We used to have this neighbor named John. He was a family man, lived with his wife, two daughters, a son-in-law, and a small collection of grandkids. He was funny as hell, hilarious really. He used to knock on our door on occasion and announce that he smelled weed, did we have any weed? Um…no. Turns out wishful thinking smells just like cannabis.
John used to hang on the backyard fence and gossip with me and my husband, unloading his burdens with his usual sense of humor and candor. “So my youngest daughter has decided she’s a lesbo, but I’m hoping it’ll pass,” or, “My brother has a mistress! He says he’s in love with her. My wife would never allow that.”
He was always laughing and cracking jokes. He had a big belly like a bowl full of jelly, a shock of pure white hair, electric blue eyes, and he was always smiling.
So of course I thought he was joking.
I was in the backyard filling up the dogs’ water bowl before leaving for work. John came flying out of his house wearing only a tank top and giant boxers, his ratty too-short robe open and flapping behind him.
“Hey! Did you hear someone blew up the Pentagon?”
I took in his disheveled appearance and his shiny-bright eyes and thought maybe he finally scored some weed…or that he was making some kind of weird joke I didn’t get.
But it was no joke.
Since we didn’t have television, I jumped into the car and turned on the radio as I headed down to the train station in San Bernardino. Bill Handel was on KFI AM 640 that morning. Handel’s a funny guy, too. But the minute I heard Handel’s voice, I knew this was real. He was talking about planes and buildings and fire…and casualties.
The freeway was eerily empty for morning rush hour. Everyone on the train platform looked shocked and frightened. I didn’t know what to do really, so I got on the train and headed into work. We all clustered around a passenger with a portable TV, and I saw black smoke billowing from the top of one of the towers.
My friend Annie got on at Rancho. We rode the train together to West Covina, a little more than halfway to Downtown L.A. We called work, but we couldn’t get through to the courts where we both worked as court reporters. No one was answering the phones. We were scared.
We decided to get off the train.
My courtroom was in the middle of trial at the time, so I called my judge on his cell and left him a message letting him know what was happening and that I wasn’t coming in.
Annie and I rode the train back to Rancho where she had parked her car, and she drove me the rest of the way home. It was the only time she ever came to my house. It was odd showing her around the house we were renovating while the world fell down over and over again on the airwaves.
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Today, all over the country, people are sharing their stories. Not all of the stories have to do with Ground Zero or the Pentagon or witness accounts. Most of the stories will be, “Where were you when it happened?”
Sometime today, my old neighbor John will recount to someone the story of how he ran out of the house to tell his young neighbor about the attacks and how she didn’t believe him.
Sometime today, my old boss will tell someone about how he was filling his gas tank when he decided to check his voice mail and discovered a message from his frightened court reporter.
Sometime today, my good friend Annie, who I miss very much, will tell someone about how she drove her friend Ang home from the train station and got a tour of the house.
Sometime today, my fellow Ninja writers will come over to break bread and share stories, new stories, because that’s what people do. And while we tell stories, the world will fall down over and over again on the airwaves.
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Where were you when it happened?