Everyone should have a museum dedicated to the worst day of their life and be forced to attend it with a bunch of tourists from Denmark. Annotated divorce papers blown up and mounted, interactive exhibits detailing how your mom’s last round of chemo didn’t take, souvenir T-shirts emblazoned with your best friend’s last words before the car crash. And you should have to see for yourself how little your pain matters to a family of five who need to get some food before the kids melt down. Or maybe worse, watch it be co-opted by people who want, for whatever reason, to feel that connection so acutely.
By the time I finally reach the gift shop, the indignation I’ve been counting on just isn’t there. I stare at the $39 hoodies and the rescue vests for dogs and the earrings and the scarves and the United We Stand wool blankets waiting for that rush and can’t muster so much as a sigh. The events of the day have already been exploited and sold in ways previously incomprehensible, why get mad at a commemorative T-shirt now? This tchotchke store — this building, this experience — is nothing more than the logical endpoint for our most reliably commodifiable national tragedy. If you want to bring a coffee table book full of photos of cadaver dogs sniffing through smoking rubble back home to wherever you’re from, hey, that’s great. This is America, you can buy what you want; they hate our freedom to buy what we want. People will find moments of grace or enlightenment or even peace from coming here, I don’t need to be one of them. I’ll probably bring my son one day once I realize I won’t have the words to explain. It can be of use. It’s fine. I don’t know.
Inside these cabinets are the remains that, after nearly 13 years of the most rigorous testing known to man, have not been matched to the DNA of any of the victims. Just drawers and drawers full of…stuff. I wouldn’t really want to think too hard about what exactly that stuff is, but given that it’s a picture window looking out at cabinetry, there isn’t really anything else to think about. This chamber is meant to be a sanctuary, but I cannot ruminate about the arbitrary cruelty of the universe or lament the vagaries of loss and love because all there is to see are armoires packed with carefully labeled bags of flesh too ruined and desiccated even for science. My sister is among the many for whom there have been no remains recovered whatsoever. Vaporized. So there’s no grave to visit, there never will be. Just this theatrically lit Ikea warehouse behind a panel of glass.
The presence of the tomb has been a point of contention among families more vocal than ours who want more from a final resting place than the basement of this museum of unnatural history. I don’t know how to feel about the matter because to do so would require any of this making even a bit of sense. It’s dumb, sure, but what could possibly be less dumb? Where is the right place to store pounds of unidentifiable human tissue so that future generations can pay their respects? I would not wish what’s happened to my family on anyone, but I begrudgingly admire its infinite weirdness, still, after all this time.