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  • Dave picked me up from the airport with a grim look on his face. He didn't say much as we sped past bare live oaks and a landscape crowded out by billboards for the Texas state rodeo. We stopped at a friend's house to trade the car for bikes and set off in the rain. I was cold and slow and Dave circled around a few times urging me to hurry.

    About three miles later we arrived at a shack surrounded by a chain link fence. A SWAT team was emptying the small building of its contents - consoles, amplifiers, cables, headphones, and papers by the armful. They dropped everything on the yellowed grass and let the rain do its damage. I was, at that time, uninitiated into the world of punks vs. cops. I had not yet seen police in riot gear and I certainly hadn't seen an automatic weapon in person. Helmets and kevlar armor were rare sights before 9/11. The huge, battle-ready men went into the shed one last time and came out with a group of people in handcuffs and dragged them to a waiting van while Dave and I and a group of about 15 people pressed up against the fence and hollered "pigs! Fucking pigs!" Dave slammed his fist against the fence with a ferocity that I thought would knock the metal down.

    It's possible that, at that moment, I may have smiled at the whole cinematic experience; I did not feel like smiling, even nervously, but it's possible that I did. Strange expressions creep across my face in unfamiliar situations. Whatever expression was on my face, Dave did not like it. "What's so funny?" he snarled.
    "Nothing," I said. "It's not funny at all. It's just.... weird."
    He snorted. "It's not weird," he said. "It's fucked up."

    I bristled at his lack of sympathy. Where was the boy who had held my hand as we rode bikes in the fall? When Dave had told me at the airport that the local pirate radio station was being raided, he just assumed I would know what that meant. I didn't. And I certainly didn't imagine firearms. Why would anyone send out a SWAT team to shut down a radio station that played punk music and hosted discussions on Kropotkin? I assumed that either drugs were involved or that this is what happens in a town where there's not much crime: they send out the cavalry to capture a cow.

    Then I heard a tremendous wail as a dread-locked woman saw her equipment being destroyed by the now steady rain. The protesters were yelling at the police to cover the machinery with tarps and the officers made a half-hearted attempt to comply. One heavyset cop, awkward in his unwieldy uniform, shouted it wasn't his responsibility to take care of contraband and he kicked at one of the consoles in frustration.

    The rain abated. I saw a lone policeman, not in a SWAT uniform, leaning against the fence, observing as I was observing. I walked over to him. "Officer," I said. He looked up at me and I was surprised by his expression. "Officer, why are you guys doing this?"
    He shook his head and took a second to find his voice.
    "I have no fucking idea," he said.

    ***

    Months later, it was summer in Austin and I laid on the floor listening to the radio while the sky lingered behind the trees. Dave and I had our own place paid for by my job at a dress shop that catered to fashion-forward debutantes. Dave had said he would be home two hours earlier and dinner was congealed on the counter but I wasn't too upset. It was part of his charm that he never got to where he was going at the time he was aiming to get there. And congealed or not, Dave would sing the praises of whatever I had made declaring it "gor-may!" which, as a new cook, I found encouraging.

    I was listening to a Prairie Home Companion which, along with most of the countrified, hippified music they played on KUT, I loathed. But we didn't have a TV and I was too tired to draw, so I waited out the folksy program until the news came on. I rolled around under the humming fan. I congratulated myself on finally having a place with wall to wall carpets; it was like having a bed on the floor! Garrison Keillor droned on. I did a headstand while I waited for Guy Noir and Lake Woebegone.

    There was a sudden thud on the glass door to the terrace, followed by a slow tapping. I leapt up in fright but there was no figure there; no hobo who had wandered up from the dried out creek bed behind the apartment complex. The urgent tapping continued and I pulled the ugly vertical blinds all the way back to reveal the biggest dragonfly I have ever seen hurling itself against the glass. I generally consider dragonflies my friends, but this was a creature unlike any I had ever seen: it was a scorpion with wings. It's overly long tail ended in a vicious fork that arced under its body like a dog humping a pillow. It's head was unusually mobile and it twisted this way and that like a thing possessed. I couldn't tell if it was desperate to get to the light in the kitchen, if it was trying to destroy the awful reflection of itself, or if... if it was coming for me. In that moment, I couldn't help taking the insect's ardor personally. Over and over it reared back about a foot and then flew at full speed to smash into the glass. I shut the light, but it didn't stop. I turned up the radio trying to drown out the sound of the kamikaze bug. Keillor tried, and failed, to harmonize with some pretty little blonde country singer (I'm assuming she was pretty and little and blonde). I couldn't stand the dissonance. Thinking that Keillor's nasal rumble might be what was inducing violence in the dragonfly (it did in me) I turned off the radio. But the bug kept coming.

    After 45 minutes (Dave was now officially MIA for 3 hours) I began to admire the insect's exoskeleton. No wonder, I thought (perhaps a bit ironically in light of its suicidal behavior) dragonflies are one of the most successful species on earth.

    Sucking up my hurt I began what was now a ritual.

    "Hi Will. Is Dave there by any chance?"
    "Hey Kendra - have you seen Dave?"
    "Hey Allanna. It's Jess. Is Dave with you?"

    The radio finally switched to the news. I listened to the update. The dragonfly was getting exhausted. It's rhythm slowed.

    When a repeat of "Twine Time" came on I punched the wall. The dragonfly paused, interrupted for the moment in it's meditation. I cradled my hand in a bag of ice and it resumed its self assault. I switched off the radio, grabbed my bike and my headphones and rode to where I knew I could see people in crowds.

    *****

    In early September, Dave had somehow arranged for us to be hosts to Exene Cervenka while she was in town to play a show. I was sort of familiar with X, and even I knew this was a big deal. Her flight was due in just before noon, but at a little before 9am there was already a small crowd of fans at our apartment. In the bright morning sun eight people sat on our floor talking about shows and zines and vegan feasts. I was getting ready to go to work and had the news on as usual. At a little after 9, Dave wanted to put on some CDs for his friends. I wanted to listen to the tail end of the news, but everyone was too pumped about a legend coming to Austin to listen to the Dow Jones Industrial Average so I let it go. Just as Dave was about to switch off the radio, there was breaking news.

    "Wait!" I said. I put my hand in front of the tuner.
    People in the room were still talking so I turned up the volume and the announcer repeated himself. I felt my brain go blank.
    Dave and the others still wanted to turn the news off thinking that a plane flying into the World Trade Center was just an accident and so what? So a bunch of bankers got their just desserts. I, as a native New Yorker with friends and family who worked in and around the World Trade Center, started to panic.

    "This is a catastrophe!" I said.

    And then the second plane hit and I was breathless. It was not an accident. People got quiet for a moment, not sure how to act and then some of the people in the room, some my friends and some not, laughed smugly. "Chickens coming home to roost," someone said. And I was aghast.

    I looked at Dave for support. His eyes were naturally at half mast but when he shrugged and said "empire" I thought I would kill him.

    "Thousands of people work in those buildings! Cleaning ladies, janitors... little kids! ... What the hell is wrong with all of you?"

    "If you choose to work for a corrupt organizations, you have to deal with the consequences," someone else said.

    I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
    These were people who, I knew, would suffer tear gas and pepper spray, rubber bullets and compression bombs for immigrant rights, workers rights, animal rights, and environmental justice. I knew them to be compassionate and ethical people. How could they so completely miss the tragedy here?

    Talking and laughter resumed. I would have run into a burning building right then. I would have climbed every step to the floor my high school sweetheart worked on, thrown her over my shoulder and carried her back down. I would have rushed to the scene to help, to guide, to shelter. I would have been there. But I wasn't. I was in Austin, with a bunch of punks who, at that moment, revealed themselves to be exactly the kind of people I wanted nothing to do with. I switched off the radio and went to the other room to try to call my parents and grandparents but I couldn't get through and I wouldn't get through for three days. The kids in the other room made jokes about Credit Suisse and I heard someone high-five someone else. I wondered how many people in Austin knew what I knew? How many people in the country had heard the news and were panicking as I was? As far as I knew, New York City - my city - was under attack. My whole family was in or around New York. Where were they? Were planes just falling out of the sky all over the region? Who were those people in the other room? What was I doing in a backwater like Austin with it's bicycles and patchouli and cowboy boots? I did not belong there.

    I left the apartment desperate to get to a radio.

    I went to work. Not to do work, but to be with my boss who had become my best friend. We kept the store closed, the lights off, just the daylight coming in through the windows. We turned the stereo on and it flooded the empty space with the grave voice of the announcer. The anchorman talked all day long about the terror, the people leaping, the buildings falling, the heroes being made and just as quickly dying. We sat there all day in the semi dark and listened to the radio.
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