THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 1)

The morning began like most others. Hammett hurried onto the balcony while securing the knot in his tie. After forty-two years, the fit of his black suit and crisp white shirt still stirred butterflies in my stomach. I poured two cups of black coffee as he buttered the toast, our usual pre-work breakfast. Between bits of conversation I followed the movements of a jogger plodding his way through Central Park, a view we’d paid dearly for.

As September mornings go, humidity already presented a challenge, but the pale blue sky and mid-60s temperature offered Hammett a perfect seven-mile bike ride to his office in New York City’s Twin Towers.

He pushed his plate away and gazed toward the tall green trees. An occasional hint of autumn splendor painted the leaves. Hammett leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head.

I enjoyed him this way, relaxed, with a slight upturn in his lips. “Are you sure you have to finish out the week?” If only I’d bitten my tongue. Instead, the words rang like an alarm clock.

Hammett looked at his watch then sprang out of the chair. “I promised Julia I would.” He bent down and kissed my forehead. “Just three more days.”

He touched my shoulder, and I held onto his hand. I stared into his deep blue eyes—the worry lines in his forehead more pronounced than I’d ever noticed. I held back words I wanted to say. Words like, you don’t owe her anything; I’ve always admired your dedication, but it’s such a beautiful day. Let’s ride the ferry. Deep inside, I knew it wouldn’t help if I said them.

We’d married two years before we graduated college. Hammett began his career as an intern and continued to work for the same marketing firm for forty years. I stayed home and raised our two children. Hammett climbed the corporate ladder until he’d earned a place at the table—chief financial officer. With our debts paid, children’s futures secured, and nothing preventing us, we sold our home in the country and bought a penthouse on the upper west side. Our wallets took a wallop, so I accepted a part-time job as an at-home editor. After ten years, we achieved our dream. We paid off the mortgage and breathed easier. We owned the penthouse free and clear.

Though we had means, we’d chosen to live with fun and frugality in mind. We’d gone on a few cruises but stayed in hostels when we toured Europe. Our friends bought yachts, we rented kayaks. Skiing in Aspen never made it on our radar. The nearby Poconos filled that need.

Several months ago, we met with our investment banker. A month later, Hammett signed his retirement papers. At the firm’s request, he agreed to work as a consultant on an occasional basis, and at his discretion.

That afternoon we went through our scrapbooks and picture albums. Every page told the story of our lives. Days, weeks, months, and years passed before our eyes. Though I hadn’t voiced the thought, I wondered how many more years we’d have together.

As if he read my mind, Hammett took my hand. “It’s the beginning of the rest of our lives. Whatever time we have, we’ll make the most of it. You and me.” A tenuous smile spread his lips.

The sun warmed me as I stood at the edge of the balcony and waved to Hammett, his bike pointed toward his trek to work. He leaned over the handlebars, his satchel slung on his back, the path through Central Park a little busier now than thirty minutes ago. He stopped pedaling long enough to throw me a kiss, something he hadn’t done for years. I pretended to catch it and threw one back to him.

He smiled and rode down the sun-dappled pathway.

No longer able to see him, I lingered on the balcony, absorbed in the moment. Hammett’s words from months ago, “the rest of our lives,” flashed through my mind like a shooting star.

Somehow, the thought took me back several years when our daughter-in-law and son, Solomon, an administrator at Cedar Sinai Hospital, traveled to Haiti. Unable to conceive, they adopted a newborn in Port-au-Prince. Solomon returned a changed man. “Mom, Dad, you’ve gotta go there. We take everything for granted. They have nothing, yet they’re the happiest people I’ve ever met.” A week later, Solomon lay in a hospital bed with fever, severe abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Diagnosed with malaria, he slipped into a coma. A few days later, he left our lives forever.

Hammett and I grieved in different ways. He poured himself into his work and allowed it to consume him.

“Can’t we talk about this?” I’d pleaded. He shrugged, undressed, and fell asleep the second his head hit the pillow…

Part 2 of this original story by eMarie will be posted Friday, September 3, 2021

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22 Replies to “THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 1)”

  1. I’ll never forget where I was and what I was doing on 9/11 when I watched the horrific events of that day unfold on television. My heart still breaks for all those who lost loved ones and the pain they still bear. Thank you for remembering and writing a story to commemorate the upcoming 20 year anniversary of a moment in time that changed us all forever. Your writing is excellent and I want to read more.

  2. The very words “A 9/11 Story” fill me with a kind of dread as I read. I don’t want to get invested in the characters. I can see the crisis coming, can feel the drama building just by virtue of the setting.

    Not a censure on you! And many, many readers are generationally behind us that won’t have the visceral reaction to the name. For them, it’s a point in history. For me, it will always be a wound that ripped the fabric of life, never to be mended.

    Write it well, my friend. And yes, I’ll be back for the next installment, dread and all.

    1. Bless your heart, Colleen! I think the only way I could make any sense out of something that made (MAKES!!) no sense was to write about it!! Thank you for sticking with the story — there is a healing balm at the end (not a spoiler alert!! You’ll see!!).

      Thank you!!! 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this story. With the upcoming anniversary of 9/11, your story reminds us that that day was not just an event on the front page of the newspaper, but was a tragic reality for many, many people. Thank you for honoring this anniversary by sharing
    your story again.

    1. It’s difficult to think about how many hearts and homes still feel the loss of loved ones, and how many endured years of deteriorating health due to this tragedy. God help us never forget 9/11! Thanks for stopping by, Robby! 🙂

  4. Never forgotten and we need to roll again.My ex won’t get me a copy. Aphoto the month before coming into port from Bermuda cruise with the Twin Towers in background. As I said never forget

    1. Can’t imagine what it would’ve been like to watch it happen. This story and my memories from the news are as close as I’ll get, but who could ever forget what they saw? God help and turn America around!!

    1. Bless your heart, Shaen! I can’t imagine how many times you’ve read this, but am grateful you’re here again!! Part 3 is different, tho, so please stay tuned!! THANK YOU! 🙂

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