Except for a handful of shitty poems I wrote in the week leading up to the first anniversary in 2002, I’ve never written anything creative about 9/11. My personal 9/11 experience is rather boring and very detached from the historic events of that day. Not much to write about there. I did have an idea for a story, an idea that came to me within a few days of the attacks, as I sat on the couch watching cable news coverage of the rescue efforts in New York, and which I held onto for several months before finally forgetting about it.
It would have been a screenplay, a chamber piece featuring four characters in an apartment in Hagerstown. At the time I was several years into a phase of my writing where virtually everything I wrote was about myself and people I knew. The stories were often fictionalized, but not the characters — they were real people, names and all. I figured writers based characters on themselves and their friends all the time anyway, so why be coy about it? The four characters were Steve (me), Mike (my best friend and roommate at the time), Dana (my then-girlfriend), and Kelly (Mike’s girlfriend). In real life, Kelly’s father was a colonel in the United States Army, so I figured I’d write that in and say that he had been at the Pentagon that morning, giving my characters some personal connection to the events despite being far removed from them. Mike and Kelly would begin the story and be joined at some point by Steve and Dana, arriving from Dana’s place where they had spent the night preparing for a trip to Toronto to catch the last few days of the Toronto Film Festival (just as I and the real Dana had done). They would talk, ponder the magnitude of what had happened, wait for word on Kelly’s father, strive for and ultimately fail to find meaning in the tragedy.
It was always more of an idea than a story. It had characters, it had a very nondescript story arc, it even had a title — There Among the Brave — but it was never quite there. I wanted a conversation between two of the characters, probably Steve and Mike, to include a great line I stole from Roger Ebert’s post-9/11 essay (written from his hotel room in Toronto, where he had gone to attend the film festival): “The 20th century ended today.” I wanted the thing to unfold more or less in real time, in the apartment, until the final scenes, which would be a montage of the four of them attending Kelly’s father’s funeral set to Springsteen’s original America: A Tribute to Heroes version of “My City of Ruins.”
I imagined it initially as a realistic film, shot hand-held on location. Then I thought it would be better if it was more abstract, if I made it on a minimally dressed soundstage, with only furniture and windows representing the apartment and everything else — walls, floors — being totally black, as though it wasn’t there. After I came up with that, I thought maybe it would make a better play than a film. That’s another reason I never wrote it. I could never decide what it was. And honestly, I don’t know if I ever even had anything to say. Maybe I just felt like I should try to say something.