An Angel Called Abel

by

10/03/2001

120 Broadway, ny ny 10271

Neighborhood: World Trade Center

It was not any ordinary day when I left home on September 11th. I was coming off a two-week vacation and feeling on top of my game and on top of the world. I had a new state of mind, a new attitude. I was refreshed and all aglow. I had used my vacation time to rejuvenate and replenish body, mind and spirit. I was meeting life head on and taking no prisoners. All of this positive energy must have been oozing from my pores that Tuesday morning.

As I sat on the bench waiting for the A train, a young man sat next to me. He must have been feeling quite natty too. He gave me one of the most pleasant, non-threatening hellos I had ever heard from a stranger. I responded in kind and took the first step in starting a conversation. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center this morning,” I said nonchalantly. I had been listening to 1010 WINS that morning and just before I headed out the door I heard that bit of news. I assumed it was a helicopter that was flying too low and continued on my way.

“I heard about that,” he responded.

“Now I bet the trains are going to be late,” I continued. Just what I needed when I was trying to be on time for a meeting that I had been late for two prior times before. That morning I arose bright and early to give myself plenty of time to get there on time. But no sooner had I voiced this agitation than the A train came rumbling into the station. I popped up off of the bench and headed for the train.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched to see if the young man was going to make to board the same car as I. I had felt a little spark sitting there next to him on the bench. His friendliness and uncommon boldness had certainly captured my attention. But I was not going to be too forward. If he wanted to continue our parlance, he would have to make that happen. To my utter delight he stepped right on my heels onto the train. The train was not overly crowded but there were no seats available. So I grabbed onto a pole.

He held onto a strap overhead near where I was standing. I started in with, “Today of all days, I’m going to be held up by the train.”

“Why do you think that,” he asked? He did not think that what happened at the World Trade Center would affect the trains. “How could it not,” I countered. It was obvious he was not a regular straphanger. When I finally got over the angst of my being inevitably late for my meeting, I decided to make the most of the train ride with this (I finally took notice) gorgeous, young man. He was holding a book in his hand.

“What are you reading,” I asked beginning to feel excited. A man with a book on the train is a rare sight to behold. “It’s science fiction,” he said not offering any more information about the book.

“Do you like Octavia Butler?” I figured I would show off my literary knowledge. He said he did, but I got the feeling that he really didn’t know who she was. So I moved on. I asked, “Did you vote yet?” His curt reply that he had not did not deter me from continuing on in that vein. “I’ve just moved to Bed Stuy from Fort Greene, so I’m not really up on the politics here. But I do intend to get involved in Bed Stuy politics at some point.”

Ignoring what was supposed to be my segue into politics, he asked, “What do you do?” I told him I was the Director of a Beacon program. I asked him if he knew what a Beacon program was. I explained that it’s a community center that operates out of a school building providing services for children, teens and adults.

He told me he was a financial analyst. A Wall Street guy, I thought. Did I strike gold or what? “What’s your name,” I asked.

“Abel.” I didn’t get it.

“Abel, like in the Bible,” he said after seeing my puzzled expression. “I would love to come talk to your teens,” he said. I explained to him how that was possible because I had a teen employment program that had career exploration as part of the curriculum, We planned to have guest speakers come and talk to the kids about different careers. I fished a business card out of my wallet and handed it to him. “Parents are not directing their children right,” he said after tucking my card into his pocket. “They’re telling their kids to go to college so they can get a job. They should be telling them to go into business for themselves.” My pat response was, “Everyone’s not cut out for that.”

“It’s only recent in history that people work for other people,” he countered. “A job should be something you do while you’re working on establishing your own business. Parents are also directing their children toward technology, which is on its way out.” Now, I’m thinking this guy is either real smart or real stupid. How could technology be on the down swing?

What followed was an intense conversation about economics, technology, business and globalization. At one point the train stopped for several minutes between stations. I was so engrossed in the conversation, I had long ceased to fret about the time and being late. As the conversation proceeded, I could see that Abel was a very passionate and intelligent person. He lay out his arguments with confidence and clarity. “I’m very thorough,” he said at one point. “I’ve thought about these things for a long time.” He told me that he boggled the minds of some of his associates. They would end the conversation at some point. To be honest, it was challenging for me follow his view points and then counter with my own. But during this back and forth dialogue, something else was stirring beneath the surface. We were both now holding on to the pole and facing one another. We looked into each other’s face as we talked. The more I looked at him the more handsome he appeared. Smart and gorgeous! Oh, God, was this was my lucky day.

In the midst of responding to something I said, he all of a sudden fell silent and just stared at me. I thought I had stumped him. I stared smugly back. He studied my face intently as if he had tired of communicating with words. We were locked in each other’s gaze when the train pulled into Broadway Nassau. “I get off here,” I said in a low voice that didn’t sound like me to me. As I stepped off the train, I turned back and said, “Call me.”

“I will,” he said. As the train door closed and I headed for the stairs, I turned to get one last look at him and to see if he were trying to get a last look at me. He wasn’t looking my way, but it didn’t matter. Something magical had happened between Utica and Broadway and Nassau.

I floated up the stairs and onto the street. When I emerged from the subway onto Fulton Street glass was splattered on the ground and I remember thinking I hoped no one was beneath the plate glass window when it fell. When I turned onto Broadway, my vision was drawn upward when I saw a crowd of people looking up. From where I stood I saw fire spewing out of both World Trade Center towers. As I moved further into the crowd, a man next to me said that not one but two planes had flown into the buildings and that it had been a terrorist act.

I concluded I wouldn’t be the only one late to that meeting. I began making my way to120 Broadway, where the meeting was being held, but stopped again after a few feet. I just couldn’t stop looking. This time a man standing next to me said that he had seen people jumping out of the windows. What!? My mind struggled to process what he said. As I stood there paper floating from the sky dropped by my feet. Insurance certificates, company memos and the like. My focus did not remain fixed on the ground long. I looked up just as the top of one of the twin towers began to crumble like a sand castle.

The crowd began to back up and then turned and began running. My arm reached out to push a man in front of me who was not moving fast enough. I stumbled and fell to the ground. Everything and everybody seemed to move about me in a whir. I thought, “This can’t be happening. I’m going to be trampled.” Amazingly, not one person stepped on me. While on the ground I heard and felt debris beginning to pour down. There was no time to get up and run. I had fallen in the street near cars. I slid between two cars. I could hear the debris dropping on them. I was still not safe. I got flat on the ground and put my head underneath the car.

In a matter of seconds, I was engulfed in blackness. The debris was not falling anymore. It just hung thickly in the air. It was very difficult to breathe. I didn’t know at the time that I was in the middle of a dust cloud. My initial thought was that I underneath rubble. Would they get to me in time? It was pitch black. What should I do? Which way should I go? It was deafeningly silent. I knew there were people near me, but no one was yelling out or saying anything. The quiet and darkness that surrounded me had a calming effect. I’m going to die, I told myself. I could draw upon nothing from my life’s experiences to guide me in that situation. I estimated that I could probably take three, maybe four more breaths. I’m going to suffocate, and I’m going to die, I thought. And I accepted it. I just wanted it to be quick. I wondered how it would feel. Would I black out? Would I struggle desperately for air? Would it be over in fifteen minutes or take as long as forty-five minutes?

My daughter came to my mind. She’s going to be devastated, I thought, and so are my sisters and my niece. They wouldn’t even known I was in Manhattan. Then Abel came to my mind. Oh, God, how could this be happening when I met someone who moved me deeply. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to see Abel again. I started to move then and feel around me. A man who had ducked beneath the car with me began moving toward a light. I followed him. He climbed up onto some type of scaffolding. I kept him in my sight. When I climbed up behind him my pocketbook slipped off of my arm. It seemed to have fallen into a hole. I didn’t even stop to try to retrieve it. I had to get to the light and to air. Once in the light, we entered a building. I began to cry. I’m alive I kept saying over and over. I’m alive.

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