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NONFICTION Making


Luck by Joelle Renstrom


The economic repercussions of September 11 landed


“Luck arranged things so that a baby named Malachi Constant was born the richest child on Earth. On the same day, luck arranged things so that a blind grandmother stepped on a roller skate at the head of a flight of cement stairs, a policeman’s horse stepped on an organ grinder’s monkey, and a paroled bank robber found a postage stamp worth nine hundred dollars in the bottom of a trunk in his attic.” - Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan


conquer adulthood and more confident than ever that I was truly the ruler of my own destiny, the sound of an airplane flying into the World Trade Center woke me up. I turned on the television and, for a while, forgot I was actually there, that this was outside my door. I didn’t know which way the avenues ran or where to go when bad things happened. I didn’t know anyone except for my cat, who ventured out from wherever she’d been hiding from the city noise, sniffing the new silence.


T From my roof I watched traffic backing up across


bridges, towers smoking like unfiltered cigarettes, the stunned and stilted peeling away from the carnage. After the first tower fell, I decided to head north. A cab already carrying four passengers stopped for me. They all knew people who might be dead; they all also had families and friends to be with. Like a ghost, I haunted the line between lucky and unlucky.


During the next dusty stretch of days, watched by


the hundreds of faces on missing posters, I walked the eerily empty streets wearing a surgical mask pressed into my hand by a Red Cross volunteer. Everyone was exceedingly polite— there was no honking at busy intersections, no birds being flipped, no expletives. Most people were shell-shocked, but staying numb took work. The bars were packed; when drunk, everything makes equally little sense.


like a suckerpunch—everyone saw it coming just in time to realize there was no avoiding it. Hiring freezes and layoffs swept the city. The nonprofit organization I was supposed to work for withdrew their offer. My bank account hemorrhaged. My sublet expired sooner than I’d anticipated and I needed a new place to live, but without a paycheck I couldn’t sign a lease or join forces with roommates.


A few days after 9/11, I sat on my bedroom floor,


overwhelmed by the mess around me. Anyone who’s ever put off cleaning for months knows what this is like, knows how it feels to look around, disaster everywhere, entirely unable to figure out how or where to start. I called my best friend, Mark, for consolation.


What he said was, “well, we do make our own luck.” As the words registered, I felt accused and insulted


hree days after I moved to New York City, ready to


and shamed. What could I possibly have done to cause the apartment problem, the job retraction, the flying of planes into buildings? He wasn’t blaming me for September 11, but he was suggesting that I fit into it somehow, or that it fit into me. I argued that I had no control over the events happening around me. Yet what he said disconcerted me; it presupposed that I was a powerful force—an unbelievable and terrifying proposition. And I had to wonder: if we make our own luck, what does that say about the people who were on the airplanes or trapped in the towers?


I had no job and no friends, which left me with gaping pockets of time and transformed 9/11 into a springboard for endless ruminations. This tragedy wasn’t about me, my personal philosophies, or my attempts to grasp the ways of the world, but I didn’t know what else to do. By the time it occurred to me to donate blood, all the blood banks in the city were full. Mayor Giuliani told residents that there were too many volunteers at Ground Zero and asked people to check back in a couple weeks. Even when I wandered the streets, my mind moved more than my feet. I couldn’t clean up the mess, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what it all meant.


Like many people, I overdosed on television, stilling


my mind with images that needed no particular thought to accompany them. When marathon sessions in front of the television grew overwhelming and tiresome, I moved to the bookshelf to seek comfort in the familiar wear of spines


32


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