Strangers on a Train

There was a very appealing
woman in her 40's who rode
the Hoboken train with me each morning.
She'd get on in Middletown,
get off at Newark, presumably
heading to lower Manhattan.
She wore blue-tinted glasses
and had long blond hair.
I did not know her name.
Our only conversations were
"Excuse me" and "Of course"
when she tried now and then
to sit down across from me,
sometimes rub my knee perhaps
by accident.

Then she disappeared.
When I went back to work on Monday
after that horrid Tuesday morning,
she was not on the 6:51.
Never again.
I did not know her,
I do not miss her,
But at this moment
I grieve her.

There was a dour-looking man,
tall and heavy-set, who always wore
the same distressed leather shoes
and carried a ratty briefcase.
I disliked him because he looked
like my girlfriend's ex-husband.
Then he disappeared.
When I went back to work on Monday
after that horrid Tuesday morning,
he was not on the 6:51.

Three weeks after that morning
when I stared up like a turkey
at the rain of Hell,
I missed my train
and took a later one.
There he was on the platform,
the ex-husband lookalike,
chainsmoking and seeming unpleasant.
And I was filled with utter joy.


I have that morning burned into me. Everything I did from the time I exited the PATH (the train that runs between Newark and Manhattan) at Christopher Street, glimpsing the Towers at what I suppose was a minute before the first plane came in, then the events of the day: seeing the first Tower on fire from a half-mile away, uttering hate-filled yet icy-calm curses I could not imagine myself saying, speaking to both my children--one in Boston, the other in Baltimore--to let them know I was okay. The latter, with whom I'd had a strained relationship since I left in 1997, said "Daddy, I love you" before I hung up. I sat at my desk and bawled like a child. Then walking north--for it was still a beautiful day, I suppose--to Pennsylvania Station on 33rd Street and by some miracle getting on the first train out when the station was reopened to Jersey traffic. And the first train out was going to my station. It looked like something out of a newsreel of a population transfer in India in 1947, but it didn't matter.

The traumas hit later.

I've developed a ritual - just the one - with a piece of clothing. On 9/11/01 I was wearing a pair of black Tony Lama western boots. I wore them last September 11 and I shall wear them again tomorrow. Stupid as this may sound, I consider them lucky shoes.

I was so fortunate....nobody I actually knew died on any of the planes or in the WTC itself. The woman on the train was real, of course, but it's also true that I didn't know her except to trade glances.

I know a guy down here who took a vacation day that 9/1 to go waterskiing. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. He still does. He told me that his entire desk—all his trading associates and subordinates—died that morning. Last year someone asked him "Are you doing anything special on the 11th?" "Yes. I'm going waterskiing again." Same way I'm wearing those overpriced boots that carried me away from that cloud of smoke and pillar of fire. Memorials, all.