It Has Been Ten Years…Let me start by telling you about the day that ended my life forever. It was a crisp, post-summer day, warm enough for a t-shirt, but cool enough for a pair of jeans. Beautiful day, God-awfully beautiful, as I remember it. Our alarm went off at 6, as usual. I hit snooze, as usual. This day, today it was, was different. I crept out of bed as quietly as a child sneaking a midnight snack, and headed for the hard wood of the stairs. The wood was cold, I remember, but I was careful not to start, careful not to make a sound. I knew that today was the beginning of the rest of my life. She must have heard the crackling of the bacon grease on the frying pan, or perhaps it was the smell of the freshly ground coffee that woke her, but in any case, she surprised me in the kitchen. “Why didn’t you wake me, love?” “Breakfast in bed would have been a wonderful surprise, but, thanks to you, it’s ruined. Thanks Anne, I appreciate it. I appreciate you waking up today. Now you get clean-up duty. Ha.” She giggled at my sarcasm. She had a love/hate relationship with my sarcasm, which was abundant. She frequently commented on how weak people use sarcasm to take the attention off their weaknesses, yet she always seemed to find humor in it. She was that kind of girl, I guess. “What is on the agenda for today?” I asked simply. I always found her work fascinating. “Well, I have a meeting at 8:30 with the partners, you know, to explain that proposal I was telling you about. This could be it Jim, it really could. This time tomorrow I could be on the other side of the table, taking proposals from the peons rather than giving them, as one.” She always put herself down. But she was real. “You’ve been working on this forever, how could it be anything but perfect? I know you will blow them away. And if you don’t, fuck ‘em, right?” “No, Jim, not ‘fuck ‘em’. These people are my bosses, I have to care how they feel.” “Anne, be realistic. These old maggots will be dead or retired in the next five years. You have worked your way up in that company from the ground up, they need someone like you. They need someone who knows their company, inside and out. You will blow the fake hair right off their heads, I promise you.” “I hope your right…” “I am right. Nothing short of a bomb going off will ruin this for you, honey.” The world is sarcastic too, I suppose… We took the train in, together, just like every other day. New Jersey is certainly not the prettiest state in the Union, but something about that day was simply splendid, unreal even. The landscape seemed to fly by too quickly, too smoothly. If you live in Jersey, and you have taken the train into the city, you understand landscape to mean traffic on the Turnpike, a glimpse of Newark Airport, and the ever-famous Secaucus Junction, the two million dollar train station that nobody ever uses. Her head rested on the shoulder of my blue maintenance jacket, which clashed horribly with her grey, formal, pants suit. It was almost unrealistic that we worked in the same country, much less the same building. It was even more mind blowing that she was content with a working stiff like myself, not some Park Avenue douche bag. But I was a writer, and she understood that. I was just making ends meet. I was not going to get stuck working in that basement forever, and I was sure of that. How right I was. Today, we were running a bit late. Breakfast cleanup took a little longer than expected, I suppose, but those details are long forgotten and ungodly irrelevant. An older gentlemen in a business suit gave up his seat on the subway for her, I remember that like it was yesterday. It made me quickly contemplate modern society, and what we have turned into. This man, who, quite honestly looked in his seventies, gave up his seat for a young lady, because that is the way he was raised. My parents raised me that way, I thought, but I knew I was in the minority. Maybe that is what she saw in me, simple decency. That simple act of kindness was enough to make me silently thank the man by taking him by the hand and helping him onto the platform. He understood. Perhaps decent minds are as alike as great minds. The business district was as hustle and bustle as ever. The closer we got to the Towers, the faster the pace became. I remember thinking about these men and what they did. I laughed out loud. “What’s so funny?” “Look at them. All of them. Imagine what they look like from God’s perspective.” I was by no means a religious man. “What do you mean?” “Buy, sell, buy, sell, buy, sell. They are doing nothing but playing Monopoly with other people’s money! And not that cheesy McDonald’s online monopoly, the real game.”“I never liked that game, it takes too long.” “A lifetime, my love, a fucking lifetime. But these people don’t really care, do they? Like I said, it’s not their money. They might as well have just pulled it out of the box, and stamped it like the Treasury Department. Little pieces of paper control everything.” “Money doesn’t control me!” “Sweetie, if it did, you certainly would NOT be with me.” We approached Tower One. “Now get up there, and show those old bastards how brilliant I KNOW you are.” She smiled and gazed into my eyes. I smiled because she smiled. My thoughts left New York, and traveled back home, to the engagement ring tucked safely in my lock box under my bed. Even though I had been awake for a few hours, I was still somewhat bleary-eyed. I never was a morning person; she truly was my reason for waking up in the morning. I went about my day-to-day business for her, and only her.At age sixteen, I was diagnosed as Bipolar I. I have struggled for years with the disease; medication to doctor, to medication to inpatient treatment, to medication to more doctors. By the time I hit twenty I was on more medication than most eighty-year old women I knew, and this eventually culminated into a serious psychiatric breakdown. I wanted to leave. I needed to get out of the 1950’s suburbia I felt like I was falling into. My nuclear life was bent and broken, and simple monotony was simply maddening, until I met her.It was her smile, I think, that did it. The smile that made me smile. The smile that could end wars, silence even the most obnoxious of our kind, and pick all of Hiroshima up from the ashes. The smile that was medication; I fed off her happiness. She pulled me, a psychopathic aspiring writer with no prospect other than self-projected, out of the dank, dark hallway with no end. I stood up. I got a job, meaningless though it was. It was stability, and she was my foundation. I could no longer relate to Atlas, the burden was gone. It was just Anne, and, at the end of the day, it was always just Anne. I asked her, one day, why she let me buy her that drink. She asked me why I bought it to begin with. There was no winning these battles, she was my intellectual equal. “Your eyes,” she finally responded, “You had the most beautiful eyes. I could tell, right there you know, with eyes like that, how could I go wrong?” She always knew how to get to me. This is what got me through the day, thoughts of serenity, thoughts of Anne. Thoughts of beginning the cycle again, white picket fence and all. Maybe a dog too; neither of us were cat people. Like I said, I was still bleary-eyed. I had only had one cup of coffee, and trust me, it was no Starbucks. So when the blast knocked me off my feet, and into the concrete wall of the second basement sublevel of Tower One, I couldn’t tell you whether I had been punched or simply fallen asleep standing up. I came to quickly. Something was not right. I quickly took in my surroundings. I heard screams from above. I could see nobody around me, yet I sensed a presence. The taste of iron was repulsive, and it wasn’t until I reached for my throbbing head that I realized I was bleeding rather steadily. But that did not matter. I moved for the elevator, but thought better of it. I had no idea the horrors I was to find when I ran up those two flights of stairs. I looked at the clock. 8:49. She was in the main conference room on the 108th floor. I hit the lobby and expected to find some semblance of order, some semblance of familiarity. All I found was panic. There was nobody to ask, nobody to speak to, nobody to relate with. There was, instead, a heard of cattle headed for the door, not one looking back. It was like they were headed out to slaughter, ignorant of what lie ahead. It was raining from the ceiling, as apparently the fire alarms were going off. All I could hear was sirens. They reverberate in my brain to this very day; they are the last thing I hear before I fall asleep, and the first thing I hear when I wake up. Getting to her would be impossible, I thought. I tried the staircase, more than willing to run up a hundred floors. The mob was impossible. I exited the building to assess the situation. She is probably already evacuated anyway. The outside was no more familiar. I had stepped into Beirut. The blaring sirens hit me again. Blaring, blaring, incessantly blaring. I was not prepared for what I was about to see. I looked up with everyone else, feeling like a duck in the rain, mouth open, ready to drown. When I saw what had happened, I was floored. I froze. One of the three jewels of the famed New York skyline had a gaping hole in it. Fires blazed like Dante, I could feel the heat from the ground level. The 108th floor. I guessed that a bomb had gone off, probably around floor 90. Anne. Floor 108. I moved so fast the building seemed to be running towards me as well. I had to get back. Another unexpected blow. I was thrown to the ground again. I was being dragged away by a firefighter or a police officer; at the time I saw nothing but a uniform. Mania kicked in. He told me the building was being evacuated. I told him her floor. The look on his face was a response enough. I was back in that hallway, dank and dark as ever. And then it happened, and it all seemingly made sense. At 9:03, I witnessed a plane crash into the South Tower. I saw it; I saw the nose of the plane go in one side, and come out the other, in nothing but shambles. At the same time I saw the looks on the faces of every passenger, the pilot, and Anne. It was the same look we all had. Horrified, yet resolute. Scared, confused, yet seemingly expectant. We all knew there was no happy ending this time, we all knew. It was at that moment I saw the look on every mother’s face, I saw the tears well up in their eyes as they told their eleven and twelve year olds that we were now at war. War. Such an archaic word to a child growing up in the 80’s and 90’s. School teaches us World War I was the war to end all wars. World War II was a result of Hitler’s rise to power, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But these were military wars, fought far from America’s heartland. The World Trade Center was no military target, and Anne was no soldier. We knew we were at war then. We just didn’t know with whom.I did what I could. I helped the elderly move away from the towers. I shielded the eyes of the children from the horrors above. I assured the women that their husbands were fine. The fires would be out soon, and Anne would walk out the door, and she would see me, and she would smile. She would smile and I would smile and it would all be okay. This is truly the delusion that I created. The delusion that kept me going as an able bodied man, a decent man, a man not helping because he has to, but because he was thrown in a situation that forced him to react. Decent people react decently. I was barely able to speak when the South Tower collapsed. All those people, those innocent, working people. All the way from the bankers and lawyers in their business best, to the maintenance and mail-room workers making ends meet. Gone, buried, and gone. Mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins were buried amongst the steel and concrete. We are all the same. Deep down, we all knew what was next. 108th floor. I saw the bodies falling from heaven; they had given up hope. They didn’t want to burn, no ashes to ashes for them. Fuck ‘em. Isn’t that what I said to her? Fuck ‘em. They aren’t going to take me! I’m going on my own terms, culminating in a glorious free fall. My life ended on September 11th, 2001 at 10:28am. The skyline cried for its fallen twins. I was broken, again.Ushered in by paradesof bombs and falling towersand chaos,we follow the leader off the cliff,into civil unrest; rebellion swells swollen belliesstarving for change,craving its successand lack of death.Potential poison joins rankswith death at the river’s edge,collecting death-price and love-toll;pay the man and move on,or chance fond memories—a future glance unpredictable,not unreliable, but inspiredby tireless grinding at the stone,creating beauty; unmatched,dispatched and shimmering,sharp, spiked, and hazardousfor the novice handler. The money-man means business—distress or the best confessionmeans nothing; no comfortby experts or otherwise;the prize is not selling your soulbut giving it, willingly, happily,and guilt-free.Pride means nothing on the ride of love—a vile, made-up emotion; devotion is real.Take a chance at romance;dance in the rain and get soakedand sopping wet, dripping dropletsof cleansing cold,her body heat will meet your body heat and you will fall;not down, but up,higher than the highest cloudyet more grounded than when you lit your first smoke,thinking you would get away free and clear.This time you may. Most times you don’t.