Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Dies Irae

Morning routine was well established. Kirk always got up first so I could get that most blissful kind of sleep - the few minutes snatched after the alarm goes off. He would start the three-stage process of actually prying the children out of bed by thumping on doors and giving fair warning before he started his shower. By the time I got up the thumping had been followed by open doors and overly cheery greetings (because he was evil that way in the mornings). The rest of us eventually staggered out into the kitchen to start breakfast and pack lunches to the constant background noise of the news.

Kirk never lost the need to check the news - it was the first thing on in the morning, the last thing at night. At work he always had a news site ticking away somewhere on his computer, and throughout the day I could expect IM's updating me if anything happened that he felt was important.

That day almost all shoes had been found and put on, nearly all lunches finished and dumped to the bottom of backpacks to be squashed by notebooks. Kirk was a couple of minutes from going out the door to work. And the first plane flew into the World Trade Center.

I was the one who saw it - everyone else was bustling around getting ready to go. I called to Kirk and he ran in and froze.

'Is it...?' I asked, but he didn't answer. I could see the color drain from his face, literally washing down and leaving him totally grey. He was utterly still.

'Kirk, do you think...?'

And the second plane hit.

I know the kids were asking questions, I know the television commentor was talking, but my memory is of total silence. His silence.

Then the Pentagon - and Kirk knew people who worked there, had gone there himself for briefings I believe. Black smoke. And our phone began to ring.

'Hello? Yes. I saw. Yes. No - no, absolutely not. Of course I'm sure. You'll be fine, he'll be fine. No. Okay, I'll see you there.'

It rang again, and again - five or six times and always the same conversation. Did you see what happened? Should we go out? Can we drive on the Bridge?

He turned to me.

'It's happened.'

'I know Kaj, I know, I'm sorry. Do you... '

But I didn't even know what to ask.

He reassured the kids then - don't worry, you'll be fine. These guys, their religion forbids killing children, it's one of the worst things they can do. They believed him, trusted him, went off to school.

'I'll try and call J, see what's happening.' J was his close friend and partner from the counter-terrorism unit. 'I need to know... I'd better go.'

And he drove to work.

I don't remember most of the rest of that day. In the afternoon I took the kids to Half Moon Bay to soccer practice, and remember having a parent ask in a totally normal way 'so, how are you?' and I couldn't think what to answer. Kirk met us there at the middle school field, and we sat together on a worn wooden porch outside one of the barracks.

'You okay?'

He hunched over in his black suit and studied the ground. Silence again.

He had written it. He had suggested that a terrorist could use a commercial plane, one loaded wtih fuel, as an effective bomb. What if, he had written, what would we do if... and they had laughed. No one would do that. No one had ever done that. It has never happened before.

There are buildings that will be targeted, he said. Bin Laden failed once with the Trade Center - he's going to try again. And there are others, and he listed them. The Pentagon. The White House.

He wasn't the only one of course, and it wasn't that he sat as a Cassandra spouting true prophecy and ignored by the Powers that Be. It might have made no difference even if someone had listened. After all, the terrorists have the advantage - they only need to succeed once. But maybe, maybe this time like Y2K, things could have been averted.

Across the field the boys' team scrimmaged in the fading light; the evening fog began to roll over the grass. Parents were gathering in small groups, talking quietly. I felt removed from them and from Kirk. I knew too much to feel quite a part of their reaction, too little to be part of Kirk's private pain. He stood up, held out his hand.

'I'll have to see if there's anything I can do.'

'I know.'

'There probably isn't, but I have to see.'

'I know.'

'Okay. Let's go home.'

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