Forces at Work




Neighborhood: World Trade Center

I am a skeptic when it comes to psychics like John Edward, the hunky television charlatan, who claims he is able to communicate with “The Other Side.” When I have a premonition I tend to deny it.

I denied one in late August of last year when I was seven months pregnant. While organizing my wallet, I paused on two WTC visitor passes that I had used during my temp assignment at Aon Corporation that week. I had worked in their plush offices on the 101st floor at 2 World Trade Center for two consecutive weeks. They only needed me sporadically. The visitor passes at the Word Trade Center were only good for the day of the visit.

As a temp I had to present a driver’s license and get my photo taken by a high-tech gizmo every time I worked there in order to get the visitor pass. There was no sense in keeping them, especially since I looked puffy and pregnant in the photo. Yet, I had an unexplainable urge to keep these two WTC passes. I imagined myself placing them in a scrapbook along side a sonogram photo.

I had, of course, no reason to be feeling this sentimental about a temp job and blamed the moment on my pregnancy hormones and packrat tendencies and threw the cards out along with useless grocery receipts.

I had loved working while I was pregnant. My agent Susan told me that Labor Day week was usually a busy week for temps, but my phone did not ring. As my due date of October 11th approached my temp assignments dwindled. My husband Tom rubbed my stomach in the mornings, reminding me to relax. I wanted to keep temping to stay busy and save money for the long haul of stay-at-home motherhood.

“People don’t want to hire pregnant temps. They probably feel guilty making you work, you know. Besides the economy sucks right now,” Tom said.

With a bionic sense of smell, sore boobs, an achy back, violent mood swings, and no work to keep me occupied, I got increasingly angry at my temp agency and the world for not calling me up with work.

On September 11th I woke up hoping for the phone to ring with a temp assignment. The phone still hadn’t rung at 8:55 am so I assumed it was going to be another day of pregnant delirium. I heard Tom futz around. I expected him to start brewing the coffee soon, even though the smell of it would make me queasy.

He turned on the television to see how the market was doing. “Can you believe this shit?” he yelled, waking me fully up.

Black smoke was spewing from one of the towers. The newscasters were still struggling. A small jet. No a commercial jet. Could it be some kind of air traffic control equipment failure? Then minutes later, the second plane hit.

“What floor were you working on?”

“Oh, my God. The 101st. I don’t know which tower,” I said. I prayed. I tried to recall names of the people whose phones I answered. My mind went blank. I had always dismissed temporary employers because I felt in a grandiose-I’m-over-qualified-for-this-job-kind-of-way that most people who deal with temps assume that they are mentally vacant. When I temp I rarely make friends or remember the faces of people who employ me for the day.

I could only recall snips of conversation. At Aon a frail young woman named Donna sat in the cubicle next to mine. I overheard her talking on the phone to her significant other. Her doctor’s office had called her to tell her that she would need hand surgery. “This is the worst thing that can happen to me in my life, right now,” she said. I heard her sniffling. If I had known her for more than a couple of days, I might have popped my head into her cubicle space and offered her a tissue or a pat on the back. But, instead I stared at the computer monitor and continued on with the merge printing project assigned to me.

Another day, a young female employee stopped me as I waddled to the bathroom.

“You poor thing! I saw you earlier and was thinking about how uncomfortable you have to be in this heat. How are you feeling? When is the baby due?” she asked.

What followed was one of those warm distracting conversations that make the sluggish hours of temping go by fast, and feel more rewarding: “This job may not be advancing my publishing career, but at least I’ve made one human connection today.”

Did that caring stranger make it out of there in time? I’ll always wonder.

Our phone started ringing. Instead of my employment agent, it was my father calling me to make sure I wasn’t temping that day. Hearing the relief in his voice made me want to go to church and thank someone. It also made me want to kill someone. Who, I didn’t know.

Two weeks past my due date, a nine-pound baby girl greeted me via caesarean section after twenty hours of labor. When my daughter turned four weeks old, I got a sudden burst of energy. My moxie was back. My incision wasn’t hurting anymore. My first foray with a stroller into Central Park made me think of my first driving lesson. I was certain I would get into an accident. Things that used to be benign to me were suddenly offensive: careless smokers, mentally unstable vagrants, unleashed German shepherds.

I peered down at her through the canopy window of the stroller. She looked back at me, content, binky firmly in place, relishing the crisp air. My daughter was oblivious to my angst. I had always wanted to walk my baby in Central Park, but now I felt uneasy. I looked out at the famous high rises that circle the park and winced. I envisioned flying bombs raining on us. Was this what the shrinks call post-traumatic stress disorder? Was it postpartum fatalism? I didn’t know and I didn’t have time to get a good therapist referral.

A year later, I don’t have apocalyptic visions when I take my daughter to the playground, but terrorist nightmares have infiltrated my sleep. If I hear a loud boom, real or imagined, during the night, I will check on the baby, and turn the television on just to make sure it is safe to go back to sleep. If I had held on to the visitor passes, I would have proof of my premonition. I wished I had paid more attention while I was temping.

I don’t remember the faces, just the feeling I had while working at Aon Corp. People there took great pride in their work. One day I will tell my daughter that I temped in the South Tower while she was in my belly, and that fate and perhaps anti-pregnancy bias kept us from being one of the 175 Aon workers who died that day.

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