What We Knew and What We Didn’t

The following piece was an assignment for a class I’m taking at Lighthouse Writers Workshop. We were asked to write from the close third person point of view where the narrator seems to be looking over the character’s shoulder and is not omniscient. Tension is heightened because the reader knows what’s coming but the characters don’t.

In honor of the 14th anniversary today, I’m sharing this exercise with you. I hope you’ll remember with me the shock and uncertainty of that day and ponder all we now know – or maybe still don’t know – about what 9/11 means to each of us and to our country.

After fifteen years on the labor and delivery deck, Marjorie had earned the perk of working the 11 am to 7 pm shift. She loved it because she got off at a reasonable hour to have dinner with friends and she got enough of a morning to get lots done. On September 11, 2001, her mid-day shift meant she was able to be home for delivery of the rug she had sent out to be cleaned.

The carpet guy rang the doorbell just after 9:00 am, exactly as the company had scheduled. Marjorie was already a little miffed because this delivery day was a week past the date the cleaning company had originally promised. Her parents were flying in to visit in a couple of days and she wanted her living room back in order. Why couldn’t you count on the world to be dependable any more? At least this guy was on time.

The tall, sinewy man with a buzz cut went right to it and unrolled the room-sized rug with a single flip. After the last wrinkle was smoothed out, he straightened up with the surprising grace of a yogi.

“So, what I think is we’re under attack. This is war. Who knows where they’re going to hit next,” he said.

“Excuse me? What?”

“The planes flying into those buildings in New York. Haven’t you had the TV on? I was just at my last house and the lady there was watching CNN. You should turn it on.”

The first image on the screen was of the South Tower imploding inside an enormous grey column of billowing smoke and dust. The announcer’s voice was measured, reporting just the facts that they could confirm or see from news helicopters. Marjorie reminded herself to slow her breathing, trying to take it all in and not panic. She had patients waiting for her at the hospital, colleagues needing to be relieved. She had to continue to move through her morning to get to work.

Who knew what was about to happen, what city would be the next target? She thought of the important military installations in Colorado Springs, Cheyenne Mountain and all. Massive numbers of casualties could quickly overwhelm their health care facilities and overflow to the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver where she worked. She was on the hospital’s list of personnel with SUVs who were available to be called in for a disaster in any weather. All those years on a high risk labor and delivery deck had taught her to be ready for anything, babies or moms going south in a nanosecond. She had a reputation for being calm in the face of volatile life or death situations.

Thankful once again that there were scrubs waiting for her at the hospital, she watched the coverage as long as she could, skipped her shower, ran a brush through her hair and headed in.

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