On the morning of September 11, 2001, my Albino Ex — who was then just my beau of three years’ standing — called me to ask if I’d been listening to the news. I hadn’t. “Someone just flew a plane into the Pentagon,” he said. Since the Pentagon is three miles from me, this got my attention; so did the shaken disbelief in his voice. The Ex is a red-white-and-blue Obama Republican, a Federal worker with a security clearance and a Boys’ Own Paper brand of naive, disarming nationalism that calls to mind a World War Two-era poster. We had no idea what was going to happen next, of course. I think it crossed both our minds that we might not see each other again; it’s easy to forget, as rapidly as things developed, how uncertain those first few hours were.
He walked home from downtown that day, an hours-long march under a cloudless late-summer sky that left him poached like a lobster. We spent our spare moments in the next few days listening to the emergency services on his scanner.
We remain on good terms, he and I, though he drop-kicked me in 2003 and weeks at a time go by without our communicating. These days I wouldn’t normally think of calling him at nearly eleven on a Sunday evening, but I know he’s not someone to keep the TV on or monitor a Twitter feed.
I dialed the number. He sounded alarmed and groggy.
“The news outlets are all saying bin Laden is dead and we have his body,” I told him.
He has an unsettling, gleeful tenor laugh. It started on a light note of disbelief while he turned on the cable television, then mounted to an operatic buoyancy. He managed to get a news update from Al Jazeera, of all things, and after a few seconds I left him to it.
America closed an account tonight, whatever anyone thinks about the cost. I am not sure what it says about our country, or human nature in general, when Twitter updates from everywhere are extolling the uniting, inspiring effect of a man’s death, even a diabolus like Osama. I just remember the shattered inflection in that first unexpected phone call, and the surreal perfection of the September sky.
I gave tonight’s news back to the man who called me that morning.