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Persistence of Memory -- An Online Novel

{Continued from REMEMBERING JILL in PART 10}

"I can do it." I opened my eyes and looked at her. Her face was no longer pale. In fact it had the kind of glow people told me I had when I had been pregnant. "Let's go set Jilly free."

The Space Game had refreshed me too, so I nodded. We got up and went back to the railing. "Okay, Joanie, now or never," she said, unzipping the bag. "You open it up. Hurry."

I reached inside and for the urn and quickly passed it to her. She took it, unscrewing the top and tilted it over the railing. "Goodbye, Jilly, goodbye," she said softly. "I'll love you forever. God bless you always!" As soon as all the remains streamed out, she stuffed the urn back into the equipment bag and zipped it back up. I cannot tell you how lucky we were that no one saw this; the staff and other visitors seemed preoccupied with other things.

The wind took the ashes into an updraft. I watched, amazed, as they seemed to shoot in a line toward the Hudson and the Jersey shore. The specks dispersed into the air. We both agreed later it was as if Jill went back to Newark. Aunt Ellen then bowed her head and said another prayer, thanking God and talking to Him about Jill.

"Jilly, I kept your wishes," Aunt Ellen whispered. I pushed back my coat sleeve to look at my watch, which indicated it was 3:37 p.m. "Yes, we did it. We set her free, like she asked." I patted Ellen on the back. "Thanks. Now this may sound crazy, but I feel like taking some more pictures," Ellen said. She took out the point-and-shoot camera and stepped back. I now had my back to Jersey and was leaning on the railing, my elbows resting on the top of it. "Smile, Joanie!" I did a little, and she took my picture. This was how many of the photos of me in my 20s and 30s look, either barely smiling or flat-out frowning.

On the north side, a friendly guy with a British accent took the two of us together, standing by the northwest corner, so that you can see the top of 1 World Trade Center and its antenna behind us. In my photo collection, it remains a companion to the framed photo of Jill and me at the same place.

At last we decided to go back down, which to me was the best move after that strange time. I could feel the nagging in my gut again, and really desired the company of terra firma.

When I left for home, Aunt Ellen let me take a number of Jill's photos of us, including the framed one of us from my cousin's bedroom.

I went through Jill's makeshift darkroom in a closet off the kitchen. Inside I found several photos, the last of which had been taken and developed in January. Several of these winter and holiday shots were still suspended from clips on a wire stretched between two walls. One in particular she probably took using her tripod and camera self-timer. I found it on a shelf in the closet. She wears jeans, a navy pea coat, and a striped scarf. She sits cross-legged on the snow-covered Tobin Plaza, by the fountain. Koenig's great globe looms above her, and the north tower windows can be seem in a faint blur in the background. There is a trace of a smile, a Mona Lisa mouth. Jill also had written in black felt tip on the photo's bottom white margin: For Joanie, who always loved "The Sphere," Jan. 3, '86.

I took it home with me, as I assumed she originally intended to mail it to me. I bought a frame for it, and it is one of the WTC photos that I have never put away in a dark corner.

Aunt Ellen stayed in Newark for another week or so, going through Jill's things and arranging to have some of them shipped back to Detroit. We had the memorial service two weeks later. The whispered topic among the relatives was why Jill's body was never brought back home for burial.

Family members pumped Ellen and me for information, but neither of us told what really happened in New York. Not until winter 1993, when terrorists first attacked the WTC, did I ever tell Michael. Ellen told the rest of the clan. This eventually became a touchy subject, a sore point that was usually avoided in family gatherings. It especially caused a rift between my aunt and Rocky.

JANUARY 2002 / UP WHERE WE BELONG

"Joanie! Joanie Joanetta!"

I hear Jill's voice. My eyes are closed. I feel my body; it is in a seated position. The breeze is soft and cool on my face, which suggests summertime.

"Joanie! Joanie Joan-netta!"

I slowly open my eyes. I see painted concrete, a white railing, telescope-like things - and sky. I am confused and wonder why I can't see any buildings. Jill comes into my line of sight and breaks into a grin.

"Joanie! There you are," Jill says. "It's about time you came back to visit me!"

My cousin is wearing Levi's, a green Michigan State T-shirt and a New York Yankees cap. Her 1984 clothing. She comes up and sits down next to me.

Jill is 22 years old, while I can tell by looking at the tendons showing through the backs of my hands that I am still nearly 40.

I realize where we are: on the rooftop deck of the south tower of the Timeless WTC. We have this observatory to ourselves, and we're sitting on one of the benches there.

"So, my dear Joanie, how have you being doing?" Jill asks. She straightens her cap and smiles again.

"I'm all right, I guess," I say. "I really miss you."

"Well, I miss you, too. You just don't come and visit me enough. Like your shirt, by the way."

I look down. I am wearing my old white and purple Nikes, jeans, and a navy blue T-shirt with "FDNY" in red block letters edged in white printed on it. I don't have a shirt like this, but I had seen them for sale on the Internet. I suspect the back of this one says "KEEP BACK 200 FEET" like those shirts on the Web.

"I really would like you to drop by more often. We just don't get enough time to chat," Jill says.

"I--"

"I know, you're married and have the two kids and you're always busy and never have any money to come to NYC."

"Well, it's true--"

"Hey, always remember: Where there's a will..."

"Look, I came on September 10th and stayed for several hours."

"All right, but where have you been since?"

"There's nothing there anymore - just a big hole! There are no buildings there anymore--"

" 'No buildings'? What do you mean, 'no buildings'? Get up!" She yanks on my arm with both of hers so hard that pain races to my shoulder. She hauls me to the railing, and I can see the East River and Brooklyn in miniature. She drags me around the promenade until we're looking north at WTC 1 with its antenna.

"No buildings? Do you see 'no buildings'? I see buildings. I see Nelson, as you call that tower. And we're standing on David!"

I pull my arm away from her hands and rub the forearm where she squeezed it. "Look, Jill. I only know Ground Zero now."

"Don't give me that Ground Zero stuff! I only know towers."

"They're gone, been gone for four months. I'm sick of talking about them."

"You can't be sick of the WTC."

"I am too sick of it."

"You can't get sick of a place that's part of your life and mind, Joanie. This part of the city is part of you."

"That's ridiculous. I'm a Detroit girl, and that city is part of my life. I'm not only sick of this place, but I hate it again!"

Joanie shakes her head. "That's only because you're scared of heights again. Deep down, you do like this place."

"No, I don't. I don't have a fear of heights. I hate the WTC because of--my escape."

"Your escape? You ran away and left us."

"Baloney! I was running for my life, Jill!"

"You abandoned us."

"Everyone was running that day. Even the firefighters were running away near the end."

"You were all scared. Now you're going to pay."

"What? What are you talking about?"

She jumps up and runs away from me, heading for the west side of the deck, overlooking Jersey. It's the same place Aunt Ellen and I released her ashes. I run after her and feel winded, as it is just under a 200-foot dash. She stops short by a telescope and leans jauntily against the rail.

"Love lifts us up where we belong," she says. She smirks and shakes her head. "Do you dare to follow me further, Joanie Joanetta? Or are you going to abandon me again?"

"What you do mean?"

She begins to climb over the railing. "No, Joanie, not again!" I say. I grab for her. "There are all kinds of things down there! You'll fall and break your bones and cut yourself up!"

She flings herself out of my reach. She leaps across the roof like a broad jumper, right over the tiny fence, the razor wire coils, and window cleaning machine tracks along the roof's edge. Her Yankees cap flies backward toward me, and I manage to catch it. Jill disappears over the edge - it's about 30 feet between the railing and the edge.

"Jill, no!" I say. "JILL!" I start to cry. "Jill, why did you do it again?"

I feel tears on my face. I look down at the navy cap in my hands, furious with her and these buildings that won't leave me alone night or day. I am about to throw the cap after her, when I hear her laughing.

Jill rises up above me, floating parallel to the rooftop. She drops to my eye level, turns over on her back, and folds her arms behind her head. "I didn't do it again, Joanie Joanetta. I'm just out for a cruise. Want to join me?"

I stare at her. "Join you? I can't fly. How on earth do you do it?"

"If you love the sky, Joanie, anything's possible. YEEEEHAW!"

She takes off away from me and turns northward with a squeal of laughter. I run around the promenade to keep up. She's flying for the north tower, I realize. I free up my hands by putting her cap on my head.

"FLY THE FRIENDLY SKIES!" her distant voice rings out. "Whoo-hoooo! I'm a United jet!"
Antenna on 1 World Trade Center
she ... lands on the roof of wtc 1, next to the great television antenna

I get this sick feeling, remembering that Flight 175 was a United Airlines plane. I hate her capriciousness, her crass humor.

I get to the north side, stop and grip the railing. I watch her in disbelief. She giggles and tumbles through the air, executing flips and barrel rolls as she heads for the tower. She circles the building around the 90th floor, I estimate. I squint and swear I can see two people looking out the window at her.

She flies up higher and circles the plate glass of Windows on the World, waving at the unseen diners. She does a huge back flip and lands on the roof of WTC 1, next to the great television antenna and among the telecomm equipment surrounding it.

"HI, JOANIE!" she screams. Her voice echoes, seeming to bounce and re-echo endlessly through the Manhattan canyons. I have to cover my ears because it's so deafening.

More airborne gymnastics - cartwheels and somersaults - and Jill places her hand on the antenna. She swings around it like a May pole reveler, her body perpendicular to its height. She makes several circuits, spiraling up toward its apex and back down near its base. She executes another backflip and comes hurtling straight at me.

I jump out of the way, lose my balance and land in a sitting position. The concrete stings my behind. With a forward flip, Joanie lands next to me.

"Too bad you didn't join me," she says. "You don't know what you missed. Philippe Petit's a slacker compared to me!"

She squats next at me and shakes her head. "Still a fraidy cat after all these years, Joanie. I just don't know what to do with you."

"I can't fly like that, Jill."

"Well, you could, with the right attitude. Maybe you wouldn't run away scared because of a few terrorists, either."

"Stop that. It's not fair."

"Life is never fair. It wasn't fair when Daddy died. It wasn't fair when Jonas dumped me. It sure wasn't fair when I just decided to jump in front of that train."

"We all mourned you, Jill. We released your ashes from up here just like you asked."

"Who gives a damn anymore? Fifteen years pass, and you forget all about me, like I didn't even exist."

"Jill, I was here last September. I came up in your memory. I sang Journey up here. I remembered you! I've never forgotten you. What the hell's gotten into you?"

"Because you act like things don't exist."

Before I can respond, Jill makes a series of back handsprings like an Olympic competitor and lands by the west side. I run after her and stop by her.

"Maybe you'll come back again soon, Joanie Joanetta! Maybe you'll see things just don't stop existing, and I'll be waiting for you!" She starts to rise and launch herself over the railing again.

"Wait, Jill! Please! Don't go. Let's visit now."

"Too late. Goodbye!"

She reaches for my head and grabs her cap off it. After popping the hat on her own, she jumps over the roof again and simply disintegrates. I can describe it no other way. Her body breaks into millions of colorful particles that flutter away on the breeze. Her laughter resonates back at me and fades.

I am alone, with tears in my eyes again. I want to run away - go away and away and away as I have through the years. I rush for the doors leading back inside the tower and yank on them. They're locked. The doors at the other end are, too.

I pound and kick the doors and say, "Anyone? Anyone! Help me! Open the door! I'm stuck up here!" No response. My fists and feet start to sting, and I weep more.

I walk toward the back railing, behind which I can see all those little antennae, satellite dishes, and the like. My shoulders sag. I sink down on one of the benches, lie down, and stretch out my legs. I lie there, crying and staring at the sky, cerulean and broad.

"No clouds," I say. "No clouds," I say louder, sobbing and shaking my head. "No clouds! No clouds, no clouds, no clouds, no clouds--"

"Joanie? Joanie, wake up!"

Michael's voice. I woke up and heard myself say, "No clouds." My face was soaked with tears and sweat.

"Joanie, are you all right?"

I saw, ridiculously enough, a New York snow globe on the nightstand. The LED numerals on the clock radio read 1:37 a.m. I rolled over and looked at Michael. Darkness. The bedroom. Home.

"You were having another bad dream."

I nodded. "Yeah."

"You were crying in your sleep. You kept saying, 'No clouds, no clouds.' "

"That's because there weren't any."

I reached to the nightstand and picked up the NYC globe. I shook it over and over, causing the snow to swirl wildly about the diminutive downtown. "There were no clouds in the sky over the WTC, just wide and blue, like back on 9/11."

"Another Trade Center dream."

"Yep. Remember those dreams I told you about years ago, where I was flying?"

"Uh huh."

"Well, in this one Jill was flying. Stupid cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Peter Pan, soaring and doing all these acrobatics around the Twin Towers. She taunted me. She said she was a jet and flew right at a tower! Then she said I had run away from the WTC like a coward!"

Michael nodded and fingered my hair. "It was just a horrible dream. I don't think Jill would ever say anything like that if she was still alive."

"She was so mean, and demented. I was standing on the WTC roof deck and was too scared to fly with her. That just wasn't Jill."

Michael put his arm on me. "You know dreams distort things."

"Yeah, I know, but I'm still freaking out a bit here."

"You know what I also think."

"I know that, too. I wouldn't have these nightmares if I'd only talk about September 11. You said it, and your mom, and my mom, and Julia, and everyone and his brother."

"That's right. The sooner, the better. The more you bottle up those memories, the more I think you'll have those nightmares."

"I still can't talk about it!"

"Maybe you should talk to Pastor again, then."

"That made me feel better, sure, but just for a short time."

Michael put his arms around me. "Remember, the sooner you talk, the better you'll feel. I hate to see you suffering like this." He kissed the nape of my neck. "Try to get some rest, and try not to think about 9/11."

I was not ready to talk, but I was ready for another challenge. The next morning I went to the main office. I walked toward Julia's and Edmond's offices and called their names. They came out and looked at me.

"I'm ready to go back to consulting full time again," I said. They looked surprised. Edmond's eyebrows popped up like halves of a drawbridge, as they often did. "That includes out-of-town travel by plane or car. Whenever you want, you can assign me clients."

Julia smiled a bit. "I'm happy to hear that, Joanie. That's good news, eh, Edmond?"

The big man nodded. "We need you. You know we're pretty short-handed around here. I'll be glad to have you back in service."

"There's just one place I'd like you to avoid for the time being," I said.

"New York?" Julia said. I nodded. "I'll see what we can do. We'll call you when we have something lined up, Joanie. Welcome back."

"Thank you," I said. I nodded and turned to return to my office. I could swear that I heard the faint sound of them cheering as I went out into the hallway.

1986-1996 / INTERMISSION

The years that passed after Aunt Ellen and I released Jill's ashes from on high were fairly quiet. As Michael and I stayed busy with our careers, our children and our home, life settled into a comfortable rhythm. Michael worked for what is called a "Tier One" supplier, or major company that sells to the Big Three automotive companies. We had our four-bedroom white colonial in Sterling Heights, about 10 miles from where I had grown up.

New York, the World Trade Center, and the vicissitudes thereof receded into memory, and finally indifference on my part. I hardly noticed the Twin Towers when I saw movies or television programs set in the city.

In April of 1991, I gave birth to Christa Jill Bailey, my second daughter. She was named after Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who died in the Challenger explosion, and my first cousin. I took only a short maternity leave and returned to my reporting slot at the South Oakland Sentinel, a daily newspaper in Royal Oak. My weeks were spent at city government and local school meetings. Occasionally there was a human interest or even a decent entertainment piece available to me, but most of it was humdrum. On top of that, the editor, Oliver Brandt, began to single me out for harassment in the mid-1990s.

These were psychological attacks about ridiculous things, such as having too many house plants around my desk or an excessive number of action figures, which I began to acquire after someone gave me a Spider-Man figure as a Christmas gag gift in 1993. He stormed about my stories, though they were without error. He said my clothing was too casual for a reporter.

Other reporters began to notice Oliver doing this and asked me, "Why is he being so hard on you all the time? What is it you even did?" We could not figure out my transgressions. I did the things an employee should - show up for work on time, attend all news events, meet all deadlines, turn in error-free copy. Still, Oliver was being a jerk toward me, and I couldn't find another job.

Seven years after my third trip to the Big Apple, there was an explosion at the WTC that shredded its parking garage and killed six people. Michael tuned in to CNN for the coverage. Aunt Ellen called and told me that Rocky was safe. Jill's younger brother had left the Marines in 1988. He was recruited for a training program in an investment company called Dexter Lindensmith. He settled in Brooklyn after completing his studies and took a job with them in the WTC north tower.

Though he and Ellen were still estranged at this time, he still wrote her terse notes about these milestones in his life. I thought things had gotten weird, with both of my cousins now possessing ties to the Trade Center. I was relieved I no longer had any connection to the place.

By 1993, Rocky was married with two small children and had bought a house on Long Island. Aunt Ellen remained proud of him and regularly prayed for him, despite confessing to me that sometimes she cried at night for the way he froze her out over Jill's death arrangements.

After the terrorist bombing, my aunt told me that we should no longer remain silent about our 1986 trip. I told Michael I wanted to share a story with him. He thought the entire thing resembled a TV episode.

"I've heard of people having their ashes scattered into the ocean or on their ancestral property, but off a skyscraper?" he said.

"That was Jill, though. She loved tall buildings and big cities, especially New York. I guess the Twin Towers represented skyscrapers the most to her. They do seem to be a symbol of New York. Ellen and I felt we did the right thing. It was what she wanted."

We both felt New York was lucky in regard to the 1993 assault. The bombers, we learned, had hoped to destroy the foundation of one tower so it would fall into the other, and kill thousands. Ellen cried in her call to me, happy that Rocky survived, and that her "children's building" was all right, too. Apparently it had taken him a few hours to evacuate.

"I'm just glad I'm done forever with that place myself," I said to Michael. "I'm glad we're going to Chicago this summer."

Oliver's continued harassment of me became worse. In 1995, when I was serving as assistant features and entertainment editor, he pulled me out of the job with no explanation and replaced me with one of my former "stringers," or freelance writers. She later told me that she was getting an editor's salary, where I had continued with a reporter's pay when I had the same position.

Oliver had me back on the beat in Madison Heights, a neighboring community. On top of that, he told the editor I was to do the entertainment calendar again. That was tedious, time-consuming work that usually fell to the newest arrival in the newsroom. He also told me I was supposed to help our newsroom clerk with the obits, something I had not done in five years.

My temper was getting short, and my outlook on life was brutal. Nobody wanted a newspaper reporter. The Detroit News and Free Press began to have openings in late 1995 and early '96, but they were for "scab" jobs, because the unionized staff had walked out in an acrimonious strike the summer before. I wanted no part in crossing the picket line, as the Sentinel staff was part of the same union. PR firms were not interested in my resume, either.

I reached a low with my attitude toward people and their concerns. I became the most cynical I ever was in my life, and I was proud of it. I savored bitterness and at times wanted to hurt people around me, especially those who had wronged me. I wanted Oliver's Buick to be hit by a train in downtown Royal Oak - one from Grand Trunk Western, the same rail line whose tracks ran behind Grandma Morris' old house.

Home and family were my only refuges. For our colonial, my husband and daughters, I wanted only the best.

JANUARY 2002 / AWAY AND AWAY

I felt a surreal curtain descend, initially, when I returned to consulting in the middle of the month. One of my first assignments was at an injection molding company by Los Angeles.

I finally saw for myself how airports had changed. I arrived a couple hours before each flight. Sometimes I still saw national guardsmen patrolling the terminals. My bags and I were closely scrutinized. I felt ridiculous standing there while a security person ran a hand-held detection wand up and down my person. A lot of it was summed up in the expression Michael and my dad repeated from their military years: "Hurry up and wait."

Leaving a Michigan encased in ice and topped by a gunmetal gray sky and landing in gentle temperatures among palm trees left me light-headed. I spent three days with the clients at their plastics factory in Van Nuys, with every day becoming more comfortable as the old rhythms returned. I was grateful to Julia and Edmond for getting me a job as far away from New York as possible. In the rest of that month I was sent to South Carolina, Ohio, Massachusetts, and an industrial park in Farmington Hills, a Detroit suburb.

When I wasn't at work, I let the L.A. area's palm trees, valleys, and mountains wash over me. I did not go on casual sightseeing as I had at many of my stops from 1999 to 2001, but instead was happy to lie down in my hotel room and read a novel until my eyelids drooped. A discussion about faces and plastic surgery arose during one of my meetings with the Van Nuys company's executives. One of them, a woman who was vice president of marketing, remarked that her nose was fat and bulbous. "Ms. Bailey, I like your nose and wish mine looked like it. It's so thin and has a cute little turn to the side."

What the marketing exec did not know is that my nose was slightly crooked because I had broken it after my face smashed into a stairwell wall as United Flight 175 hit the WTC south tower, and the building violently swayed. My nose had not been treated until I found myself in a "walking wounded" triage center in Jersey City hours later. It had healed that way, a few degrees to the right from the vertical axis where it had once been. That, along with a four-inch scar on my left forearm, are the only vestiges of my September 11 injuries.

Rocky was not so lucky - at the time he continued to receive burn therapy after he had laboriously walked out of the south tower with one surviving coworker. Mom and I received regular phone calls from Aunt Ellen, who was with her son and his family on Long Island while he recuperated.

I still had the WTC dreams during my consulting trips. They shifted to being lost in the lobbies or in the underground mall and getting pummeled by robotic commuters heading for their offices. In one, it was Jill, not me, sitting at a table in Windows on the World and getting drunk on merlot.

"Come and join me, will ya, cousin?" she said. "That bastard Jonas dumped me tonight, and I need someone to talk to." I could not recall the rest of this one.

I woke up in alien hotel rooms, covered in sweat, my mouth and throat parched. I lay there missing Michael's comfort. I often gathered myself into a near fetal position, with a pillow jammed over my head. I sometimes got these irrational fears that if I drew open the tightly closed drapes in these rooms that I would see the Austin J. Tobin Plaza outside and would be back in the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel again.

A few times I had to go to the window just to check. I took a deep breath and yanked back the curtains. The sight I usually received was a parking lot and an extract of a city or suburb. I would be so relieved that I would growl under my breath like a happy lioness.

{To PART 12 of Persistence of Memory}