Angel, Guardian of First RespondersbySuperHeroRalph©
This is a Summer Lovin' contest story. Too many readers don't vote. Please vote. I need the support of your vote.
I dedicate this story to my friend, who died that day, may he rest in peace, to all those first responders that keep us safe, to all those in the military preserving our freedom, and especially to those 22 Navy Seals who recently died in Afghanistan.
Widow of 9/11 meets Angel, the guardian of the first responders' Twin Towers Memorial.
Along with the rest of the world, it would be nearly ten years ago that Christine watched 9/11 unfold on television. A date she will never forget and will always remember for the rest of her life, today was the first day that she was able to get out from under her sadness and confront her sorrow. As if it all happened yesterday, forever unfolding in her mind in the way of a reoccurring bad dream, even when she was awake, the events of that God awful day were still fresh in her mind.
When asked during the countless interviews she gave, the face that the media had chosen because she was such a pretty, blonde haired and blue eyed, all American looking woman, Christine remembered she was sitting in front of the television eating oatmeal with blueberries, her favorite health food dish, when the first breaking newsflash interrupted her regular program. A plane had just hit Tower 1, the North Tower of the Twin Towers. She watched the tower explode in an inferno. Before she could wrap her brain around a plane hitting one of the Twin Towers, before she could realize how many people had just died, a second plane hit Tower 2, the South Tower. Horrified, she was stunned by all that she was seeing.
Even though she had oatmeal every day for years, somehow equating the smell, the feel, the texture, and the taste of oatmeal with the horrible memory of that fateful day, she never ate oatmeal again. With drips and drabs of fast breaking information being reported, the realization of it all didn't hit her, until she saw a live feed from ground zero of people covered in ash and soot running for their lives. Knowing her husband was in the thick of it all, with the Twin Towers being his regular beat, she tried calling him but, with so many people on their cell phones, her calls wouldn't go through. Frantic with fright and panicked by fear, not knowing what else to do, she watched the just officially announced terrorist attack unfold on television.
As if those two planes, American Airlines plane, flight #11, that crashed into the North Tower and United Airlines plane, flight #175, that crashed into the South Tower, were movie props trying to dissuade King Kong from clinging onto the Twin Towers, she watched in horror. As if what she was watching was some twisted, make believe, arcade video game of death, devastation, and destruction, not believing her eyes, she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Paralyzed with fear, she was stunned when the news reported that American Airlines, flight #77 had crashed in the Pentagon and it was rumored that United Airlines, flight 93, had been hijacked and shot down by our military, somewhere in Pennsylvania.
How many more planes were out there waiting to hit their targets? They didn't know. How many more planes were waiting to take off to carry out their terrorist missions. They didn't know. With no one knowing anything, until later, they decided to make the sanely safe decision to ground them all.
With her life teetering with the fate of her husband, in those next few, panic stricken hours, endless long days, and sleepless night that morphed together as one, hoping for the best, while expecting the worst, she didn't know if Rob was dead or alive. Suddenly sensing him taking his last breath and feeling the connection they had in life end with the death of him, she knew her life, as she knew it, would never be the same. She knew he was already dead.
For two years afterward, in colorless, slow motion without sound, she relived the horror of that day every night in her nightmares. Unable to stop watching any of it, flipping channels from station to station to avoid commercials to record all of it in her mind's eye, while traumatized by all that happened, she wished she hadn't watched any of it. Glued to the television for days in the way that the rest of us were, not showering, eating, or sleeping, with the horror of her husband buried somewhere in that rubble, she had to numbly watch it all unfold with her own two eyes for her to believe what she was seeing. Disturbed from her sleep for so long afterward, feeling as if a giant monster grabbed her and swallowed her whole, she awakened to the dark, choking visions of the towers crumbling, the toxic cloud of ash pluming, and the dust billowing around her.
Then, from watching all those people that lined the roofs of both towers, survivors who thought they were safe from the fires and flames, after being so temporarily removed from the extreme heat and toxic fumes, and hoping for help to get down on the ground and receiving none, there were those nightmares, too. She dreamt she was atop one of the Twin Towers reaching out for her husband's hand, as the helicopter that tried to save them couldn't because of the thick smoke, the intense heat, and the downdraft, and had to fly off to save itself from crashing. At first, with the towers so tall, on fire and smoking, burning, exploding, and shaking, and with the video shot so far away and the leap so very high up, she thought it was bits of paper being blown from the roof that fell. She was horrified, when the television reporter told her that it was people jumping from the roof with some landing on and killing those people on the ground below.
Falling, falling, falling, and falling, that night she dreamt she fell one hundred and ten stories. Falling, falling, falling, and falling, never to see their loved ones again, she couldn't even imagine the horror those people felt knowing they were going to die. Falling, falling, falling, and falling, strangers unified by the same fate of death, she imagined her body hitting the ground and her heart exploding in a million pieces, when they told her that her husband was dead.
"Dead? Dead! Dead...he can't be dead." Living, crying, grieving, and somehow surviving, most times, she wished she were dead, too.
If her nightmares weren't her new reality, her reoccurring visions would be less horrific. Only, she awakened with the knowledge that her husband was in the midst of all that. Watching the towers crumble, watching them fall to the ground in a big cloud of ash, hearing New York rumble, and feeling the Earth shake was only overshadowed by the unforgettable sight of so many people running, the sound of so many people screaming, and the knowledge of so many people dying.
From car alarms to the wails of police, fire and ambulance sirens, the never ending array of unanswerable distress signals gave her an internal headache that never stopped, even when she covered her ears, and even after taking painkillers. As if all of New York was under siege and burning, fear paralyzed everyone except for all of those first responders, who continued doing their jobs nonstop to find and to attend to survivors. Unable to breathe, suffocating in her sleep, as if she too were buried alive, too, she awakened gasping for air with the realization that it wasn't a dream and her husband was still dead and gone forever.
Having to relive the loss of him over and again in her nightmares, paralyzed with grief, she never felt such soulful pain and sorrowful sadness. Hurting everywhere, she felt as if she was the sole survivor of a horrible car accident. Feeling as if she was split in two with one side of her body still doing Earthly things and the other side numb and wishing she were dead, too, somehow, she survived. Somehow, she continued with her life without him.
Tired of playing the what if game, replaying the events of that morning over again in her head, she wished her husband had called in sick that day. She wished he had forgotten his lunch or his cell phone, in the way that he left her behind, and had to return home to give her one, last kiss and one, long hug goodbye that may have saved his life. If only he had lingered longer to make love to her, their love may have spared him then, in the way that it tore her apart now. If only he had a doctor or dentist appointment, fate may have intervened and saved him. If only they were on vacation, God may have sparred him, but he took his vacation to marry her. Now that he's gone, there were so many things left unsaid and so many things that she needed to tell him. Hoping she did and knowing he'd know if she hadn't, she couldn't remember if she told him she loved him, when he left for work that fateful day.
Fearing the worst, while pretending that he wasn't dead, she knew he was one of the first responders who responded. Even though she prayed that he'd come home safe to her, no one had to tell her that he'd never come home again. Wishing they'd spare her the hurt, an echo that endlessly replayed in her head, the words of his superior officers and the chaplain were painfully redundant when they told her the bad news in person.
"Dead? Dead! Dead...he can't be dead. We were just married and were supposed to start a family. We were saving for a house. We had reservations for dinner. His parents were coming for Thanksgiving. We were looking forward to our first Christmas together as husband and wife. We still haven't received our wedding pictures and opened some of our wedding gifts."
She surrounded herself with those families she knew were in the same, sad situation as she was. As if having a 24 hour open house with her support team, the diversion they brought to her day eased her load by giving her temporary solace with the thoughts that life continues after death and that her sorrow wasn't just about her but about others, too. Even though they were still searching and hoping for survivors, even though others manned their vigils hoping their loved ones somehow survived the crush of a fallen skyscraper and had somehow found a pocket of clean, breathable air to keep them alive, until they were dug out, a blessing in disguise was when they found her husband nearly right away.
Not even used to the idea that he was missing, knowing now that he was officially dead, their abrupt notification of his death ended her hope as a loving wife of him surviving and prematurely started her grief as a grieving widow. She didn't need to officially hear that they found his body and that he was dead. They didn't have to tell her that he was gone forever. When that first tower fell, her heart broke, and she knew Rob was already dead. As if their hearts were beating as one, as if they were identical twins forever tied together by the same egg, as if it was her last one, too, she felt him take his last breath and somehow heard him say, "Goodbye. I love you."
With phone lines down and cell phone towers overloaded, she tried calling and calling him. Then, they announced on television and on the radio for everyone to remain off the phones and to keep them for emergency use only. Now, no longer able to call him, still trying to call him nonetheless and feeling guilty every time she tried, after the city's warning that everyone stay off their phones, other than to go down there with the rest of humanity and maintain a vigil, she didn't know what else to do.
Before they had notified her of his death, when he didn't return her calls, with the dust cloud forever lingering and still blocking the sun, no longer hoping for the best, she figured God couldn't receive her prayers to answer them. Maybe there were just too many prayers and she had to wait her turn for God to answer them. She called his friends, his co-workers, and the station, but all the first responders were forever gone with him, too.
As if a plague had descended upon the city, as if a dark cloud of evil covered the landscape, the days melded with the nights in the way of a nuclear winter. Raining ash for hours, days, and weeks, a slimy film covered everything and everyone needed a mask to breathe. Beyond hope, a time only for prayer, knowing now that he was already gone and gone for good, never to walk through their front door again, all she had left was her faith in her God, along with the memories of him.
Her best friend, Jennifer, stayed with her throughout the whole ordeal. At times, they even slept in the same bed and held one another, as if they were lovers. Yet, even though she was never alone and was always comforted by friends and/or accompanied by relatives, she felt so alone and lonely without her husband, her best friend.
It was on those first few nights, when she put her head on her pillow and tried to sleep, that the horror of him being gone pained her heart with sadness. It was on those first few cold nights, when he was no longer there to spoon her, to touch her, to hold her, and to tell her he loved her, that she died with him. It was on those first few mornings, when she awakened without having him there next to her and touched his cold pillow, that filled her with grief all over again. After she stopped taking sedatives, those first few days and nights turned into weeks and months, before she came to terms with the final realization that he was gone forever and never coming home.
Going through the motions of suddenly having to live her life alone, after thinking she had it all, reliving her nightmare without break, she had so few memories as a married couple to cherish, after Rob died. Looking so much like something dug up from a grave, covered with dust and ash that turned his dark blue uniform to chalky grey and his face a ghostly frozen image, she was numb when they found his still body. A man, who was once so full of life, laughter, thoughts, ideas, and conversation, she had a hard time understanding that he was dead. None of it made any sense to her.
"Dead? How could he be dead? He's not dead. He's dead."
She's never seen him so quietly motionless, so still and so peaceful. He looked like a coal miner taking a nap on the job. Even when he was sleeping, he tossed and turned and talked in his sleep, no doubt, from the stress of his job.
"Wake up! Wake up, Rob. You're not dead. This is just my nightmare. Please, wake up."
Nearly unrecognizable after being crushed by chunks of the building, his bones broken, his cute nose crushed by a rock, his teeth missing, and his face disproportionately swollen and badly bruised, maybe they made a mistake. Maybe this isn't Rob, but someone else, someone else's husband, someone else's brother, someone else's son, and someone else's friend. When she identified his remains by the possessions he carried in his pockets and by the tattoo he had on his shoulder, she knew they made no mistake. She knew this was her Rob.
With the whole country treating him so much as the fallen hero that he was, prescribed sedatives to help her with her husband's transition from life to death and her transition from loving wife to saddened widow, she was numb through the funeral. Too much to bear, she was numb at every ceremony and service she attended for all those brother police officers, Port Authority police officers, firefighters, and EMT's they found. As if those first few months, after Rob's death was a horrible nightmare that never ended, she made it through her days in a velvety haze of prescribed sedatives, survivor support groups, and psychological therapy.
Having socialized with the families of other first responders, the tragedy touched nearly every family she knew. There'd be no more barbeques, pool parties, birthday parties, and celebrations, not for a long while. There were just tears and fears that their worlds, as they all knew it, came to a crashing end with the fall of those twin towers. She was still numb when they invited her to the White House to posthumously receive her husband's Medal of Valor. Now, officially, by the officious office of the President, Rob was a hero and she was a widow. Finally, after all the funerals, the interviews, and the hoopla, she was all alone with herself.
Unable to live in New York anymore. Afraid to leave her apartment for fear that a building would fall on her, too, once she received her settlement from the 9/11 Survivors' Foundation, she moved to the safest city she could find, Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was a place she visited as a small child and always remembered it as being safe and fun. Returning to a time when she was the happiest and to a place of innocence, roller coasters, and chocolate sweets, even if it was a facade, she needed to recapture that feeling of safeness and security to survive.
Not knowing what it was, the first time she heard it in the distance, a long, low, loud sounding siren, it scared her out of her wits. Hershey, as did most of the surrounding communities had volunteer firefighters and the siren was the city's way of summoning the volunteers, whenever there was a fire and/or other emergencies. Even after she knew what it was, as if dreaming it in her nightly nightmares, the sound of it was an eerie reminder of all the sounds she heard on 9/11, that fateful day, all the tragedies she imagined these first responders were rushing to, and all the dangers they faced when they got there.
Her neighbors told her there was a similar siren, one used by the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island, if ever there was an emergency. Her neighbors told her that the Three Mile Island siren didn't stop, as did the fire siren, when all the first responders were in place. Her neighbors told her that if she ever heard that siren, just to get in her car and flee. Only, after having already lived through one such horrible tragedy, having experienced the uncertainty and survived the panic once before, this time, she'd rather just stay put and not be part of the long, desperate horde of panicked people trying to flee the city at the same time. After losing her husband and her life, as she knew it, she'd rather just turn on the stereo, pour herself a glass of wine, and kiss her ass good-bye.
As soon as she bought her townhouse, feeling so alone and lonely, she adopted a dog, a miniature Toy Poodle and named her Kisses. Having dated Rob and having lived together since forever, but not married long enough to have had children, they were saving a down payment to buy a house. Barely beginning their first year of marriage before 9/11 left her a widow, her dog helped her through those bad days and lonely nights. Never without her dog, always afraid that someone or something would hurt her too, Kisses slept at the foot of her bed.
Still hurting after so many years, finally venturing out of her safe haven and fashioned cocoon, she was now strong enough to return to New York to visit the 9/11 Memorial. Leaving behind a lot of memories, she was strong enough to face them all now. New York was the place where she was born, lived, and worked, and the place where her husband had died. Not wanting to go there for the ten year anniversary, figuring she'd go now, before all of humanity descended upon New York to mourn the occasion by remembering their lives and celebrating the dead, she didn't want to be part of the crushing crowd and the maddening mob. She wanted to avoid seeing old friends, those survivors who were still just as sad as she was, who'd make her relive the memories of better times, and who'd make her feel bad all over again for the misery she still felt now.
Other than staying with Jennifer, Christine wanted to be alone and had wandered the crowded sidewalks of New York for hours. Basically still the same, it was strange to see how little New York had changed in ten years, especially with the Twin Towers and the surrounding buildings leveled. Finally returning home, Jennifer opened the door for Christine visiting Manhattan for the first time, since moving from New York to Hershey, Pennsylvania and gave her a big hug.