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Poem & Story ∼ “Remembering 9/11” by Susan Montag

Susan Montag


“Everyone Knows”


“Everyone knows those people are crazy,”
my brother Tom said when I told him
about the radio talk show I had listened to
on my drive to Iowa.
This was about 20 years ago,
when the first Harry Potter book came out.
Flipping through the stations, I had listened to a talk show
where the host proclaimed the book to be Satanic,
and said that it should be banned from schools.
Tom laughed at my concern,
when I told him that the hysteria about
a children’s book made me feel uneasy,
as if something more sinister than dark magic
was brewing on our horizon.
But my brother was in his 30s then.
This was before his divorce.
Before 9/11.
Before nationalism and fundamentalism
and concerns about Obama’s birth certificate
and fear of Muslims set up camp in his imagination.
Now Tom is 55, and we barely speak.
Now he listens to Alex Jones
and stockpiles water and bullets
and swears to everyone who will listen
that end times are near.


“How Do You Know?”

Jake was notorious for faking illnesses—well, faking might not be the best word to describe it. He could actually make himself sick. He had puked that morning, and even though Anne knew he would feel better within an hour (he always did), she left him at home while she drove Emily to school. Trevor was 12 and had already caught the bus to “South,” one of the two Jr. high schools in the Minnesota suburb where they lived. Emily and Jake were both still at Maple Hill, the nearby elementary. Emily was seven and was in second grade. Jake was ten—he was in fifth grade—or he was supposed to be, if he could ever get his ass to school.

But Jake hated school. He had a unique blend of Tourette’s and ADD. He was a “moving target” as the school psychologist liked to say. He could take a computer apart and put it back together; he could “beat” a video game in record time. But sitting and listening and filling out packets of worksheets was torturous for him—and worksheets seemed to be the only trick his teacher had up her sleeve, even though Jake’s IEP said that worksheet packets were bad for his learning style. So he made himself sick. A lot. Which evoked in Anne both a sense of compassion and frustration—as well as the kind of shame mothers feel when they go to parent teacher conferences and the teacher says, in that one particular voice, “Well, he misses a lot of school.”

She had seen him throw up. His pop tart and orange juice had made a reappearance into the kitchen sink after he had announced, “Oh, shit, I’m gonna puke.” But by the time Anne got back from taking Emily to school, Jake was upstairs playing video games, seeming to be quite healthy, with their beagle, Bart, nestled protectively next to him.

“Jake, you look okay. I think it was just nerves. You can make it to school.”

“I’m already late.”

“Better late than never. You need to go to school, Bud. And I really should go to my office.”

Jake then made a puking noise and said, “Oh fuck,” never taking his eyes from the video game.

Anne just leaned in the doorway and looked at him. They had worked with him, and he had gotten pretty good at not swearing at school—but she had just given in to it at home. Contrary to what people might think of a kid who made weird noises all day and could not find his ass with both hands, he was exceptionally bright. And funny. She couldn’t help but cut him a lot of slack. Bart the beagle whined at Anne as if imploring her on Jake’s behalf. Come on, just let the kid stay home.

It was then that the phone rang. The land line. Ann turned away from Jake’s doorway and went downstairs to answer it. It was Chuck.

“I just tried you at work,” he said. Anne could hear a television on in the background, which was strange. Chuck didn’t have a television in his office.

“I’m still trying to get Jake to school. He puked again this morning.”

She expected Chuck to groan in annoyance about this, but he said, “Oh. Have you seen what’s going on?”

“Going on where?”

“Turn on the TV,” he told her. “A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center.”

In the few seconds between when she hung up and when she clicked on the TV in the living room, she imagined a twin engine plane, maybe with a couple people in it. But as soon as the picture appeared, she saw that it was something else. A small plane did not cause all that smoke. She made a series of loud exclamations, and she stood there, like everyone else in the country, staring at the screen.

The television that they had in the living room had once belonged to Chuck’s mother; it was an older style model that probably weighed two hundred pounds, encased in an oak console. It would last another year before it fritzed out, and then they would put it in the crawl space under their house because they had no idea how to get rid of it. It would stay there for 15 years, and every year after that, when Anne went into the space under the house to get out the Christmas decorations, she saw that old TV sitting there, covered in dust, and she would remember flipping it on seeing the tower on fire.

“What happened?”

She looked up and saw Jake standing there. The thought flashed through her mind to tell him to put on his shoes so that he could go to school, but she didn’t. She looked back at the screen. “I don’t know for sure,” she said. “There was a plane crash in New York City.”

Jake came and sat down on the couch, and then Anne sat down next to him. If she had known they were watching the beginning of something, and not just the end result, she might have made him leave the room. But then again, maybe not. They would always have this—that they were together that day. So many times they talked about this next moment.

When the second plane hit, and her ten year old said, “What the fuck?” she didn’t scold him. She said, “Oh my god. What in the fuck is happening?”
“Why are they crashing so much?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think its bad guys?”

“I don’t know, Jake.”

“I think they are going to crash all of them. Like a bad guy got on each plane taking off at the airport and they are crashing them all.”

He got up from his place on the couch and went to the sliding glass door. He tugged it open and he ran out. Bart, who had been sitting near Jake’s feet, tried to dash out after him. Anne leapt after Bart and grabbed him by the collar as he was passing through the door. Jake stood in the backyard in his bare feet, looking at the sky—as clear and blue of a sky as anyone could ever hope to see.

“Come back in. We’re fine, Jake. No one is going to crash here.”

“How do you know?”

“Because we are not a target.”

“How do you know?”

“We’re not. Those buildings are important buildings. They don’t care about our house.”

“But how do you know?”

“Come in Jake. Come on.”

He stood there scanning the sky. Anne pulled the dog back in and closed the door, and then went to get their jackets and shoes so she could join him.


Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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