The day was three days after my twenty-first birthday. I’d been insomniac almost the whole week before, owing to the late summer heat, to a soft mattress spooning a concavity of bed springs, to hay fever in the harvest season, and to headaches. At the end of these sleepless nights the girl I was dating spent the night with me, laying peacefully beside me in that awful bed. Finally I slept, waking only once, with a start, from the nightmare image of a plane that wouldn’t land — an image so alarming I forced myself back into sleep to dream out a happy ending. After which I enjoyed a weekend of rest.
On Monday night she plied my agreement to a morning jog. Tuesday morning she came to my dorm room to pick me up, rushing in with an unfamiliar breathless look. She said, “I heard something about a bomb at the Pentagon.” She asked if I’d heard. I hadn’t.
Immediately she had me by the wrist and out running our circuit through the neighborhood to the bank of the river that ran through town, a quiet, shaded strip of lawn where geese attacked and shat. The day was warm and clear. I remember the noise of our sneakers and the color of the skies, the green and the dirt, the bricks and the siding. We chatted and laughed.
When we turned back towards campus every radio and TV in that small Iowa town seemed to be on, and every door and window open on every living room, garage, and pickup truck, and one broadcast after another delivered the news fragment by fragment.
What brought her rushing to my room was not “a bomb at the Pentagon,” It wasn’t the act or the event that set her sprinting. It was a sudden new universe sprawling to close over the one we’d known. It was a meaning that ran deeper than the evidence. It wasn’t a premonition of military adventure, of recession, of devolving civil discourse. It wasn’t facts or identities, wasn’t a doling out of victim and aggressor, wasn’t rage or fear or grievance or an ache for justice.
It wasn’t anything beyond the instinct that everything we understood was changing, now, for us and everyone we knew. Which is why she sought to shield me from it, and why yanked me to the sidewalk for one last jog, stealing for the two of us together every minute of that morning she could grab.