Danny Joe Gibson
Pause & Reflect
I was headed to morning design/illustration class in my car, listening to the tick-talks of NPR. My CD player’s entrails were still hanging from a hole in the dash from the spring’s previous pickings. All that made the sound was one wire hooked into the hole, clinging onto the original car stereo that I had paid somebody unsuccessfully to re-install. The wounded veteran at least got to the few fuzzy stations worth spending time with on the grid of Springfield, MO. Long down the neck of Sunshine Street I first heard about IT. IT surpassed my morning blahs from staying up late past my night job, hunched over at my desk making sure my school work looked just right. This morning my work would not look right to me. My initial thought was that I was hearing some sort of un-earthed “what if” evacuation/emergency tape scenario or a lost artifact that was found and being brought to the public. NPR always has something interesting and I just thought it was an on-air illustration for an author’s new book. I then scratched this and figured it was a “coulda-woulda” reflection on the World Trade Center bombing attempt back in the ’90s. Was it the anniversary of that? I couldn’t remember. Was I a bad American for not remembering that? Then, a LIVE news anchor came on-air and said the following, “I am now standing near the spot where the two towers once cast their great shadows. There is nothing left but rubble, smoke and ash.” Dark reality then rayed un-holy as IT/THIS was REAL. I cursed out-loud to my car’s sagging canopy like one does to the tree tops the first time they shoot a deer and are shocked by such a simple and dramatic taking of life. I then wondered aloud if all of the other Springfield commuters off to work or school or shopping knew that THIS had just happened just a few minutes prior to getting into their comfortable cars and lives? Glancing at stop light faces and car exhaust, I found no answers. No answers to anything on this seemingly peaceful Tuesday that was just another day in just another year until I turned that dial. An anxious elevator ride to my 5th floor university destination and I saw THE images, iconic and fragile full of silent screams, on the monitors in a cramped computer lab. Big eyes met with shared light with Little Erin, in a strange smoothie of socked amazement. We were either early to class or some people had decided to watch the TV before leaving their homes this morning. Then Eric (our instructor) gave us a nice calm feeling of assurance and several other students began to trickle in and head into the classroom. Not only did Eric always make us smile but he traded the day’s design studying for a little off-the-cuff lecture about the history of terrorism and if I remember right, something about how a relative of his was once in a terrorist training camp and then he moved on down memory lane about playing with hand grenades as a young boy in post-WWII Russia (in the following days we would talk often/comment on the spectrum of feelings felt from all the signs, banners, pamphlets and posters that showered the Bible Buckle with or against US). A letter from the university president told us that classes were cancelled for the remainder of the day. While hitting the down arrow on the ride to the ground floor, I received a phone call from my roommate. Still listening to him as I slinked quickly out the front entrance, across the street, through a parking lot slice and into my car on the way to The Mud House for coffee and a light lunch he did all the talking. “Hey, if you need gas you had better get it now cause people are flipping out, lines are backed up like crazy. They’re scared of a gas hike or something.” In fact, I was near empty on gas…and spirit…though, I chose to get gas later and stick with my lunch plans with a couple of classmates. I really needed them right now. I think we needed each other. It had already been a strange year inside and now it had grown outside. Walking into the coffee café I was thinking how nobody would be in there because who could eat on a day like today? How could we eat ever again? But, we had to eat. It was crowded and with little sign that anything had happened out east, people went about their lives. Little Erin, Matthew Evans and I ran into drawing instructor Sante at The Mud House. It’s always odd to see an instructor out of classroom, but it was even more peculiar to see Sante, whom I had always sensed disappointment from with the possible potential my haphazard work ethic whispered at. We made our out-of-school small talk. Sante asked Erin, Matt and I how we were doing and wondered how the design instructors were doing as well with the day’s event(s). We then parted ways and went through the lunch hour motions. I stuck to coffee as I watched Erin and Matthew eat their lunches, remembering that I didn’t have any money, but did have a garbage bag of found food in the freezer at home. With awkward goodbyes I guzzled a refill to-go cup out the door and in a mad panic drove across town near my home, waiting for my gas turn. Every car and person sat patient and uniform, though seemingly worried. This struck me strange as usually people are honking and getting feisty in lines, but this was not a batch of the usual. After a hurried chaperoned fill-up I handed over my “Sorry” payment of small change from my car’s console reservoir as the nervous attendants said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take anything today, except for what happened this morning.” Fifty minutes after my first whiff of gas station service, I was at the little duplex on the highway. Everything was different. Though, the voice of hunger gurgled the same near the four lanes. I found a TV dinner and a 3/4 pint of freezer burnt ice cream that I “borrowed” from the break room fridge at the bank I janitored at the previous evening. I crawled up to a roommate’s room (he had a bigger and more enhanced television than I) and watched the fuzz of collapse over and over and over with (the late-great) always-of-the-moment Peter Jennings piloting me and makeshift Salisbury steak and mint chocolate chip ice cream flowing out my gapping mouth. In the night cap I came- to with the final touches on a new work ethic pack of one hundred elephant illustrations and then moved on towards my janitorial job at the bank. I didn’t turn the car radio back on. My boss that night met me and I had hopes he’d tell me to go back home. Nope. He walked me to a new little cleaning responsibility in a back building, separately standing behind the bank. In the dark my head cooked beheading as I brought down the evening in that little ticker tape of a back room as my boss talked about how the day had been pretty weird. I couldn’t agree more as I attended to my dust pan and broom.