by Corey Whelan
I used to call September my spiritual month. The color of the sky, that amazing blue. The leaves falling. The crisp air. It all worked for me. I chose to get married in September. My twin's due date was September 29th. Now, I can't even listen to that old Earth Wind and Fire song. Do you remember?
Last night my dog Cabo had to go for a walk, it was so late already, and I couldn't pull the damn dog down the street. All I wanted was to go back inside already. Then I turned abruptly and realized that the beacon was on.
Every September the twin beacons of light show up in the New York sky. Where the Towers used to stand. I don’t know why but this year, I was just so surprised to see them. I just didn’t expect it. The way I didn’t expect to see the pillars of smoke that filled the sky, what was it? Eight years ago this month.
I spend every September feeling like a raw nerve. Sometimes I forget why I feel that way, and I realize that I’m walking down the street crying. There’s this ad campaign on the subways now. The large print reads “Lived There? Worked There?” That’s all New Yorkers need to see, really. We know what that means. It’s like code embedded in your skin that you never forget, that is universally shared by all of us who felt the ashes raining down on our heads.
Everybody has a story about that day, where they were, what they saw. I remember trying to distract my daughter from the phone that wouldn’t ring. She was six years old then. We had already done our Halloween costume shopping and I dressed her up like Snow White and we went outside. Such a stupid thing to do, really. I didn’t realize that the ashes would rain down on our heads, all the way in Brooklyn. That the streets would fill with papers drifting down from the sky, people’s work product filling the grass of Prospect Park. People reverently collected those papers and saved them. We still have some burnt edged sheets from what must have been a stock trader’s desk. I always pictured her a woman because she had put a shopping list in the margins. Butter, eggs, 2 lbs. of meat. I remember thinking, so much meat? Was she married? Did she have a six year old daughter like mine? A son like mine?
And still the phone wouldn’t ring. Where was Eugene?
FF Eugene Whelan, Engine Company 230, Brooklyn, New York. A kid really, a baby. A happy go lucky, amazing, great guy. Of course Eugene never made it home that day. He left his girlfriend, Tara. He left his parents, his brothers and sisters, his brothers in arms, and my kids. My kids, his baby cousins who loved him like crazy. Eugene was their first baby sitter. And he never made it home.
September isn't my spiritual month anymore. My marriage ended in divorce and my kids were born three months early. Instead of arriving on September 29th they made their appearance in June.
The beacons of light are still on. And I will never forget.