Monday, December 21, 2009

Book 20: Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden

This is the only book on this list that I did not finish.

Could not.

I made the brilliant choice to start reading 'Black Hawk Down' in October of 2001. Smoke from the Twin Towers still streamed across the East River and over my neighborhood. We'd find scraps of charred paper in Prospect Park with financial figures obscured by ash. The smell hung in the air.

And that was just the physical reminder.

Looking back on this time is extremely difficult and strange for me. I have the sense memory of going about the normal aspects of my life (grocery, Cashel, Melody, auditions, etc.). Those portions called for a determined grip on coping. And the coping was real, it was not a put-on.

At the same time existed chaos. Total, utter, absolute inner chaos.

The juxtaposition of those realities was (and is) very difficult to maintain. I couldn't take much that strayed from the norm. And yet I seemed to need the release of being stretched, pushed past the constrictions I also needed in order to make it through each day.

I was wound pretty damn tight on September 10th for fuck's sake.

'Black Hawk Down' had been everywhere for a couple of years, the book having come out in 1999 and the movie was already garnering buzz even though it hadn't been released yet. I had been meaning to read it.

Being profoundly disconnected and yet hyper sensitive, I somehow chose to begin reading this dark violent true story on my daily commute into the Big Apple.

I can't even remember how far into the story I got. The fire fight was underway and one of the soldiers had been taken by the mob.

I actually just got a little dizzy typing that sentence.

I sat on the F train holding the book in my hands. Outwardly I don't think anyone would have ever known what was happening to me. Inside all was whirling together, the way kaleidoscopes do, everything converging in a circular merge which blurs all edges of connection, all distinction, all clarity.

I felt as if my head were several feet above my body or beside it or beneath it. Any way you sliced it I was actually split apart. I was sweating profusely, feeling drips slide from behind my kneecaps down over my calves. And yet I was shivering. I continued to read.

I took the paperback page between my fingers and began to turn the page to find out what happened next. The paper felt an inch wide and scratchy, as if I could distinguish each pore with my fingerprint.

I felt the train slowing, pulling into a station. I had no idea how many stops I'd been on the train, how many I had to go, where I was, why I was, who I was. I let the paper slip from between my fingers and even that minor escape gave me a great sense of relief. But I was not out of the woods yet. My head was still somewhere over there and my body was right under me, swirling and blistered all throughout my interior.

The train stopped. I somehow found the wherewithal to step out of the train. I couldn't breathe. I felt nauseated. I struggled to take a few steps, my head not being close enough to my body to control it.

I held 'Black Hawk Down' in my hand.

To this day I don't know which F stop I was in. I know that the benches were the wooden block sort that many subway stations have. I gently placed the book on one of the seats of the bench and moved down the platform away from it. I immediately began to feel better, my head swam a bit closer to my body and the intrinsic whirlpool began to subside.

I never revisited Bowden's amazing book.

It is hard to type this final sentence because my brain is just a little off to the right, still, always.

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