I remember. Who I called when I sprinted for the phone that morning, how I ate breakfast in front of the Today show in a fog of routine, not knowing what else to do. I chased Peanut-Butter Bumpers around a bowl and watched the towers burn, a fact that still shames me five years on. I was still watching, live, when Matt Lauer said wait, something's happening, something happened, run that back. The first tower was gone, and I stood in my living room, wept and stamped my feet like a tantrumming child, in utter disbelief. Three thousand miles away, three thousand levels of magnitude below "helpless."
When we were still in college, David took me to dinner at Windows on the World. He wore a charcoal suit procured by his uncle, who worked in the Garment District; I had a little black jersey dress I'd gotten at the mall in Yonkers. We met under the clock at Grand Central Station and took the subway allllllll the way downtown, a surprise for me that I figured out halfway. It occurs to me now that we were broke-ass broke, and where did the money for that dinner come from? Uncle Phillip, I have you to thank for this evening as well.
In the elevator, my ears popped twice, it was that high.
We had a table at the interior of the room, rather than being flat-up against the mind-boggling view; I don't know now whether I am grateful for that or regret not having the opportunity, now lost, to take it fully in. I remember that we had pheasant consommé as an appetizer, probably because David mispronounced it. Pheasant! What Richie Rich was always having under glass! The rest of the meal has slipped away from memory. The waiter was unfailingly polite and solicitous and clearly bemused at our youth, our concerted effort to behave as classily as we could imagine people might. We spent $100 and felt like royalty. Afterwards, we convinced ourselves that we could've gotten wine if we'd mustered the nerve to ask, despite being underage. That waiter would have brought us wine, we were sure of it.
I have thought of that waiter a hundred times in the past five years. I don't know his name, can't take even a wild guess as to his age, couldn't choose him from a lineup today. But I've thought about him. Even on that terrible day, I did, and I wondered: do waiters at high-tone restaurants stay on, for years, for a decade? was there a morning shift at Windows? There was, I know that now. Staff and attendees, gathered for a breakfast conference. Those people died horrific deaths, they roasted and strangled on the blackening air or chose a different devil, chose to jump. Would you jump? I've asked and been asked, any number of times. Would you jump, do you think? I want to believe that yes, yes I would--that I would seize upon a method to my fate, that bravery, a last act of defiant will. But I say that knowing I fear fire more than I fear heights. And knowing that I didn't have to choose.
All this to say that I have not forgotten, that I won't. I'll remember, even as the President squanders the world's goodwill and leads us ever onward into a morass of war that will take thousands more lives, American and not, than were lost that day. I remembered, when I looked into that yawning hole myself last year--Ground Zero just a huge construction pit to the naked eye, if you didn't know what had happened there you never would. I think of it. I think of that waiter. For me he is its public face, even as I would fail to recognize him if he walked past me on the street. How I hope he might, though I can never know.