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Keep Telling It
The room was exploding with orange and black streamers, multi-colored confetti, and strange costumes. I was arm in arm with Jeff Brix, my date to the Halloween Dance. I hardly knew him, it seemed- we only shared a couple classes, but he'd asked me and I liked the kindness in his smile.
We mostly hung out with his friends since none of mine had chosen to come. They'd all gone out trick or treating without me, since none of them had dates. I was standing somewhat awkwardly in a corner, leaning against the decorated wall as Jeff and some buddies exchanged jokes. He stopped every couple minutes and tried to start a conversation with me, though try as I might, I wasn't feeling very social. I noticed he was more reserved than the other guys- they were the arrogant type typical of most jocks, but Jeff was different. Jeff thought before he spoke; you could see it in his eyes.
A masquerade of new arrivals passed through the entrance a few feet from us: black cats, superheroes, pop stars. We pointed and laughed now and again at the crazier costumes. Suddenly Jeff leaned close to me.
"You look beautiful," he whispered. "I didn't get a chance to tell you."
His gaze held mine for a minute before our attention was snatched by raucous laughter to our right.
A guy in a turban and robe was striding up the aisle, a mischievous smirk on his face. A bushy brown beard was plastered to his chin, and a makeshift cardboard bomb was strapped to his waist.
"Ey, Bin Laden," one of the obnoxious jocks jeered. "Shoulda drove that plane into the student council building."
I stood, riveted, my face suddenly grown slack. My knees weakened beneath me and a hot fire was lighting in my temples. My mind was hazy, or I know I never would have had the audacity to move in his direction, but I walked right up to the "terrorist" and threw my punch in his face. I didn't wait to see the shock register on his features, didn't wait for the angry retaliation, didn't listen to the hush I'd left behind. There were no thoughts in my mind but to run for my life, and I didn't know why.
My vision blurred with tears, I hardly felt my feet flying beneath me as I ran, crooked and staggering, out the door and into the yard. Sobbing, I threw myself down in the shadows and tried to fathom what had just taken place.
The cool twilight was just piercing through the fog when Jeff found me, standing over me for a moment as he tried to think of what to say or do. Moments later, he was sinking down beside me, his hand on my back.
"Hey," he said. "What just happened in there?" He paused. "Do you know that guy? Has he bothered you?"
I shook my head, drawing a shaky breath. "No. No..." I wiped at my cheeks, but it was no use. "I just can't believe," I whispered. "I can't believe someone would do that." I tried to bring my red-rimmed eyes to his. "It was two years ago. In our own city. We all... we all felt it, we all knew somebody."
Jeff's question was gentle, maybe because he could already tell. "Who did you know?"
The words almost didn't come, but I forced them anyway. I hated crying in front of people, hated the choked sound of my own voice, but the story needs to be told, and I'll always be the one to tell it.
"My dad worked in one of the towers, Jeff."
He nodded, his eyes wide brown pools, listening, waiting.
"He called in sick that day because he had the flu. My dad was never sick, never. But that day he could barely get out of bed. When he heard the news, it just broke him. 'Why?' That's always his question. Why wasn't he there that day? Now all he does is drink and sleep, waste away and feel guilty. It's as though he wishes he was in the tower, wishes he'd gone down in the flames. And sometimes..."
I stopped and looked at Jeff, my eyes boring into his for just one moment. "Sometimes I wish he had." Just as quickly, I tore my eyes away, lowering them to the ground in shame. My shoulders shook and in a moment, Jeff's arms encircled me.
"I didn't mean that," I whispered, shaking my head. "I didn't."
"I know," he said softly, holding me.
"They all say 'we'll always remember,'" I whimpered. "But I just want to forget."
Jeff stroked the hair back from my face. "Keep telling it," he said, close to my ear. "Even when it hurts, it's all we can do." He pulled me closer, and we both wept.