Note on sensitive content: contains references to traumatic events
It was the most perfect fall morning.
She walked into the lobby of her office building. This building wasn’t quite as big as the one her dad once worked in, but it still scraped the sky.
Behind the front desk there was a huge American flag draped across the wall. She walked as quickly as she could to the elevator banks.
When she got upstairs to her desk, she put down her things and walked to the kitchen to grab her first cup of coffee and started to mentally prepare for a long day. She saw one of her coworkers who smiled brightly.
“Morning, Emily. Isn’t it the most beautiful day?”
She bit her lip and froze. There was nothing she dreaded more than a beautiful day.
It is the most perfect fall morning.
It starts out as just another day. She is eleven years old, in the car with her mom on her way to her fourth day of middle school, sixth grade. The sky is as blue as the ocean at the beach where the family had just spent the summer on Cape Cod. The leaves on the trees are just starting to turn yellow. It is still warm out but a hint of a chill is in the air.
Her dad wasn’t able to make it to her last soccer game because he had to work, which she was mad about. He always had to work. But he promised he would be there this weekend. She’s still mad.
She is finally starting to get the hang of this new school–she only got lost once yesterday. The goal today is to not get lost at all and make it to all her classes on time.
But she never gets the chance–not because she got lost.
Time stops when a teacher announces the news at 10:47 am, in a large classroom surrounded by dozens of her new schoolmates. The image of the old, beat-up clock on the wall is burned into her brain, the position of the hands just past the 9 and the 10. She can still see the cracks in the glass when she closes her eyes.
People gasp and cry and express confusion all around her, but she just freezes, everyone else a blur. For them, this is a momentary shock that they will one day tell their kids about when they see it in their history textbooks, but for her it’s the last day of her life as she knows it.
Her dad is gone.
Her mom spends many weeks in bed, unable to function. She would call every week to find out if any remains had been found. They never are.
For many months, she barely talks to anyone. It’s a miracle that she’s able to get through school each day, but not much more than that.
Soon her mom tries to talk to her about what happened, asks if she has any questions about it. She responds with silence. She hears her mom on the phone talking to friends and relatives, saying in hushed tones that she’s looking into getting her a therapist, even though money is tight after all that has happened. She feels like such a burden.
What can anyone say? Her dad is gone. He will never come through the door again.
Eventually, as the seasons go by and the calendar changes to the next year, the other kids move on, and the teachers do too. There might be a quick “Hey, isn’t today the day that…” followed by a hushed, awkward silence. But by high school even that stops. It becomes just another day once again.
Since then, she keeps going, at least physically, mostly for her mother’s sake, but no matter how old she gets she will always be an eleven-year-old child sitting in that hard school chair.
The sun streamed through the windows as her alarm went off at 7:30. She slowly rose out of bed, rubbing her eyes. After a few sleepy moments, she finally started getting ready for work, just like any other day.
It was just like this on that other day too, so many years ago. In her mind, every day is just like this one, stuck on repeat.
Her dad was gone.
She got out the door of her apartment at 8:15 like always, and walked to the subway. She took the train all the way down the island and got off at the station her dad walked out of for the last time, all those years ago.
Every year she thought of something new about that day. Since he left the house very early, long before she woke up, she never got to see the last thing he wore. What color was his tie? On her birthday he would wear a bright pink tie all day, just for her. She wished she had that one last image of him in her mind.
As time went on, she started to forget small details of what he looked like. Sure, there were always pictures, but to lose the mental image was the most painful. What would he look like today, as he would’ve approached sixty? How grey would his hair be? She would never find out.
She was haunted by how angry she felt towards him the last night she saw him. Maybe if she had forgiven him, he would’ve come home that night.
“Emily? Did you hear what I said?”
She shook her head as she brought herself back to the present–this present.
She plastered on her best smile and blinked back the tears of sadness, rage. “Yes, Linda, it really is a gorgeous day. See you at the team meeting.” She walked back to her desk to gather herself.
The first meeting of the day was at 10:30 in the conference room. Soon after it started, as the team went around sharing updates on quarterly projections or something else not important, her eyes started to close, until something jolted them open.
Her eyes, almost reflexively, were drawn to the clock on the wall, a digital one. Within a couple of seconds the time ticked from 10:46 to 10:47. She looked around the room, hoping for some kind of recognition, knowing it was never coming. Life had moved on, and why shouldn’t it?
After all, it was just another day.