Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Sonata for a Good Man

Scott O'Brien was our landlord in New York. The term "New York landlord" brings to mind either an absentee slumlord ignoring the multiplying cockroach population, or Fred Mertz. Scott was neither of these. He and his wife Kelly owned the four-story brownstone we lived in. Scott, Kelly, their two kids, and their dog Dazey (naming by the kids, spelling by Scott) lived in the first two floors of the building. We rented the third floor, and another couple rented the fourth. Scott was funny, vibrant, an engaged father, a devoted husband, a fencer, a lover of great wine, and a Grateful Dead devotee who was also responsible enough to have stock accounts set up for his young children.
When Phil and I learned I was pregnant with M, we decided to move back to the Midwest. We spent Labor Day weekend looking at houses, and settled on the one we live in now. The Sunday after our offer was accepted, Phil told Kelly we'd be moving out in a month. She lamented that "our little honeymoon home was breaking up." We hadn't realized it, but the couple upstairs had separated. That day we'd gone out to breakfast and seen Scott taking his young son for a bike ride. It was the last time I'd see him.
Although Scott largely worked from home, two days later, on September 11, 2001, his company attended a trade show at the World Trade Center. A dozen representatives from the company were there. Most decided to get breakfast down the road. Scott and a co-worker instead went to Windows on the World. After the first plane hit, Scott left a message for Kelly, saying "There's been an accident. We're waiting for help. I love you, and I'll see you soon." Just over an hour later, as we now all know, the building had collapsed. DNA tests on found remains have since confirmed Scott's death.
September 11 continues to be haunted with memories every year. I was in my office when a friend from Indiana called and exclaimed, "You're okay!" and started crying. Later, a friend from work and I walked home together and were shocked at how far uptown the smoke and debris clung to the air. Our brownstone became a macabre party scene as Scott and Kelly's dozens and dozens of friends descended to keep Kelly from being alone, often through forced merriment. Once I remember walking in the door and someone heading out of Kelly's apartment saying to me, "I forgot the salt for the margaritas! Twenty lashes with a wet noodle!" while I heard crying from inside the apartment. I think of all of these things, but mostly I think of Scott.
Scott's memorial service was attended by hundreds. It included poetry, dance, remembrances, and original songs written for the service, and it concluded with everyone in attendance singing The Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band." It was unique and reverent and thought-provoking and cathartic all at the same time. Just as Scott would have wanted.


Blogger amyzeats said...

I went into Manhattan yesterday for a random doctor's appointment and stood in the front part of the ferry as it docked, looking at the tip of Manhattan. In some ways, it's starting to look normal now; like, that's just the way it looks. In some ways, it's not.
The city was its usual weekday bustle, but it was raining and gray, and people wrestled with umbrellas and tried to stay dry under awnings and such. I was grateful -- every 9/11 that comes packaged in a beautiful, cloudless day is a misery and a creepy reminder of what that morning was like. The rain made it feel like the soggy now and not the terrible, sad past. You know what I mean?
On the way home, I bought some flowers for the house, but when I got off the ferry back in Staten Island, I felt compelled to walk down to the 9/11 memorial facing downtown Manhattan here. It had stopped raining so hard and was just a drizzle at that point, and the spot was all gussied up with mums and ribbons and things. There was a small white tent from the memorial service earlier in the day. The memorial is two, tall white walls, that fan out at the top, kind of like wings. It's really very pretty. On the inside are 2-dimensional carved silhouettes of all the islanders who died in the attack, with their names engraved. I pulled out a flower for our friend -- an old, close buddy of my husband's since grade school, Paul Barbaro, just an all-around sweetheart of a guy -- who died that day and stuck a flower into his spot on the wall. There was a fireman in uniform standing near me crying. I was really, really grateful to see Dan when he got home last night.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Teresa said...

Your story and Amy's make me cry all over again. So senseless.

11:58 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home