My friend Celeste Victoria died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I try every year to make to remember her life, and to use that life to keep my perspective fresh. That day was a horrifying event for New Yorkers (as I was then, just completing my sixth year of life in the city). Another friend of mine worked just down the block from the buildings. In fact, any person in my life could have been walking down the block at that particular moment. Or just happen to have their destiny bring them to be there at that moment. As Celeste did.
I also remember Celeste because it helps me to remember who I used to be. A young idealist with static concepts about justice that sprung from a leftist laundry list; something of a contrarian jerk, with enough moral high ground to allow me to look down on all creatures great and small. Part of that vision was my work at Manhattan Neighborhood Network, a community television center not too far from the west side city sanitation department. Celeste and I started work there at the same time. We had a long Saturday shift, 9 am to 8pm, where we ran the entire place together and alone and we were responsible for the crazy producers, the camera tripods, the toilet paper in the bathroom, everything. And so, though we were people who may never have met otherwise, and who often clashed–and may have even hated each other at times–we were friends and she will always have a special place in my heart because I knew her when things seemed still to make sense, when I was convinced of right and wrong, when I was a New Yorker.
When Celeste died, I was in Ramallah. I wouldn’t know of her death for months still. In Ramallah, I had watched missiles destroy houses and buildings in my neighborhood, watched cities blockaded for months on end. A thousand Palestinians had been killed by then–or more, I don’t look these things up anymore. When I watched those buildings fall on CNN, it seemed to be somewhere far away, somewhere I had never been. Though I had been there. A city I had never lived in, which had been my home for over half a decade. I couldn’t remember being someone in that city; instead, watching the buildings collapse was like watching a movie.
Its odd that now when I see images of Palestine, of Israeli soldiers stomping through Ramallah, again I feel its as if someone else lived there and I only heard about it. Its hard to forget bad things, but only for the first year or two. And then something happens, those memories become displaced, they feel borrowed. You never forget the events, of course; you just forget who you were when they happened.
One of the cable news channels is re-broadcasting its 9-11 coverage today, instead of televising the Senate Hearings on General Petraeus (though I’m not sure there would be anything meaningful in doing the latter). After shunning those images for years, I now look at that cloud or the buildings collapsing and I force myself to remember. I force myself to know that Celeste was there and to remember her, so as to remember who I was as well.