Exhausted after a day of stripping three rooms bare in anticipation of a painting crew, I crashed Sunday night around 10:30. The phone rang at midnight and again at 1 AM but of course, I couldn't find it—the phone, that is. So I didn’t hear the messages from the media outlets asking me, as a 9/11 widow, to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden.Many cups of coffee, a bit of reading and several radio interviews later, I’m up to speed, more or less. Bin Laden is dead. So, inquiring minds want to know: how do I feel?
I think: I feel nothing.
No peace, no closure; no sense that justice has been served or that we are somehow safer. No interest in or desire to dance in the street or even head out with my dear friends and fellow widows for a drink—except that I want to honor their feelings. If this even makes them feel better, I’m happy for them.
The idea that I might be “relieved” is, on some level, odd. Last time I checked, terrorism was a many-headed beast and bin Laden something of a has-been. As an American symbol of delayed revenge, he was a useful if frustrating reminder of the horrible hurt that had been inflicted upon us. That we killed the bastard will be a lift to the national psyche, no doubt about it and will, for some, restore a sense of honor and pride. We're all desperate for good news. Maybe it will deal a blow to al Qaeda, although I’m not sure bin Laden has been much more than a figurehead for some time, if that. I think there may be some pressure to leave Afghanistan, which we entered ostensibly to catch the 9/11 mastermind. Certainly I’d like us to rethink our relationship and especially our aid to Pakistan, which hasn’t proven to be very helpful in the decade-long hunt.
From a domestic political standpoint, this is an incredible coup for Obama, coming as it has on the heels of the release of his long-form birth certificate and his heady performance at the White House correspondents’ dinner. I’m not in the least suggesting bin Laden’s killing was timed (although I know conspiracy theorists are doing just that). Truth be told, the part of me that is Democratic Party animal is fist pumping like crazy. I know, that’s probably an unseemly reaction.
The truth of the matter is: I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel, only what others are projecting onto me. What’s appropriate? Satisfaction? Of course I wanted to get back at bin Laden and anyone else who’d been responsible for my husband’s death. But I hadn’t ever known how that was going to “work” or how that was going to feel. And ten years later? Meh.
Well, do I feel justice was served? That’s also question I’m supposed to address. One of my interviewers asked me whether I would have preferred a trial at Guantanamo to this death by attack. I felt trapped; as if my choice would bring me face to face with something about myself I didn’t want to admit: that in some instances, quiet assassinations are preferable to media circuses (like the trial of Saddam Hussein) any day of the week.
Those admissions don’t make me feel better. Nor does reliving 9/11 over and over, like some dark version of “Groundhog Day.” It’s the gift that keeps on giving, the story that never ends; the loose thread you pull on, only to find yourself once again unraveling.
So, another interviewer asked, does this give you a sense of closure? Seriously? Closure? As if this is a suitcase I can shut and put on the shelf and forget. No, the trauma of 9/11 is a wound that never quite heals because everyone, including me, continues to pick at it.
And yet, if time doesn’t exactly heal all wounds, it does allow us to adapt to them. And honestly, I do feel something: a little remembered pain and also gratitude for the many friends who write to tell me they’re thinking of me, even if they don’t know what to say and can’t quite understand how I feel. There's a little pride, I think, for our troops and our country, although I don’t want to take to the streets. I feel, also, something that’s not exactly relief and certainly not closure but more as if a chapter of history is closing and I can move on to the next one.