even if I break down and cry right in front of them then and there.

But New York, New York … I can't help loading and refreshing the New York Times website. I can't help coming back, even from washingtonpost.com, to the news on New York. I can't help staring at the smoke-obscured footage of lower Manhattan and thinking about all the emptiness it hides. I saw Tom Tomorrow's "The Modern World" cartoon for Salon.com and my heart broke all over again, two days after the fact.

I've had a special affection for New York ever since I first visited in 1995. This affection has nothing to do with anyone I know who lives or was living there, nor is it tied to a specific street corner or restaurant or location --- no particular image of sunrise or sunset, Statue of Liberty or other landmark. There was a vibrance in the air that thrilled me every minute I was in the city, whether I was staying in Queens as I did on my first two trips or in Manhattan in later ones, and I desperately wanted to work there. I applied for and got an internship with St. Martin's Press in the summer of 1996, but financial considerations prompted me eventually to decline the job. I've always regretted that, always wondered if that might have somehow led --- against all the odds and despite the excruciatingly expensive scholarship bond I'm now working off --- to a career in publishing in New York. My friend Astella took that path in my stead and hers was the first name that popped into my otherwise blanked, stunned mind as I watched CNN on Tuesday night. (Thank goodness she overslept and didn't go in to work in lower Manhattan that day.) But I'm not talking about a "I could have been there" scenario; I just feel a dull, dull ache when I think about the city that I love, twisted sharply into an amazed and relieved gratitude for the unstinting help and support so many Americans are rendering to those in need --- the idea of blood banks turning people away still blows my mind --- and both sentiments coalescing in a grief whose simplicity eludes description or understanding.


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