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Persistence of Memory -- An Online Novel

{Continued from PART 6}

JUNE 12, 1984 / THE TWAIN SHALL MEET

"Well now, what are you up to?"

Jill stood behind me, arms folded tightly against her chest. We were both on Fifth Avenue at the Empire State Building. I was standing at the structure, my left arm laid upon its masonry.

"What the heck are you doing there, Joanie?" Jill said. I turned and looked at her. Her lips were pulled down in one corner, giving her a skeptical, quizzical look.

"I'm feeling the building's vibes," I said.

She burst into loud laughter. "Vibes? You sound like some kind of hippie-dippy California type there." She shook her head and slapped me gently on the shoulder. "But as a bohemian myself, I have to admire you for that. Keep it up, lady!"

My arm did not quiver as it lay upon the cool granite. Jill stepped alongside me. "So, guru, what vibes do you feel?"

"It feels good," I said. "This building is good. It actually feels warm and inviting. I don't feel afraid, either."

"Sounds good. Since you're connecting with the Empire State so well, you want to go inside?"

"Of course. Why would we just stand out here on Fifth Avenue?" I took my arm off the wall. "I want to visit the building King Kong scaled. I've seen pictures of the lobby. All marble, kind of golden or tan..."

"You're right about that. The lobby's fantastic."

I looked up at the entrance, with its art deco capital letters spelling out "EMPIRE STATE," flanked by stolid eagles.

Jill looked at me with a little smile. "The question remains," she said, as we went inside, "that if you go inside, will you dare to go up?"

"Up? Well-I would have to consider my acrophobia. I might seriously consider the observatory-"

"You've got to! That's a part of the tourist experience. Don't your 'good vibes' extend to the top of the building?"

"Well ... let me think about this. I have to keep feeling the vibes." I stared across the lobby at the Empire State Building inside the Empire State Building. It was a relief replica of the skyscraper upon the wall, with rays of light radiating from its antenna. Escalators also were visible, seeming to disappear into the walls perpendicular to this relief.

"It's all marble, like the--that other set of buildings to the south," I said. "But this lobby doesn't feel like a tomb, like the Worl--those dragons." I could not bring myself to say their name.

"Hmmmm-comparing the building to my current place of work. Think my building looks like a mausoleum, do you?"

"Look, we're dealing with the Empire State here, not the World Tra--those idiotic towers. Let's just concentrate on this building, right here."

"Okay, Joanie. It's your move. Do you think you can go up to the observatory?"

"Enough about the observatory! I have to feel the vibes first!" I began to wander, and she followed. I studied a series of colorful friezes of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World that had been installed in the lobby in 1963. I thought they were quite pretty.

"I'm waiting." She gave me a Cheshire grin. "Going to go up?"

"All right, yes. This seems to be a safe bet."

"You're not afraid?"

"No, not really. Totally different feelings here, from that disaster at the World Trade Center two years ago." I realized I had said that name only after it slipped from my lips. I felt blood flush my face.

"Ha-HAH! You said it! You said the name of that dreaded building!"

"Look, Jill. No more of that place, okay? Let's just go up."

I was in my third day of seeing the sights of New York with Jill. I wore my geisha shirt bought in SoHo in 1982 in honor of our travels. My spiky hair had long since grown out, and was now straight and down to just above my shoulders.

The days had been taxing and exciting at the same time, given her capricious nature. I found myself nearly as tired as my 1982 visit. She had dragged me all over the town, to galleries in SoHo, to a club in the Village, a game at Yankee Stadium, a trip around Manhattan Island on the Circle Line ferryboat.

I had a vastly better camera - a 35-millimeter "idiot" camera (we called them at the first newspaper at which I worked) with auto exposure and focusing. I also had a dozen rolls of film at my disposal. But Jill had outdone me again. Since her graduation, she had taken up serious photography and purchased a used Nikon camera and several lenses. She had established a darkroom in a closet off her kitchen. She showed me her many images of New York through three seasons, which I thought were quite good.

For three days we had giggled and joked all over the Big Apple, with nary a word about those monoliths on the island's tip. We seemed to have both sensed not to talk about the WTC, even though at that time Jill's temp job was in the north tower on the 95th floor. My reference to the horror trip of 1982 was the first time I even spoke those buildings' name.

Jill was ebullient and light on her toes, her Nikon slung about her neck, and its lens bag bouncing at her waist as she documented our meanderings.

In June of 1984, I had been out of Central Michigan for a month. I still had no newspaper job. I was to wed Michael that August. This New York vacation was to be my last hurrah as a single person and to make up for not moving to the city.

Jill had been living in Newark since January. She was so at ease that I was overjoyed she had fulfilled her dream to live in metro New York. She put me on subways and in and out of cabs at such a dizzying pace that I could scarcely remember the names of streets or avenues, or the assorted letter and number designations for the trains. But she did, and so I relied upon her heavily to move about the city.
empire state
i lay down next to her and got some beautiful shots of the empire state's spire

We paid the admission and took the elevator up to the 86th floor, where we ventured to the open-air promenade. I tried to fathom that I felt no fear, nor the furious nausea and vertigo of 1982. Instead it was a giddiness just like the one I got over 15 years earlier, when I used to climb the willow tree in the backyard. Where was my acrophobia? Why couldn't it always be this way when I went aloft? We walked around, and Jill pointed out the sites to assist me in my photography. She also snapped views alongside me, sometimes crouching or lying on her back on the deck floor for various angles. I lay down next to her and got some beautiful shots of the Empire State's spire. We giggled as we stared upward at its rounded top and antenna.

"Ooh, look, Joanie, it's Mr. Kong and Miss Wray. Wave!" We laughed and pretended to greet the gorilla and his lady.

Jill said at one point as we stood by the railing, "There's the Chrysler. Remember those vacation pictures I showed you in '72?"

"Of course. I used some of them to do my 'Manhattan Fairy Tale.' There's the Lady Chrysler It's such an odd and pretty building!" I focused on the tapering, filigreed spire and squeezed the shutter button. I brought my camera down. "These old skyscrapers are beautiful. No cereal box looking things at all." I stared at the Chrysler's burnished silver spire. "My fairy tale has come to life."

Jill smiled. "Your knight has found his princess."

We walked until we were looking south down the island. I grimaced, because faint yet still domineering were the towers. Jill said, "Well, look at that. The towers of trade stand tall in the distance."

"I'd rather look at this," I said. I pointed down at the Flatiron Building, that triangular oddity a bit closer in our vista. I brought up my camera and snapped a couple shots.

"Take a picture of the whole thing. Don't let the Trade Center scare you off!" Jill waved her hands practically in my face.

"Back off. Just let me pick what I'm going to shoot." I stood by the railing, studying the skyline. I finally decided to take several shots of the whole thing, including the Twin Towers.

After spending about an hour taking pictures and feeling the breeze ripple our hair, we went back down to the lobby. "All right, Joanie," Jill said, watching me taking pictures of the ancient world friezes, "let's go now. Just follow me."

"Follow you where?"

"Shhh," she said, putting a finger to her lips. "Just follow the master tour guide."

She dragged me over to a subway entrance on Seventh Avenue and put us on a train. As what usually happened to me on the subway, I couldn't deduce which way we were going. It seemed to be south, but we went around some curves as well.

"Our stop's coming up soon, Joanie. I want you to close your eyes."

"Close my eyes? Jill, what the hell are you up to?"

"Shhh. Please, just close your eyes. You'll see."

I sighed heavily. "Okay, here goes." I shut them tightly.

After the train stopped, she guided me into the station. "Okay, careful here, Joanie. We're going to go up an escalator. Eyes still closed?"

"Yes, what do you think? Can't see a damn thing!" My feet nearly stumbled as they groped for the bottom step.

"Oopsy daisy, be careful there. All right, up we go," Jill said. "Keep those eyes closed, now!"

"They're closed, Jill. Believe me, I'm practically blind here. You're my guide dog at the moment." The escalator glided upward, and she helped me step on a floor.

"All right - going through a revolving door. Careful!" I heard a whooshing as the door spun while we were inside.

I felt my feet scraping floor and carpeting. We walked some distance, and Jill said. "All right, cousin, one more escalator. Watch your step again!" I struggled to step on it and again seemed to float into the air. The light that penetrated my eyelids indicated bright sun permeated whatever place we had entered.

"Okay, Joanie, you can open your eyes now," Jill said.

I slowly lifted my lids. Light slammed into my eyes. I blinked rapidly to adjust and figure out where the heck we were.

When my vision cleared, I saw extremely tall windows that ended in points - like those in a church - and framed in white marble. The walls were also gleaming marble. We were standing on a mezzanine inside a lobby. Recognition began to dawn.

"Surprise, Joanie!" Jill said.

"No, no, no, not here," I muttered. I clenched my fists.

I screamed.

What a shriek that ripped from my lips on that late afternoon. People on two levels spun to look at me with alarmed faces. Jill reached over and cupped a hand over my mouth to suppress the shriek.

I almost bit her. I muscled her arm back to her aside and glared at her, my teeth bared. I was so furious that I almost started swinging for her face. She backed up, genuinely frightened, arms held out protectively. Her camera swung wildly from its strap around her neck.

"World Trade Center!" I said. I strode toward her, my arms swinging about. Now I could not stop saying the complex's name. "World Trade Center! WORLD TRADE CENTER! Are you out of your cotton-picking mind?"

"Look, Joanie, I can explain--"

"Why in God's green earth would you ever, ever, ever drag me to this place?"

People watched us. A couple of them even weighed coming to see what our ruckus was about. Most went back to walking about the lobby when no physical fight broke out between us.

Jill stepped backward and away from me. "Look, Joanie, I just wanted to show you--"

I kept taking steps toward her, and she backed away from me as I advanced. My voice dropped to a low boil.

"I told you the whole stinking story about '82. You've known for a very long time how I feel about this place!"

"I know exactly how you feel, but think you should get over it."

"Get over it? Get over it? Easy for you to say!" I clenched my fists in front of me. "You love overgrown crap so much you go and get a job here. Not me - I hate this ugly place! Hate it!"

"You shouldn't hate it, Joanie. It's just buildings--"

I whipped my arms about as I shouted. "Scary, gigantic buildings! And you knew that, and yet you still dragged me here!"

"This is not the terrible place you make it out to be."

"It is too! Whatever possessed you to want to even think about hauling me anywhere near the Twin Towers?"

"You just said it - I work here!"

"I don't give a damn if you work down in the New York City sewer system! Thanks to you, my promise to never return is broken! Why didn't you just leave it alone?"

We were standing still now, facing each other, bodies tense like two cowboys embroiled in a gunfight. "I just wanted you to have fun here in New York, Joanie. A New York vacation just isn't complete without a visit here."

"A New York vacation does not have to include this dump! That's all I had wanted from you during this trip, Jill. Any other attraction but here, but you just had to go on with your bohemian bullshit of go any place where your whims take you."

"Now, hold on--"

"You've had such freaking fun on my account, rubbing it in about my acrophobia ever since we've been kids. This has got to be the worst, though."

"Well, you've been all Chicken Little for no damn reason about these buildings for over ten years. You've been wasting your time being afraid of some buildings, of all things! Why be afraid?"

"It's the damn height I'm afraid of, not the Trade Center! I just hate it. That's why I told you I never wanted to come here."

"You never said don't take you here! You never said a damn word!"

"Well--I sure acted like it--implied it!"

"Implied it is not saying it," Jill said in a mutter.

"Well, I think I'll go back to Newark and catch the earliest jet back home I can. I can't believe you did this. You ruined everything!"

I turned around and walked. I did not hear Jill follow. My whole belly was a wreck, twisted and taut. My arms shook as they swung at my sides. The top of my head throbbed with an impending headache. My face was sweaty, but my torso was clammy.

I remembered a glimpse, between my fingers, of the beasts on the evening news when I was 8. I saw a 10-year-old Jill in Grandma Morris' basement, shoving photographs at me of the nearly finished behemoths. I saw my reflection in a restroom mirror, my spiky hair splayed in ridiculous directions, and ridges from floor tiles on my face.

I searched, desperately, for a way out.

I finally found a revolving door and charged outside. It went around once so fast that I was temporarily trapped within. The glass panel behind me hit me in the butt and almost knocked me off my feet. I panicked, cried out and regained my balance. I violently shoved my hands against the panel in front of me. On the second revolution I finally darted out the opening, fresh air hitting my face. Freedom!
Koenig's Sphere for Fountain
what was this place, and why was this great globe here?

I found myself in a vast plaza, stretching away from the two towers. There were not too many people, because rush hour had passed; my watch indicated it was nearly 7:30. I marched across the plaza's expanse, feeling slightly better. I passed a shiny metal sculpture that appeared particularly grotesque - it looked like a mammoth, deformed paper clip. This was "Ideogram" by sculptor James Rosati. I spotted several low buildings with dark glass in the distance.

I thought I had escaped into a plaza of neighboring structures. Away from that vile place. Away and away and away!

I stopped when I saw a second sculpture.

It was a great sphere of bronze, with a dark, bumpy blob bursting out one side. This huge ball was upon a black pedestal set in the center of a massive fountain that appeared to be made of black granite. Its water clattered placidly over its circular edges.

I could not take my eyes off the sphere.

I don't know why I found this metallic ball so fascinating, but I locked my eyes on it as I walked down a small flight of steps that led to a slightly depressed area in which the fountain sat. I stepped up to the fountain and watched the water cascade over its basin wall and into a kind of deep trough constructed around it. I leaned across the trough and placed my left hand into the basin. I stared for several seconds as water flowed past my fingers and glinted off my engagement ring. I put my right hand into the water. I waved both of my arms about, as if I were 6 years old again and playing Typhoon in the bathtub. I stood erect and splashed my hands in the water flowing over the basin and into the trough. I thought it was fun and aided to relieve some of my tension.

What was this place, and why was this great globe here?

I took my hands out of the water and shook them dry. I fiddled about in my purse until I found my wallet. I took out a dime and tossed it into the fountain, wishing for inner peace and separation from beastly skyscrapers. I noticed that there was a ring of very long benches around the fountain. The back of each one also was a planter full of blooming flowers. I walked about this circle of seats until I found a place to sit and stare at the sphere and not catch any sight of those towers. Others were there too, seeking respite or meditation, I thought.

I fixed my gaze on the ball and studied its brazen surface, and the knobby black thing emerging from its side, near the top of its pedestal. This support was a horizontal bar of black metal, shooting up from a base in the fountain's center. It rose at a gradual angle over the water, extending under the globe. The burnished ball was divided into superficial sections delineated by fine, dark borders, like continents. My temper began to dissipate, and my body began to relax. I figured that the artwork weighed many tons and had taken the effort of many men to raise it.

Behind me, Jill had remained in the south tower lobby looking at me as I stormed off. She said later she stared and later photographed me as I cautiously approached the fountain and plunged my hands into its water. I still have the black and white glossies she took with a long lens. In one I am looking up at the sculpture, my eyes registering amazement, my mouth slightly agape. In a second, my face is in profile, and there is a trace of a smile as my blurred hands move in the water streaming over the basin wall. Another shows me with my eyes closed as if asleep, and leaning back against the bench.

I took out my sketchpad and drew the fountain and globe. I drew the short buildings visible beyond it, with the plaza and people walking about. I put the pad away, shut my eyes, and decided to sun myself until my temper cooled more. I reclined against the seat's concrete back and tried to think clearly. I considered the logistics of a quick plane to Detroit, but my mind wandered. Then it seemed I was thinking of nothing.

"Joanie?" a tentative voice said.

I opened my eyes. Jill was sitting next to me, about four feet away. Her face was nervous, her mannerisms timid. Her hands were laid flat on her lap.

"Jill," I said flatly.

"I'm sorry, Joanie."

I nodded.

"I'm truly sorry. I-I just feel very strongly about this place. I've really come to love these big monsters, as you call them."

I stared coolly her way.

"It was one of the first places I visited when I first moved here. It's a symbol of New York. I've been back to the deck about seven times since then."

"Seven times? Seven times up there?"

"Yes. I can't get enough of that view up there. When I got the job here--"

"Jill, you don't have to explain it anymore."

"--I really loved it. You know I'm your opposite; I love heights and the big, modern buildings. I don't want you to be afraid or hate it anymore. Honest."

"Easier said than done." "Please don't go home, yet, Joanie. Is there some way I can make it up to you? How about dinner in Little Italy or Chinatown? I know about some great places there."

"My appetite's gone right now."

"Oh. Well, we could just go home. There's a PATH station right under the towers."

"I don't want to go back there."

"Back there?"

"Back onto the towers' property. At least here I'm away from them."

"What do you mean?"

"This plaza - this is on the property of the buildings next door, isn't it?"

Jill went wide-eyed. " 'Buildings next door'? No! You're still at the WTC, Joanie. This whole thing is the WTC!"

" 'WTC'? Oh, World Trade Center abbreviated. But I thought it was just those two homely towers. I mean, these little buildings have to be something else--" I pointed to the low-slung structures across the plaza.

"They're not! This is all the World Trade Center. All of it! There are six buildings - the Twin Towers, a hotel, three smaller buildings, and the plaza, too. This is called the Austin J. Tobin Plaza. He was the first head of the Port Authority, which owns the buildings. You didn't know that?"

"No! Do I look like a New York expert?"

"Guess not. But this is all the WTC. This plaza and this fountain, too."

"Great," I muttered, fidgeting my hands. "Can't seem to get away from this lousy place."

"C'mon, it's not that bad. You really seem to like this fountain. You looked like you couldn't take your eyes off this sculpture."

"I like this globe thing. I don't why. But now that I've found out it's part of the Trade Center, uggh--"

"You don't have to stop liking it just because of that. This sculpture is called 'Sphere for Fountain.' Logical name, huh? It was made by a German artist named Fritz Koenig. It's always been here."

"Too bad about its Trade Center association - I did think it was neat."

"Look, I'll say again - I'm sorry. We can go somewhere else, and I promise you I won't take you anywhere near this place again or even talk about it. What do you say?"

"Well..."

"Where do you want to go? Name a place, and we'll take a cab. And I'll pay the fare and the tip."

"Look, I understand your intentions. I know you were trying to show me a fun time."

"That's right! And I still want you to have fun."

"I'll tell you what. Since 1970, it seems me and this place keep having contact, whether on TV or up there." I pointed back and up toward the towers without turning to look at them. "I hate heights and International Style buildings. And I especially hate this place. However--"

"However?"

"However, I've cooled down a lot since I did that banshee thing in the lobby. And I'll tell you what. You went to a lot of trouble to drag me here and surprise me, so I'm willing to go inside, if you really insist. I'll even dare to go back up in that observation deck." Joanie burst into the biggest Cheshire grin of the day.

"Really? I can't believe I'm hearing this!"

"Look - friendship involves compromise. I have to be a grownup again. I admit it - I had a childish tantrum back there in the lobby."

"I understand why, though. One bad experience has colored your opinions."

"Damn right. But I am willing to face the top."

"This is great news. I was hoping we could go up."

"I'm wide awake because I drank too much coffee, so I know I won't fall asleep and wear napkins on my face." I patted the bag I was carrying with my purse. "And I also have an old shopping bag in my carrying case here, so if I have to throw up--"

"Well, hopefully you won't." Jill edged closer to me till she was about a foot away. "Oh, Joanie! This is such great news. You'll have a good time up there this time. I'll even help you fight your acrophobia. Just give me a chance."

"Okay."

"You will?"

"Yes."

"Fantastic! This will be your best ever visit to the WTC, and it won't even change the course of your career."

"I hope not."

With her arm around me as friend again, she escorted me back to the south tower. I had become a bit tense again, but not as intense as that previous desire to inflict injury when we first entered the building. We paid our admission, stood in line, and rode the elevator, wall to wall with other tourists, some of who prattled on in foreign languages. My ears popped several times as the lift's motor softly hummed over the voices. I could smell the other visitors' perfumes and colognes and perspiration. I tried not to feel ill.

By the time we stepped into the enclosed deck, I had the old plastic shopping bag in my hand. Just in case. Nothing happened. Jill looked as I stood there and eyed the tall narrow windows. My stomach remained stable.

"You feeling all right?" Jill asked.

"Uh huh."

"You want to see the views? I'll help you."

"I don't feel sick."

"This is good. You want to go and take a look outside?"

"Maybe. Let's take it slowly."

She walked me around to the western windows, so we could look toward her home in Jersey. "There - get a load of this view. No place like home, Joanie, eh?"

This was the first time I really had seen anything from that aerie's view on the south end of Manhattan. My arms started to shake, working from the hands on up. Jill took one of my hands when this happened. "It's all right. Take some deep breaths," she said.

I tried to do so, but then I found I could hardly breathe at all. "I think I might faint again," I whispered in her ear. I began to feel unsteady. She put her arm around my shoulders to support me.

"Close your eyes for me again." I did so, and I felt her guiding me somewhere. "Sit down." I relaxed my legs, and she seated me on what felt like a narrow metal bench. "Here, give me your arms." She took them and placed them on something that felt like a small railing in front, so that I was leaning forward slightly. I heard her step in and sit down next to me.
the big drop
what gradually came into focus was a drop. a sheer drop...

"All right. The best way I think you should fight a phobia is to dive right in. I want you hold on to the bar in front of you and open your eyes very slowly, and I mean, veeerrry slowly. Try not to panic. I'm right here, and I'll help you. Are you ready?"

"I guess," I said.

"Okay. Open your eyes. Slowly."

I timidly opened my lids as slowly as I could. What gradually came into focus was a drop. A sheer drop, straight down to a road and some buildings. I let out a strangled gasp that sounded something like Yurp! The rod on which she placed my arms was right by the window itself. Jill's hand was immediately on my back, gently rubbing my shoulders. My body began to shake. "Come on, it's all right. You're safe. I'm here for you."

We were seated on one of those odd benches at the windows I had seen on the 1982 trip. Basically, it was a high-altitude window seat in an alcove. The bench's white frame formed a curve behind us. The seat had been bolted to the window frames. Beneath your feet was that one-quarter mile drop.

My whole body was shaking now, and tears came to my eyes. My forearms were pressed against the bar, and I could feel the south tower's vibes - they were icy. My stomach fluttered, and my breathing started to catch in my throat.

Jill put her arm around me, still trying to comfort me. "Deep breaths, deep breaths, c'mon. Relax, Joanie. Try to think about the beauty of the view. It's spectacular, if you just give it a chance--"

No smooth deep breaths were coming out of me, only audible gasping. I yanked my arms away to disconnect those harsh, impersonal vibes. I placed a hand over my chest. "Can't take this--"

"Joanie, try, please--"

I struggled to disentangle myself from the window bench. Jill tried to stop me, but I wrenched away, stepped out of the alcove, and staggered to floor level. I was vaguely aware of people eyeing me as I walked unsteadily and gasped loudly.

{To PART 8 of Persistence of Memory}