Saturday, February 13, 2010

What were you doing when it happened?

Death is a season rather than a single date. I hadn’t been home from the last funeral for even a week when the terrorist attacks on the U.S. took place--September 11, 2001. Two towers came down, one right after the other like my brothers did, killing over 3,000 innocent people. Now the whole country was in grief. Maybe I wouldn’t stick out so, like a sore thumb. From The Jim and Dan Stories.

The 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. is also the 5th anniversary of my brothers' deaths. My brother Dan, who was suffering with a liver illness, planned a road trip with our older brother Jim (a.k.a. "the weatherman"), thinking in the back of his mind that it might be a last chance for them to spend time together. They traveled from our hometown of Hull, Massachusetts, where Jim still lived, down the east coast, before heading back to Houston, where Dan lived and where Jim would fly home from. They went to a baseball game together, gambled in Atlantic City, saw the Vietnam War Memorial, and visited me in Virginia. It was Jim's first time visiting me and the first time he had been out of Massachusetts since he was in the Army during Vietnam and stationed in Korea. Two weeks after Jim returned from the trip, he died unexpectedly and tragically in a machine shop accident.

Dan missed Jim’s wake because he was too sick to attend, but he pulled himself together to make the funeral. My mother and I helped dress him that morning. Dan knew in his heart that as he watched his brother’s funeral, he was seeing what his own would be like. He died a month later in a hospital in Houston. My sister Kathy, sister-in-law Jeanne, and I were with him when he took his last breath.

It was my niece Chrissie, my only other family member who also lives in Virginia, who called on September 11th to tell me what had happened and to tell me to turn on the TV. I didn’t want to watch. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to see more death. And then it hit me. And then it sunk in.

The following is another excerpt from The Jim and Dan Stories:

Jim had his teeth cleaned a couple of days before he died. He left a “things to do” list on his night stand table. At Dan’s apartment, The Houston Chronicles piled up at the front door. The messages on his answering machine piled up too.

When someone dies, it’s like their life stands still and their belongings are frozen in time. All the details of everyday living that they worried about prove to be meaningless. They’re excused from all obligations. Their lives don’t wind down; they just stop.

The girl at the Pharmacy approached my mother cautiously, “Mrs. Redman, I thought you might like to have these,” she said. They were developed photographs of Jim and Dan’s trip that Jim never had the chance to pick up (probably one of the chores on his “things to do list”).

“Only Jim,” I thought when I heard he had taken pictures of clouds from the airplane window on his flight home from Houston.

“There are a couple of the World Trade Center buildings before they came down, taken from the highway. Can you believe it?!” my mother asked.

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