No father should have to watch his only daughter die. Especially on national television.
On September 11th, 2001 at roughly 8:30 AM, I found myself visiting my local Subway. This Subway was special because they were toying around with a new breakfast menu, meaning they opened at 6 AM. Luckily, they don’t have very stringent rules on what they serve so I went with my newfound favorite; the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. Subway was a somewhat pricey treat that I usually couldn’t afford but today was special. Today I was going to see my little girl for the first time in a year and half. Since before the divorce. Her name was Jessica. I named her after that hot chick from that stupid rabbit movie.
Jessica was a good kid. A great kid. She always ate all her vegetables, got straight A’s and never once complained that I left her mother for a woman I met at the bank while she waited in the car. The best daughter a father could ask for. After I divorced her mother I moved to California for awhile, tried to get my head straight. I thought maybe the fresh Minneapolis air was starting to make me soft. Turns out it wasn’t the air that was making me soft. Turns out it was just Gary going grey around the edges. Time can be a real son of a bitch. A time I hate in particular is 9:03 AM, September 11th, 2001. Jessica was about eight minutes from turning 15.
She didn’t want to get on the plane. She called me earlier that morning and told me that she had a funny feeling about it. Jessica always had a funny feeling about everything, she was a very superstitious girl. It drove me nuts, I didn’t know where she got it from. Her mother wasn’t like that and I sure the hell wasn’t like that so… I don’t know. I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore. I snapped at her, told her she needed to grow up, that planes were safer than cars. She cried and told me she was sorry. Great way to start things off, Jack, you piece of shit. Congratulations, you made your little girl cry. On her birthday. You don’t even deserve Subway.
It’s true; I don’t deserve Subway. No mortal man does. Subway is a feast of the Gods somehow created by man, and we are unworthy. The options at Subway make it difficult for any man (and some women) to select a favorite sandwich. For me, it took years. I used to swear it was the Meatball in my younger days. What a fool I was. When I first became a man I was partial to the Black Forrest Ham, an admirable choice, at least. When I had truly lived life, with some real experience under my belt, my favorite sandwich became the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki. I got a footlong; half for myself and half for Jessica when she arrived. She’d never get the pleasure.
Jessica called me from the plane at 8:50 and told me that something had happened. She wasn’t sure what, but some people had been hurt and she didn’t think the pilots were in control anymore. I told her that everything was going to be okay. That when these things happen they usually just get their money and everyone gets out alive. I was lying. I’d like to pretend that I didn’t know that I was lying to her then, but I did. Somewhere deep down I knew. There was a lot of screaming in the background. I could hear a baby crying. It sounded cute.
I told her to do everything they said and not to give them a reason to hurt her. She asked me where I was, what I was doing, if I could tell her about something, anything, to take her mind off of what was happening. I told her I was at Subway. I described my sandwich to her, told her about the Sweet Onion Teriyaki Chicken strips, the fresh oven-baked bread (I went with the Italian Herbs and Cheese this time). I told her that I got tomatoes, onions, spinach and a whole mess of black olives on it. She told me black olives were her favorite. I said, that’s good, ‘cause you’re gonna be eating half of this when you get here. Then I noticed that everyone in the Subway was getting fidgety. A kid brought out an 11″ TV to show us something that was happening in New York. The first plane had hit the tower. Jessica asked what was happening and I lied. Told her that another plane was hijacked and that they were all safe. They were waving at the camera. The terrorists had bought everybody ice cream.
The screaming in the background got louder. You couldn’t even hear that baby anymore. Jessica started crying, told me she loved me. Before I could say anything the phone went dead and at the same moment I watched the second plane crash. I turned my phone off, returned to my seat and finished my half of the sandwich. Then I took the rest to go and went down to the airport and waited for Jessica’s plane to come. I knew it wouldn’t, but something in me said that if I just waited she would show up. That if I pretended like everything was normal it would be. They wouldn’t let me into the airport but I waited outside for two and a half days, ignoring every call, barely even checking my Myspace account.
Eventually I would have to return to the real world, but it took months before I could really connect with anyone again. I went to the funeral. I didn’t make any speeches, didn’t talk to anyone. I barely even looked up. There was no body but they did have an open casket with a picture of her inside of it. It was a nice picture. Karen chose well. I felt bad for what I did to her and the kids. Not that I hadn’t before, but I really felt it then. When we filed up to say our goodbyes I set her half of the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich in her coffin. Peter, Karen’s brother, came up three people after me, took my sandwich out and threw it in the garbage. In response, I grabbed him by the throat and punched him in the face until every bone in my hand was broken. He would never look the same. I had some friends plant an illegal handgun and child pornography on him. I got off without any charges but I still had to turn in my badge and most of my guns. That was fine with me. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything.
Sometimes I wonder if I even accept what happened now. I don’t think I can live with the fact that she didn’t want to get on that plane and I made her, yelled at her, even. I can’t wake up every day with that on my mind. I have to be a person. She would want me to be a person. I just have to move on, not think about it. Not that I can ever forget her. I still go down to her grave every year on September 11th and set half of a Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sub on her grave. The cemetery staff has asked me to stop on several occasions. I tell them I will but then I just do it again the next year anyway. I don’t think they like me very much.