Following is a piece of fiction I wrote a while back about 9/11. It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve written about 9/11. I’m of the opinion that we cannot fully understand what happened to those who lost people on that day. I think the rest of us can have sympathy but we can’t ever really know. The one thing we can relate to is loss. We’ve all lost someone at some point. This is about that.
The Other Victims
by Jack Cameron
My name is Paul Newman Jr. My father is not famous. He named himself after his favorite actor when he came to the United States. He said that he wanted to fit in and that every American he’d ever met could never pronounce his name. And so four years later when I was born, he gave me this name as well. I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this or why it has taken ten years to do so. They say there is a time for everything and I think the time for this is now. My father died in New York on September 11, 2001. He was forty-seven.
They say that no one will ever forget September 11th and the media seem to want to make sure of that with news specials, retrospectives, online timelines, commemorative magazine issues, and things like that. I’m not sure we really need it. I know I don’t. Honestly, it’s a day I want to forget.
I remember how they read off the names at Ground Zero. I remember how my father’s name was not on there. They talked of financial ‘compensation’ for the families of those who had been killed, as if money could compensate for a life. It didn’t matter though. They never contacted me. And I knew why.
September 11, 2001 was a day like any other. When my dad got into his cab, I’m sure he didn’t expect that he wouldn’t be home that evening. He didn’t know that halfway through his second fare just before eight in the morning, he’d be dead. Neither did I.
At the moment of my father’s death, I was in Oregon at Reed College probably smoking a morning bowl of pot, wondering if I was actually going to go to my Greek class. I remember turning on the television and finding every channel exactly the same: The absurd images of planes crashing into buildings. I think even without the pot, it would have taken a little while for it to register the magnitude of the whole thing. I didn’t go to my Greek class.
It wasn’t until evening that I got the call. At first there was just crying and I thought it might be Mindy, my drama queen of an ex-girlfriend.
“Junior.” The voice croaked out through sobs.
“Mom. Mom what is it?” My mother was the other woman in my life prone to hysterics.
“It’s-It’s your father. He’s dead.” Great. This whole thing must have unhinged her more than usual. They moved upstate years ago.
“Mom, dad’s not in the city. He’s drives upstate. Remember?”
It was then that she told me what happened. He’d been shot in the back of the head and robbed. While the whole world watched the towers fall, petty thieves and murderers were still plying their trade.
It was two days until my father’s death reached the papers. Even though they lived upstate, he had made arrangements years ago for our family to be buried in New York. Even so, the circumstances made it difficult. The New York funeral home business was having their busiest week in history and prepaid or not, logistics were still an issue. The home finally agreed to have the service but the only time available was the morning of September 13th. The police said they wouldn’t be done with my father’s body in time. So the funeral would have to happen with the burial later.
I emailed my professors and let them know I needed to go back for my father’s funeral. I packed a couple bags. Smoked another bowl to settle my nerves and called to make plans for my flight.
It wasn’t until that moment that I realized no planes were flying. And they weren’t sure when they would be and when they were, there’d be days’ worth of people who needed to get to New York and everywhere else. I couldn’t drive across the country in a day and a half and they couldn’t reschedule the funeral. I wasn’t going to be at my father’s funeral.
It took me two weeks to get out to see dad’s grave. By then he was in the ground and the police had already caught the guy who did it. Seems the camera in the car got a good look at him. It didn’t matter. Just like those who lost people in the towers and in the Pentagon weren’t comforted by the fact that the hijackers who did it were dead. It doesn’t change the fact that I’d never see my father laugh again.
They say that there were almost 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001, but they’re wrong. The truth is there were hundreds more killed across the country, around the world, and in upstate New York. And it continues to happen every day, but it doesn’t have the impact that 9/11 had on everyone because it’s just not as fantastic. They were right that September 11th was a day just like any other. I just wish it hadn’t been.