READ THE PROLOGUE and the FIRST CHAPTER (below)
(c) Tom DeLoughry, 2017
Prologue: Susan – September 11, 2016 – Buffalo
After the concert, Alice asked me to write Donna’s story.
“I adored Grandma,” she said, “but I was only nine when she disappeared. It would be such a gift if you could write what you remember.” At twenty-four, still flushed from the applause we had received, Alice looked just like her grandmother did the day I met her.
A few minutes ago when we were onstage, Alice lifted her chin and smiled at me as she hit the high notes. Suddenly, I was a young woman again, sharing a microphone with my best friend, singing with all my heart to awaken more love in the world… and my life.
Please, Susan?” Alice said, smiling. “Even if was only a few pages about how you met and the music you played, I would treasure it.” Her eyes sparkled with hope as she lifted her eyebrows, waiting for my answer.
I remembered Donna giving me that look when she nudging me to be a little braver than I really am.
So, I’m going to try…
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. On spring break in the sixties, a Bahamian woman told us, “Religion is a dangerous medicine. When mixed with love, it thrills. When mixed with judgment, it kills.”
We joked about that danger many years later on the sunny summer day she became a minister, when our hopes finally bloomed into happiness.
But we never imagined then that religion could 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 World Trade Center.
Vanished – Susan: September 10, 2001 – Buffalo
My kitchen was a mess, the drop cloths tripping me as I rushed 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.” She paused for a ragged breath. “I’m finished as a minister. Finished.”
“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.” I sagged into the chair.
We cried, harmonizing our pain, me in my kitchen and my best friend in her apartment three hundred miles away. “You were so brave, so good. How could they?”
Her sobs slowed to sniffles.
“The way I see it,” I said, “you’re only guilty of following the Golden Rule. Shouldn’t that outweigh 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.
“Oh, Donna, I can’t imagine how awful that must have been. I really can’t,” I said. “But what attracted me to our church is that we vote on the rules. And your courage has been so publicized, it has to make a difference.”
“My courage or my stupidity? Look at the lives I’ve ruined. The people I loved the most. If I could, I’d just disappear. No more fighting. I’m done.”
The storm had surfaced last April. Six months of a media-fueled sex scandal and people picking sides had worn her down.
“Who wouldn’t be exhausted by what you’ve gone through?” I said. “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. She had no reason to be in Manhattan, thirty miles south of where her church 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.
The World Trade Center – New York 2013
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 first escalator slid down beside two girders, battered remnants of the Twin Towers. I leaned on my cane, steadying myself against the movement and the memories as we descended through the Manhattan bedrock to the Memorial Museum, seven stories below where the Towers once soared.
The second escalator sank into the vast cavern of Memorial Hall. 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 lower.
“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 ache, 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 wrinkled. “How awful to have that ripped away. Plus, there was all the hate mail and the pictures on TV. The people who turned on her. 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 weigh on me, but decided to choose 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 four 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, Ed. What about the chapter where you say terrorism has caused nearly 4000 American deaths over the past 12 years, compared to 400,000 deaths from gun violence and two million deaths from medical errors. Don’t you think that’s going to get you into trouble?”
“I think all of us are already in trouble,” Ed said, “because we make decisions based on our fears, rather than the facts, and personal greed instead of the common good.”
He took my elbow to steady me as the escalator reached the bottom. A jolt shot down my leg as I stepped off, but my physical therapist says 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 twisted steel, the videos 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 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. “Ed, do you remember? We gave it to her on the day she was ordained. She liked this Bible because all of Christ’s words are printed in red.”
‘”It looks like the one we gave her,” he said slowly.
“Yes! And turn the other cheek’ was one of her favorite sayings. God knows, that there were always plenty of people she needed to forgive.”
“But, Susan,” Ed said, “There must be tens of thousands of this exact same edition. What are the odds that this one is hers?”
He paused while we both stared at it. “And how did it get here?”
In my heart, I knew it was her Bible. But she lived thirty miles north of Manhattan. What would she have been doing at the World Trade Center?
I thought she was on her way to Buffalo to see me. I thought she was safe.
The Bahamas – 1968
Perfectly Safe – Susan: Nassau, The 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, many who had crowded a political rally near the Straw Market. The locals greeted each other with shouts of “Hey, man, PLP all the way!”, their hope for the success of the Progressive Liberal Party in next week’s election.
“There are dozens of lonely guys who would love to give us a ride,” Anne said. “If either of us is uncomfortable with whoever stops, we won’t get into the car. OK?” capturing me with her wide-eyed sincere look.
“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 tee 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 and curled over my breasts. When we were out drinking with our housemates, I usually attracted the most guys, but Anne was the girl who took one home.