Of Pain and place

Documenting devastation near and far-of the body, the mind, and the soul

Children watched, too. Gregory's third-grade class turned on the news after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. Now he wanted to escape it. But when he got home from school, his dad was watching. Like other children that Friday afternoon, Gregory said, he wished the adults around him would just stop. He wished there was some way to make it all go away. "Kids, you see," he explained, "they just wish they could watch cartoons again. But they can't. Oh boy. It's always on, on every channel."

"Stop watching it," Eric Meadows kept telling his mother, Shirley. Yet there she was, watching again, when he got to the restaurant Friday after school. "I'm tired of buildings falling down," said Eric. And then the loquacious and precocious five-year-old explained the horror in a circuitous stream of thought that he though had an end, but that he couldn't get to. "I'm tired of buildings falling down," he said. "When buildings fall down, people get hurt. When people get hurt, them get their legs chopped off. And when them get their legs chopped off, the ambulance comes.... And if they have another plane, them better not play with it because them not supposed to play with fire. It's bad for adults. It's bad for kids. It's bad for all the people in this world! Them better not do it again, because if them do it again, the buildings will burn, and if the buildings burn, the buildings will fall down, and then all the people in this world will be dead...."

Gregory placed his fries on a counter against a wall painted with images of the food the restaurant serves: red snapper, hamburger, bowl of beans. He climbed onto a stool and sunk his chin into his hand, watching Eric. "That's right. I just hope, say if the people who did this do get bombed, they won't have anymore evilness in their minds," interrupted Gregory.

"I'm not done yet!" shouted Eric. But then he was gone, off to help his mother bag orders. "Those people who burned those buildings," Gregory added, "when they was little someone told them all these bad things about America."

Like the children in Two Guys, the lives of children all over the United States were pierced on Tuesday. Their generation had been marked. At Booker T. Washington High School, Ronald Wright's first-period journalism class turned on CNN on Tuesday morning and saw the second plane hit. "Everyone was just looking in astonishment," says fifteen-year-old Wright. Before class ended the students wrote a passage about the attack for the school's 2001-2002 yearbook. "Probably every history book from now on will talk about it for a long, long time. For generations," said Wright, waiting at Two Guys for an order of shrimp and fries. "Nothing has ever happened before in America like this. For my generation this is like our Pearl Harbor."

Gregory wasn't worrying about generations, just about his best friend Steven. The pair talk on the telephone daily, Gregory said. Steven's father works in New York City. "I hope his dad wasn't working someplace around the building and that his dad is fine, "Gregory said. "That would make him feel a whole lot better." Gregory stared at the floor, lost in thought. "Oh boy."

Commercial airlines were back in the sky over Miami on Friday afternoon, but it didn't comfort Nerrissa Palmer, age eight. "Everytime I see an airplane I feel scared, and I want my mom and dad," Nerrissa said. She believed they could protect her. "I know nothing is going to happen to me because I have grownups around me; having grownups around me makes me feel secure," she explained.

Gregory felt his bag of fries to see if they were still hot, but he didn't make a move to leave. "A lot of people have been hurt by this," he said again. Every time Gregory spoke, he ended the thought with, "Oh boy," staring into space and looking as though he was falling into a chasm. "Oh boy," he repeated, like he wished he could stop his emotions from tumbling out. Gregory finally explained that he had lost his own mother when he was an infant, and he just felt so sad, thinking about her and thinking about the other children who lost their moms on Tuesday. "I understand," he said softly. "I do. Yes, yes. I understand."

--By Susan Eastman

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