Chapter 0+1: “In The Shadow of the Towers”
Chapter 0+1: “In The Shadow of the Towers”

Opening Gambit – A Warm Day in September, 2001

what matters most is
how well you
walk through the
fire.
— Charles Bukowski

He comes out of the water, dripping. He’s the sort of a male that you see working as an academic, or perhaps on Wall Street. An academic, or a pencil pusher. Certainly not the kind of guy who has the self-confidence to approach the gorgeous young lady lying on the golden sand of Coney Island, but that’s just what he does.“May I lay down next to you?” he asks.

She’s a little surprised, but mostly disinterested. “Do what you want.”

“Are you from around here?” She doesn’t reply. He continues, doggedly. “Yeah, you’re a New Yorker, I can tell. You got that New York way about you.” He doesn’t clarify what he means by that. She doesn’t care. He looks off into the distance. “A lot of perspectives have changed.”

His words finally get a reaction. She looks at him sharply. “I don’t want to talk about that,” she admonishes. “If you’re going to start talking about 9-11, you might as well leave.”

The man winces. 9-11 is a number, not a date in history. “No,” he assures her, “neither do I… ” He looks around the Coney Island beach. The weather is unseasonably warm, but the beach is mostly empty. “Still…A lot of people have taken stock of their lives. Reevaluated what’s important.”

“I guess so,” the woman says archly. She wants him to go away now and is about to tell him so.

He is oblivious to her sarcasm; he continues speaking as if he’s trying to unburden himself of something. “But what about the people that died that day?” he wonders aloud. “The ones who never got a chance to reevaluate anything.” He looks at her full-on, his directness catching her by surprise. “I would never have talked to you before that day. I would have thought you were too beautiful. Too good for me. Funny, huh?”

“What’s so funny about it?” she says defensively.

The man keeps talking. “I would have been long-dead if I had been a casualty that day. I was so afraid of living. So wrapped up in trying to ‘make it’. How easily words change their meanings.”

Her ears perk up. Maybe this guy is rich or famous–or both. “What did you do there, in the World Trade Center? That’s where you worked, right? Were you a stockbroker or something?”

He shakes his head. “I was a sculptor. My studio was in tower #2. Some people died in the burning impact of the airplanes. Some people were suffocated and crushed by the collapse of the towers. Others drowned in the tunnels underneath the buildings. There is even the possibility that some of THOSE bodies could have escaped into the water system, wound up here in Coney Island. Or some piece of them, anyway.”

As soon as he says he’s an artist, the beachgoer becomes uninterested again. The woman props herself up on one arm. “You’re an artist. You might know this quote, then. It’s something I read once. It’s by Charles Bukowski.” She straightens herself up, recites the verse from memory. “’We know there ought to be a better place, an easier place, but there’s not. To create art means to be crazy, alone’.” (She pauses a beat, to drive in the last word, cruelly, home.) “’Forever.'”

Finally the man gets the hint. He doesn’t know why he thought she was beautiful, doesn’t know why he thought things would be different now. Even in the face of a national tragedy, people were still bitter and petty and small minded. Lives lost did not mean other lives would be gained or enriched by the process. He says none of this. Wordlessly he gets up. He starts walking towards the surf. At the edge of the water, he writes something in the sand, then walks slowly into the ocean.

The woman on the beach keeps staring at him. Wonders why she was being such a bitch. If the man had been in the Trade Center when the planes hit…no wonder he looked blank. Shell-shocked, maybe. She would be. She keeps looking and looking. He doesn’t resurface.

She gets up. Walks over to see what he had drawn in the sand.

Not drawn, written.

She sees the words in the sand, as the tide comes in, as people walk over it, and the words disappear:

LIFE ISN’T WORTH LIVING WITHOUT LOVE OR THE POSSIBILITY OF IT

***

“He never resurfaced, not that I could see. Maybe he swam down to another part of the beach. But he didn’t look like he was swimming, he looked like he just …walked into the water.” The woman was relating the incident several days later. “I don’t really know why I’m telling you this story. It’s just that it’s been on my mind a lot ever since it happened. God, I’m opening up to a complete stranger I just met…just like HE did. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, then or now.”

The Mark knew what to make of it. It was their opening gambit, the first tremors on the psychic landscape, and the stakes were high.

“You Need Love Like I do, Don’t You?”
— Tom Jones

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