Forever Falling

by

10/17/2001

154 liberty st ny ny 10006

Neighborhood: World Trade Center

I came from Chicago to do a reading on Thursday. The guy I was staying with, Bryan, couldn’t make it, so I arranged to meet him at the World Trade Center the next day–he worked for Morgan Stanley on the 70th floor of the 2nd tower.

At about 5:00 I waited for him with my friend Jay. We ate Krispy Kreme doughnuts and leaned on the black Noguchi sculpture. Eventually we were told by a perfectly polite security guard to get off of it, that there were plenty of nice benches around for us to sit on. The day was beautiful and we watched dancers rehearse for a performance in a large bandshell set snugly like a black catcher’s mitt between the two towers.

Bryan came down late and told us that his stomach was upset. We went down into the concourse and he bought some Pepto-Bismol and we watched him drink it as if it were a beer on the plaza.

He eventually he said, “Hey, you wanna come up and see my office?”

We followed him into the lobby of the second tower and received passes. They snapped our pictures and then handed our faces back to us, dated and bar-coded.

He took us to his cubicle and showed us some of the brochures he had written for Morgan Stanley. “Getting your child into college can be a real challenge. Morgan Stanley can help.” Stuff like that. The only decoration he had on his cubicle wall was a disciplinary action notice he had received in the 4th grade: “Bryan has trouble playing nice with the other children. He’s a loudmouth. Very disruptive.” He opened up his overhead, gave us a mildly conspiratorial look, and revealed about 25 half-empty jars of peanut butter, a few wadded bread bags.

“You guys hungry?” he asked.

The 70th floor was completely deserted. We had run into a few security guards here and there, one tiny Russian girl with ringlets in her hair, hugging an enormous textbook to her chest. She was on her way to class. Bryan took us into each of the corner boardrooms. They looked like boardrooms anywhere–grease pen boards with bits of half-erased information on them, little TVs and electronic devices that looked like video-game control pads sitting the center of the desk. But they gave us a 360 degree view of New York City and the view was beautiful. The three of us climbed up on the metal radiators and pressed our faces to the 22-inch slivers of glass overlooking Battery Park, Uptown, The Brooklyn Bridge.

“Hey man, stand back,” I said. “I’m going to jump over to the other building.”

“I think you could make it,” said Jay.

In another boardroom:

“Does anyone live at Ellis Island,” I asked, Ellis Island being right under my nose, practically. From that high up horizontal and vertical almost become the same thing.

“No, it’s just a museum now. I went there last May when my Mom came to visit,” replied Bryan. “It’s pretty cool.”

Eventually someone asked, “What if the plane of glass just popped out while we were leaning on it?”

We all laughed but quietly stepped back a foot from the windowpane in question.

“You’d just fall and fall, forever,” I think I said. Or else I just thought it.

By Tuesday, I was back in Chicago watching that very office collapse on itself on television. I was watching people leap from the merely hypothetical into daylight reality. I was thinking, maybe Bryan was in the stairwell…maybe Bryan was late for work… hell, maybe Bryan fell backwards into a locked strongbox with a parachute on it–anything– when suddenly my ability to rationalize Bryan back into life collapsed with the building itself, his tower being the first building to topple to the street.

I got an answering machine message from Bryan at about 6:30 that night: “Hey, Greg, It’s Bryan. It’s Tuesday, Sept 11. I almost died today.”

I’ve still got that pass in my wallet. There I am, in the lobby, grinning: 9/07/01 it says. 2WTC.

Apparently, standing in the right place at the right time makes all the difference.

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