I had finally googled it sometime in lockdown – ‘kenophobia,’ or a fear of open spaces – subtly different from agoraphobia (the fear of leaving the house for a public space of any kind – a given.) This was what the events of September 11, 2001 had wrought in me, twenty-one years on. On that stupidly clear blue day, two jet planes slammed into two skyscrapers. (It happened.) My body was forced to confront what my mind couldn’t process- the seemingly impossible physicality of violent terror and destruction. Since then, I’d been ‘damaged goods.’
I fled my day job that morning, just on the south side of Canal Street, after seeing the second plane hit on a breakroom tv, killing the reception. I had a vague goal of not being in a tall building if Armageddon was actually on the menu, and made a beeline for the familiarity of city parks. I was in Washington Square Park when the towers began to collapse, shaking the ground beneath me and reminding my feet that I was indeed on an island. I then moved East to Tompkins Square, where a guy with a boombox swore they were attacking ‘Clinton’s place in Harlem’ too. Finally I sought solace in a bar, of course, where I could have a drink and make phone calls to my family, until the trains ran again to Brooklyn. In the aftermath of that day, it became all-the-more frustrating as a person with actual trauma from 9-11 to see the US government exploit other, ignorant-but-ingrained racist fears for ill-gotten gains and plunder, begetting ‘Homeland Security,’ and fattening the already bloated pockets of defense contractors.
So back to me – my damage manifested in a suddenly uncertain feeling of anxiety, often escalating into a panic disorder, when I tried to be in previously comforting, familiar, natural sites (a lake path in my hometown, a wide meadow of a city park). This feeling would take on a more intense state in man-made structures (a long bridge, vacant parking lot etc.) Driving was affected too- the former excitement and promise of ‘the open road’ had turned into an ominous, serpentine threat. Control was an illusion. I tried to do what I could to avoid these settings, but that wasn’t really possible, and the undeniable consequences would get in the way of daily life, and eventually my marriage. After a brief early fling with anti-anxiety meds, I just tried to find control where I could – as a bassist creating and executing music in real-time. My fingers did the walking and art happened in a physical time and space- beers were also imbibed.
But with the onset of the pandemic, ‘open space’ became an objective danger (though not as much as the office). The very air carried a deadly virus, and we were urged to limit exposure- until of course, capitalism needed us back. A vain Nero and his fiddling media-horde compounded the death toll. Where was a boy to go? Now let me throw one more metaphorical ‘whammy’ at you- with the dissolution of my relationship and subsequent global crisis, my life had become one big open space. Maybe that was always the case, but now undeniable – like the empty page daring a blocked writer (ahem.) Would I ever have the urge to ‘leap before I looked’ again?
I’m writing this on the morning of February 24, 2022, as ‘Mad Vlad’ Putin subjects the Ukrainian people to his brand of Cold War might-makes-right, which will of course have a horrible, bloody and needless toll. I guess I’m becoming aware of the privilege I was lucky enough to enjoy for a good portion of my life as a (white) ‘middle-class’ American – when a sunny day was full of possibility, and not the threat of imminent assault.
‘You better get it while you can.’ – The Dirtbombs
Artwork: Smooch Smooch For Smooches
(by permission from the artist)