Special thanks to naughty one for his invaluable help in pointing out storyline issues, some inconsistencies and errors! All remaining problems are solely my fault.
When the bomb went off the walls fell, bringing the roof of the building with it in a cascade of destruction unlike anything the city had ever seen before. Great billowing clouds of dust and smoke obscured the scene for hours, leaving the first responders stranded on the periphery, unable to approach the epicenter.
The damage was not limited to a single building either. Falling concrete, shattered steel beams, shrapnel ranging in size from a grain of sand to as large as a school bus, pulverized several of the surrounding buildings and bringing them down as well.
The initial death toll, even before the emergency crews could step foot on ground zero, was predicted to be almost as great as that on September 11th, 2001.
I was twenty-four when the Chase tower came down, and I was working as a stock broker. I should have been in a bullpen on the 30th floor, taking orders and calling in trades, but I had arranged for my fiancé to take a tour of the operation and was waiting in the lobby for her to arrive.
Her arrival preceded the first explosion by mere seconds. I watched her walk through the glass doors, her golden hair lit in a halo by the morning sun at her back. She was wearing a very smart business suit, all in shades of green that made her emerald eyes sparkle even from across the room.
She smiled brightly, her left hand up and starting to wave and my chest was filling with warmth and happiness. She was my other half, the missing piece to my life and I loved her more than I thought possible.
My last sight of her was a shard ... a sheet, really, of glass at least three feet across, slicing through her from her left shoulder to her right hip. There was a look of surprise on her face, and an instant of acceptance before the roof the lobby crashed down around us, blotting her from my sight forever.
Saying it was dark would be disingenuous. It was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything at all. I had managed to clear the dirt and dust from my eyes and nose, using my one free hand, but the world smelled of smoke and burned flesh, hot metal and that distinct, coppery iron smell of blood.
My left arm and both legs were trapped, but I couldn’t see by what. There was pain, but it was distant, remote. Mostly I was wracked by coughing fits as my body tried to expel the dust I had breathed in. My throat was dry and it took forever to even work up enough saliva to spit.
It seemed like every other second, the vision of my sweet Nancy would appear, torturing me. I could see the glass bisect her, the blood beginning to spray, the infinite sadness on her face for that instant before the roof fell. I tortured myself, hating myself for being alive when my soul mate was dead. If I had been smarter, faster, if I had arranged to meet her for breakfast like she had suggested.
It was a day, or a week maybe, time meant little here in my private hell, before I could hide that memory away in the dark recesses of my mind. I knew I would be seeing that image again, in my nightmares.
I thought about my family, what little there was left. Mom and Dad were both gone, so was Andy, my brother. Only Sophia and her daughters were left. Breast cancer had taken mom, too advance to fight before they even found it, and dad seemed to waste away, lasting less than a year after mom died. Andrew, Andy, my older brother, gave his life overseas as one of the Doctors Without Borders, the victim of an Improvised Explosive in Iraq.
I had friends though, a few of them anyway. Christine was my best buddy since we were in diapers. Her family lived next door to mine for my entire life and we ran the streets and alleys of Western Springs, a suburb on the outskirts of Chicago. When we were toddlers, everyone assumed we would marry, but we remained best friends through boyfriends and girlfriends, broken hearts and casual flings. Christine would be inconsolable.
Selene, she was an unattainable fantasy. She had the same taste in women that I did, and she was no-so-secretly in love with my fiancé. She became a friend in college when mutual acquaintances tried to push us together. She was drop dead gorgeous, smarter than I was and had a sense of humor that left me in stitches. I adored that woman, but she would grieve and move on. I hoped she would think of me every now and then, and raise a beer in my honor.
Lucy was the little sister I never wanted. She was my first assignment when I became a TA, and I was to get her through the class with a high enough grade to pass and get her out of the professor’s hair. Lucy was a tiny little thing, raven hair and as needy as the day was long, but she grew on me. I was the person she would come to with a problem, sure I could do just about anything. At times I raged, sometimes cried, often rejoiced in her successes, but I could no more reject Lucy than I could kick a puppy. I wondered who would care for her when I couldn’t?
Hunger and thirst had come, ravaged my body, and faded away. I knew, to the very core of my being, that I was trapped here until I faded away. I raged and cried until there was no moisture left to spare, then I wept without tears for those I left behind.
When the tumbled chunks of concrete around me shifted, and a blinding beam of light speared down, I was sure it was Lord coming to bring me home. I had lived a good life, been kind to strangers, I was sure I would go to heaven and this was my moment.
Imagine my confusion and surprise when a very human hand, covered in dust and bleeding from a half-dozen scrapes, reached down to touch me. The trembling fingers were pressed to my neck and I heard a glorious sound.
It was twelve more agonizing hours before they freed me from the rubble. They snaked a tube to me and gave me water, even some thin gruel to tease my stomach. There was always someone nearby, and they talked to me.
Sometimes it was just a jumble of disconnected sounds; at others it was questions repeated time and time again. Was I bleeding? Was I in pain? What was my name? Where did I work? What did I remember?
Eventually, even the most curious ran out of questions and one of my rescuers, a man named Jim Evers, began to tell me his story. I learned about his childhood and his siblings, about his parents. He told me about his huge family, a raft of aunts and uncles, a herd of cousins, nieces and nephews. I learned that his wife, the love of his own life, was a nurse and that he had been a fireman for eight years.
He just talked, keeping me company, keeping my mind off the tons of concrete and steel that held me prisoner.
I loved Jim and I hated him. I loved that he was here, that he was compassionate and brave, that he was risking life and limb to give me comfort. I loved that he had chosen a profession dedicated to helping others. That kind of selflessness should be celebrated, but I hate him too.
I hated that he had a family, a big, happy family to go home to. His wife and his children mocked me and made me release the nightmare from where I had locked it away. He made me face living without Nancy.
They finally got me out and strapped to a gurney. The press swamped the EMTs who were trying to get me to an ambulance. Flashbulbs, like the muzzle flash from machineguns, lit my little world. Screamed questions and clawing hands came from every directions and the press of bodies threatened to overturn the gurney, almost spilling me back into the rubble from which I had so recently escaped.
We made it through, eventually, though it took officers with riot shields and batons to stem the tide. The closing doors of the ambulance produced a bubble of almost quiet.
“I know this won’t mean much now, but those folks out there, they have already crowned you the patron saint of Chicago.” the EMT said, busy cleaning the dirt off my chest and hooking up leads to his equipment. He added another clear bag of fluid to my IV, then sat back, his eyes on mine.
“How many survived?” I asked, my throat still raw and my voice, barely a croak.
He shook his head, his eyes distant. “Outside, they found four. From those inside the building, only you so far.” He sighed and rubbed his face with the heels of his hands.
“For the first couple of days, we were full of hope. They had found people in the twin towers, right? After the fourth day, the chances dropped to almost nothing but they still kept digging. What else could they do, right? That you were found, still alive, after seven days, it was a shot in the arm to everyone there. Hell, it was a miracle and something that made the whole city feel hopeful.” he said quietly.
Arrival at the hospital was almost as bad as my escape from the scene. The press were piranhas and there was a hint of blood in the water, driving them to a frenzy. Blows were thrown, patients and hospital staff attacking the press, destroying equipment and clearing a path into the hospital itself. Common citizens arm in arm with police to keep the press out.
The next forty-eight hours were a blur of tests. X-rays, Cat Scans, MRIs, EKGs, sight, hearing and a thousand other tests. Blood drawn by the gallon. I think I slept through more of it than I stayed awake to actually witness.
Once the initial flurry was done, I was placed in a private room and the healing began. Not just the physical healing, though there was a lot to be done. I was dehydrated, had breathing issues and two broken legs. My left arm had been crushed but the nerve damage kept it from hurting much.
.... There is more of this story ...