by Valeria Ivanova

My name is Brooke. My story began on December 24, 2020, when I was with my friends in a cozy restaurant in the center of Manhattan, drinking red wine and discussing plans and bright moments from the past. My friends told me about the upcoming holidays with their parents and numerous relatives, some stories about vacations at the sea and many other hilarious adventures, but I heard only fragments of their speech that made my heart ache from the inside.

– “My dad took up bowling, but most likely he just found a new girlfriend and …”

– “That’s crazy! Haha, babe, my father was against the dog all his life, but he bought it and now they even sleep together. Look at them! They are…”

– “Guys, my daddy taught me to play the guitar when we were in Hawaii…”

And so on and so forth. I left the restaurant without remembering a single specific story because I was only thinking about my dad.

According to my mother’s stories, he was the best husband and father in the world, but I was not destined to be convinced of this because he died on September 11, 2001, during the terrorist attack in the Twin Towers. I only saw him in photos where they were so happy with my mom that I imagined what my life would have been like if the tragedy had not happened 19 years ago. My main desire has always been to see him at least for a moment, alive, smiling  his charming smile.

I was walking home all broken and a little drunk, with obsessive thoughts about the past. Passing by beautiful Christmas trees and colorful billboards, I seemed to plunge into a trance, noticing nothing concrete, only a general mess. My attention was attracted by a discreet ad on the wall of some non-trendy cafe. As I got closer, I read that some scientists have developed an innovative machine that can transfer a person to the past without risking changing the time continuum and history. Something lit up inside me, it was hope. After looking through the lines about the possible consequences and risks of failure, I came to the main point. It was obvious that they needed volunteers. With trembling hands, I tore off a piece of paper with a phone number and address and, already sober from the cold, rushed home. It was vitally important for me to see him, my father, the person thanks to whom I am a part of this world. I didn’t say a word about the experiment to my mother, she had had enough worries lately, so I decided not to risk her mental health because of my impulsiveness.

The next day I called the number, but no one answered me. In the evening, I saw a missed call from this number and cursed myself for constantly putting the phone on silent mode. At six in the morning, tired of endlessly waiting for calls, I received a message from an unknown number: come at one o’clock in the afternoon to the laboratory of Mr. Digory Mcducken without delay. I looked at the address and of course I couldn’t sleep anymore.

At 12:40, having dressed in a flimsy  jumper, I was shivering from the cold in front of the huge gray door of the building where the chemical fiber processing plant used to be located. At exactly one o’clock, the door opened and a small man with a wrinkled face and a malicious grin asked me to follow him. I was walking as if spellbound, and around me there were huge containers with toxic waste, some boards, stairs, construction materials, as well as a lot of tools, some of which I had never seen in my life and did not know their purpose. We came to a small door that was closed, the guide brought his face to the indicator, and as if at the click of his fingers, the door swung open.

The room in which we found ourselves was like a look at  the future: huge machines, continuously working mechanisms, bright hospital light and the lack of any connection to the real world. People in white coats greeted us joyfully, they were scientists and their assistants.

– “We are glad to welcome you, Brooke! We know what brought you to us, but we want to make sure that you understand all the risks and unforeseen consequences that may occur during the experiment?”

I was completely at a loss because I didn’t tell anyone my name or what my goal was. I said one single phrase:

– “I know exactly what I want, and my motivation is stronger than fear.”

– “Well, then we can start the experiment.”

I didn’t doubt for a second, but when a little man looked at me with sadness in his eyes, I realized that I might not be able to return home. I opened my phone, wrote to my mom that I would be back late tonight so that she would fall asleep without me, and handed the gadget over to the storage room. White people with faces concealed by protective masks asked me to remove any metal objects, as well as shoes. Then we went to the compartment with a huge capsule, which was an innovative development. There was nothing inside it but air and a couple of buttons. After the briefing, I remembered that the purple button was a pause, it was under the right hand, the green one allowed to finish the experiment and go back, however, I was not given any guarantees that it really worked this way. I had to think about what I wanted to see in order to start the process, and I began to recall all the stories, photos and memorabilia related to dad. At one moment, I felt a push and closed my eyes more tightly, after a couple of seconds I lost consciousness.

After a certain amount of time, I woke up in my house, not in my room, but in my mother’s bedroom. I found myself lying on top of her and was afraid that I might harm her, however, she was sleeping peacefully, I saw that she was pregnant. My dad was lying nearby, with his blanket pulled over his head, I immediately wanted to look at his face. Realizing that I could not move objects, I began to wait for them to wake up to watch him. I looked around the room, everything was so unusual there, from the wallpaper and posters on the walls to the furniture and carpet. My thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ringing of the alarm clock, which was immediately turned off by dad’s hand sticking out of the blanket. Here it happened, the moment I was waiting for – I saw him for the first time.

The first thing that caught my eye was his height, he was tall, then his face, sleepy with a red stripe on his cheek from the pillow. He had the same nose as me, with a hump and I quickly noticed this feature, as well as the extraordinary beauty of his eyes that were the color of an autumn rainy sky. His body was pumped up and embossed, although I should not have paid attention to this, after all, he was my dad.

While I was looking at him from all sides, he was getting dressed and talking to my mother about plans for the day, he had an important meeting planned that was supposed to improve the company’s position in the market, he was a little shaken with excitement. Mom tried to make jokes, but she understood that he wasn’t listening to her. Dressed in a gray suit with a soft green tie, he gently kissed her, took orange juice from the fridge and went down the stairs to the street. I followed him, and when I went outside, I realized that we were in a completely different Manhattan. People dressed in a different type of business style clothing, running to work, not noticing anything around them, talking on strange mobile phones. They were not at all like us from 2020. Despite their busy schedule, they were more open and friendly, dad greeted some of them and exchanged polite phrases about health and plans for the weekend, while not stopping running to work. After looking at his watch, he decided to go to Starbucks and buy coffee, where he met his colleague. They were animatedly discussing the project, and I just wanted this moment not to end, I wanted to snuggle up to my father and never let him go.

As I got closer to them, I glanced at his colleague’s phone, I saw the date and time and the blood froze in my veins. 9/11 … 2001. The day of the tragedy. Why, why did I come to this day, what should I learn about my dad on the day of his death?

I almost lost sight of my dad when he and a colleague headed to the office from the  cafe. The time was 8:00. I walked next to him, unable to contain my emotions, it’s good that he couldn’t see me. He passed through the main entrance to the skyscraper, it was the north tower, beautiful, with huge windows illuminated by the autumn sun. The awareness of how many floors there were did not come immediately, then I felt goosebumps.  Nevertheless, it was worse to realize how many people were there. We went through the reception and found ourselves at the elevator that took us to the 64th floor. Time flew inexorably fast, my father went into the meeting room, where his colleagues and the company director were waiting for him. They began to discuss the project, and I remembered the expression of his face, the movements of his hands, his smile and how he nervously adjusted his tie. I saw how involved he was in the process of his work, how he was in love with what he was doing. I was admiring him and my hands were shaking with fear.

At 8:40, they started getting ready to leave for the conference room, it was on the 65th floor, which I found out when we were in the elevator again. I was counting the seconds until the crash, I couldn’t help, I couldn’t do anything, just watch. I wanted to run away from powerlessness, but I had to stay.

8:46, the plane crashed into the tower, a second, a frighteningly loud crack of glass, walls that began to shake and the ceiling that began to collapse. Panic in the eyes of people, complete misunderstanding of what was happening…I looked only at my father, who tried to remain calm, but was scared and immobilized from fear. Everyone ran to the exit and only my father and his colleague understood that people were dying on the floors above, they were covered with the debris of the building, everything was plunged into a dark smog, I lost sight of my father, but I ran to the stairs, he and his friend ran upstairs. Loud  screams could be heard on all floors, some people could not run away from the horror and just sat on the stairs, dad persuaded them to leave, his friend grabbed them and dragged them down.

It became difficult for them to breathe, to walk, but they tried to find survivors, realizing that it was impossible to help everyone, my father sat down on the stairs, took out his phone and started calling someone. I recognized the voice, it was my mother, he said to her these words: “Honey, dear bubu, I know you’re watching TV now, but I’m alive, I’ll try to get back to you, but there are a lot of people who need help, I have to do something, I love you madly, don’t cry, everything will be fine. Stop crying, please, I want you to call her Brooke, I know that you prefer the name Emily. I love her. I love you, Rachel, try to calm down, breathe, smile. I will keep my vow at the altar, and I will love you until my last breath. Goodbye.”

My heart was broken, tears were streaming down my cheeks, I saw his despair, his tears and his great desire to help others, he stood up and shouted in clouds of smoke to those who could still hear, women and men were walking towards his voice, wounded by shrapnel, covered in blood and with a monstrous cough. He inhaled smoke, lost consciousness, he fell, and I saw that he was barely breathing, I lay down on his body, trying to remember every detail, I sobbed desperately. He stopped breathing, there was no one who could help him. I went to the glass and saw how people were thrown from the windows. One of them looked straight into my eyes, I don’t think he was alive at that moment.

I understood that another plane had already rammed the south tower, after a while the buildings collapsed , but I had already left the tower, I could no longer look at the death of people, I saw the sun and clouds of smoke traveling before my eyes, toxic dust, dirt and blood.

I lost consciousness, and when I woke up, I found myself in a laboratory, in a capsule. I was disconnected from the device and asked what I saw, I was silent for a very long time, and then I said: “I saw the day when dad experienced the most love, the day that I was destined to see in order to understand who he was and who I am.”

One thought on “9/11

  1. this short story about the incredibly cruel tragedy of 9/11 awakened sincere emotions in me. Vivid feelings and experiences that are difficult to convey in words are intertwined with a turning point in history.

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