The alarm rings out from 5:45 until my fingers crawl to the snooze button. By 6:15 God should be tired of my prayers for forgiveness for the prior hours spent in debauchery. Two boiled and peeled egg whites sit on a napkin in the microwave while I brush my teeth. I scrape the remaining waterproof eyeliner from my lids or rinse speckles of glitter from my face. I slide into a gym outfit, douse the egg whites in hot sauce and scoff them down as I hit the button for the elevator. After 45 minutes of obsessive body sculpting, I thank God for an amazing life.
This morning I felt the same, but it was a very different day. Sprawled across a bed at the Millennium Hotel, I was awakened by the sun blaring in tandem with that day’s alarm. Though the margarita pitcher was not at arm’s reach, my brief daydream of tanning nude with a 6’8” 240lb Small Forward on South Beach seemed tangible. Well, it did until the snoring of a 360lb Offensive Tackle beat out the second ringing of the clock radio. I looked over, shook my head, and thanked God that my Goliath bedmate hadn’t tried anything freaky with me.
I had met the recently separated oversized jock on Miami’s Ocean Drive less than 10 days before. After we had discussed the opportunity for my public relations firm to represent him, he invited me to sit in on a meeting with his lawyer, Johnny Cochran, in New York City. I had arrived in the city the night before and crashed with him downtown instead of my friend’s place in Harlem. It was closer to Mr. Cochran’s office and there was a gym.
On September 11, 2001, the alarm rang out at 5:45. Scheduled to meet in less than four hours, I threw on my favorite blue sweats with the red stripes down the side. The sweats were packed alongside my boiled eggs which I warmed in the water-filled coffee pot while I brushed and rinsed. I checked the mirror before I left and I grabbed a matching jacket to cover my sports bra. This wasn’t Miami – some discretion had to be taken.
As I left, I grabbed my key card, bank card, driver’s license, and Nextel. I figured everything else would manage without me for the short time during which I planned to be away. I jumped in the elevator with a mouthful of egg whites and happily headed to the gym.
I still remember fighting with the drops of sweat running from my hairline as I glided through my last five minutes on the elliptical. My fingertips were like windshield wipers keeping the mixture of sweat and hair gel out of my eyes. Meanwhile, I had done so many squats that my butt cheeks were aching, and of course, I told God all about it in the elevator ride up to the 39th floor. I don’t recall thinking much of what was in store at the meeting, but I was confident it would go as God had planned.
When I returned to the room, I realized my roommate had closed the blinds while I was away. The considerate by desperate sun lover in me re-opened the shades just a bit. My laptop sighed with relief, as the breath of sun prompted the giant to roll over, uncovering and hence saving the HP from its near death experience. He had fallen asleep with it after he checked his email, or played Solitaire, or did something. I pulled it off the bed and asked if it was okay to open the rest of the blinds. He didn’t respond. So, I slowly pulled all the blinds open to share the rays of sunlight that beautified the city. By the time I began to coil the laptop’s power cable in the shape of an eight, he sat up and looked at me like I was crazy.
And then there was thunder.
The explosion briefly invoked a Miami daydream of being soaked by a midday thunderstorm. We then rushed to the floor-to-ceiling windows only to see paper, thousands of sheets of white paper, drift through the air. The slow motion of the paper forced us to stand still in time. We stopped and watched it as it began to reach our eyelevel. I was in absolute awe that the top of the building across the street had just exploded.
“You mean to tell me they’re having a ticker tape parade and JC ain’t let us know?”
The idiocy of this guy calling Johnny Cochran “JC,” coupled with his parade theory, made me think he had mush for brains. I only responded with fear in my eyes before I immediately began to pray for guidance.
“Please stay in your rooms, your safety will not be guaranteed outside. There is too much debris falling from the air. I repeat, please stay in your rooms until further notice.”
I did not recognize the voice, but I knew it was not God’s. I began to get my things together and planned to get my aching ass out of that hotel. Meanwhile, we had turned the television on at some point. As soon as it was reported that a plane had flown off course by accident, God clearly spoke to me. I heard, “Planes don’t hit the World Trade Center by accident.”
I have no idea what the Hulk did as I packed his jewelry for him. I was focused on my conversation with God. I asked that this be an easy task. “God, get us out of here quickly and safely with everything which we had entered with.” That’s when God directed me to the buckets of red paint falling from the windows across the street. I was confused by these buckets of paint.
My mind spun, “Why are pails of paint plunging from the building. Did the plane crash on to a floor being renovated? Were people using the bucket to break the windows?”
I guess the mush-for-brains syndrome was contagious, fully transferable into another innocent bystander. All of a sudden, Mr. Not-So-Mushy-Brains alerted me of my idiocy. The paint buckets were not pails of paint at all – they were people.
People that must’ve endured the worst pain imagined.
Tears filled my eyes as quickly then as they do right now as I recount this realization. My hands trembled I lost my ability to breathe easily. I looked away from that particular window, and inadvertently looked towards another. That’s when I found myself standing a street’s width away from even more people. But these people, who were forced to make the unfathomable decision to jump, were clearly diving to their deaths right before my eyes. I sobbed as he pulled me away from the window after we silently witnessed several more tragedies.
Time flew beyond us and the last words he screamed in the room were, “Here comes another fucking plane!” I barely saw more than a slice of white before my strong, quick-thinking hero – my Super Man, literally carried me over the threshold to safety.
Needless to say, my morning ritual had not been broken this day and I believe it ended just as God had planned. He guided me to safety with the most unlikely Moses. Without diminishing the memory of those lost on September 11, 2001, I have to say that the best usually does come out of all of us in the worst situations. I am blessed to have survived that day. Thank you, Orlando ‘Zeus’ Brown – may your valiant soul experience life in God’s realm forever.
Orlando “Zeus” Brown
December 12, 1970 – September 23, 2011