“I’m so glad you’re okay” she said.
And she embraced him for the first time.
Flight won over fight
People were their best selves
People were their worst selves
Posters heralding some hot band
At some local dive
Stared indifferently at the chalk covered hordes marching by.
And he thought to himself
“What day is it today? What’s the date?”
Tomorrow no one would ever forget.
Her hug was warm and slight
Her weight around his shoulders barely registered
But for one second she chased away the bad dreams.
In the years ahead she would chase them away again
Though she never knew that was what she was doing.
She was barely conscious.
He woke up sweating…
… and he called her name until she woke up, too.
“What?” she mumbled, not pleased at the interruption.
“I had a bad dream.
I was playing with a dog. It was aggressively friendly
then it attacked me.”
Her eyes narrowed, then shut.
She rolled away from him.
“Okay. Go back to sleep.”
But in his dreams he had fallen
Fallen out of the window and into clouds
Or into a plume of smoke
Pouring from a gaping hole in the building’s side
Before he saw the stone tiles of the mall rushing up.
“Someone’s jumping!” A woman screamed
And what he had never told her
What he’d never said to anyone
Was that he wanted to see someone fall.
That tiny x plummeting from above the building
And disappearing a moment before life was extinguished
Would haunt him for the rest of his days.
He wanted to see someone fall.
Had he wanted to see someone die?
What kind of person did that make him?
During the impromptu bible study that night
(there were very few atheists left in New York that day)
He was grateful for the company
But he couldn’t take his eyes off of her.
It was the first time she had held him.
He called friends and family when he could
The phone lines were jammed, much like the city streets
In New York, children can go to school in three feet of snow
But the city isn’t prepared for a mass exodus
The subways stopped
There were no cabs to be had
And those who had them went nowhere
New York City was a parking lot now.
Later, when all those Xeroxed pictures
Of all those happy faces gone missing
Cried out in desperation to the millions of passers-by
“Have you seen me? Have you seen me?”
The parking lots in Jersey City were filled with cars
That would never be claimed by their owners.
He had been on his way to work
Getting out on the Cortlandt Street stop
Everyone felt the shudder and paused
But dismissed it as the subway’s escape
As it rumbled and shrieked off into the darkness
On his way to work he passed a Banana Republic
In the Mall under the World Trade Center…
He skirted under the building
then continued to the custom house
But not today
Everyone stood frozen, and he thought
(where did these thoughts come from)
Did an epileptic have a seizure?
That was before they started running
And he looked past the crowd
and thought he saw a white wall sliding down
A yellow bulb flashing
In restrospect it could have been smoke
But he didn’t wait to see
“A bomb!” he panicked, and ran back the other way
Trying to outpace the bomber he imagined was behind him
That night, walking on a basketball court with a friend
In the cool of the evening
With her hug still on his mind
(He could still feel her arms round his neck –
That balm that soothed the terror)
He heard the other say “How’re you doing with all this?”
“I can’t really talk…” he started, “I mean, okay. Scared
But I’m more afraid of…”
And he paused while his friend waited patiently.
Earlier he had tried to meet this friend at the Bowery mission
He sprinted across the city but Ryan had gone
Before the parking lot took affect.
From there he heard, then saw the Towers fall.
Fortunately Ryan called his parents
(upon his request)
They hadn’t heard the news
So they knew he was okay
Before they knew he was in danger.
Before the phones went down
And the phone lines out of the city
Turned to spaghetti.
He tried to take a bus
But it only made it two blocks
Before the driver let everybody out
James got off the bus, too.
A friend from a former job
They walked together from Chambers Street
To 21st Street in Queens.
Like so many others
James was covered from head to toe
In that white chalky powder.
Just like the person walking past the parking garage
Barely aware of who she was or where she was going
Clearly stunned, displaced in time.
Fortunately, some thoughtful New Yorker
Driving her black SUV out of the parking garage
Reminded the ghost colored woman of exactly where she was
With an angry,
blare of her horn.
The ghost looked up at the enraged face inside the SUV
Gave a slight nod
And stepped aside so the other could tear out of the garage
And into the parking lot that was Manhattan.
Then there was the boy on the third floor balcony
maybe of middle eastern descent
No more than ten
Flipping the bird at the crowds walking by.
As he and James walked past the U.N.
He worried that it might be the next target
It was a scene out of a World War II film
With all the refugees trudging to… where, exactly?
Cars on the street opened their doors
Bars on the street opened their doors
radios and TVs on either side of the sidewalk
announced the news
Tom Brokaw told them it was an act of terrorism
That someone had done this on purpose
But he knew that when the second plane hit.
He ran to the subway stairs and knew he’d gone the wrong way.
The steps were covered with debris
So much paper.
It was a beautiful day.
The first brisk morning of September
Cool enough that he wished he’d worn a jacket
Though by mid day there was no need
As he looked up out of the square opening
Where the subway steps led out
He noticed fluttering objects
Blocking a cloudless blue sky
It took him a moment to realize
that the dreamlike, fluttering objects
were sheets of common office paper
the kind you buy in bulk at Staples.
And his eyes followed that paper trail
To the smoke and flames
pouring from the puncture in the building
It was a plane, someone said
And he imagined a private plane had careened out of control
Though the hole was so huge
And the steel seemed to bend outward at its borders
“Someone’s jumping!” She screamed.
And he looked.
Because he wanted to see.
“What?” She grumbled,
pulling the covers over the little ones in between
who had freed themselves from the sheets.
“I had a bad dream. A man was outside the window.
He was watching Amelia.”
Her tired eyes widened slightly,
Maybe slightly alarmed.
She put an arm over the sleeping babe
turned to the window,
Then twisted back…
And for a second,
When their eyes locked,
hers were laced with care
And her voice was almost soothing.
“Go back to sleep”, she muttered
And she turned away from him.
He heard it hit.
He saw the tongue of flame
lick outward at the neighboring buildings
And everyone ran.
One woman tripped,
But before she hit the pavement
He had one arm
A stranger had another
“Are you ok?” the stranger asked her,
and nodded acknowledgement to him.
She nodded as well, offering thanks
And three strangers parted, never to see one another again.
Walking up Lexington Avenue
The rumors started
“Did you hear they hit Harlem?”
“Do you know the Washington Mall’s on fire?”
“They said five planes rained down uptown!”
Oh… a side note:
he noticed a difference in attitudes from Chambers to 57th
Below Union Square the crowd was silent
Defeated Soldiers marching home after the war
On 34th Street people watched from a distance with terror
“Would there be more?” and “What will they do next?”
Uptown, curiosity won the day.
“Did you see it?” They asked. “What was it like?”
He was most terrified crossing the 57th Street Bridge
Worried from one end to the other that a plane would strike
And he would burst into flames
Doused only by the river far below.
He and James stepped off the bridge into Queens.
Into a different world.
On the evening of the attack
a fledgling church gathered together
Including the woman who would one day be his bride
And who, after she could put up with it no longer,
Would one day leave him with nothing but his thoughts.
Two days after she left
On the 16th Anniversary
for first time since it had happened
They weren’t together.
Now he was alone
With the memory of a hug.
The balm that soothed the terror.
He heard Ryan say “How’re you doing with all this?”
“I can’t really talk…” he started, “I mean, okay. Scared
But I’m more afraid of…”
He paused while his friend waited patiently.
“What I’m most afraid of is…”
He stared into the sky,
Shut his eyes
But he still saw the tiny x falling out of the sky
“Today I escaped. At least, I think I did. But I know that one day…”
And then… an irrational thought….
Had he fallen, he wondered?
Was this all a dream?
But no. She had embraced him. For the first time.
“I’m scared that one day…” he trembled,
“One day, this is just going to be some simpleton’s anecdote.”