Two columns of light stream skyward where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood. The lights appeared as dusk settled in New York City and the lights will remain on through sunrise tomorrow.
These last two years have flown by. I so clearly remember wandering around in a daze this day in 2001, catching brief views of the television coverage of the buildings’ collapse, the Pentagon crash and fire, the Pennsylvania crash, the shutdown of US airspace. The endless repeat of horrifying images, the networks’ unfathomable need, it seemed, to replay the crash of the airplane into the second tower.
I remember the hours I spent at Taylor Brewing Company that night. The phone call with Mom that night and the next day when she told me Gammy wasn’t doing so well, there wasn’t much chance she’d make it more than a few days. Our discussion that I wouldn’t be able to get back to Salt Lake in less than three days, and that I was planning just to keep my originally scheduled return flight for the following Sunday and would take my chances.
I remember the drive to Milwaukee Wednesday, the uncertainty that I may be turned back at the state border and I wasn’t even sure if anyone would be at the Milwaukee office when I got there. The drive back that afternoon, another stop at Taylor Brewing and ongoing imagery of the attacks.
The phone call early Thursday from Mom, confirming that Gammy was slipping away and probably wouldn’t last more than a day or two. Talking again about not being able to get back before Sunday anyway, and planning to spend Saturday in downtown Chicago because I hadn’t been there before and since there was nothing I could do from 1300 miles away, and since I’d already made my peace with Gammy’s absence from my life, it made no sense to me to change those plans. Mom’s agreement, through tears, as I asked her to call me the moment anything changed.
The numbness of ongoing coverage Friday morning, and the anticipation of meeting a good friend that night. The giddiness as the end of the workday approached—I was meeting this person for the first time, and we had no idea what we were going to do. Uncertainty as I made my way into Downers Grove to find the train station, and when I spotted him standing on the sidewalk waiting for a blue Ford Escape to appear. The small talk as we made our way to dinner, and over dinner, and after as I drove to my hotel. We were going to downtown Chicago the next day and decided we’d both stay in my hotel room because it had twin beds and no point in driving all over the western suburbs when we could both sleep in the room and just hop the commuter train in the morning.
Starting awake when my cell phone rang at 10:00 on Saturday. Gammy had died about an hour before. Katharine was on her way to Salt Lake with her friend and coworker Heather. They’d work on funeral arrangements and so on when Kat arrived, and I would stick to my originally scheduled flight the following day, with greater confidence now that air traffic was beginning a slow return to normalcy. Our discussion through Mom’s tears that I would be following my original plan, spending Saturday in downtown Chicago, that if anyone needed me I would have my cell phone on me all day.
Getting up and showering and being quiet about it because the phone and my conversation hadn’t disturbed my friend, and finally heading for the train station around midday. The train ride into Chicago and the walk from the train station to the El, and the walk from the El to the John Hancock Tower, and the exit from the observation-deck elevator to the corner of the building facing O’Hare, where the crowd gathered to make sure no airplanes swerved toward the downtown area.
Walking along the downtown streets to the art museum, and the return to the train station, where we parted ways with a handshake and a smile.
The express-train ride back to Downers Grove, a welter of emotions and images bubbling up within me. The need to lose myself in mindless entertainment, and another trip to Taylor Brewing, the hours of NTN Trivia. I won about a dozen games, lost another dozen or so. Returning to my hotel around midnight and crashing into bed, up early the next day to check out of the hotel and go to the airport to deal with any schedule problems and to have plenty of time to get through security. And the ensuing breeze through security, the flight on schedule, the return home, and the arrangements for Gammy’s death.
Seven days that felt like five or six years at the time.
Now two years later it seems like it was over in the blink of an eye.