When It Collapsed

Janine called me after the second plane struck the south tower. It had just gone two in the afternoon here, just after nine in the morning there.

Hundreds of people were in flames. Nightmares were being born. I was fucking the new girl from payroll in a hotel I didn’t even know the name of.

There was nothing particularly unusual about Janine calling—she often did, only it wasn’t just to say, “Hi Pumpkin, how’s your day been?” as it so often was.

My first mistake of three was answering my phone. Ride of the Valkyries. Let it play and soundtrack my sex.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda.

My wife’s name was flashing on the screen. Just ignore it, I was being told, and Lord knows that would have been the smart thing to do, but for some reason I had it in my head that not answering the call was a far more dangerous folly than ignoring it.

The girl was right. I should have let it ring.

Anyway, I thought I could bluff. Toss her an alibi, I thought. Throw the dog a bone. Why not? Where was the harm?

“Hey babe, what’s up?”

That was all it took. She had me from hello.

Second mistake.

I had the story all worked out.

Chicken salad sandwich for lunch. I was in the cafeteria with Paul from Accounts. Mary Poppins played on the TV. I knew it was supposed to be on. I had checked the listings that morning.

Yeah honey, loving you lots too. Tell Davey his daddy can’t wait to see him.

I thought I was being clever, covering my ass. Turned out I was setting a match under it instead.

The devil is in the detail, you see. Third mistake.

Of course, nothing was on television that afternoon, nothing except for what was going on in New York, that is. Janine didn’t know I was in a hotel room, with another woman, but she didn’t have to know where I was, just where I wasn’t.

I went back to my girl.

She went down on me as the north tower went down on everyone else.

At home, after the excuses, the reasons, the please believe me’s, and the promises.

After the apologies.

After everything else, all that was left was the truth, and Janine knew that anyway.

I wonder what I will tell my son, my grandchildren, when they ask me where I was that September day when the World Trade Center crumbled—when people leapt to their deaths from hundred-story windows, choked on black air, when the world grew up.

And they will ask. They all do.

And I wonder if the tears in my eye will be for the thousands of people who died that day.

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