The Tribute in Light shines above lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and One World Trade Center, left, on Sept. 10, 2011, in New York to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. This Saturday marks the 20-year anniversary. Associated Press file

Editor’s note: This column was originally published in the Morning Sentinel on Sept. 19, 2001. 

“Though lovers be lost love shall not; and death shall have no dominion.”
— Dylan Thomas

Nobody will ever know who they were. They probably worked in the same office, sharing coffee and bagels each morning. Maybe they were married, both working for the same firm, coming to work each day on the subway or the commuter train, holding hands.

Maybe they were just dating. He brought coffee to her desk each day. At night, they might have gone to the movies, or out for sushi in the Village and then dancing, holding hands.

Maybe they were only friends, a single girl and a gay man who gossiped at the water cooler, ate burgers and sipped Diet Cokes on one of the benches in the nearby park.

But I like to think they were lovers.

There is a picture of them now that a lot of people saw. A man and a woman holding hands and stepping off into space, 110 floors up in the blue sky.

Who were they, I wonder, this couple who stepped out into the sky together, hands clutched, eyes closed, both mumbling prayers?

What could they have said at the last moment, as they stood looking north over Manhattan’s skyline to John Lennon’s Strawberry Fields in Central Park? You can see a long way from the 110th floor.

Where were they from? She might have been from the green fields of Iowa, a cheerleader, class president, prom queen.

He might have been from St. Louis, Missouri, or Portland, Maine, a football hero in high school or leader of the debate team.

They both came to Manhattan, the city of neon dreams, and got their first jobs with this wonderful firm with offices high up in the city’s sky, where they could see forever.

Now on this bright, beautiful September day, surrounded by strange thunder, flame and smoke, the exits blocked, the world gone mad, they came to the end of it. The end of it all.

What they said to each other at that last moment will never be heard. I would like to think it was, “I love you.”

When it was clear that there was no other way to go, they stepped off into eternity and fell like snowflakes, like birds, like the rain. I would like to think that they never let go of one another.

I first saw Manhattan at age 25, stepping into Times Square on a rainy night, when the lights of the city floated in the rivers of rain like magic. She was like the most beautiful woman in the world at a crowded party. I fell in love; I love her still.

I’ll bet they felt the same way.

I met a red-haired actress there on an escalator in Bloomingdale’s Department Store at Christmas, and fell in love. People always fall in love in Manhattan — it’s required.

They said that New York isn’t America. They were dead wrong. It is America, and it’s Oz, El Dorado on the Hudson and Xanadu.

Now part of Oz is gone, covered with blood and smoke and burning flesh. Someone came and tried to kill my beautiful city, the most beautiful woman in a crowded party.

But they can’t. She’s too tough.

Manhattan will come back to life, dancers and actors will fill her rehearsal halls, musicians will play again on her corners, and dreamers will come up out of her subways into rainy Times Square again.

There will be new shows on Broadway, and somewhere on an escalator in Bloomingdales or Macy’s, a couple of young actors will bump into each other and touch hands and fall in love. And live happily ever after.

Nobody knows who they were. They now belong to all American mothers who want to think he was their son, to fathers who are sure she was their daughter, and who may be comforted that at least they did not die alone.

Those towers have fallen; others may fall.

But those two holding hands? I like to think they flew.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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