The day was cold as I ran inside, ready, to get my bearings. Fiddling with the end of my skirt, I wiped my hands against my knees as I stood against the brick building trying to catch my breath. The images still wrapped around my mind, shrinking in size but still echoing, pulsating under my shaken skin, even when the clouds shifted and a car drove by. My mind re-enacting that one day over and over again as I willed it to stop. Screams muffled and mute as a mother wrapped her arms around her daughter, eyes petrified, blood on the sidewalk. The stars dimmed that day, holding in a breath that reverberated amongst millions, so desperate and afraid as the world slowly faded and the sky finally fell.
My dad died on
September 11th. He wasn't near the Towers. He wasn't
in New York even. But he died fighting something inside him,
something gnawing and splitting his hands and his heart that took
just as much courage as the rest of the world had to face that day.
That's my September 11th tragedy.
Nothing glorified or explosive, shooting shock waves against the nation but it was a moment that still tore me apart as something inside of me that I didn't know could, broke.
Mr. Percy was perfectly ordinary. He taught math. Teaching angles, symmetry, and formulas was what he specialized in for the past odd years. He wore plain ties. Fifty-five and married he had already seen much of the world but even with long years of preparation you can't prepare yourself for everything. You can't prepare yourself for a fire or a car crash no matter how hard you try. It was the same thing for Creative Writing. We could all tell he was nervous in substituting for a subject that was almost as foreign as an ancient tribal language. You had to feel sorry for him.
He cleared his throat as he unclasped his glasses from his shirt pocket as he read aloud from a sheet of paper in his hand.
"Write a short paragraph of an event that occurred in your life and how it impacted you."
Drawing out the last four words as he disposed of the paper and quickly stepped back in his chair, hands in his lap, as he sat stiffly, nearly startled as a hand shot up. He nodded as someone questioned the length.
"How long does it have to be?" Mr. Percy echoed, as he blinked as if dazed.
In his world, every question had an answer neatly solved in a series of step. Entering into a world with no limits was probably like asking him to break the law. Mr. Percy wasn't really the law breaker type.
"However as long as you like," He said lightly, laughing a little too loudly as the fluorescent light dug into my eyes.
His voice trailed off as I glanced at him with his ironed suit and polished shoes. The silence accented with the scratch of pencils and the muffled sound of heavy metal bounced off the walls and into his system.
He cleared his throat again.
"Feel free to work in groups if you like," He said hesitantly, "Better for the creative juices to keep flowing…" His voice fading while slowly settling into his chair and proceeded to unfold the pages of the newspaper as it enveloped his small frame. For protection, I concluded.
Chairs screeched as the noise moved up to a respectable volume. Laughter mixed with complaints as the clock ticked away.
I heard him before I saw him.
The slow stroll punctuated with his right foot gathered volume in the hallway as he swiftly turned into the classroom with one quick turn. The words black boots of death popped into my mind as I got an eyeful of the army wear. The noise quickly erupted back into silence; then into a quiet crescendo with the mark of his arrival and his descent as he sank into his seat.
Jack Armstrong was six feet tall. Black hair dyed green and shaped into a Mohawk standing one foot over his head. He had a tattoo on his right arm and a scar on his left. He never spoke. Sometimes he didn't even come to class.
The back row was filled with gossip queens analyzing and picking him apart. Jen thought he was an undersized giant that we would one day see on Daily Sightings She proclaimed loudly the fourth day into school, making sure everyone could heard her as she smirked and flipped her hair back. Myra was a hundred percent positive that he belonged to the group that has been selling pot in the boy's washroom in the second floor. She said excitedly in her rapid fire pace while snapping her peppermint gum.
There were so many stories floating around him that it
was hard to separate fact from truth. Everyone had their own
classification, their own little box to put him in. Just like the
rest of us. It bothered them that he was the one that drew a blank, a
question mark and an I don't know.
On the first day, he seemed alien to me. With the hair and the earrings but I was too stunned into shock back then and I merely labeled him as an enigma and drifted on.
In the late of August, it felt like something in me seized up. Time had stopped but everyone kept moving. I couldn't understand. After that, I just grew numb. Wilting away with the summer as I took a step back, and then another, and another until all I could see was the water underneath me coming closer to meet me as the world closed her eyes and finally let me slept.
swept over mine as I jolted up to see Jack Armstrong, standing over
my desk, an inch away from my face. He had dark eyes. Almost black.
The kind that seemed empty or full depending the way you looked into
them. He had a pencil newly sharpened on the other hand.
The one, which wasn't touching mine.
Someone sneezed. I was suddenly aware of the silence between us while the voices carried on, chattering away on the other side of the room and his hand over mine.
"Are you okay?" He spoke slowly. Surely.
A deep tenor, gentle even. I was surprised that his first words this whole year would go unheard by the rest of the probing population.
But most of all I was surprised that they would be aimed at me.
I blinked. Slowly realizing there were tears running down my face and that it was hard to form a sentence with my throat tight and my breathing erratic. I settled for a nod instead as I looked away with my face burning as his hand finally drifted away.
I took a breath, and then another, feeling my vocal chords loosen, and immensely relieved that my hand stopped tingling.
A table screeched as it made its way towards me from behind, finally settling beside me. Jack swung around as I found myself beside him once again.
Now people noticed.
I could already hear the build up of gum snaps in Myra's mouth as she regurgitated the whole scene that everyone already saw with her embellished commentary and dramatic gestures. Jen narrowed her gaze at us and openly rolled her eyes. I took a quick glance at his side profile and the silver hoop in his ears. With him a few inches away I noticed the part where the green dye faded back to black and jagged shape of his scar. It was like watching an animal on the other side of the glass suddenly appear beside you. It was foreign. Strange. But it felt right somehow in that small fluorescent lit room with the sky stretching by the window and the clock ticking away.
Faster or slower it seemed
as little by little it slipped away. I'm not too sure. The tension
unknotted itself from my stomach, while my mind sought solace in the
quiet, as I delivered pen to the paper. The words came easy, they
always did. It was the wealth of emotion I put in them that shook me
the most. But for the first time in a while they didn't seem so
important, and my heart less heavy. Something hit me in that matter
of minutes as I looked at him from the corner of my eye. My
attention drifting to the headphones around his neck wondering what
kind of music he preferred and how he got that scar on his arm.
I knew that if I ever wanted those answers I would have to ask. Measuring the distance between us, I took a breath and jumped.