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Persistence of Memory -- An Online Novel

{Continued from HIGH LIFE in PART 15}

The overbearing Trade Center receded from memory. My mind and life were suspended out of physical time and space again. I didn't know where I was - just some bar striving to earn the title "trendy." I sipped my drink. We conversed further and giggled even more, shouting back and forth over the band. We spoke of copying machines and faxes that never cooperated. Inane Web sites. Wimpy boy bands that our kids' friends loved. I reclined in my chair and dwelled within a contented fog.

"You having fun, Joanie?" she said. "Getting way high?"

"Yep, I am." I polished off my drink and slammed the glass down. "Yep!"

"Oh, you're gettin' high way up high." She giggled.

"High way up high? Sounds like we're up on a mountain or in Denver."

"Nope, neither of those!" Carlisle began to sing her own ditty: "Oh, way, way high on top of the World Trade Center in NEW YORK CITY! We don't have any pity! We're all gettin' high up high--"

My heavy-lidded eyes popped open. The wooziness left me. I felt something shoot through my body; perhaps it was adrenalin. Three words yanked me out of my gauzy state of mind, and I sat straight up.

"--Here in the Greatest Bar on Earth, partying for all it's worth! So high--in the sky--in World Trade 1--oh, we're all having such fun--"

"What are you singing?" I said.

"Little song I made up about getting high way up high. Didn't you hear the words?"

"I think so. Where are we getting high?"

Carlisle rocked back and forth and had to steady herself. She giggled. "I said that already! Way, way, up in the sky in the World Trade Center. Gettin' our kicks in the Greatest Bar on Earth. It's the greatest, all right. To the Greatest Bar!" She made a toast.

I looked over her shoulder and saw again the slender, vertical windows - WTC windows. I had forgotten they were there, but now they opened to darkened skies.

I looked back at her as if viewing a gory exhibit in the horror section of a wax works. She giggled and started singing "Livin' La Vida Loca" again. I felt somewhat awake now, and my body was battling over whether to perspire or shiver. I had been yanked back into ol' reality once more.

"To the Greatest Bar in the Universe!" Carlisle said. "C'mon, Joanie, join in. A toast - to the greatest bar in history in the greatest building in New York!"

"No, no, no," I said. "No New York - Detroit. Gotta go." I stumbled to my feet and started to move away.

"Joanie, where ya goin'?" she shouted after me.

The trumpets vibrated in my eardrums. The bass guitar echoed through my body. The timbales' clank seemed to measure my steps. I had to leave. I wasn't sure of the emotions I felt, but I knew I had to be away from that building and out in open air.

I walked into the corridor and toward the elevator. I began to pace in front of it. "No fear, just have to go," I muttered aloud. "There's no reason for me to be here in this place. I'm from Detroit."

I pressed on the down button. "C'mon, c'mon, get here." Imitating a telephone recording, I said softly, "Doo-doo-DOO. We're sorry, but the quota of time allotted for staying in the Twin Towers has expired. Please proceed to the nearest lift and do not call your operator. This is a recording."

"Joanie! Joanie!" It was Carlisle's voice, cutting through the band's muffled sounds. "Hey, where ya goin'? Wait a minute! Don't go, the party's not over yet!"

"Sorry, gotta go," I shouted back to her.

"But why?"

"Because I'm from Detroit."


Well, maybe that was a non sequitur, but it seemed to make sense to me. An all-purpose response. Why are you doing anything? I'm from Detroit.

I stepped inside the elevator and found myself alone with the attendant. I was still buzzed and was unsteady. As the car began to descend, I lurched and landed on my butt.

"You okay?" he said.

"Uh huh. No problemo."

The attendant looked at me with a polite smile. I crossed my legs, leaned against the car's wall, and smiled back at him while my ears popped several times. This was what anyone would have seen once the doors opened to the lobby. An elevator operator staring at a short, skinny girl in a fawn-colored pantsuit, sitting in what used to be called "Indian style" in her youth.

The operator reached over to help me up, and I didn't resist. I walked shakily out into the lobby, which was dimly lit. I said "no thank you" to the reception people there, stating I would be fine and didn't need to have a cab called because I had a room in the Marriott. I couldn't run, though I wanted to, because my body was so worn. I didn't look back but wandered until I found the escalators to the mezzazine. I stumbled up the rising steps. For some reason, I found this hilarious. I walked around, supporting myself on the mezzanine railing until I could see the Tobin Plaza. I completely forgot that I could have taken another exit out of the lobby that led directly into the hotel and not go outside.

I saw the gothic windows again with their white marble frames. Remembering how I kicked the other tower 19 years ago, I reached out with my leg to hit the wall between a couple windows and said, "Stupid, stupid building. I hate you--whoops!" I lost my balance and fell down on my back.

"Arrgh--ow. That didn't work so good." I started to laugh. "Well, Nelson, you're spared. Guess I am drunk on my butt. And I'm from Detroit." I laughed again.

I crawled to the same wall on which I tried to do my reenactment and used it to pull myself up. I laughed again. "Gotta go. Get high way up high. Good grief."

My arms windmilled as I blundered for a revolving door. Unlike my 1984 encounter with such a door, I did not get trapped within and was tossed out onto the plaza with one revolution. "Waaaaah!" I said as I sailed outside and fell onto my hands and knees onto the paving stones.

I burst into giggles again and labored to get to my feet. I looked down at my pants - the knees were scuffed and stained. "Damn! I don't know if the dry cleaner will ever get these out! Stupid spinning doors! Oughta be outlawed!"

I looked up and could see the black fountain and Koenig's wonderfully familiar Sphere. I began to walk toward it and almost crashed into a narrow, dark-colored sign. I walked around the front to read it.

" 'ONE World Trade Center,' " I read. "That's ONE, big, huge red numeral one. ONE! Hey, there was an army unit called the 'Big Red One.' But wait, there's more: 'Windows on the World Restaurant, 107th floor.' Hey, why does that fancy, dumb place get a mention on the sign, and no one else? Not fair! And even more! 'Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.' This isn't a port, you morons! It's not like there's a bunch of yachts tied up here."

I staggered over to the fountain and yelled, "Hi, Sphere! Hey there, big ball thingie! Howya doing? Long time no see and all that. It's Joanie Bailey, the Lioness of Terra Firma back on her beloved solid ground! And I'm from Detroit!"

The only response was water clattering as it had nearly seventeen years earlier. "Yeah, you, golden ball thingie! Fine! Don't gimme an answer!"

I wandered up a flight of steps away from the fountain and its circle of long benches. I noticed part of a series of other, short benches that seemed to form broken concentric circles around it. I reached a point where I could look up and see the brothers looming tremendously above me. The slabs had strips of light across them at intervals and seemed to stretch to infinity. My vision was so foggy that I couldn't see their tops. I completely extended my arms until my hands looked as if they were touching the upper halves of each tower.

"Hey, you, Nelson and David, how are you big butt-ugly dragons doing tonight?" I giggled. "We've got to stop meeting like this."

I had an inspiration. I looked at my watch - 1:17 am. "Oh, no. It's so late. Tanya. She said to sing songs if I got scared, but I'm not scared, but I still feeling like singing anyway. Let's see now..."

I spread my legs apart a bit and thrust my arms out as I began to sing. I waved them up and down as I spit out the lyrics:

"So - she says it's time she goes!
But wanted to be sure I know
She hopes we can be friends!"

These were the opening lines of Michael Penn's "No Myth," the song Tanya Milliken played for me in 1996. I stood there, imbued with a final burst of strength, and yelled more lyrics at the dragon twins. I gestured and pointed as if actually serenading a couple siblings instead of a set of skyscrapers.

"Why are you singing to those idiotic buildings?" a young female voice asked.

I turned and was shocked to see myself. Actually, my 19-year-old self from 1982. She had the punker hair, the Japanese geisha print shirt and baggy jeans from the '82 visit.

" 'Cause it is time to go," I said. "I've got to go away from them."

"Go away from them? You're ridiculous! You keep breaking my promise."

"Look, I'm going away now. Remember, I'm from Detroit!"

"But you'll be back. As long as you do these quality clients, you'll have to hold them by the hand over and over, so you'll keep coming back."

"Well, not necessarily--"

"Oh, yes you will. You love these towers."

"C'mon! I don't love the Twin Towers!"

"You do too. You laughed and pretended to kick that one."

"Umm, my coordination's off a little right now, but if it weren't, I'd kick it."

"No, you'd hug the tower. You already did in '99. You love the dragons. Instead of going away and away and away from them, you go back and back and back!"

"Now, wait a minute--" Young Joanie was gone. I put my hand on my forehead. "Oh, lovely. Seeing things. Too much booze-ola for Joanie."

I looked up at the monoliths again. "Do I love you? How could I love buildings, inanimate objects? I love Michael, and Naomi and Christa, but structures? Edifices? Buildings? Well, hmmm. 'Love' has different meanings. Maybe I do love you, brothers."

I paced a little. "I've gotten used to coming back to you once in a while. You know, you two are like the Cabbage Patch Kids - so ugly, you're cute! Yeah, that's it. I do kind of love you, you high-rises on steroids, you overgrown lugs!"

I sang again,

"What if I was Romeo in black Jeans
What if I was Heathcliff, it's no myth
Maybe she's just looking for
Someone to dance with."

As I drew near the end of the song, fatigue overcame me again. Singing the refrain once more to myself, I stepped unsteadily toward a bench and sat down. "Maybe she's just looking for ... someone to dance with," I said. I stretched out on the bench, lying on my side.

"Yeah," I said quietly. "Just wanted someone to dance with. Love you, brothers. Good night, twins."

The next sensation was of being shaken, and a deep voice saying, "Ma'am?"

"Michael?" I said. I thought he was arousing me from some lame World Trade Center dream. Served me right for having Big Apple clients.

"No, ma'am, I'm not Michael. I'm afraid you can't sleep here."

"Then who--?" I opened my eyes to see a solemn moon-shaped face with black hair and a mustache. He wore a dark uniform. Cop, my mind immediately said. Cop? What the hell? What did I do?

"You'll have to get up, ma'am. You can't sleep here in the plaza."

Plaza? Did he say PLAZA? "What?"

"You can't sleep here in the plaza. Do you know where you are?"

I looked down and realized that I was lying on some bench somewhere outdoors. I struggled to push up on my arms so that I could look around, but fell back and moaned. I wanted to just go back to sleep and be left alone.

"You're in the Austin Tobin Plaza, ma'am."

The what?

"You can't stay here. Where do you live?"

"Sterling Heights."

"I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that community, ma'am."

"You know, Sterling Heights, Michigan - outside Detroit."

"This isn't Detroit, ma'am. You're in downtown New York in the World Trade Center plaza."

Some of the clouds left my head. "New York?"

"Yes, ma'am, New York, the Big Apple."

I looked past him and saw the plaza and pieces of buildings. "Oh, yeah, you're right. Still at the WTC."

"Yes, ma'am, you're at the WTC. You're visiting from Detroit, then?"

"On business here, yes."

"You have a hotel room somewhere, ma'am?"

"At the Marriott."

"Which Marriott, ma'am? The one here?"

"Yeah, this one - Merry-Rot World Trade. Card key's in my purse."

"You need help getting back to your room, ma'am?"

"Uh huh. I think my legs stopped working, officer."

"Let me help you then. I'll escort you back to your room."

"Okay, officer. Goody, I can get to a real bed."

"Right, ma'am. Up we go now." He helped haul me off the bench and to my feet. I had to lean heavily against his burly body as he guided me back to the hotel because it really did seem my legs were almost useless. As we walked back across the plaza, I looked at the policeman's uniform and insignia.

"Sgt. Beale, Port Authority Police Department."

"That's me, ma'am."

"I'm Joanie."

"Hello, Joanie, ma'am."

"Port Authority PD. You guys patrol the WTC."

"That's right, ma'am."

When we passed by the 1993 bombing memorial I said, "Oh, you poor suckers. Terrorist bastards."

The sergeant said, "That was a terrible day, ma'am. Very bad day. Hope I never go through something like that again."

"No, no. Never have them come back, you hope."

"That's right, ma'am," the cop said, nodding.

After taking me through the lobby and up to my floor, Sgt. Beale watched me search for my card key. It naturally had migrated to the bottom of my purse. I unlocked the door. The officer said, "You take it easy now, Joanie, ma'am."

"Thanks, sergeant."

"You're welcome. Try to get some sleep. And try not to sleep in the plaza again."

"Okay, Sgt. Beale. Thank you very much, and have a good night."

"You too, ma'am. Good night."
View of plaza
i stepped back into the plaza and didn't look up

I stepped inside, locked the door and walked toward the bed. I fell upon it and immediately returned to the land of slumber.

When I woke up the next morning around 9 a.m., I had a throbbing headache. I was lying diagonally across the still made-up bed. I was relieved that I didn't miss my plane, which was set to depart around 1 p.m. My suit was wrinkled, and my hair was matted down with sweat. I showered, drank lots of water, and took a couple Tylenol pills for the headache. I put on a clean dress and heard my stomach growl.

I nervously ventured outside with my purse, sketchbook, and laptop in its backpack case. I stepped back into the plaza and didn't look up. Instead I went to the Krispy Kreme in 5 World Trade Center and got a couple doughnuts and coffee. I sat down on a bench and ate my informal breakfast. I took out my sketchpad and started doing studies of people walking, running, sitting, or selling food and souvenirs.

I blocked out that I had fallen asleep here just hours earlier. I ignored the towers behind me, but the urge to look hit me. I turned around and began an illustration of the north tower's base and the fountain in front of it.

Slipping the pad back into the backpack, I took out my laptop and powered it up. I wrote about the field trips I took to the Detroit Zoo as a kid, and how the day was topped off with the "chimp shows" with the little apes performing.

After I went home, I got an e-mail from the folks of Abel Shipping. They thanked me for the great job and were sorry I got sick at the bar. There were two photos attached of me, one grinning, and the other dancing with Carlisle. The note explained that Newton had a small digital camera and took the pictures. I don't remember even being photographed. I am amazed that every bizarre visit I ever had to the Trade Center has photographic documentation.

After I had sobered up, the WTC complex was no longer the home of angry dragons to me. Instead, I thought, figuratively, that the concrete, aluminum, and steel brothers and I could be friends.


After returning from Texas, I enjoyed a quiet weekend with my family. On Saturday, the telephone rang, and I picked it up.

"Hello, is Joanetta C. Bailey there?" It was a man's voice, probably in his 30s, shaky and with the slightest New Jersey accent.

"Yes, this is Joanie Bailey. Who's this?"

"My name is Morris Rappaport," he said. "I'm the brother of Bethany Carlisle. She died at the World Trade Center."

"Beth? My God! She died in the attack?"

"Yes, Ms. Bailey. We got a call from her from the 106th floor of the north tower. She said she and many other people were in the back offices of the restaurant up there. She said she couldn't breathe very well and was standing by some broken windows trying to get some air. That was the last time we heard from her."

"Oh, my. I'm sorry."

"Thank you. It's been hard. But one of the reasons I called was to find out if you did this picture."


"This drawing of my sister. She's sitting and holding a drink. It says, 'Greatest Bar on Earth, WTC 1, New York, New York, USA.' Joanetta C. Bailey."

I flashed back to September 9, 2001, when I had been unexpectedly reunited with Bethany Carlisle of Abel Shipping. She had seen me drinking and sketching the activities in the Greatest Bar. She complimented me on my drawing skills and had begged me to do an illustration of her. I obliged while we conversed.

"That's me," I said to Morris Rappaport. "She worked for one of my clients. We just happened to cross paths again. She really wanted me to draw her."

The man at the other end began to sob. "This is so wonderful. I'm so glad I finally found you. I must have called 45, 50 Baileys in Detroit before I found you. You don't know how much this means to me."

"It's no problem."

Rappaport charged on. "I got this call from this frame shop in Lower Manhattan. They weren't far from Ground Zero and had just reopened and were trying to catch up on customers. I don't even know how they figured out I was Beth's brother, but they called and said that her picture was ready for pickup. I went down and got it, and found out it was this beautiful drawing of her in the bar at the trade towers. It's such a wonderful memorial. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Bailey!"

"You're welcome, sir--"

"The shop did a great job - Beth must have dropped it off the day before the attacks. It's all beautifully matted and framed. Mom and Dad are going to hang it up with the rest of the family pictures. Again, thank you so much!"

"You're welcome, Mr. Rappaport. It was a pleasure to draw Beth. I'm glad you like it."

"We love it." He started to cry again. "We miss Beth so much. The kids miss their mom, too. Sorry, gotta go. I'm sorry." He was sobbing uncontrollably. He choked out, "Bye," and there was a click as the call was disconnected.

I hung up the receiver and stood there, momentarily stunned. I had done many illustrations between September 9 and 11, 2001, but had found returning to them too painful until Mom and Rocky put me on the spot.

I went to the laundry room and opened the closet inside. Underneath a wooden box marked "Crabtree & Evelyn" - a gourmet foods store - I had stowed the sketchpad full of 9/11 era drawings. I pulled it down and paged through it until I found the pictures from the Greatest Bar. I had made two studies of Bethany Carlisle. The one that I kept showed her looking toward the window and presenting a deeply contented smile with lips pressed together. She had sighed and said, "I love the views here. I hope I never lose the chance to see them."

{To PART 17 of Persistence of Memory}