Before 19, Volume 3, 2014
The Towers or How I Learned to Stop Fearing God
The Towers or How I Learned to Stop Fearing God By Luke Davoren Being the son of a civil engineer gives you a twisted view of New York City. Most kids walk through the city grid with their head down, eyes to the asphalt, dodging sidewalk cracks. Occasionally they might look up to search for a hotdog stand or a hot pretzel, but otherwise their head is buried in childhood thoughts. Not me. My father, who builds buildings for a living, instilled in me awe and pride in the buildings around me. As a child when we walked through the city streets, he would point to the highest parts of the skyscrapers. I would stop and stare with my mouth open and when we got back to walking, all I could think about was why I couldn’t see the tops. I was somewhat of an expert. My father had given me a deck of cards with crisp pictures to study from, and at five I could list all of the best American buildings: The Sears tower, Empire State Building, Chrysler Building. When we went to museums and Yankee games, I looked not at the exhibits or players. I looked at the buildings that held them. I hoped to see in real life what I fantasized about from my trading cards. I loved them all, but out of all the cards in my deck, there was one that was most wrinkled. The World Trade Center. New York’s Pride, My Father’s pride. It was 110 stories high, 1,368 feet tall, once the tallest in the world. That card was my favorite. I carried it in my front pocket before and after the attacks. I kept it until my father asked to frame it for his office. I only have a few memories from that day. I remember being called in from recess early, me standing in the back, grumpy because we couldn’t finish our game of tag. I remember the teacher wiping her eyes with a Kleenex, telling us to sit in the block corner, and I remember this being weird because we never sat in the block corner. She pulled up a stool and sat down in grave silence. Stuttering through a few inaudible sentences, she finally decided on her phrasing, “Kids, I have something terrible to tell you.” I was sent home early that day. My mom drove my sister and me home from school; I had many questions, none of which my mother could answer. We sat at the kitchen table sipping milk and Hershey’s syrup as my mother paced the room, constantly checking the landline. We were waiting for my father, who finally came home at dusk with shaky hands and eyes that seemed like they could stare through anything.
A lot happened on September 11th, 2001. I am of the youngest group of people who will remember the events first hand, but I, unlike my father, only remember slivers of that day, mere glimpses of the tragedy. From my father’s stories, I have developed false memories of the towers, images of blue-raspberry skies and soggy ash. My father’s cathartic re-telling of that day has made me almost believe that I was there with my father, standing behind his office window, lungs crushed, watching the tower in front of him disappear into black and ash. In reality, I only remember two things following the tragedy. I remember church, and I remember school. Most families I knew turned to God to cope with the fall of the towers. We already went on a weekly basis, but suddenly the pews were filled past their breaking point. Incense and morning breath passed our noses more harshly, and when we said our prayers we said them with the urgency of a man on his deathbed. The church gave us a breath of comfort. Outside our chapel’s walls there was anger and fear, but inside our organ lulled us into love. We would shake our neighboring pew’s hands and offer them signs of peace, and for the first time in a long time, we meant it. The priest taught me not to worship false prophets, but when I pressed my palms together and closed my eyes, I was praying to the eagle and the flag and the firefighters. At school we pledged our allegiance and belted, “God bless America.” Our teachers were as tortured as our parents, and they offered us no explanation for the events. I suppose it is impossible to explain a terrorist attack to a first grader, so instead we found refuge in song. We read books about firefighters and army men, but otherwise the classroom was void of any talk about the upcoming war. There was no catharsis for us first graders. No one could explain what had happened in Manhattan on September 11th. Not my teachers, not my parents, not the priest. From my father’s late-night, wide-eyed conversations with my mom, I knew that people had died and that we were going to get the bad guys, but beyond that the events were as vague as the book of Genesis. It wasn’t an act of terrorism. It was an act of God. I started making pictures of the towers at school. After lunch our teacher passed out printer paper and dried magic markers; we were told to draw. I made buildings with 110 windows. I drew see-through planes with white passengers and smiling men in the cockpit. In free time I would build block
Before 19, Volume 3, 2014 castles 110 Legos high, one for each floor. When I was finished I’d knock it down like an all-powerful giant, crushing an imagined New York City like a twig. I was tortured by images of the towers. Before the attack my father had taken me to see them, but he didn’t take me back to see ground zero. There was no explanation. There were only vague stories from the priest and wet eyes during the national anthem at the Yankee game. After church I went to catechism. A priest led us up creaky stairs into an empty room with a chalkboard. There was one lesson that I remember very clearly. He told us that, no matter what, God always loves us. Naturally, I asked, “What about Osama Bin Ladin?” He said that yes, even Osama Bin Ladin, and then everything became so much more confusing. Prior to this I had equated God and America as one and the same. In my eyes “Hail Marys” and “Our Fathers” could be substituted by “Pledge of Allegiances” and “God bless Americas.” George Bush, the flag, and the army man belonged up on the trinity next to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. All of a sudden the views of the news were conflicting with those of the priest. I didn’t realize it then, but that was when I lost my faith. I feared God and I feared Osama, but I only believed in one of them. God was never tangible after my revelation in the stuffy attic of CCD. I was no longer a willing servant to the church. I didn’t realize at the time that I had lost my faith, it took me years to fully grasp my lack of faith. It is hard to describe, being an ex-believer. God becomes fuzzy, the plot becomes muddled. It’s the same feeling you get when you watch a thriller, and the hero’s best friend is the bad guy all along. You don’t know why something feels off, but the story takes a turn and clues seem out of place, and then suddenly there’s a realization, the “Ah hah!” moment, when the killer is revealed and you think to yourself “I knew it all along! It was right in front of me!” That’s the feeling I felt in CCD class in first grade. I found my first clue; all that was left was to connect the pieces. When disaster strikes, some people turn to religion. My father is one of them. When he stared the apocalypse in its face from his office window, saw the beasts descend from the sky to make war against him, he turned to God. Me, I don’t have that security. If tragedy comes again, I guess I’ll just have to hope that the national anthem will provide me the same security as it did when I was little.
The Towers or How I Learned to Stop Fearing God