Chapter One: Burnt Popcorn
It’s the evening of September 10, 2001, and the New York Giants are playing in Monday Night Football in a few hours. This is a very big deal for us: Jim and I are huge Giants fans. They play home games at New Jersey’s Meadowlands, only an hour from our house, and they’re our team. Okay, they’re pathetic this year. We know this and accept it, yet we’re loyal to the end.
I’m stuck at work until 9:00pm and can’t wait to get home, snuggle up on the couch with my honey, and scream at Kerry Collins for throwing yet another interception. Jim has promised to cook our favorite pasta: Gemelli.
Dinner is a disaster. I’m Italian, so jarred sauce is a sacrilege, yet we’re forced to use it some nights, especially when I work late at the pharmacy. Jim has chosen a new Burgundy wine concoction. We both take one bite and Jim declares, “Well, we won’t be repeating this one.”
Close to midnight and still only in the third quarter, the Giants are getting stomped. Jim decides to make his signature popcorn — melting his own butter, grinding his own sea salt — as a replacement dinner, even though he has to get up in only five hours to go to work. Like I said, a true die-hard fan.
Jim burns the popcorn. I smell the charred mess as soon as he sits down with the big bowl in his lap. He knows I hate when he burns the popcorn.
“How can you stand eating that?” I ask him.
He shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t mind,” he says and proceeds to devour the entire bowl by himself.
We stay up until 1:00am. Of course the Giants lose the game, and of course we lose precious sleep.
At 4:00am, I’m awakened by the sound of Jim fumbling through his nightstand for a bottle of pills. As a pharmacist I’m acutely aware of the sound that pills make in a bottle. I can identify a pill based solely on the sound it makes when rattled. Jim’s bottle is making a sound I know all too well: Pepto-Bismol tablets.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
He replies with a series of grunts and moans that can be loosely interpreted as, “Uuuggghhhhh, my stomach.”
“Serves you right for eating that burnt popcorn.”
An hour later, the alarm goes off and Jim climbs out of bed to begin his routine: a shower and ten cups of coffee from his “coffee stein”, which is five times larger than any known mug. I begin my own routine of dozing on and off, making sure he stays on schedule and waiting for him to kiss me goodbye promptly at 5:30am. I’m wondering how he can function at all after staying up to that ungodly hour and getting sick to boot. I’m glad Tuesdays are my day off so I can sleep a little later to make up for last night.
At 6:05am I’m still half awake when I hear his footsteps next to the bed.
“Bye, hon.” Jim says, leaning over me.
I feel his lips on mine. I see the familiar angles of his face in the dark room backlit from the hallway. Then I smell him — my Jim.
“You’re late,” I say. My hand finds the back of his head then moves to his cheek, fresh and smooth from the razor.
“Yup, I’m late.”
“Hmmph. I wonder why.”
“Rahrahrahrahrah.” This is Jim’s comic imitation of me nagging him.
“I love you,” I murmur.
“I love you.”
I notice that he says it differently than normal. He accents the “you” and leaves off the “too”. His words are clear, articulate, and purposeful — unlike his usually slurred, early morning “Luvyatoo.” I wonder, as I lie there watching him move toward the light of the hallway, why he sounds so… happy.
“Call me later,” I remind him, even though he always calls or emails me from work, usually around 10:00am.
“Okay,” he says. And then he is gone.
Now for the last step of my routine. Must pray for his safety. Must stay awake long enough to pray. Can’t fall back to sleep yet. It’s Murphy’s Law. The one time I don’t pray for him, that’s when something will happen.
So I whisper the same little prayer that I say every morning as he leaves for work: Please God, get Jim to work safely, and bring him home safely, too. He’s everything in the world to me, and I love him so much. So please, Lord, watch over him.
I hate that commute. Jim hates it even more. He drives forty-five minutes to Atlantic Highlands to catch a commuter ferry for another forty-five minute ride up the Hudson River. Then comes a ten-minute walk through Lower Manhattan to Tower One of the World Trade Center followed by a fifteen-minute elevator ride to the 103rd floor after changing elevators at the 78th floor. I’m always so afraid of car accidents, ferries capsizing, dangerous criminals lurking the city streets. Worry, worry, worry. I worry about everything. Almost everything. Surely praying to God will protect Jim from all that. Prayer is powerful. God is almighty. I have faith.
I hear the garage door close and fall back to sleep.