written by Anne Nelson
(These monologues are from the play "The Guys" written by Anne Nelson. This is based on the author's actual experiences post-September 11 with a New York City fire captain. Paralyzed by grief and unable to put his thoughts into words, Nick, a fire captain, seeks out the help of a writer, Joan, to compose eulogies for the colleagues and friends he lost in the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001.)
(A tall woman, simply dressed in pants; she stands, spotlit at center stage and addresses the audience directly)
Joan: New York. My beautiful, gleaming, wounded city.
When I was a little girl in Oklahoma, I'd wait every week for Newsweek and Life magazine to plop into the mailbox. What were they doing this week in New York City? Going to play written by Eur-o-pee-ans. Listening to jazz and string quartets. All those things you weren't supposed to do in Oklahoma. I thought you probably needed a passport to get into New York. I had this picture in my mind of people lined up at the bridge, paying a fee for admission.
I was right.
I hit New York when I was seventeen. I never really went back. Stone by stone, I built my life. A prewar apartment on the Upper West Side.
Filled with music and books. A husband who liked opera more than football. Two charming children in a good private school. An interesting job. Oh yes, my career. I started out, as a young woman, traveling to Latin America and writing about the dirty wars. I was a brave, foolish twenty-five-year-old girl -- yes, girl, though I would have fought that word at the time. I saw bodies, talked to refugees, dodged bombs. The only time I was really afraid was on nights before I got on the plane to go back down. I'd cut my deal with God. If I got killed this time, someone would have to feed my cat.
That was before I had human dependents.
After a few years, I burned out. I settled down. I made my mother happy. And when I got my normal life, my apartment, my family, it was like a gift. Every time I took a hot shower I was grateful. Gradually, I stopped reporting. I found work as an editor. I became -- theoretical.
"Where were you September eleventh?" Question of the year. I was at home, getting ready to go vote for Mark Green.
How many times did I vote for Mark Green? It was like Catholics and the weekly obligation.
The phone rings and it's my father in Oklahoma, "Is your TV on?" "No," I want to say. "Only people in Oklahoma have their TVs on at nine o'clock in the morning."
(Changes demeanor to talking-to-father mode)
"No," I say. "Why?" "A plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Musta been one of those little planes, pilot had a heart attack." "Dad," I said. "Maybe it's terrorism." He thought about it. "Why would someone do that?"
So I turned on the television and joined the witnesses of the world. I called my husband, who works on Thirty-first Street. So he could tell his office mattes and they could all go watch it out the window.
That moment marked the end of the Post-Modern Era.
So we all, in our assigned places, watch the second plane hit. We watch the towers go down.
And then, because I don't know what else to do, I go to the corner polling place and vote for Mark Green...
The week after the attack, I visit my sister in Park Slope. She lives in Park Slope because she's ten years younger than me. Over the ten years between us, the Upper West Side got priced out of the market.
I like Park Slope. It's more like my neighborhood used to be.
They just had another kid, three months old, and I needed to hold that baby. It was primal. That week you could have scored big in the rent-a-baby trade.
The phone rang; my sister answered. It was her friend the masseuse. Park Slope -- you have friends who are masseuses. You meet them at the bookstore coffee shop during poetry readings.
This friend was giving emergency massages to rescue workers. Look, she said. I've been working on this guy. Bad shape. He's a fire captain, and he just lost most of his men. He's got to give the eulogies. The first one is on Thursday. He -- can't write them. He needs a writer.
Well, I said. When was the last time I heard someone say they needed a writer? In faCt, that was just when we were all discovering our "crisis of marginality."
Everyone wanted to help. But we couldn't. They didn't want amateurs wandering around the site. They didn't want our blood. Even surgeons felt useless. A friend of mine went to volunteer. Plumbers and carpenters first, they said. Intellectuals to the back of the line.
The firefighter needs a writer.
I called him. He lived down the block. Come now, I said. I have a few hours. My sister took the baby out for the day.
I knew exactly what to expect. Fire captain. Big guy. Works out.
Joan: (addressing the audience) "Are you okay?" That was what we all kept asking each other the rest of September. What was the answer? The pebble's dropped in the water. The point of entry is you, yourself. Were you present at ground zero and wounded, suffocated, or covered in white ash? No? I guess you're okay.
The first ring around the pebble: "Is your family okay?" Did you lose someone in the towers or on the planes?
The next ripple -- friends. "Are your people okay?"
Next ripple: If someone died in the tower that you had dinner with once and thought was a really nice person, are you okay?
Next: If you look at a flyer of a missing person in the subway and you start to lose it, are you okay?
If all the flyers are gone one day. They're -- gone. Are you okay?
Is anyone okay?
That first week I bought a coffee at Starbucks on the way to work, and the guy at the counter handed me my cup and said, "Here's your change. God bless America." And I took a breath and said, "Are your people okay?" And he said, "Only two missing." Only two. And I said...(In a strained voice) "I hope you can find comfort."
Only people from Oklahoma talk to servers in coffee shops. But at least there you can say, "God bless." Here, you don't know if they have a God, or if you have a God -- or if anyone has a God, it's the same God. That wants the same things...
We all travel in our track: neighborhood, job, friends. Parents of your children's friends. No matter how big a city gets, the only way to live in it is to live in your village. You get to a certain age, the next person you meet has a logical connection to the ones that came before. Friend of a friend.
Nick and I weren't supposed to meet. You couldn't create another sequence for his life that leads to me. Or for my life that leads to him. After September eleventh, all over the city, people were jumping tracks.
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