Beacon Of Light
Yellow tea cups peacefully dried in the vintage kitchen, while Ma plugged in the transistor radio that late morning. Static and sound waves shifted and rolled until she clearly dialed in the local radio station.
Earlier my parents had witnessed a few people on the beach in Ditch plains sitting at the picnic table, with sullen faces in tears. They drove home in silence back to their cottage on the hill, assuming a surfer had drowned.
Dad was still working outside gathering up garbage and debris from the last tenant, whom had promised to build a better deck, on a better day. Instead, the tenant demolished our deck down to its studs. Our modest cottage by the sea was in complete shambles.
Our family usually visited Montauk off season when only fishermen or writers roamed about the small ghost town. We would celebrate Easter with the wild rabbits, some seagulls and a few deer that would appear. Though we did experience the magic of a Paul Simon-sighting once while he picked up a to-go order at Shagwong in town.
Dad had a certain sense of humor to his decorating style. Having free creative license at the cottage allowed him to keep fishing for nautical items at garage sales all over the Island.
As teenagers, my brother and I were often bored without TV, so we would have these contests as to who could find the most unique decoration. There were bright, orange, plastic lobsters, star fish, driftwood, eclectic seashells, old wooden captains’ wheels, anchors, buoys hanging from the trees, faded paintings of ships lost at sea, wooden carved fish, jars of sea glass and endless lighthouses. We most likely had more lighthouse souvenirs than the Lighthouse gift shoppe down the road.
My parents would spend romantic weekends at the tip of the Island and always came back a bit younger or nicer. It was their ultimate escape.
Dad loved the East End’s clear night’s sky and would often bring out his telescope to star gaze atop the hill. They once sat on the hood of their car like teenagers in love at the drive-in, just to watch the meteor showers. Their desire was to someday retire out in Montauk together.
Ma was still cleaning up the small countertops as she heard the tragic news escape the black transistor radio beside her.
She ran out of the kitchen door and towards the woods to find my Dad.
“Doug! The Towers are down!” she yelled through the trees.
My Dad fell to his knees amongst the wooden debris.
I was up in the Catskills at the college library, trying to log into my Geology computer lab. While the page slowly loaded, a young man entered the quiet room and yelled, “One of the Towers is down!”
“What tower? The Twin Towers? My father works there!” I said as I instantly rose to my feet.
“Which one does he work at?” he asked with a look of fear in his eyes.
“He’s an elevator mechanic. He works on both Towers. May I use your phone?” I frantically asked.
He handed me his phone, warning me it may not work. As I tried to dial my family, I noticed my hands were trembling.
The room remained still. I grabbed my bag and books and headed out of the glass doors and down many small, steep, concrete steps, as the sound of construction on campus added to the chaos in my mind.
I quickly entered the first office I could find to ask to use a phone.
An angelic woman with ocean blue eyes greeted me as she tried to help connect me to my family.
All you could hear was a robotic operator on speakerphone repeating the same monotone message, “all circuits are busy.”
I knew I had to go home and check the answering machine. I also started to quickly review the reality in my mind that my father was most likely there working at the World Trade Center. He had been pulling people out of broken down elevators from atop the trap door of the cab since he joined the union, right after he returned home from the war in Vietnam.
Dad was a loyal union worker, a faithful husband, devoted father and a good soldier who would fearlessly stay behind, helping everyone out of the burning building. He knew those Towers like the back of his hand.
Her pretty, pink, painted nails continued to dial the phone numbers she had written on a piece of paper, while my eyes scanned her desk.
It was Tuesday, September 11th 2001 and I knew my father had already taken off that Monday from work. Never in the history of his union job did he take off 2 consecutive days from work. He was known to go to work nights/days, even sick with a fever, or through hurricanes, snow storms, holidays, even Christmas Day.
My arms were beginning to go numb as I casually hid my tears and convinced the kind woman I was alright. I could hear the advice my father once gave me after I was hit in the leg by a pitch while up at bat. He was right there waiting for me on the side line as I walked to first base. I wiped my tears while preparing to run to second and heard his encouraging voice say, “that’s it, wipe your tears and move on.”
My feet then ran as fast as they could down the hallway and out of the building. Thankfully my car was easy to locate. No one else drove a rusty, white, 1971 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. I jumped in, lit up a cigarette with my hands still shaking and tried to get a clear station on the car radio. My tape deck had swallowed a Led Zeppelin tape, which simultaneously played in the background of the FM news and static. Everything felt surreal as I shifted gears through the windy-back country roads home.
I started to pray out loud as I passed by the old, limestone caves where the breeze was always cool.
“Please don’t be there! Don’t be there! Please don’t be there Dad!” I shouted out into the damp, ghostly air.
My long, brown hair tangled in the wind as I took a drag and kept praying through the smoke.
When I had arrived home, I noticed there were no new messages on the answering machine. The house was quiet as I could only hear the Blacksmith tinkering away next door. Closing my eyes, I took in a deep breath and could smell the calming, ancient scents of a wood burning stove through the crisp, Autumn air.
The Twin Towers and the American flag always reminded me of my Dad since I was a little girl.
He’d take us up to the observation deck and we’d ask him for quarters for the mounted, viewing machines to see the city’s skyline. We were on top of the world.
Dad always brought us home boxes of blank paper from the Trade Center that we loved to write or draw on.
We met his union brothers, who looked out for one another like soldiers on a battle field. True comrades of the same uniform, same union.
Both Towers were now completely gone like the sand castles my brother and I would build together on the beaches of Long Island, that eventually dissolved after a rough wave, or two.
After 6 long hours, my brother finally got through to me on his cellphone out East where he was filming a documentary in the Hamptons.
“Kel!” he said.
“Yeah?” I said, while feeling the familiar sound of his voice comfort my worried mind.
“You know they’re still out in Montauk right?” he said.
I dropped to my knees.
“Hello? Hello? Are you still there?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m here,” I said as my face cradled into my hand.
(15 years later)
Heavy rain was still christening the seeds beneath the grassy hill, as the birds were warming up their Spring song. Even the roughest of storms, can make you appreciate the rain.
It had been years since we had traveled out East to the tip of the Island, yet we were now being guided back home, like a Beacon Of Light.
Dad’s disabilities had severely progressed. Although he could no longer speak, he had still remained my greatest teacher. He was now unable to walk up the steps to the cottage by the sea that once saved him.
Seagulls appeared above our heads like guardian angels flying through the greyest of skies. To witness 2 firemen carry my hero and my guitar safely up the stairs and right to our front door, mended my broken heart, while the American flag continues to wave to us from across the way, and through the budding trees.