After September 11, 2001

By Tom Chick

On September 11, 2001

I woke up to the sound of the TV in the front room. It was Trevor, watching something. He doesn't live with me or anything. But there he was, watching the World Trade Center bleed smoke.

"What's this?" I asked.

"Something that matters," he said, without turning around.

We watched. It didn't occur to me to wonder why he was here.

"I better go see how my Mom's doing," he said and then he was gone. I kept watching. When I finally stepped outside to check the mail, nearly ten hours later and still in my robe, I noticed the front door was still locked from the inside.

It could have been a dream or something. Trevor being here, watching the coverage. Maybe it was just some sort of narrative device. I didn't really understand at first. But it makes sense now. The people we know, how we know them, how we look at them. Those rules are a little different now.

After September 11, 2001

We still have Shoot Club this week. Not so much to play games -- which we can do if we want -- but just to hang out. Most of the guys show up. Charlie calls and says his wife doesn't want him to leave tonight, that it's too soon. Peter is still stuck in Dallas, waiting for a flight out. Otherwise, most of the guys show up and loiter in the dining room. No one is making a move for the computers yet. We're just talking about it.

Eric and Jeremy are arguing -- something about the media -- when someone asks, "Did any of you guys know anyone there?"

Jude's roommate from college lives across the street from St. Vincent's, the hospital where they took a lot of the people who made it out. Jude couldn't get through on the phone, but he heard from his buddy that morning, by email. Eric's brother works at the other end of Manhattan. He saw the whole thing, starting with the second plane and then both towers going down. Bobby says his uncle is a firefighter.

"No shit. Is he okay?" Eric asks.

"Yeah, he's fine," Bobby says, "I mean, he's a firefighter in Oregon, so, you know."

"And he was in New York when it happened?"

"No, he was at work in Eugene."

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"I don't know. He's a firefighter. He says people in town are bringing them cakes and stuff. Everyone honks and waves at them."

"My dad worked there," Trevor says. He hasn't been talking much. He's been paging through an Entertainment Weekly, but he flips the cover over and slides it away from him. He's holding his head in his hands.

"In Oregon?"

"In New York."

"I didn't know your Dad was in New York. He's okay?"

"I didn't know him. My folks broke up when I was a baby. I don't remember him."

"But he's okay?"

"He was in the World Trade Center. My Mom said he was a security guard or something. She only knows because of the legal stuff. She's been suing him forever for back child support, alimony, I don't know, some shit like that. They don't talk or anything. She's been doing it all through lawyers. I don't know much about it. All I know is my dad's an asshole. Was an asshole."

"He's missing?"

"Yeah. He's on some of those lists."

"Jesus."

We're silent. As silent as if we were watching the coverage again. Here's the human element again and we're silent out of reverence, shock, helplessness. Trevor's looking at a Dorito.

"What was his name?" Eric asks.

"Trevor, same as mine. Technically, I'm a junior."

"He probably helped some people get out. If he was a security guard."

"I don't know. For all I know, he got scared and ran off. All I know is I'm fat because of him. No one on my Mom's side of the family is fat. My Mom's a skinny little thing. Bony. You've seen her. At Christmas, when we used to fly back to where my grandparents lived, I was the only fat one. I got that from my dad. Asshole."

"You're not fat."

"Yeah, right. And I'm not going bald either. Look, it's not a big deal. Like I said, I never really met him. I just want to have fun tonight. I don't really care about that fucker," he tells himself out loud.

He's crying. No one says anything. Eric puts his hand on Trevor and leaves it there.

Since all this has happened, we see now the outline of fathers who were invisible. Invisible sons, mothers, brothers, sisters, the guy in the next cubicle, that receptionist who never smiled, someone who passed you in the hall, the people behind the one thousand windows of a city skyline. We didn't know anything about them. Suddenly we can see some of them, gone and symbolic, charged with more meaning than they'll ever know. Meaning has infected new people, places, things. Office memos are tragic. Skyscrapers are noble. Stairwells are death traps. An airliner overhead is cause to flinch. Every fireman, every policeman stands for the doomed heroes thrown into the teeth of these new meanings. Their trucks are roaring down the street with flags and righteousness billowing behind them. The whole world is Norman Rockwell, dark and grainy with pain and honor. Simple patriotism is too petty anymore.

Trevor lowers his head and shuffles into the bathroom.

"Maybe we should go home?" Bobby offers.

"No," I say, "Just stay. Please? I'm going to play Virtua Tennis."

When Trevor comes back, his face red and washed, the other guys have started up a game of Diablo II. Eric has left a seat open for him. "You can have this seat," he says, "I poured you a Dr. Pepper."

"Naw, you go ahead, I want to play Virtua Tennis for a while," he says. For jocularity, he adds, "Besides, Diablo II is for fags." He settles in beside me and I consider letting him win. But that's stupid. He wants our presence, not our pity. We know this. About Trevor and each other. It's why we're all here, at Shoot Club, after September 11, 2001.

No one says anything else about Trevor's father. Instead, we play games. Virtua Tennis and a Worms game on the Playstation. Diablo II gives way to Unreal Tournament, then Counter-Strike, then Red Alert 2. It doesn't occur to anyone that these might be of questionable taste, because they aren't. They're games. They're the functional equivalent of cartoons. They should be free of these new meanings.

Cont'd