It’s early, 5:15 a.m., and you enjoy the dark quiet as you always do. You meditate effortlessly for 20, first-universe minutes.
You make coffee and shower but you don’t wash your hair because you’re going to get a haircut today in San Francisco. You look forward to a leisurely morning drive through Sonoma and Marin counties; the sky, the rolling hills and oak trees will be especially lovely in the September light.
You are relaxed and smug as only a freelancer can be when there is plenty of work that allows for days off like today. You have updated your voice mail message: “This is Diane Olberg. Thank you for calling. For Tuesday, September 11, I will be out of the office but will be checking messages from time to time …”
You’re covered. You feel free to ramble through San Francisco for the day. A crab louis for lunch at The Tadich Grill would be nice. You plan on that.
The phone rings around 6 a.m., but that’s not really unusual. It could be Nick from Florida, in treatment again for heroin, a frequent caller, or an East Coast client. Your people know you are usually up by now.
But the phone shows that it’s Charlotte, your eldest sister from Anacortes, Washington. This is also not a surprise. She could be calling for all sorts of reasons — a recipe, an address, a question about Christmas.
You pick up the phone.
“Do you have the television on?” she asks. “Of course not. I never watch TV in the morning,” you say, and you think ‘and I don’t like people who do.’
“You need to turn it on,” she says. “There’s been an accident in New York. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.”
Okay, and I care because why? In that last moment in the first universe, you don’t understand at all. Instead you’re just irritated, your calm morning interrupted.
But Charlotte rarely calls in this way, so you turn your television on. You sit down in your bathrobe with a cup of coffee. You join all the witnesses, and the first universe ends.
The images do not seem real. You have been in the World Trade Center. You have gotten in and out of taxi cabs there and clicked up those steps in fine Italian shoes. You have ridden in its sleek elevators. You have held meetings there with the people of Wall Street, after alphabetizing their name tags and placing them in neat rows at a clean reception table, in a glassy room that overlooked the city.
You see all of this at once as you move into the next universe. Then and now.
The strange facts unfold about other planes, other crashes, and then the towers collapse. The events look billowy and soft on your television but you know they are not.
You think of who you know there, who needs to be called. What is Jeanne’s married name? What about Jeep and Carol? What about Brian? Who else is there now? Who?
How many dead?
Time passes in slow motion in an erie stillness. The cats come in and curl up next to you. You make some calls to New York but hear only first-universe voices, pre-recorded.
At 8 a.m. you call the hair salon and offer to come or not come. The voice at the other end is gracious and kind. She’s unsure, too, but says you should come. What else would make sense, thousands of miles away?
You get in your car and start driving to San Francisco, but the salon calls. The police are shutting down Union Square; the salon is closing and everyone is going home.
You think back to the 1960s, to getting under desks and practicing safety drills to prepare for a nuclear attack. As if desks or drills could help then or now.
You are driving south and nearing the Golden Gate Bridge, a glorious target. Where do you go now, in the new universe of targets and fear?
You turn west and drive to the San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Compound, in the soft Marin hills above Muir Beach. The rambling grounds are still, misty and almost empty. You ask the two people in the office if you can go into the meditation hall. You are crying, and they are not. They say yes, and you go in and sit alone in the cool dampness, with crossed legs, on a black cushion, with your hands and head just so.
Unlike a few hours before, in the first universe, this is not meditation at all.