Where September means more than back to school

By Wickham Boyle

My children went to school for all of their childhoods in the shadow of the World Trade Center. This is not purely metaphor: they did go to school in Tribeca, to the lovely, local public schools and yes, their childhood also ended when the towers came down.

At that point five years ago, they were 13 and 16, wacky, mouthy teenagers about to believe they could do anything by themselves and needed no help from anyone, especially not adults.

This September, my baby, my Henry, now a rangy 6-footer, goes off to college: He is going up to the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains and part of me believes he, at least subliminally, is looking for a break from the post-9/11 buzz that has infused the last five years.

One cannot help but feel the aggressive shadow cast by the World Trade Center: the media blitz, the fights over who will build and what they will build, the tourists who beg directions to a construction site hoping to see souls rising or just capture a feeling. Most of us cannot hear a plane and not jump. We can weather cars backfiring and crowds milling, but I believe there is something sewn to us.

As Downtown families who haplessly made it through the harrowing days and months after the calamity of 9/11 and stitched ourselves back together one sloppy knot at a time, we share a terrible knowledge. Most of us, especially the kids, don’t want to talk about it. Youth has a wonderful way of tossing things off as mundane, assuming a brave game face and moving forward.

Wherever these Downtown kids go for the rest of their lives, September, especially the 11th, will have a secret significance for them. Will they replay the tapes, their own, not the media’s, watching the towers topple to dust, of seeing things too young, things one should never witness, and attempting to find the proper place to file that horror? I am unsure of what was, or is, the best way to assuage and help heal what they saw. And, I apologize if this borders on overly dramatic, but I am unsure, crazily unsure I will ever feel that we did the right thing by our kids afterwards.

Was it right to stay and work? Did I injure our lungs forever? Would it have been better to have transferred to suburban schools? Or would that have taught a flight instinct?

If therapy was proffered and rejected, should it have been insisted upon? Or does that teach anger that parents are bullies? I could list, refute and relist for pages. Such is the mindset I imagine for most parents who lived or still live Downtown in what was the actual shadow of the World Trade Center, now morphed into a symbolic penumbra.

I hope all the kids who trundle or toddle or drive off to new schools will find a sense of academic wonder and discover many things that burn inside them and learn to feed their passions. I trust there is a healing deep enough to inoculate the kids of 9/11 so they grow up and trust that safety is not illusive.