I wake up thinking about her. I have ever since the day I saw her walking out of the New York University library wearing a tight knit yellow sweater and blonde hair that knotted on the top of her head. Sometimes I think about her voice, how it resembles the soft rasp of wind at the bay. Sometimes I think about how she smiles in every conversation she has, or how she twists the ring on her left hand that I gave her when she's drinking coffee with two creams and no sugar. Often times, I think about the latest conversation I had with her. This morning, the moment I regained consciousness from sleep, I thought about her. This afternoon, the moment I regained consciousness and heard the shudder of metal burying me thousands of feet under the surface, I thought about her.
I met Faith when I was an undergrad at NYU. She stunned me from the moment we were in the same vicinity. My father was pushing me to pursue a career in law, and she was studying to become a pharmacist. That was eight years ago, since then we eloped and settled ourselves into a small apartment in downtown New York City. I dropped law and found my second home at the fire station on Fifth Avenue; Faith, on the other hand, is one of only three local pharmacists in our suburbia, and I couldn't be more proud to call myself her husband.
Today, I didn't wake her up early. It was her first day off since June, and she well deserved rest. I made a bowl of cereal exactly three minutes after nine in the morning; my shift didn't start for another hour. Before I made my way into the television room, our landline began to ring. Our ringtone was Beethoven's Moonlit Sonata, so I listened for a moment to the clanging bounce of the tune. I cleared my throat, practicing in my head what I always say when I pick up the landline.
"Hello, you've reached the Brown household. This is-"
"Greg, it's Joey. We need you at the station right now, think you can be here in twenty minutes?" Joey Grillmen is our squad's captain; he's a gruff man with broad shoulders and black, thinly shaven hair. He's the kind of man that probably watches golf tournaments while his wife cooks him a dozen eggs for breakfast.
"Twenty? What's going on?" I asked. There was a static chaos behind him, almost as though he was at the police station where secretaries and bored officers constantly buzz unlike the still focus at our firehouse.
"Look, I don't have time for this Greg. Come down in twenty and just listen to the radio in the car or something. You're a smart guy, you'll figure it out quick enough," his New York accent spit at me. I threw my uniform on and left a note on the counter by the coffee machine for Faith; on it I wrote that I love her and that I'd be home to help her cook dinner. Only half of it was true.
I got to the station to find it in Bedlam. Shifts usually consist of ten men on duty, but all thirty of us were swarming into trucks. I couldn't find Joey before I was pushed into a truck and told to put my gear on during the ride. The ride was silent. Four men surrounded me, each one I considered a brother. Hank, who I went to high school with when I lived in Manhattan with my mother in a dingy condominium, sat to my left. Under his breath I could hear him reciting the Lord's Prayer.
The drive felt long. The sirens sitting over our heads blared, and I could feel sweat beading on my forehead under my helmet band. I thought of Faith. I wanted her hand to waffle with mine, I wish I had gotten to talk to her this morning and smell her coffee breath and hear about her dream last night. But I opened my eyes and found myself sitting in the dark truck and Hank was breathing heavily and Faith was most likely reading my note right now and I couldn't help wondering why I hadn't been answered as to what emergency we were heading to. The entire staff has never been on an excursion together, especially in such secretive protocol. That's when I looked out the window.
I remember projects in primary school in which we'd list the tallest building in the world, of which there happened to be two: the World Trade Center Twin Towers. I could see them over devour the height of all other skyscrapers, even through the awkward height of the firetruck's window. One of the, was on fire, which looked pretty devastating for the top portion of the building. The building was impossibly tall. I don't come into this part of the city often, so even after being born and raised a New Yorker, the monstrosity of the Towers continuously astounds me. I felt my mouth gaping, my forehead continuing to sweat under my helmet.
The street was like bulls on parade. Pedestrians all stood with childlike curiosity as officers pushed them farther away from the building. Our trucks pulled up to the curb right in front of the tower; apparently our squad was one of the first on site, but almost the entire city's population of firemen and officers were called in.
Drifting, we ran into the building with a rhythmic beat of sixty feet clomping the tiles. I saw Joey just meters ahead of me running along with us all. He looked back to me, gave a quick wave, and winked. We were in our element on the job together. A series of perpetual staircases followed. We were to assist in evacuation for any of those trapped near the top. Rumors of all sorts of crazy began buzzing as to how the fire began, but it was probably some office moron who put something flammable in the microwave and we were just losing sanity from spinning around the stairwell.
Terror is something the inexperienced firemen contain. After years on the job, it becomes natural to lose yourself in the adrenaline. The building's framework roared almost every time we reached a new floor, and we could hear muffled crashing both from higher grounds and the outside world. Faith had probably flipped the news station on and figured this is where we were called to. Maybe she was still in her pajamas. Maybe she made a second cup of coffee. Maybe she was thinking about work instead of watching television. I would hope not, she needed to relax.
The walls began to croak. Someone yelled, which sent rookies into panic. Our swarm stopped moving; the building shook violently. Shouts of retreat pursued, but it was too late. I gripped the railing and watch a slab of wall and insulation and concrete silently, slowly, slide through the atmosphere. It landed hard on the staircase, on my comrades, on the only way back to the ground. I looked up to see the sky falling through the stairwell, and I threw myself into the pile of men crawling around the stairs.
"Greg, we're gonna make it home tonight, alright?" It was Joey. He and I crouched next to the fresh hole in the stairwell. I could hear tons upon tons of concrete begin to stumble loose, we only had a matter of time. I turned and smiled at Joey, but before I could respond everything went to black.
It could have been days I was buried. It could have been minutes or hours; either way I woke up and my legs were numb; there was a slab of metal on them. I didn't have the strength to push it off of me. It was quiet, and darkness seemed to stretch miles over my head. My throat was dry. I imagined myself waking up in bed next to Faith. She and I would about what we had ahead of us for the day. It was supposed to be Wednesday, and I was supposed to have come home to help cook dinner last night or however long ago that was. I lay there talking to Faith to mask the quiet groans from the foundation surrounding me. I told her about the stairwell and the truck ride. I told her about the day I saw the girl in the yellow sweater at the library. I told her I loved her, and before I fell asleep I told her I'd be home for dinner.