It was the fourth September 10th, 2001 we had spent in New York City. And each of those Mondays discouraged us even more. Hanging around the World Trade Center for a month (real time) got us no closer to the unfettered access we needed. The possibility of being stuck in this ruthless rut forever was starting to weigh heavily on my soul. That, and the image of my mother all Mr. Hyde like, rampaging through my father’s house slashing and slicing people up. The way he told the story made me believe him even though I didn’t want to. I wanted the last image of my mother to be that woman that kissed me and Angel on the cheek before she left for the office. The one that told me to look after my little sister. The one that told me she would see us later that evening. It was hard to reconcile the sweet woman who left us with the deranged monster that my father swore ambushed him. But oddly enough, I believed him. What did he have to gain by lying to me? Which left me to wonder one very important and haunting thing. What had gotten into my mother that made her into a raving lunatic?
Because only a lunatic could harness the power of crazy and pick up a full grown (and very muscular, I might add) man and slam him into the floor. And what was up with her talking about nuclei or neutrons?
“What’s wrong?” Thena asked.
We were standing on the Observation Deck of the South Tower and I hadn’t said a word since we got there. And now, I was looking over the edge of the railing like I might just jump over it. Wouldn’t do me any good, though, considering there was a jumper’s net not far below. And even if there wasn’t, a fall from 110 stories wouldn’t do me any harm, unless you call waking up in my bed remembering absolutely nothing harm.
“What’s wrong,” she asked again.
I replied with a shake of my head but inside I said what wasn’t wrong. All the talking about what we were going to do and how it was going to go felt so foreign now that we were here.
“Is it the dream?” Thena asked.
“Look, it wasn’t a wet one if that’s what you’re thinking. It was actually more like a nightmare.”
“But one in which you kept screaming out Zoe’s name.”
I hung my head, resting it on the upside-down teepee created by my thumb, index and middle finger. In my dream, my other was attacking my father and his girlfriends, a bloody foursome of sorts. Only it was just my mother’s body. But the head was Zoe’s. And she had that same crazed look in her eyes that my father described. I watched as she stabbed my father over and over again. And then, as he lay there in a pool of his own blood, she took a Phillips head screwdriver and slowly, sinfully twisted it right left right, into my father’s temple. He screamed but the screams were my voice. Begging for Zoe to stop.
“The dream was nothing,” I said. “And everything is cool.” The lie was better than the truth. The truth was I was coming unglued. Destabilized by this loop which faithfully kept twirling us round and round. I was a moon trapped in its orbit. And its gravity was slowly tearing me apart.
I couldn’t face Thena because my eyes would surely tell her the truth. So I turned and stared at the skyline. A gray mist settled over the buildings below, like the buildings were hiding under a fluffy blanket, wary of the coming danger. The sky was gloomy like it knew that the planes were coming. It was weird that the following morning it would be clear and a beautiful blue. For a little while. Because the smoke billowing from the towers would darken the sky. Likewise, my heart was darkened because we hadn’t found our way in.
Security had tightened since the 1993 bombing. In fact, most of the building was off limits to the public. So on the occasions that we visited the inside of the towers, it was only the lobby that we were able to freely peruse and of course the observation decks on the South Tower. There was also the restaurant, Windows on the World, on the 107th floor of the North Tower. We had dinner in the restaurant—or at least tried to. Sitting there amongst a dining area filled with people who didn’t know that all of this would soon come crashing to the ground snatched away our appetites. Our food basically watched us as we stared out of the window at the beautiful, yet haunting sky line.
We had dinner there each evening of September 9th, getting there at 8pm each time. We sat at the same table and was waited on by the same waiter: a slender man from Maldonado. The staff was diverse, reminding me of staff you’ll find on cruise ships. From various countries. Various accents. A melting pot 107 stories in the sky. We ordered the same entrées. Perhaps eating the very same food over and over again. Giving brand new meaning to the idea of recycling. And each dinner I was quiet, thinking mostly about our mission. But also about my father’s story about my mother.
I was thinking about her then as we took in the cool air atop this man made mountain. On the Observation Deck, I considered telling Thena about what my father said. But I couldn’t figure out how to do it without sounding like a lunatic. Finally, when I didn’t answer she said, “I get it. You’re imagining the planes coming at us.” I looked around us. People were smiling and chit chatting, talking about the show they were going to see that evening. The trip to the Statue of Liberty. The visit to the Museum. None of them knew. My heart really broke when that one little kid asked, “Mommy, can we come back up here tomorrow morning?” And the mother replied, “Sure. Weather man says it should be clearer tomorrow.”
“We’re powerless,” I moaned.
“Don’t say that.”
“It’s been almost a month and all we’ve done is witness this building fall three times,” I whispered forcefully. “I don’t know if I can take another.”
“Did you think we’d figure this out over night? I didn’t. I knew it would take some time because of all the variables. But we will be successful. Were that not the case, we wouldn’t keep getting all these chances to make things right.”
Not far from us, a man in a dark blue work suit was waving at…well…the North Tower. His thick arms just flailing recklessly and I thought to myself, great, I’m not the only one going crazy.
“What’s up with that guy?” Thena asked.
“He’s waving at his wife.” We didn’t see the rail thin man who said that standing there until his words made me jump. “She’s in the restaurant over there, I suppose. Hank claims he can see her. But I can’t. Can you?”
The man was wearing an identical dark blue suit, though not as starched and pressed as the waving man. I saw from his tag his name was Selwyn. Selwyn tugged on the pudgy man’s shirt and said, “You had enough? You’re scaring the tourist.”
The man turned around. His pear-shaped face a light in an otherwise dreary space. He seemed to have a smile that would light up a room. Kind of like my mother—the sane version of her, at least.
“He’s just jealous of me and my Annie,” the man said. His tag read Parl. I was staring at it when he said, “If you’re wonderin’, she’s my wife, not my sister.” He laughed and his round belly bounced. “Stuff we do in the bedroom is illegal for siblings to do in this state.”
I wasn’t wondering about whoever she was. I had no idea there was a she. I was looking at his last name and wondering if letters were missing. Shouldn’t it be Parlor? Where was the O and the R?
“First time in the Big Apple?” he said.
“I’m a lifer myself. But being up this high and seeing the Manhattan skyline, still can’t get used to it.”
He had several chins and blotchy skin. Thin blonde hair attempted to cover his head. His jowls shook when he laughed and it appeared he liked to do a lot of laughing. And his lips were locked into an endless smile.
“The Misses and me come up to the top ever so often, ya know? Hold hands. Some times on our lunch break. She’ll come over.” He smiled and his face spread like it was a bean bag and some invisible person had sat on it. “Let’s settle this once and for all.” Settle what? He slapped a heavy hand on my shoulder, pointed to the North Tower and said, “Do you see her?”
“The Misses?” I said. For the first time realizing how this strange conversation even started. “Your wife is in the North Tower?”
“Yep. She works there. Maintenance same as me. That’s actually how we met. Started working for the Port Authority same year.”
“And they’re the most sickening couple you’ll ever wanna meet,” Selwyn said.
“Your wife works maintenance…just like you?”
The man removed his hand. His smile disappeared. “There’s nothing wrong with a woman working maintenance. She can outwork the best of them. Especially this lazy no count pitiful excuse for a maintenance man standing beside me.”
“Watch it, Porky!”
Thena and I looked at each other at the same time and stared at each other for a few seconds.
“What?” Hank said.
“Let’s let these good people enjoy their visit and get back to work,” Selwyn said. As he was guiding Hank away he said, “Say, you gotta work tomorrow?”
“Bright and early,” Hank replied. “Annie too.”
“Can’t catch a break, huh?”
Their words trailed off as Thena and I just stared at each other, optimistic that we had finally caught a break.