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Robert Olen Butler Official Website


For 9/11, the Tenth Anniversary

Kevin Smith, 32, advertising copywriter
Julia Hanson Smith, 30, graphics designer

in their apartment in Brooklyn, the night of September 11, 2001

Kevin

I know the night is filled with smoke and with fire and I would not have thought it would be my wife clinging to me now because of what I have done: I should have gone out the door last night after my clumsiness, she was half-turned at the stove, the steam rising before her from the boiling rice, and all that I’d planned carefully to say came out impulsively, simply, badly, I am in love and she knew it was not her and she laid the lid on the pot and she turned her back to me and later we sat in chairs in the dark of our living room for a long while, the pot charred black on the stove, and I did not go and then it was this morning and then the long day and I am in love and I think it is not with her, but tonight, in this moment, we dare not change a thing

Julia

how can it be so quiet from across the river, if you do not make yourself look you might never realize the terrible thing going on, and he and I do not look, we know but we choose for this night not to look, even into our own hearts, though I can hear faintly through the wall someone weeping and from another place the murmur of television voices, and I see myself standing in an open window high above the city: I cannot go back inside and I cannot step into the empty air, and from this distance I am only a figure standing in a window, I can only try to imagine what I am feeling

Kevin Smith, 38, advertising executive
Julia Hanson, 36, art gallery manager

in her Manhattan apartment, October 16, 2007

Kevin

our words–only an hour ago, in a coffee shop in the West Village, each of us alone at a table, and then an accidental synchronicity of glances over the Times and then her hesitation—for it was her decision to make—and then her yes, I’ll rise and come to you—our words still run through my head like reefer smoke, smoothing things over, blurring what our bodies remembered of the last time You look good I said So do you she said Are you still she began and I interrupted No I said too sharply and I knew she wanted more and I said Another man and she laughed, but gently, Perhaps it was with the man who just left me she said and we looked into each other’s eyes and we knew we were both burned down, we were both rubble, and I move now inside her and she splays her hands hard on my back and when we are done, when I can find my breath, my voice, I will say I’m sorry

Julia

a thing that was gone all this time, a small thing, now that it has returned I understand how badly I missed it, the thumb edge of his right hand, how as he begins to move inside me he always strokes my hair with that edge of his hand, for a long while, and I turn my face a little in that direction I want to kiss his hand and I imagine these past few years unwinding—I unweep, I unpretend I am in love, I undeceive myself, I unfuck, I unmeet a man I force myself to care for, and I go all the way back to us, to my husband and me, we undivorce, we unfall, we unburn, the world we knew unchanges—but this is a small thing, his familiar hand upon my hair, and I know that even on a bright clear morning something terrible can fly in your window, but until then I will kiss his hand and we will try once more

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