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July 04, 2022

Dreamer 60

By Sand Pilarski

In spite of having been up with John until three in the morning, I couldn't sleep past six-thirty, and so had Gabe out for his walk on Tuesday by seven. For once, John didn't come scrambling out the front door of his mother's house to walk with us -- I was glad he was able to sleep in a little. Besides, I felt like my eyeballs had been sandpapered and my spine jellified, with no pertness or posture left to attempt to look attractive. Gabe knew instinctively that I didn't feel like calling him to task, and inched his way forward from heeling to nearly dragging me along. Not only was I too tired to jerk on the leash, I was too depressed to want to assault his enthusiasm, remembering the shock and disappointment I felt when I awoke and reached out to cuddle John, and found no one in the bed but myself. I thought, That's why it's wrong to have an affair. It wasn't so much the idea that making love was bad -- as many people have commented throughout history, how could something so enjoyable not be a good thing? What was wrong was that when two people establish an intimate relationship outside the conventional rules, they end up settling for a piecemeal interaction, when they ought to be able to throw themselves into their sharing of lives wholeheartedly.

Sharing lives. Gabe left off smelling a bunch of orangey-red berries on a pyracantha bush and grinning his toothy smile, butted his head against me. I rubbed his handsome face, making him wiggle like a puppy and making me chuckle. We share lives with our pets without even thinking about it, but when people neglect their pets, or treat them unkindly, everyone who has a pet gets mad. Why don't we get mad at couples who treat each other unkindly, who don't spend time with each other, who expect each other to take care of themselves? What pet owner wouldn't be outraged if, after six years of happy companionship, a man said, "I'm sick of this dog. I'm going to have it euthanized. I don't care if it's healthy, happy, and helpful. As far as I'm concerned, it's dead already." People would expect someone to be more responsible than that, to take care of the animal for the rest of its natural life.

Divorce was so easy. After six years of sharing our lives (and in spite of his numerous infidelities, I could not say that when Adam was with me in person, he wasn't focused on my needs, my desire, or my moods as much as I was on his) my husband had just -- taken off and declared the partnership euthanized. It was easy. Just sign a paper and do it. The abandonment that was wrong for a man and his dog was just fine for a man and his wife, as long as pieces of paper got filed in the right drawers.

And now, wanting John LeMay to share his most intimate self with me, could I bring myself to say, "Oh, hell, yes, let's shoot that damn dog, because now I'm sick of it, too?" Hadn't I promised that I would never say that, and meant that promise with every cell of my being, with no regrets, no caveats, no hesitation, no last minute wait this is a terrible mistake?

A depressing subject of thought for a depressing-looking morning. There was almost no traffic at all. Come to think of it, for early September, it was a funny looking day, overcast and still -- not what we would expect in the valley this time of year. The gray sky made everything quiet, like when your electricity goes out and you realize how much the hum of appliances and the low tick of the clock were a constant sound in the kitchen.

We returned to the house at about a quarter to eight in the morning, and I started my computer to check mail. The news feed on the computer's homepage didn't make sense; there were flames and planes and what looked like some CGI extravaganza. Why would some computer-generated movie stunt make a headline news story, was some studio trying to demonstrate some outlandish scenario? I scanned the news story. I scrolled through it three times in disbelief, then went to the TV and turned it on, confused. And saw the hell that had been the World Trade Center Towers. Shaking, I walked out the front door and stood for a moment, unsure of what to do. I looked back at the television, where a policeman was being interviewed. Oh, God.

I pounded on Mary's door, rang the doorbell three times. Mary opened the door, "Sully, what's wrong? You'll wake John! He's still sleeping -- Sully, what is it?"

"Mary, turn on your television, and sit down, please. I have to talk to John." I ran up the stairs and found his bedroom. He was just sitting up, groggy and tousled. I hesitated at the door. "John ... there's been ... an attack." I was trying to be calm, to believe that it wasn't true, couldn't be as bad as ... "Someone, they -- hit the Trade Center ... and it's gone."

"What the hell? What are you talking about? What's gone, Sully?"

"The World Trade Center." I could hardly draw air into my lungs to speak. "Both towers. They fell down. The planes hit them and they ... fell down." Tears brimmed in my eyes and began to fall down the sides of my face. "They fell all the way down," I said, my voice cracking, the horror making me shiver.

He threw off the covers and grabbed my shoulders, peering into my face, then let me go and ran down the stairs. I followed him, lost forward momentum about half-way down, and sat on the stairs, wishing with all my heart and soul that I had been completely mistaken about what I'd seen. If only I could be a fool who alarmed Mary and John for nothing at all, I would gladly be a fool forever. I waited to hear John or Mary say, "No, you were wrong," but the only words I heard were "Busy! Goddamnit, I can't get through!" from John in the kitchen with the phone. He continued to curse loudly until Mary stood and went to him, put her arms around him. "I've got to get home!" he cried.

"All the airports have been closed," she told him. "You can't get there until they know what's happening."

"Still busy! Goddammit, Caitlin, get off the damn phone!" he said. "How long are the airports closed? I can take the rental and be there in three, four days on the road."

"You'll do no such thing," Mary snapped in a commanding voice. "You'll wait until the phones are clear and then you'll do what your captain wants you do! Don't second guess him!"

He was silent, though I could still hear the faint beeps of the phone being dialed.

I sat on Mary's stairwell, feeling an absence of understanding that was as deep as the shock. How could this have happened? How many people had been killed? What sense did killing office workers make? Why did someone want to hit New York? I heard the words "Non-stop flights" and jerked all over in pain. Claire, the children's grandmother, had been in Italy and was due to come home. I tore down the stairs, saw John still trying to call his precinct, and ran out the front door, across the yards, to find my own phone, to call the estate and make certain Claire hadn't been trying to get home on one of the doomed planes.

Jesse picked up my call. "Claire isn't even in Italy anymore," she said. "She's holed up with some Frenchman in Bordeaux, and the staff in the Tuscany house just said they'd pass on our messages. The old bitch could at least check in now and then."

"What about the kids?"

"We kept them home from school, was that the right thing to do? We thought that they shouldn't hear the news without us right there with them."

"That's what I'd have wanted if they were my kids," I said, thinking, Jesse, we might make a mother out of you yet. "Make sure they know Claire's all right."

"Okay. Do you and John and Mary want to come up here to stay until we know things are going to be all right? I'd feel better if you weren't practically sitting on the major north-south highway corridor -- what if these idiots decide to shut down West Coast commerce?" Jesse's question touched a nerve, and I shuddered. Were we all thinking, Where are we the most vulnerable?

"No, at least not yet. John's precinct has Mary's number, and he's not going to leave that phone until he hears from them. He's trying but the lines are tied up. Jesse, turn on your computer and leave the instant message program running."

"Bodie's way ahead of you," she said. "Let me know if you need anything."

My front door opened and Mary came in, expertly fending off Gabe's pushy greetings with her knees. She'd brought me a mug of tea. "John's going to be obsessed," she said in an apologetic tone.

"I understand. I had to get on the horn and make sure all my people were accounted for, too. Thanks for the tea."

"A plane hit the Pentagon, too, did you hear that?"

"Yes. God help us, I'm worried about the canals that take water to southern California. Can you imagine L.A. without water?"

She made the Sign of the Cross. "Please God it won't come to that. Sully, come back over when you can. He needs you, you know. Bring Gabe with you."

***

Like everyone else, we watched the television coverage constantly. And wept, and swore, and paced, and went outside to listen to the empty sky, the sound of airflight to San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, LA non-existent, silenced by the closure of all American airports. John was as frantic as a farm dog tied in the yard, hearing coyotes among the lambs. He watched the live reports on the TV, cursing at the long shots of the pillar of smoke that rose above the city when he wasn't cursing at his inability to get a phone call through to his precinct.

Mary was kind and indulgent, and let me (and Gabe) sleep in her living room. When John could no longer keep his eyes open, he cuddled on the couch with me, jerking and muttering in his sleep.

Before dawn he was in the kitchen, trying over and over again to get his calls through. I rose stiffly, my neck aching and refusing to let me turn my head. I folded the blanket Mary had draped over us, hobbled to the kitchen to let John know where I was going, and went home to feed Gabe and soak in a hot bath. I checked for messages, finding one from my old drinking buddy Joan Maris, who had called for the first time in ten years to make sure I was all right. I wrote down her e-mail address, very glad to have heard from her, not yet ready to say that this nightmare might lead to any good. When I returned to Mary's, she had traded places with John on the phone, asking old friends if their children were all accounted for. In the wake of the terrible event, old bonds long forgotten were being re-formed.

John was surly and uncommunicative. He'd finally reached his precinct by phone and had been told to stay put until the airports opened, and then return to work, pending a doctor's go-ahead. He still paced, wearing a path in the pile of the carpet. Mary overlooked his grouchiness, aside from occasionally suggesting that he go take a walk or a drive. Inaction in a time of crisis was hard for him, but he could no more leave the television alone than anyone else.

The day passed, with headaches and unconfronted fears. The news was bad. The waiting around was bad. A little girl in Colorado finding her lost shar-pei puppy in the news was so annoyingly trivial we changed the channel. The hope for the survival of the office workers was dying, and God alone knew who and what kind of a nutcase there was to plan out such a pointless and devastating attack.

By nightfall, I was tired of seeing the footage of the Towers falling on the television. I would see that sight forever in my memory, I no longer had need to view it. However, I was curious to know what my subconscious was making of all this. Last night I'd been awakened over and over by John's uneasy sleep, and remembered no dreams. Tonight I wanted to sleep, and dream. All my life I'd stepped into that strange land and found precious sights, insightful secrets, dire realities, hidden fears. Someone is trying to kill my country, I thought. I'm afraid, I'm heartbroken, I'm angry. But those are all visceral reactions. What is my reaction in the deepest part of my mind? Not like consulting some crystal ball for a magical reading, not like gleaning through memories on a psychiatrist's couch -- dreaming was more like reading a newspaper about Me. That was the news that I wanted to check out.

"John!" Mary said sharply. "Sully's going home for the night."

He started, looked at me, looked at the television, looked at me, the TV again, and then stood up.

"Well, are you going to say good night to her, or not?" Aside to me, she said, "Cops get like this sometimes. Part of the territory." She kissed my cheek, patted my arm, and disappeared into her kitchen.

John looked back over his shoulder at the television briefly as he came to me. "They're going to do a segment on how the precincts are helping each other," he said.

"I understand, John. Give me a hug, and you can get back to it."

"I ain't giving you no hug and shoving you out the door," he groused. We crossed the yards and put Gabe in the door. "You want me to come in for a while?"

"Go watch that broadcast. I need to sleep tonight."

"You sure?" At my nod, he leaned forward and kissed me -- and it was like he was practicing kissing on a pillow. His mind was clearly already in New York.

"Good night. Shave tomorrow, okay?" I said to him as I went in my door. Part of the territory, eh?

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-08-28
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