September 11, 2012


Dear Bea,

It’s not lost on me, your name of Beatrice, shared with Dante’s spirit guide through Purgatory and Paradise.

We first met nearly twenty years back.  I was at a life-altering crossroads, leaving behind some of my poorly chosen behaviors and companions of youth, but still not certain where I would be going next.  I am grateful for your friendship then.  Though close enough in age, you were far steadier in your personhood than I.  You were and are married, an accountable individual, yet you did not let this structure, these anchors as I saw them then, dampen your wit, your spirit for a good life lived well.

How happy I was to hear from you again, to get your news.  You remain an admirable person, whom I respect.  Happy recollections of our short acquaintance in New York City made a bridge back to that time in my mind.  And in the middle of the thought-span lay September 11th, 2001.

It was a strange and awful day.  Over breakfast on 42nd Street at the Kraft Restaurant (now closed, moved, polished, reopened, and ruined) my companion and I saw the pitch of action outside rise without knowing why.  Police horse trailers were towed this way and that.  Was there a parade?  A street fair?  I learned the truth at my next stop.  Both towers down.  I’d been offered a job at Windows on the World.  It was gone, and so were thousands of people, a few of whom I knew.  I went uptown to the writing job in front of me.  The producer with whom I was working felt odd laboring on a soap opera promotional program when all this was unfolding downtown.  Soldiering on with our work was our feeble way of fighting back, but after a few hours, we finally had to stop.  There was no pretending something awful had not happened so close by.  The producer gave me a couch for the night.  No getting home to Jersey.  I reached family by phone.  My cousin, also living in New Jersey, but working in the World Trade Center, survived and stayed in the City as well.  Her skin is of a hue that she believed might earn her hostility from authorities or vigilantes.  She drove out of town with me the next day.  I’d helped a little here and there.

Bea, I could have used a guide in the years following that day.  I was filled with thoughts of how brief is life.  The images of the towers falling were matched in horror by the seeing families holding hopeless vigils for their lost loves.  Without self-pity, I know that very few would have been looking for me besides my parents.

So I lived faster and faster for a while.  Slowing down meant leaving moments unfilled, and that was another horror of September 11th.  How many of those who died still had places they wanted to see, books they wanted to read, and other tragic incompletions.  That was a true terror for me.  I lived accordingly.  YOLO.  You Only Live Once.  And sometimes, not even that much.

Then I ran into an acquaintance who quickly became a friend, Jeanine Troisi.  Another Beatrice, in her way.  We’d chatted on the New York bus now and then.  With her usual vivacity, she told me she was training to become an Emergency Medical Technician in order to volunteer with Montclair’s ambulance.  For the first time since 9/11, a positive chord rung through me.  I signed up.  I learned the work.  I got on the ambulance.  It was the start of turning my life around.  I was part of the solution, at least for a few.  I had earned a few writing credits all the while, learning a trade as best I could while at a full sprint, but this work on the ambulance was important.  I was helping neighbors in the worst ten minutes of their lives, and I began to heal.  Thank you Jeanine!  (Jeanine was in television when we met.  I believe it is no accident that today she is a nurse.)

I met Mary, who somehow saw a husband in me through the blur of uncertainty of my years of fast, unconscious living.  And then I met my son Beau.  And we are a good family, working hard, living fully, and not a little daunted by how fast life wants to move without any effort whatsoever on our part.  Today we try to slow down.

So Beatrice, thank you for reaching out.  I sincerely hope we will always be in touch.  You gave me the best reason of all, friendship, to stop, to reflect, and acknowledge a wound and a mending.  The names of the victims are being read out now.  This service to the dead and the living has become our annual struggle to remember, and therein to express our hope to be remembered in our time.  I’m going to listen.  Then I will accompany my bride as she drops off our son at his first day of preschool, where once, before he was born, I responded on the ambulance to a fatal shooting.  Circle of life.