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Friday, September 11, 2009


I’ll never forget the silence of that day.


My 29th birthday. The first with my then-girlfriend, now wife. We had arrived at my apartment in suburban Boston sixteen days earlier, fresh off a seven day drive with the contents of her Seattle apartment stuffed into a 10’ Ryder.

Fifteen days into our new life together, the world changed forever. On the 11th we woke up still unemployed and went online. Then we turned on the TV. Then we didn’t go anywhere for hours and hours.

I had already determined to quit smoking on my 29th birthday, the first of my new life. I walked down to the corner store for my last pack of Marlboros, came back and sat on my porch, on the second floor of my apartment in Somerville MA, and chain-smoked myself into oblivion on that crystalline gorgeous day. Silence. Nobody talking about the TV images in the store, nobody on the sidewalks, no traffic down our street.

Finally in the late afternoon we went to the post office, and then the Joshua Tree in Davis Square. The big-screen was on CNN and the waiter encouraged us to drink up. “It’s a national day of crisis!” We did, in a silent half-empty dining room.

On the 12th, we took a Boston Harbor Cruise. We stopped off at the dock bar first, and there were few patrons. The ones that were there stayed glued to the tube silently nursing their drinks. Then we got on the boat.

The cruise to the Harbor Island leads directly under the Logan Airport flight path. A Boston Harbor cruise is often like a Mets game at Shea, with the LaGuardia runway a mere mile away. This was different.

Not a sound.

Of course the FAA grounded all flights in the aftermath of the attacks. I had taken many cruises before, and was used to the deafening sounds of take-offs and landings directly overhead. This time, not a sound. No planes moving, taxiing, arriving or departing. Dead-calm, dead silence.

The kind of silence one hears only once in a lifetime.

We went to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Cambridge, and the waiter encouraged us to drink up in a silent half-empty dining room. “It’s a national crisis!” he said.

On Friday the 15th, we walked from Davis Square Somerville to Copley Square Boston. At Davis, the compass in the square was completely covered in lit, melting candles. We lit one and moved on.

At Copley, outside H.H. Richardson’s magnificent Trinity Church, the reflecting pool was completely shrouded in candles. We lit one and sat in the early autumnal dark. Silence, save for muffled traffic and one college kid, who quietly played folk songs on an unplugged Gibson hollow-body.

The entombing silence is what I’ll always remember. Shrouding, all-encompassing silence. Like the death-knell that it was. I hope to never hear such absolute silence again in my life.

But it keeps coming back every year this day, and the silence becomes more and more deafening…


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