I remember the usual things about September 11, 2001: where I was; how the country was unified for a few weeks; sort of respecting George W Bush for a few days.
I also remember how delicately and pitch-perfectly The Onion handled their first issue after 9/11, which came out on September 26. And I recall thinking this story of theirs had qualities of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, in the best possible way: “Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake.”
I was single then, and living just outside Washington DC, in Takoma Park Maryland — eight miles north of The Pentagon. I was that close.
About that time I had a budding interest — a mutual interest — in a neighbor of mine who lived in the same condo building — a few doors down, actually. She was smart, sexy, and very interesting. I was really interested. I’ll call her Libby.
She reminded me of a cross between Tyra Banks and Joni Mitchell, which, according to MorphThing.com, would look like the image above. So I guess I was wrong, because Libby looked nothing like that.
And it seemed to me that Libby and I were that close — second-base close. Do I have to say it? To sex. Which was closer than I’d been in awhile. And that was on September 10.
On the morning of September 11, I was on a conference call for work, from my cell phone, sitting at picnic table near Sligo Creek with a notebook and a hands-free earpiece in my ear. My dog was nearby sunning in the grass.
My client on the call told me weird stuff was happening, planes flying into buildings. We should end the call.
I rushed back to my condo in time to watch the North Tower collapse on live TV. I don’t know why, but I think of that as some kind of twisted bragging right.
I started to hear crazy rumors about car bombs and fires in Washington, DC. Neighbors and news reporters were passing along any unverified bit of fear that came their way.
My doorbell rang, and it was Libby. We comforted each other. In the gloom, I predicted that there would be a reactionary assault on civil liberties. I had no idea how right I was — and that’s another twisted bragging right. One I wish I didn’t have.
After a bit, Libby returned to her condo, and we agreed that I would come over in a little while.
I don’t remember how I passed the time. On the phone, or on the Internet, or just watching the news replaying the towers falling over and over again.
The phone rang. It was Libby, saying, “Don’t come over.” And she hung up.
I called her back. She didn’t answer. I was worried. I tried again one or more times. For some reason I didn’t just walk the 20 steps from my door to hers and knock. It was some kind of discretion that I must have thought through about not letting the proximity screw things up.
I didn’t hear from her until maybe the next day.
She told me that her ex-boyfriend called her, and said he was coming over — which he did. And in the clarifying focus of that terrible day, when so many people took stock of what mattered to them, he decided he wanted to be with Libby more than anything else in the world.
They got back together for awhile. It didn’t last, again. But my chance with Libby had passed.
On October 3, 2001, The Onion, in their second issue after 9/11, published a short article with the title, “Area Man Uses WTC Attack As Excuse To Call Ex-Girlfriend.”
And if it’s in The Onion, there must be some banal truth to it. I felt less alone.