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A student walked in late to first period and I gave him a hard time about it. "A plane just hit the Pentagon," he said with a smile and a shrug. "It was cool." He wasn't the most reliable narrator so I ignored what he said, filing it away as a lame excuse or something he misunderstood on TV. I taught the rest of the class, trying to get the teenagers to decide whether Jay Gatsby brought upon his own death by choosing an unrealistic dream or whether America had let him down by creating that dream in the first place.
No one knew what to do. Someone set up a television in the library so people could watch the coverage. Some students who had relatives in New York started crying and making phone calls. Teachers huddled in the hallways. Should we teach? Should the kids go home? Should we get more counselors? "I'll teach, no matter how many are in my class," I said, as if that were the noble thing to do. And I did, even though fewer and fewer kids came in to discuss the fate of a fictional man who threw extravagant parties and wore pink suits.
A few days later, my high school girlfriend Stacy called to see how I was doing. I said I felt fine, but I should have said "numb." I had left Manhattan to come to New Mexico. Many of my high school and college friends lived and worked downtown or close enough. Even though by now I had seen the images on TV and listened to firsthand accounts on the radio coming into work, I had kept my distance. Isn't that why I had moved so far away? To get that distance? "Do you want to talk about Keith and Scott?" Stacy asked as kindly as if we were still in the throes of first love. Keith and Scott Coleman were two brothers I grew up with, the younger brothers of my best friend Todd. I worked for Keith one summer at a sloppy painting company called College Pro. Scott had answered the door when Stacy and I savagely wrecked her parents' Corvette in 1983. We all played soccer together on fields and in backyards, cooked and served square pizza together at a place called Arucudi's whose slogan was "We Don't Cut Corners."
I didn't understand.
"Oh, Rob," she said. "I thought you knew. Scott and Keith are missing."
Scott and Keith worked together on the same floor in one of the towers.
All that distance closed in on me and now I was trapped inside it.