Twenty Years After
How the day that changed everything changed me forever
I woke up Saturday morning, grabbed my iPad and started scrolling Twitter to discover that a lot of people were, of course, posting their recollections of where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. My memories of that day are compartmentalized, shoved into an unopened tin gathering dust, but the flood of images and stories I saw over the weekend forced me to take a trip back there. My personal 9/11 story may or may not be that interesting relative to so many others; regardless I submit it here to add to the collective retelling.
We were in our house in Bernal Heights in San Francisco, where we still live today. At around 6:30 AM, we were awoken from a deep sleep by the ring of the telephone. It was my dear friend Kurt, who was back then a close brother, fellow pot legalization activist and rainbow coalition flag-waving leftie from the Boston. Imagine this in Kurt’s thick south shore accent:
“Dude, I am freaking the fuck out.”
“Kurt, it’s 6:30 in the morning, what — ”
“ — oh, sorry, I forgot about the time difference. But trust me, you gotta turn the TV on.”
Kurt quickly tells me about the attack as I stumble over to the bedroom TV and turn on CNN.
By now, Marina is awake. And we’re watching, together, for hours. Calling whatever friends and family we can get ahold of. Crying. Terrified. Angry. Generally losing our minds.
Later that same day, Marina had to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge to work on a TV production in San Rafael. She was a freelance makeup artist at the time. We were both on pins and needles as a very pregnant Marina had to traverse a major American landmark and potential bomb target. Thankfully, by then we already had mobile phones (those little gray plastic Motorola flip phones), so we stayed in constant contact. She made it there and back fine. But the next several weeks were full of that kind of stress and paranoia. It was into this new world that our son Lucian was born in early November.
Anyone alive and aware at the time remember a few short months where the country seemed unified. In it together. We were all just Americans, united in a common cause. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, though — there was also bloodlust: numerous cries to bomb Afghanistan, known haven of Osama bin Laden, “back into the stone age.” I was guilty, as many of us left-coast sensitive types were. This was understandable after the collective trauma, but there was more at play. Getting back at the people who did this would be a gruesome twofer, both a retaliation at those who would dare attack us on our soil and a rebuke of an atavistic, barbaric culture. Take that, enemies of freedom.
Islamophobia kicked into full gear. And we know the rest. We rallied troops, initiating an endless, unwinnable war that we only just extracted ourselves from last week. As if that wasn’t catastrophic by itself, George Bush used the attack as a pretext to get us into a completely unnecessary conflict in Iraq, trashing the country, killing hundreds of thousands, and further fanning the flames of hatred toward the US from the region.
Something snapped in me with the run-up to the Iraq War. This was no longer about national security, beating war drums for profit, or my own paranoia about the growing surveillance state. It was about something more fundamental, or rather, fundamentalist. Bush and several cronies were evangelical Christians, openly flouting their religion as influences on foreign policy. These people had their fingers on the red button, in possession of the nuclear codes, and apparently on a holy mission to wipe out the infidels. Having been raised for a time as a born-again Christian, I was steeped in Revelation lore. This was looking a lot like the end times, an impending battle between the ultimate forces of good and evil. Whether or not you believe in this stuff, it seemed like they did, not shying from saying the quiet parts out loud.
I thought had recovered and moved on from my early evangelical brainwashing. But I began to drown in a form of PTSD. Because unlike us regular people, these fools had the power to actually make the end of the world happen. I coped by making art. In particular, I wrote a musical based on the Book of the Revelation. It sat in a drawer for over a decade, until a brand new band of maniacs took over the US and promised to make it happen for real this time. My COVID shelter time gave me the opportunity to finally record demos, and now I’m finishing a record to share with the world.
Why am I telling you this here? Now? Well, I think it’s an amazing piece of work and everyone should hear it. But more importantly, I created Judgment Day during a time when the world couldn’t have seemed any more dangerous. When religious extremism drove not only our enemies’ attacks, but our own immoderate response. When fear and anger threatened to tear the country apart, and a theocratic movement waited in the wings to fill the power vacuum. When the whole thing looked like it might go up in the flames.
And here we are again.