Sept 11, 2001

a GUEST POST by JOSH BARKEY... of the PAST (cue spooky music)

From my journal, eleven years ago today... a Psalm, I suppose, of lament:

"Around ten o'clock this morning, as I meander through the kitchen of my parent's empty house, the radio interrupts itself to tell me terrorists have flown planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

I switch on the TV and watch as a hijacked airliner slams into the building, and I see the hazy shapes of people jumping to their deaths, before they stop showing it.

I see footage of one of the twin towers falling and then, a few minutes later, I see the second building fall, live on television. Like a movie. Only real -- more real than my mind will let me believe. "Oh, another explosion onscreen," I think. But this time, life has grotesquely imitated art, and thousands are dead.

Once again, I think of how sucky life is.

My own life's been relatively easy, but not pain-free -- I guess nobody gets a pass on that one. As a very little boy living in Peru, I woke screaming in terror from demon-plagued dreams. Not just demons, but a sense of a great, looming, overwhelming wall of evil, threatening to drown me. Night terrors, I think they're called -- as if naming something like that could help.

At five, I was introduced to death in a stuffy funeral parlor, where my grandmother's remains were laid. In the cold silence of the room and the ashen figure before me, I understood that I, too, must be silent. Games, laughter, fun... all gone. I thought I wasn't allowed to cry.

When I was eight, my grandfather died, and then my friend Sean had to leave Peru because his father had been threatened by terrorists; men with guns who killed first and discussed the matter with your wife and kids, later. I cried for both those losses -- for good and kind people who'd meant the world to me, and now were gone.

In junior high, pain and the isolation of late puberty sunk me into a deep, lasting depression. I remember riding in this metal box on the back of a pick-up, banging my forehead against the aluminum side in an attempt to line up my inner pain with my outer experience. It was a school ditch-day... a day I'd spent mostly by myself, watching the others have fun.

So I smashed my head echoingly against the box until a Senior (one of the many bullies I'd dealt with, during my life as a small guy) told me if I didn't shut up he'd beat me up. His girlfriend told him to back off, and I stopped banging -- the pain assuaged by a moment of kindness. The beauty was always there, I guess, but a lot of the time, I seemed to fixate on pain.

I cried a lot. 

I cried over Sean and my deceased grandparents, over my parrot and dog that died. I cried over the poor who walked by our house from miles away, selling fruit for a pittance so they could buy school supplies for their kids. I cried when I watched them root through the garbage we'd produced, feeling that I was somehow to blame for their hard lives. I cried when Ben and I paddled to the middle of the lake, and he told me his mom had cancer. I cried when she died.

Sometimes, though, it seems the world is so full of evil and pain that I haven't got the tears left for it.

When my friend died in childbirth, I did not cry. When my other grandfather died I didn't cry, and there just wasn't any sense to it -- to when I could or couldn't feel pain. This past year I cried and was depressed for days because a friend called me a "jackass," but today -- when thousands suffer so close at hand -- I can only feel sorry for myself. I want to weep with them as they weep. I want to cry out, "My GOD, why have you forsaken us!"

Instead, I wonder what it'll do to the economy, and who's paying for this constant, commercial-free news-broadcasting, and how people aren't going to want to watch action flicks with planes and explosions for a while.

And later, lying in my bed at night, I feel terribly, horribly alone. Alone and afraid.

God (my opiate?) does not, for the moment, seem to work. God does not mesh with my thoughts, with reason. Evil is so real, so present and potent... unstoppable -- unstopped. What is God thinking, watching that television program from the distant sky?

I'm told God cries, but I can't cry along. I'm too afraid. Afraid I'll be crying alone.

I stretch out my arms and beg God to end me, free me, bring me to a place where I don't have to feel this gaping absence. Where I don't have to Obey, Obey, Obey this silent voice... this mostly-whispering eternity.

I lie in bed longing for a girl to hold, to stroke my hair and hold my cheek to her breast and tell me that everything will be all right. But I remember a friend who, having married poorly, wrote and told me there is nothing in the world more terrifying than lying in bed in this most intimate of relationships and still feeling terribly alone.

I think sometimes I prefer my fear, and the fantasy it contains.

I am afraid because I've just moved to North Carolina. College is over and the friends of my youth are scattered to the winds. Nothing gold will stay, and always and forever I'll be trudging, alone, toward my own, inevitable death.

I have no tears for the people who died today, or for the families they left behind. I don't even have tears for myself -- just a big, gaping hole where God ought to be. So I sit and write and project my pain into the future of this page -- to an unknown someday audience that makes me feel, somehow, less alone. While my pen strokes across the page, I do not feel the need to cry. I just hope they'll read and understand -- will forgive me for retreating into myself. Will love me.

And I am very, very tired."


  1. Beautiful, Josh. Beautiful.

  2. Thanks, Rob. Time was, I could write a thing or two :)

  3. One of your better reads....Trying to analyze why. You sound uncertain instead of angry.

  4. I'm always uncertain, Andrew. You sayin' I always sound angry? Hmm.


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