mp’s rating: 3.5/5
One Tuesday Morning is a tale of love, portraying the lives of those who are forever changed because of what happened on September 11. It is also a tale of one’s deep faith in God, and how the link between a husband and a wife is not easily broken.
Though it was fiction, Karen Kingsbury’s novel moved my eyes to tears, it was sad, piercing, and vivid – so vivid that I could imagine the rocking building, the people on fire, and those who know that they had only seconds to live – and what did they do in those brief moments.
If you have been affected personally by the event of September 11, I urge you to read this beautiful novel. Even if you don’t, it’s a beautiful life story, you won’t be sorry.
an excerpt from the novel
September 11, 2001; 9:45 a.m.
Eric Michaels could feel the building vibrating.
It started with the explosion somewhere above him, a blast that had knocked Eric and everyone in the outside hallway to their knees. Immediately his phone had gone dead, and at the same moment, Allen raced up to him. Together they ran into the main area where dozens of people were screaming at once. What had earlier been merely grave concern and alarm was now full-fledged panic.
“We’ve been hit! We’ve been – ”
“A plane…another plane! A plane went through the – ”
“It was coming right at us, then it disappea – ”
The voices had shouted simultaneously, and it had been impossible to make sense of any of them. What Eric and Allen had been able to get was the obvious. A second plane had crashed into their building and they needed to get out fast.
“Elevators are out!” Someone screamed the news, and a mass of people headed for the stairwells. There were three in the building, and each of them would eventually connect with the lobby. Eric considered joining the group. After all, the battery on his cell phone was dead and Laura would be waiting for his call. Probably frantic by now. TV news would be reporting that a second plane crashed into the south tower and she’d assume he was somehow in the middle of the carnage.
But just as he turned toward the stairs, Allen grabbed his sleeve. “There’s no hurry, Eric. The stairs will be packed with people.” Allen cast a quick look back toward the office of Koppel and Grant. “I have three foreign transactions that have to be made now. Before the morning’s up.”
Eric turned and stared at Allen. The man was crazy. “Can’t you feel it?” His words ran together and he had to fight to keep from pulling away and running for the stairs. “The place is shaking, Allen. We need to go.”
“Look.” Anger flashed in Allen’s eyes. “Those crazy terrorists have done enough damage – they aren’t going to ruin a couple hundred thousand dollar purchases on top of it.”
Eric’s heart raced. He looked from Allen to the crowd at the stairwell and back at his boss again. It would take five minutes, ten even, for the crowd of people to file into the stairwell. “Okay.” He took off toward the office, and Allen fell in step beside him. “But let’s make it fast.”
They rounded the corner through the door of Koppel and Grant and jogged back to Allen’s office. Allen worked the keyboard while Eric read from a handful of files. Ten minutes into the transaction, Hank Walden, one of their top financial managers, stuck his head in the office. “Guys, they’ve ordered an evacuation.” The man’s eyes were wide, his breathing short and ragged. “Everyone out of the building.”
Eric was about to say something when Allen held his hand up. “Look, there’s no smoke on this floor.” He kept his eyes on the screen. “We’ll be finished in thirty minutes, forty at the most. We’ll lose thousands of dollars if I wait on this.”
Walden shrugged, then exchanged a desperate look with Eric. “We don’t have a choice, sir. The building’s in trouble.”
Allen waved him off without looking up. “The building’s fine.” He shot a hurried look at Walden. “Go! We’ll be right behind you.”
With a final glance at Eric, Walden disappeared, his footsteps echoing down the hallway and out into the main corridor.
Eric stared at Allen. “Can’t it wait, sir? No one else in New York City is working right now.”
Allen only pointed to the files in Eric’s hands and kept typing. Ten more minutes passed and Eric felt something change, something in the way the building trembled. Maybe it was his imagination, but the shaking seemed worse, more noticeable. Eric glanced out the window at the chaos reigning six hundred feet below. Buildings like this one were on rollers, weren’t they? They could explain the movement – especially with the inferno blazing above them. But what if that wasn’t the reason the building was trembling? Sixty-four floors was an awful long way up.
“Sir…” he set the files on the desk and stood. “I’m going. I have a family to think about.”
“You know, Eric…” Allen stopped typing and gave him a sad, disappointed frown. “I thought you were committed.”
Eric hated the way his boss’s comment made him feel weak. He gave a single shake of his head. “I am committed, sir. I think we should both go. The building doesn’t feel right.”
This time Allen sat back, crossed his arms and leveled his gaze at Eric. “You’re not the man I though you were, Eric.” He mumbled something under his breath as he looked back at the screen. Then without making eye contact with Eric again, he waved his hand. “Go…join the others. I’ll finish it by myself.”
Eric didn’t wait for a response. He turned and raced down the hallway, hurrying through the maze of desks and partition boards as he made for the stairs. Along the way he found a man in his early twenties typing frantically.
“What’re you doing? The building’s being evacuated.”
“No one ordered an evacuation.” The man’s fingers kept moving. “I have a deadline to meet.”
“Listen, pal,” Eric’s tone was frantic. “No one has to order an evacuation on a day like this. An airplane crashed into the building a few floors up and the fire’s headed this way.” Eric glanced at the wall, looking for the place where the computer was plugged in. “Get out!”
The man stopped typing and sent a vicious look at Eric. “It’s my life, man. Leave me alone. I get a bonus if I finish this thing today.” He pursed his lips. “I’m not letting some fire twenty floors up stop me, you got that?”
Eric huffed and spun around, running once more for the stairs. If the guy wanted to stay, what was that to Eric? He reached the stairwell a minute later and jerked the door open. The place was empty, and he took the steps at a full trot. At the fifty-third floor he began seeing firemen trudging their way up.
“Anyone else up there?” one firefighter asked him.
“My boss…he has a few transactions to finish.” Eric huffed, trying to catch his breath. “And a crazy guy on a deadline. Won’t leave his desk.”
The firefighters nodded and continued up. They were breathing hard, carrying what looked like fifty pounds of equipment each and refusing to slow down in their quest for victims. Eric resumed his pace and at the forty-third floor, he caught up with the line of people, all moving steadily down the stairs one flight at a time. That’s when he noticed something.
The shaking was getting worse.
He could hear windows rattling beyond the stairwell, feel a subtle sway from above. Eric kept up with the group, wishing they could walk faster. What did the building’s movement mean? Were helicopters dropping water on the fire? Or were the flames enough to shake a hundred floors of cement and steel? Whatever the cause, Eric didn’t want to think about it. There was nothing he could do; nothing any of them could do but keep taking the stairs.
One step at a time.
The business people making their way down were orderly and calm. Probably in shock, Eric figured. He knew none of them and the people from Koppel and Grant were probably twenty floors below him by now. Every time they cleared a landing, Eric would glance at the number on the door.
Six more floors and then it happened. Eric tripped on a briefcase left in the stairwell and tumbled face first down five steps. A piercing pain burned sliced his ankle and he struggled to right himself. At that instant, a hand reached out for his. Eric grabbed it, and as he worked to get his feet beneath him again, a firefighter helmet fell against his chest.
People were making their way down the stairs, still inching past Eric as he let the firefighter pull him to a sitting position. The man’s helmet was near Eric’s feet now, and he took hold of it. But just as he went to hand it back to whichever firefighter had helped him, something caught his attention, something inside the helmet. Eric peered at it and his heart skipped a beat.
It was a photograph of a little girl, four or five years old. And beneath the photo, in a child’s printing, was written the name, “Sierra.” Both were taped firmly to the inside of the helmet. Eric felt a lump in his throat as he leaned up to return it. With people still making their way past him, Eric locked eyes on the firefighter and felt his breath catch in his throat.
The fireman was staring at him, too. And now that Eric could see the man clearly, the reason was obvious. The two of them could’ve been twins. Eric blinked hard. Was he seeing things? He’d heard of strangers having an uncanny resemblance. But he’d never seen anyone who looked this much like him. Never. The short dark hair, square jaw, high cheekbones, blue eyes. Even their builds were the same.
Looking at the firefighter was like looking at a mirror.
Eric’s mouth hung open and he couldn’t look away. So far the entire incident had taken five seconds – more than either of them had. Eric rose to his feet, his eyes still glued to the firefighter’s. “Thank you.” He handed the helmet out toward the man.
“That’s…that’s my little girl.” The firefighter took his helmet back from Eric and set it on his head. “Better keep walking.”
“Thanks …” Eric wanted to say more. He wanted to thank the man not just for helping him up after his fall, but for risking his life, for gambling on the fact that the precious little Sierra whose picture was taped to the inside of the helmet, might never see him again.
But the moment passed, and the firefighter nodded. Then he continued his climb up into the building. Eric worked his way back into the stream of people heading down, wincing at the pain in his ankle. There was nothing he could do about it now. They had to get out of the building.
Eric moved down the steps, but something about the firefighter’s expression and the picture of the little girl, Sierra, stayed with him. Haunted him. As long as he lived, he would remember forever the child’s face, the way she smiled at him from the underside of the firefighter’s helmet.
He reached floor number twelve…eleven…ten…
How could he describe the look he’d seen in the man’s eyes? It had been a knowing, almost. A sense that somehow both men knew that only one of them was going to come out of the building alive. And more than that, there was a peace in the firefighter’s eyes. A peace that Eric knew nothing of.
Eric’s ankle was numb now, and his heart raced within him from the exertion. But none of that mattered. The only thing he could think about was Sierra and her firefighter father. For a moment, he thought about praying for the man. But then, what good would that do? The firefighter was going up, heading straight toward the crash site. And the building was shaking more now than before.
He won’t be coming out, will he God? He’s going to die and Sierra won’t ever see her Daddy again. For what? The people upstairs are probably dead by now anyway. Smoke and heat and fumes. Who could possibly live through the nightmare that had to be happening from the crash site up.
Eric hesitated for a full second. Maybe he could run up and find the man, grab him and insist he come down with the other sensible people. That way they could talk about their resemblance and compare notes. Were they related somehow? Was the man a distant cousin who had been born with identical features as Eric? If the firefighter continued making his way upstairs, Eric was almost certain he’d never know, never see the man again.
But there were too many people in the stairwell, and he had no choice but to keep moving down with the others. Six floors left, five… The shaking was getting worse now, bending the stairwell as though it was made of rubber.
“Get us out of here!” one man shouted from three floors up. “The whole thing’s gonna’ come down.”
The whole thing? Even with the shaking, that was an idea Eric hadn’t considered. Could the World Trade Center actually collapse? An ominous creaking came from somewhere in the core of the building as Eric rounded a corner onto the last floor. God help me! Just four more sets of stairs and I’ll be out!
He moved as quickly as the crowd in front of him would allow, but even as he did he thought one more time of the firefighter, and the little girl who obviously mattered so much to him. Almost at the same time another thought hit him. Why wasn’t he worried about his own child, Josh, the boy he had never made time for? And what about Laura? If the World Trade Center collapsed now, he’d die without having told them the truth – that he did love them, even if he never showed it.
Never said it.
Sorrow filled his heart as he moved his feet one step at a time. What had he done? He’d put success and position and money ahead of the people in his life. Laura, the woman he’d loved from the moment he first saw her. And Josh, the child who looked so much like her. The truth was, he didn’t even know the boy.
And as he bounded down the stairs, he begged God for something he would never have thought to ask for prior to the disaster that morning.
A second chance.
Jake and Larry and Maxwell jogged up the last thirty floors. They were gasping for breath as they pushed their way onto the sixty-first floor, the site of the command center they’d been told to set up. There by the elevator bank were twelve other firefighters, each working over victims sprawled out on the floor. Several men – including one Jake had worked with before – were administering CPR.
“What can we do?” Maxwell lurched ahead with Jake and Larry behind him.
“They told us the elevators were working.” One of the men looked up, his face weary. “We sent two men and five victims down eight minutes ago. So far nothing’s come back.”
“You mean the car stopped working?” Jake came up alongside a woman whose arms and torso were burned nearly to the bone. He felt her neck for a pulse, but it was weak and thready. She was a pretty woman, in her mid-twenties with a wedding ring. Somewhere, her husband was probably crazy with worry about her, the same way Jamie was no doubt feeling about him.
“Hey, buddy.” Larry came up beside him. “She’s not going to make it.”
“I know.” Futility welled up inside Jake. He had trained for this type of work, but a disaster like the one they were fighting was so much bigger than anything they could’ve prepared for. After hiking up sixty-one floors, Jake was exhausted, and now that they’d arrived, there was so little they could do.
Maxwell was still asking about the elevator.
“The building’s moving too much to keep an elevator car moving right.” One of the men answered. “My guess is we’re waiting for nothing. We’ll need to carry these people down.”
“What about the crash site?” Maxwell, too, had positioned himself near one of the victims and was doing his best to help.
“Seventy eight has several men at it right now. They’re talking to us on the radio. It’s…it’s worse than anything they’ve ever seen.”
Jake stood and counted the victims. Eighteen, and just fifteen firefighters. “There’s more men on the way up. Let’s get the most serious onto our backs and start down again.”
“He’s right.” Larry straightened and stood next to Jake. “By the time we get everyone loaded up, the others will be here.”
A cry came from the burned woman, the one on the floor near Jake. “Pleeeaase. Please someone … help me.”
Jake was on his knees instantly. This time the building was moving so much that his words vibrated when he spoke. “I’m h-h-here…we’re getting help as fast as we can.”
The woman was quiet a moment, in and out of consciousness. She moaned again. “Prayer. Someone to… pray with me…pleeeaase.”
Without looking for approval, Jake took hold of the woman’s fingers – the only part of her arms not burned. “Come on, Larry, get down here with me.”
Larry dropped at the woman’s other side and took hold of her knee. “Go ahead.”
As the other men tended to the victims, and struggled to load them on their backs, the building beneath them groaned and creaked. Jake understood what the sound meant. The steel supports were melting, giving way more with each passing second.
A shattering sound pierced the room like a gunshot, and everyone jumped. The noise was followed by another, and another. Jake glanced toward the sound. Windows were breaking, popping out from the force of the twisting structure.
Jake glanced at the others. The reality of what was about to happen was clear to every one of the firefighters around him. The tower was coming down. They were sixty-one floors off the ground and about to be buried beneath tons of cement, steel, and burning jet fuel.
“Larry…” Jake met his friend’s eyes. They were still kneeling on the floor on either side of the burned young woman. “We’re not gonna’ make it buddy. Not this time.”
“Nope.” Larry bit his lip and shook his head. His voice was a choked whisper. “I love you, JB. You’ve been like a brother.”
“You, too. I never thought…” Jake’s voice cracked. “I’m … I’m gonna’ miss my girls.”
“We can’t think like that. They’ll be with us soon enough, right?” Larry’s eyes welled up. “Until then I’ll still be watching your back.”
“Right.” Jake tried to sort through his feelings. Fear, anxiety, but most of all a deep sadness. Because he’d never know Jamie’s kiss again, never get lost in her eyes. And because he wasn’t going to give Sierra her horsie ride that night, after all. He dropped his head, nearly overcome. What about your promise, God…What about Jamie’s soul? He let the thought pass. “If I could … if I could have one more day with them.”
The building lurched. Jake looked at the other firefighters. They were wide-eyed, but still they went about their business, voices calm, operating on a sort of automatic pilot, the result of training that would have them working the rescue as long as they drew breath.
None of them were here with their best friend, the way Jake was. Another loud creaking sounded above them.
“Hey.” Larry reached across the woman and gripped Jake’s shoulder. “I’ll meet you on the other side.” His hands shook. “Look for me, okay?”
Jake nodded as the woman between them on the floor moaned again. “Pray. Praaaay…”
Yes, that’s exactly what they needed. The building was swaying harder now. They had seconds, minutes at best. Jake gripped Larry’s arm so they were linked together on one side, forming a bridge over the burned woman. “God, this is our most desperate hour. We beg you to be kind and merciful, swift and sure. Bring us home safely where we can live with you forever.”
“Jake…” Maxwell moved closer and hunched near the feet of the woman. “I…I don’t know much about Jesus.”
Jake opened his eyes and stared at his captain. The man was gruff and seasoned, a weathered veteran with the attitude of a street fighter and the mouth of a drunken sailor. Jake had never considered inviting the man to church, never dreamed of talking to him about prayer let alone Jesus.
But here, the need was painfully obvious and Maxwell wanted answers in a hurry.
“Jesus is the Son of God.” Jake’s voice was strong and it filled the area near the elevators. “He died for your sins. For mine. He’s alive now in heaven,” Jake caught Larry’s gaze and held it, “making a place for everyone who believes in Him, everyone who accepts His free gift of salvation.”
Maxwell was nodding. “I want that. What do I need to do? Tell me quick…”
“Pray with me.” Jake looked around the room. “Any of you who want Jesus now, pray with me.” He closed his eyes and ignored the sadness, ignored the images of Jamie and Sierra and the home they shared together. Instead he concentrated on the prayer…the last prayer he would pray this side of heaven. “Lord, I’m a sinner and I’m sorry for the things I’ve done that have kept me from you.”
Around the room, hurried voices joined Maxwell’s as the prayer was repeated. Jake pushed on, his voice stronger with each word. “I believe you are the Son of God and I want your gift of salvation. I need a Savior.”
In unison now, both the conscious victims and the firefighters repeated Jake’s words. Some were already Christians, men Jake had seen at church or prayer services over the years. But in these, their final moments, there were no other words any of them would rather be saying.
Jake was yelling now, wanting to be heard above the sounds coming from the building. “I believe you’re preparing a place for me …” From not far above them, a roar began to build until it sounded like a thousand freight trains headed straight for them. Jake squeezed Larry’s shoulder and hoped that somehow the next life would offer him a window to the one here. That way he could at least see Jamie and Sierra, pray for them and watch them live their lives. Even if he could never hold them again. The deafening noise was too loud to be heard over, but Jake continued anyway. “A place in heaven …where we’ll be together even this very d – ”
The ceiling collapsed on top of them and Jake began to tumble, his arm still linked with Larry’s. A crushing feeling wrapped itself around Jake and sucked the air from his body. He could still feel Larry, still sense his presence beside him, but the roar was suffocating now and darkness smothered them.
Then slowly, gradually, the darkness gave way to light. The most brilliant, peaceful light Jake had ever seen. His last thought was not about sadness or terror or loss of any kind. Rather it was a prayer. That one day, Jamie would believe.
Because he could already feel the place where he was headed, already see it somehow. It was a land so amazing, so full of love and goodness and beauty that Jamie would want to go tomorrow if only she knew.
Yes, she had to believe. God had assured him of that, hadn’t He? And that final knowing was enough to help Jake let go, enough to help him give himself over to the light that lay ahead of him. Enough to believe that one day this long goodbye would be over and they’d be together again. Not just for a day or a year or a lifetime.