1. College

“I have to say, I’m having a hard time looking at it,” I said. I’d approached a student on campus I hadn’t seen before. He was shirtless and showcasing a large tattoo of the Twin Towers.

They were depicted intact, starting in the center of his honey-hued pecs and spanning to his bottom ribs—similar to how I used to draw the towers when I was young, with gray watercolor ink and imperfect vertical lines. On this person’s chest and abdomen, the lines swayed over taut muscle. There was no antenna on the right skyscraper. I imagined it there, creeping over the collarbone and up one side of his neck.

The inked mural displayed a scene that didn’t make sense. Ashy clouds swelled in the background, but there were no craters in the pillars, no torched sections from the planes, which were also missing. It was as if the towers had never been disturbed—the tattooer had exaggerated an overcast day. Four doves hung in midflight, two on each side of the towers and outlined in marine-blue ink that had bled into their white bellies.

He rubbed his torso with what looked like pride. I was fighting the impulse to trace the outlines of the towers with my fingers. I also wanted to take a knife to them.

It was about to be a decade since I’d last seen my father, and even though every anniversary had been difficult, I knew this one would be especially bad—the idea of the second digit made the whole thing seem so much further away. In a matter of days, I would have lived the exact same amount of time with him as I had without. And I was convinced that it wouldn’t be long before my memories of him were whittled down to a small rotation of anecdotes I’d heard from other people who’d known him longer than I had, who had known a man different from my ten-year-old self’s idea of my father.

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