THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 2)

(Repeat from part 1: 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.)

To cope, I skipped meals. Lots of them. If Hammett and I were invited out, I sometimes pretended to eat. Other times, I’d polished off my plate like a ravenous wolf. When my stomach rebelled, unable to handle its contents, I excused myself to find the nearest restroom.

My friend Jessica noticed my weight loss and unhealthy eating patterns. She invited me out to lunch. Instead, she took me to meet with her therapist.

After several sessions, I suggested Hammett go with me.

“Don’t ever ask me to go to one of those shysters. It’s mind over matter. You think they’ll help you, but all they do is take your money.” He pointed his finger at me. “Besides, I’m not the one that needs help.”

In five weeks, I’d gone from a healthy 152-pound, 5’6” woman to a lethargic 129 pounds. I knew I was out of control when I caught a glimpse of my skin-taut rib cage in the mirror. It didn’t surprise me when I woke up in a hospital bed, disoriented and bewildered, with tubes and monitors all around me.

Hammett stroked my hair. “I found you passed out in the bathroom. I’m so sorry. I should have done something . . .  I.” His eyes met mine. “We’ll get counseling. The two of us. We’ll get better.”

We did get better. Hammett made it a rule—he’d be home by dinnertime every workday, and he stuck to it. Over time, our therapy sessions went from twice a week to once a month. We learned so much more about each other, and as Solomon had said, we began to appreciate what we’d taken for granted.

By now, our daughter Madilyn had graduated medical school and joined a small emergency medicine practice in the City. Our daughter-in-law visited often with our grandson, Oliver. He lit up the room and kept us young. We enjoyed spoiling him with toys, books, clothes, and electronics.

A shiver crawled along my spine. I glanced at my watch, stunned that I’d daydreamed on the balcony for so long. I hurried to clean off the table and brought the breakfast dishes to the sink, then turned on my favorite TV morning show to accompany my mundane chores. Water splashed over my hands. I hummed and scrubbed the plates.

“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you. . .” I turned toward the television—its picture captured my attention. The camera lens zoomed in close, as if I rode on the wings of a misguided jet. The commentator’s words pricked my ears. Sirens and horns blared outside and in the background while the TV newscaster narrated the uncertain reality. Clear blue skies above the Twin Towers blackened with billowy smoke. Again and again, images of the plane as it flew into the North Tower appeared on the screen. I flipped through the channels. There had to be some mistake, maybe some sick reenactment of War of the Worlds.

I hurried to the balcony and looked toward Manhattan, to the steel towers that graced our view. “God, help us.” Dark smoke rose into the air until it entombed the silvery tower.

Back inside, I grabbed the phone from the receiver, relieved I still had a dial tone. Before I pushed a button, the phone slipped from my sweat-drenched palm. My breath caught in my throat. The TV camera tracked another plane soaring at low altitude on approach to the South Tower. My body crumpled to the floor and my heart hammered as flames erupted through the tower’s jagged opening.

The newscaster’s voice faded away. Eerie figures fell from the windows of the north building, surreal and horrible. Frightened people dotted the street, too stunned to cry. Their confusion matched my own.

My cell phone rang. I leaped off the floor and raced to my desk, then read the number on the screen. “Hammett, where are you?” For a nanosecond, everything moved in slow motion before rocketing forward. Shattered glass and noise rumbled in the background. Desperate screams almost drowned Hammett’s words. I dug my nails into the desk. “Hammett, I can’t hear you.” I yelled over the chaos that probably surrounded him.

He sniffled. “You were right. I shouldn’t have come to work today.” His words came between stilted breaths.

I gripped the phone so tight my hand ached. I could only imagine what Hammett saw, how he felt at that moment, the thoughts going through his mind. I wanted to say something of comfort, something to encourage him. “Hammett, I can’t live without you. I don’t want to.” The words left my lips and, oh, how I wished I could take them back. They weren’t helpful or what he needed to hear.

He sobbed. Hard. And I’ll never forget the grit in his voice as he gasped and choked out these words. “You’ve made my life so happy . . . I wish I had . . . a million more. Take care of . . . Madilyn. Suzanne . . . and Oliver. I’ll . . . watch over you.”

The line went dead.

“Hammett. Hammett.” Bile burned in my throat. Thunder rolled in the distance, or did the noise reverberate from the television? I raced into the living room and sank to my knees. “Oh, dear God, no!”

***

Part 3 of this original story by eMarie will be posted Friday, September 10, 2021

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16 Replies to “THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 2)”

    1. Thanks for reading the story, Sherry! For so many people, this is what they lived that day and continue to deal w/the pain and suffering that began that day!! So heartbreaking!!! 🙂

  1. Your story brings me back to that morning. The television happened to be turned on to the news, and I felt like the woman in your story – thinking it could not possibly be true. Yet, it was. I pray for our country and our world.

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