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Not a Book Story

For months afterwards I had the same dream. It was morning, and I walked off the PATH train, wove through the morning hubbub at the World Trade Center, pushed through the turnstile, and made my way to Borders Bookstore, my favorite shortcut to the new federal building where I managed a library.

It wasn’t even the most common way I walked to work in the late 1990s. Like a lot of savvy regulars, I usually walked through a dark, dank, but extremely useful tunnel connecting the WTC to the subway system, which deposited me a block or two from my office. The tunnel sheltered me from the elements–and walking at street-level, I once arrived at work coated with ice head to foot from a storm–but to a biblioholic, the bookstore fed my soul, tickling me with classics and new titles, many laid out on tables so I could finger their covers as I passed through the front door and out onto Broadway.

But it wasn’t really the bookstore that bothered me (a week after the disaster, I received an email assuring me that everyone who worked there had survived, surely the happiest email I’ve ever received from a company). It was the scene before it, which endlessly replayed a moment one day when I pushed through the turnstile of the PATH station.

That day, my coat caught on the turnstile as I pushed through it, and a button popped off. Despite the voices and shouting and tooting trains, I could hear that button click and bounce on the pavement behind me, and I turned my head. For the first and last time, I had a view of the crowd I was part of in my morning journey while I was so intent on eyeing the latest titles on the short-stories table before I rushed into my office and started my all-important day. Their faces, in the manner of New Yorkers, were guarded and tilted toward the ground, but for a brief moment I saw them not as a crowd pushing to work, but as individuals who were part of my own coursing life and as vulnerable as baby birds.

The dreams stopped when I returned to visit Lower Manhattan and as much as I could, repeated that walk the path to work. But sometimes in my waking moments I see those rushing people with their downturned faces and their fashionably dark clothes, and I wonder what happened to them, if they were all right.

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