After we had eaten all the chocolate and the bridges had been re-opened for the first time that week, June and I made it back to our apartment. Just over the Manhattan Bridge and this neighborhood showing tell-tale signs of the nonstop gentrifying beast, was our Clinton Hill. A view of the Twin Towers out of the kitchen window, now a view of circling fighter planes and fire. My first joke, and yes it was days later, to the next door neighbor college kids on the fire escape, was about BBQ. Some joke. We wandered down the narrow hall apartment. The same apartment that June was terrified to leave for two weeks after moving into this neighborhood once again seemed like not much of a sanctuary. Too close. When I Ebayed a mini-DV camera the first thing I shot was the wondrous view of the Towers out the kitchen window. Zoom in. Zoom out. When I was working at the Trade Center, the Towers chuckled among themselves as I peered out at them. Now, who got the last laugh? Nobody, nobody at all. We were staring out that window, where the world was still burning brightly to listen to the answering machine. Friends, relatives all left messages of “Brian, June …are you okay?”. Who knew? Then the first really panicked voice. Distraught. Demanding. “Brian, are you okay? Brian, call me the second you get this! Brian, call! Brian, are? Brian Brian Brian!”. This was from Colleen; maybe my first love if an eighteen year old can know love. This wasn't one of those random calls from out of the past and the blue. Colleen was still my friend. Colleen was still June’s friend. They went to High School together. The first time I met June, I was leaving the Ritz with Colleen to get in a fuck when we knew that her roommate was out; she was still in the Ritz too. I can tell from Colleen’s voice and from her often less than full on grip of keeping current, that she believed I was still working at the WTC. I still had my key, but we had closed up shop two months prior. June hears the message and something about it stops her cold. Colder than her already reduced body temperature. Maybe if she had been out on the streets today instead of hidden in the relative safety (because now everything was relative to what was on September 10th and before and what was now) of her classroom, babysitting until all her students’ parents or guardians could be contacted. Maybe if she had seen a little bit more, things might have been a little different. Maybe if she hadn't arrived at Helen and Steven’s after the situation was under control – UNDER CONTROL? – maybe the next few day’s design would have been drafted differently. But she arrived for the chocolaty aftermath. How else could she have replied to the panic stricken voice of anguish and love and concern? How else could she have replied to yet another voice screaming among the millions needing to not have this hit home so close? If no one you know was in that massive pit of steel and bodies and fire, then it could still be a TV show, a summer blockbuster.
June said “you and Colleen make a good couple”. And then she went to bed.
September 11th, a day that will go down in infamy, September 12th was maybe even worse. The 11th was exciting, right? There was no time to stop and think. There was the terror and the fire of biblical proportions. If the world was going to end, this is how they told us it was gonna go down and damned if they weren't right. But on September 12th, we were still here. On September 12th, we thought there were tens of thousands of bodies cooking down there. On September 12th, all the cliches came home to roost. We were waiting for the other shoe to drop. Was this the calm after the storm or the just the eye? CNN didn't help. Watching any television for thirty-six hours straight can never be good but we all did it. Eyes peeled like blood oranges, transfixed on that screen. The same footage over and over, then the things that our naked eyes hadn't seen. I could have lived the rest of my life without having to see people holding hands, jumping to their deaths from the Towers. But maybe that’s just me. And maybe I over-reacted, at least in June’s mind. We all have to deal differently. I kept watching CNN; she popped “The Matrix” into the DVD-player for the fortieth time, cranked the sub-woofer to the maximum vibrating, annoy the neighbors setting and disappeared into a world that wasn't real. But was this one, the one of terror and fire and people jumping hand in hand to their certain death, the real world? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I should have crawled beside her into the big, black chair that had made the migration back and forth and back again to Brooklyn. Maybe I should have sat at her feet, with her hand in my hair. Maybe I should have silently taken that same hand and led her to the bedroom and made love instead of consuming CNN-sized bits of death and destruction. That is what I would do now. It probably wouldn't have mattered in the long run. But it would have been better and everyone who died would still be baking out my kitchen window.
Thursday was a school day and business as usual. Business as usual my ass. I got into work myself, got one panicked phone call telling me that they were shutting the subways back down. Planes weren't flying. What the fuck was I doing at work trying to sell plane tickets to the people who sell plane tickets to people? I had no business being there. I needed to be home, in front of the TV, in front of CNN, where I belonged. So that is where I sat as the bomb threats piled high as if someone opened the door to the arsenal and the looting had begun. I wanted June to come home. I wanted her beside me. I wanted comfort and security where these commodities were even more rationed than the water at the Lower East Side supermarket. She stayed at work. She stayed in the city. She and the other teachers went out for drinks as teachers do after school more than you would really want to know. More likely to be red wine spilled on Johnny’s homework than anything else. I watched CNN. I rang her cell phone. Maybe I slept a little, probably very little. The world was full of fear and fire and June was out in the middle of it. She finally came home at four o’clock in the morning. She didn't want to talk about it. She needed to get a few hours sleep and go back to work. If she could grasp a wisp of how angry I was, how scared for her I had been, it wasn't showing in her dark, brown eyes. I made myself as clear as I could be. This was not acceptable behavior and I don’t mean that in any ‘my wife must be home to put dinner on the table’ kind of way.
The next day, she came in at ten o’clock the following morning.
And that, was that. Deny it as she might at the time, this was the ‘fuck you’ that someone had to say to end this thing. At least in my mind, that was what it was. You cannot love somebody and put them in hell. And you cannot love someone who could do that to you. There had been love left at that point. It doesn't all ever go away, but every usable, serviceable iota of it, left me then and there. I would say it was over but the shouting, but there was none. I told her she needed to find someplace else to live. I told her she wasn't welcome in this apartment any longer. The biggest tears came when I flash-forwarded to a years’ later imagined phone call, when one of us would need to inform the other that Poe, our cat of as many years and lives, was dead. But the rest of it had just been thrown on the fire burning out the kitchen window and took to the flame like kindling. It burned there like something hollow. It didn't burn brightly and it didn't burn long. It just went up and then it was gone.