READ THE PROLOGUE and the FIRST CHAPTER (below)
Love, Hate and Hope – The Novel
(c) Tom DeLoughry, 2017
Susan – 2016
Donna appeared in my life the day that Martin Luther King was murdered, then disappeared the day the Twin Towers were destroyed. She wanted a life of love, but hate marked the beginning and end of our friendship.
We had been warned. The day we met, on spring break in the sixties, a Bahamian woman told us, “Religion and forgiveness are dangerous medicines. Too little can harm. Too much can kill.”
We had joked about the “danger” years later, on the day she was ordained. But I never imagined that religion would kill a career devoted to love, or that the name of God would be on the lips of the fanatics who flew two planes into the Twin Towers on September 11th.
I wish you could have met her. Words can’t capture her smile, the sparkle in her eyes or the goodness in her heart.
I’m going to write our story exactly as I remember it, starting with the day Donna vanished, and how we found her Bible years later. But mostly I want to tell you about our friendship, our music and how Donna, Ed, Paul and I struggled to find a life of love – the great wish that always was her goal.
CHAPTER ONE: Vanished
Susan – September 10, 2001 – Buffalo
My kitchen was a mess, the drop cloths tripping me as I hurried to answer the phone.
It was Donna, sobbing. “Susan, they convicted me.”
“Oh, Donna, I’m so sorry,” I said, a twist of anger and misery growing in my chest.
“It’s over. No church will hire me now. I’m finished as a minister. Finished.”
I slumped down on a chair. “You were so brave, so good. How could they?” We cried, harmonizing our pain, me in my kitchen and my best friend in her apartment three hundred miles away.
“I should have been there to support you,” I said, looking at the half-painted green wall. I put my brush down on the edge of the can. “I’m so sorry.”
Her sobs slowed to sniffles. “The way I see it,” I said, “you’re only guilty of following the Golden Rule instead of church rules. I’m proud of you.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Is there any hope?” I asked.
“You wouldn’t be thinking about hope if you were in my shoes today,” she replied with a bitter laugh.
“I can’t imagine how awful that must have been. I really can’t,” I said, “But in our church we vote on the rules. And your courage has been so well publicized that I think a lot of us will vote to change things.”
“I don’t know, Susan. I’m so tired. Tired of trying. If I could, I’d just disappear. Let someone else carry the flag. No more fighting. I’m done.”
The controversy had surfaced last April. Six months of media attention and the fights within her congregation had worn her down.
“Who wouldn’t be exhausted by what you’ve gone through? Can you come to Buffalo and stay with us for a while? A few days, a few months, whatever you need to recover and decide what’s next.”
“Thank you, I was hoping you’d offer. I checked Amtrak, and I can get the 7:46 train out of Yonkers in the morning and get to Buffalo by three.”
The next morning, as I watched the horror of the Twin Towers tumbling on television, I was sure Donna was safe, traveling away from New York, up the Hudson, halfway to Albany. She had no reason to be in Manhattan, thirty miles south of where her fellow ministers had defrocked her. But she never got off the train when it pulled into the Buffalo station at 3:01 PM.
Donna, a 58-year-old ex-minister, had vanished.
Chapter 2: The Museum
Susan – September 20, 2013 – The World Trade Center
The September 11th Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center finally opened twelve years after the attack.
As Ed and I entered, my hand was slippery with sweat on the handrail as the escalator slid down beneath two girders, battered remnants of the Twin Towers. I leaned on my cane, steadying myself against the movement and the memories as we went through the Manhattan bedrock to the Memorial Museum, seven stories below where the Towers once soared.
Memorial Hall was a vast space. A quote from Virgil: No day shall erase you from the memory of time, blazed from an enormous wall with a thousand different shades of blue, recalling the beautiful sky that hung over that horrible day.
“No day shall ever erase you,” I murmured as we sank deeper into the museum.
“How could we ever forget her?” Ed said. He towered over me, still lean and handsome despite wrinkles under a healthy shock of silver hair. “Even now, I still ache. I hate to think about what happened, but I still wonder if it was suicide,” rehashing the hole in our hearts for the thousandth time.
I’d have slapped him if I hadn’t heard it so many times before.
“I mean, Susan, “Ed continued, “think about how she loved being a minister.“ His brow furrowed. “How awful to have that ripped away. Plus, there was all the hate mail and the media coverage. If it was me, I’d have at least thought about jumping off a bridge.”
Ed’s strong point was honesty. I’d always wished it was sensitivity. If Donna had killed herself, wasn’t it my fault for not being there?
I felt the guilt starting to drain me, but decided to go with gratitude. “How about when we’re done,” I suggested, “we go someplace nice for lunch and make a toast to all the good times we had?”
Ed smiled. “Then we were young folk singers who wanted to change the world. Now we’re just two old fogies and the world ignores us.”
“Pardon me?” I said, “I’m certainly not ready to be ignored, and I know you’re not either. Unless you’ve decided to cancel the publication of your book next month.”
“Well, even if it doesn’t sell, writing is a cheap hobby that keeps me out of trouble,” he smiled.
“I don’t know. What about the chapter where you say terrorism has caused nearly 4000 American deaths over the past 12 year. And then you compare it to gun violence that has caused 400,000 death and medical errors that has caused three million deaths during that time period. Don’t you think that’s going to get you into trouble with somebody?”
“I think we are already in trouble,” Ed said, “because we make decisions based on what we’re most afraid of, rather than what is causing the most harm. But that’s a discussion for another day.”
He took my elbow to steady me as the escalator reached bottom, the entrance to a cavernous shrine to panic and pain. A jolt shot down my leg as I stepped off but, according to my physical therapist, I’m doing well for a lady with a recent hip replacement.
For the next twenty minutes we barely spoke as we relived the nightmare, the ball of flame erupting as the plane struck the Tower, the sickening sounds as the jumpers hit the sidewalk and the crushed fire truck, a relic of the 343 firefighters who died.
“And, here, ladies and gentlemen, is what has come to be called the ‘911 Bible’,“ the tour guide said. “It was found fused to a steel girder when the rubble of the Twin Towers was being removed so this museum could be created.
“What is most remarkable,” he continued, “is that a page from the New Testament is clearly legible. You can see Jesus’ words printed in red: ‘…if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other cheek.’ …His message of forgiveness.”
As soon as I saw it, I knew. The bubble of grief started in my stomach, grew in my chest and burst in my head with an explosion of tears.
“It’s Donna’s,” I sobbed, barely above a whisper.
Ed faced me, his eyes widening as he touched my shoulder. “What?” he asked.
My chin trembled. I grabbed his arm and steadied myself as another bubble of pain rose and burst. “It’s Donna’s, “ I pointed. “It’s her Bible!”
Ed turned to the display. “Oh, my God,” he murmured. “Is it possible?” His chest heaved and his eyes glistened.
I looked at the charred margins of the book and the message that was embedded in the molten metal. “This Bible was her favorite because all of Christ’s words are printed in red, and it uses the old English phrases she liked .” I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. “Ed, do you remember? ‘Turn the other cheek’ was one of her favorite sayings. And God knows that there were plenty of people in her life to forgive.“
“It looks like the one Donna used,” Ed said, bending to get a closer look. “You gave it to her on the day she was ordained. I remember how happy she was.
“But, Susan, there must be tens of thousands of this exact same edition. What are the odds that this one is hers?” He paused.” And how did it get here?”
In my heart, I knew the Bible was hers. But what would she be doing at the World Trade Center, thirty miles south of her apartment in Yonkers. I thought she was travelling north on the train, to see me in Buffalo. I thought she was safe.
Chapter 2: Perfectly Safe
Susan – Nassau, Bahamas – April 3, 1968
“Don’t worry, Susan, it’s perfectly safe!” Anne yelled to be heard over the steel drums and the noise from the bar we had just left. “We just say ‘no thanks’ to any car with two or more guys.”
Her blond hair flowed around her face as she half twirled to embrace the street party. “We’re in Nassau, girl. Time to let loose and live!”
The souvenir shops had been shuttered for hours, but the action on the sidewalks had been growing since dark.
“No, Anne,” I insisted, “It’s too dangerous to hitchhike.” ‘No’ was never easy for me to say, but being with Anne was giving me plenty of practice.
Two celebrations were merging in the streets and in the bars. Hordes of college kids on spring break mingled with the local Negroes who were chanting slogans as they left a large political rally near the Straw Market.
“There are dozens of lonely guys who would love to give us a ride. If either of us is uncomfortable with whoever stops, we won’t get into the car. OK?” Anne said, capturing me with those innocent eyes and little smile.
“Or, if you want to walk” she offered, “I’ll meet you back at the hotel.”
I sighed. “OK. Let’s stick together.”
Anne tucked her shirt tighter into her pants, emphasizing a chest that was already hard to ignore. Then she stepped into traffic and stuck out her thumb.
You’re such a show-off!” I said, loosening my ponytail. I knew that my green eyes were more striking when my dark hair framed my face. When we were out drinking with our housemates, I usually attracted the most guys, but Anne was the girl who took one home.
The bars were so jammed that the dancing had spilled onto the street. Swarms of college kids laughed as they stumbled over cobblestones, their happiness fueled by freedom, beer and the bottles of the local rum they carried in brown paper bags.
“I can’t wait to get back to the hotel,” I said stepping out to stand next to her. “My feet hurt.”
One boy wretched at the base of a palm tree while his friends jeered. The tree, and about half the storefronts in town, were plastered with political posters proclaiming “PLP All The Way!!”
“I still don’t get why everyone is so excited about an election,” Anne said, glancing at a nearby PLP poster. “I mean, isn’t this a British colony and the Queen is in charge?”
Politics wasn’t Anne’s thing. She was a sociology major who was writing her senior thesis on “Gossip as a Form of Truth-Telling within Groups.”
“Well, the Queen is really a figurehead,” I replied. “One of the tour guides told me that that, although the Bahamas is only 10% white, next week’s election is the first time that the Negro candidates in the PLP – the Progressive Liberal Party – have a chance to win the majority in their legislature.”
A small white car pulled over. As Anne bent to look inside, a melodic baritone asked, “What is your destination, miss?”
“The Ocean View Hotel,” said Anne, turning to me with a big smile
“It is on my way home. I would be most happy to drop you off,” said the deep voice, resonating with a lovely West Indies accent.
Anne crawled into the rear seat and I squeezed in after her. I noted an appealing smell of jasmine and musk, tinged with a sweet hint of whiskey.