By Siri Z. Müller


Moonscape. Something died all over them, they ran and scattered, and I watched from a distance, between work, between papers that were not falling from the sky, but sitting blankly under my hands. So much dust, roiling. I was transfixed to screens in conference rooms I actually had not even known previously existed. I felt the dark, cool mahogany. I am sure it was actual mahogany. The leather below me was taut and expensive. My shoes were cold. I tried to ground myself there, to gawk, to feel, as if the observation of a thing could expand the knowing of it, but the tether was tight; in an unusual act of compassion, my boss commanded me to continue working. To not think about it, to simply go on, though clearly she did not expect much actual work from me. It was shocking, but it was not wrong, I could not deny her logic, at least not in that moment. I did not know where I was, really. I do not now know where everyone else was, exactly, why I had to stay. Maybe because nobody waited for me at the home I had alone, though my family advised me, in all seriousness, to begin walking towards Boston.

At any rate, it’s something I don’t discuss. My suffering was obtuse. Is obtuse. Broad and slow, hidden like a little midget PTSD preserved forever in the sap of a tree, some day old, not necessarily hardened, not necessarily in need of fire, or liberation. A little perverse monument to nothing really happening.

I was disturbed, am disturbed, by a dream. In it, I am a passenger, or a member of a flight crew, a woman. I can call this dream up for you: we are on a plane; it’s very brief. You know what happens, it is quick, and that is all. But first, someone screams, a shouting realization. Most, others onboard, are simply gasping and grasping the situation and the speed of our collective demise. “Oh god” is stuck in the throats of some, but there is no help, or god, while the living are busy dying. That’s only later, maybe. Maybe. The uniformed woman screams and runs towards me, or it is me, flying, hurtling, we all are. Absolute horror. Seats fly, some things spring into the air, a feeling of crumpling, then I wake. The dream is recurring.

I didn’t suffer any losses. I am still only a person who occasionally chooses to suffer the pain of others firsthand.

Of course I will make this about me, anyway. Just give me a moment. The words flow over the top but the mechanisms within are still jerky and forceful, hard and inflamed. It’s not all just about… that.

My father visited the towers sometimes, for work, arranging money in this pile or that. He brought me with him many times. I always hated those buildings, I always feared them. An odd child hears odd sounds, feels odd feelings coming from things, sometimes. From buildings as well. Those buildings creaked and pulled, those grey glittery tall things. Anxiety sucked up through my chest and out into my throat. I know this feeling still. I could never wait to go back down those awful long elevators, thankful for the sky, raining or blue, the pavement outside: the old gum on the sidewalk, and shoes of all sorts, moving in various directions; the dirty banisters, the trash cans and the honking. But tragedy is everywhere, it’s just a crapshoot as to where it lands while you walk the earth, this street or that. A little like escaping a nightmare.

Of course the deaths of others are really about the living. As if not dying leads to greater understanding of death itself. No. That’s not right. It’s always a strange mystery.

At first, in a foreign land during an unpopular war, people asked me about my experiences. Later, they stopped. Later still, they held me personally responsible (it seemed, but was not really so) for the election and installment of an unpopular president. How could you? they asked. I didn’t, I replied. But so many did!! incredulously. I learned the value of an ethnic slur, but am too polite to use one, myself. Spiegel TV likes to tell Germans how Americans, and people from America, really are, and eventually I learned to erect an icy wall which revoked such invitations to freely spread willful misunderstanding. But these are cultural misunderstandings, fed by misinformation. Anger and dangerous, formless recognition and the need to sort out by type, in order to find peace and satisfaction in knowing you, at least, have never done anything quite so wrong, could not be held responsible for such an awful chain of reactions.

My exact recollections scatter. I replace the hole of sensations from that day, and many days after, and weeks, and months, with images online, only now, late in the game. Carefully, judiciously choosing the sounds, the faces, the stories, the sensations and all my imaginary tactile tales that I allow myself to feel and see and hear, and know. It is a coming of age.

I had visited the scar, which then was still a gash, and been repulsed by the blackness, the pulling, the gaping and surging energy that sucked and spread itself within blocks of it. It was an ugly sound. Oh god the sound of it; abhorrent, senseless, misplaced death (as it always is). The dust of people was everywhere, crunching beneath my shoes, there, on that car, covered with grey. Friends partied. I stood transfixed between abyss and the warmth of Christmas, and I remembered that I had seriously considered, as a child, entering the field of medical examination, curious about the clinical chill of crypts and decay. I stood and felt, and listened, and remembered, and tried not to remember, but yet oh, perhaps this memory would be okay, and so on and so forth. My father was ill again, at the time. It did not look good; his beating heart was an act of will, of love, and of fear, and he would be dead not very long afterwards. Death is just part of life, it is not a feeling, I think. Cowardice and injustice, on the other hand, are quite frightening, I feel.

I fled New York, it’s death and tragedy, the broken spell. It’s as true as anything else it might have been. My city. My memories, my loves and childhood sorting papers and playing on quiet boardroom floors. I remembered my grandmother, very, very long ago, telling me not to ever love someone too much, he would die soon and then what would I do? I only recently came to begin to understand the capabilities inherent in a contrarian will to love. So I have never much loved Berlin, with it’s ghosts and brokenness, and blithe artistic airs, and affected rudeness. Of course I’m comparing lovers, or mothers, and of course I’m afraid to love, but I should not be. It is a long coming of age, a death of a parent who tenderly let you think everything would always be beautiful and glittery, though you know. You know something. Something would change.

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SIRI ZERNAND MÜLLER defines herself by the people who crowd her bed. She has a dog, a husband, a cat who also would like some recognition, and the occasional prophetic dream.

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