The tragedy of September 11, 2001 left us each trying to fill a uniquely unfamiliar void in our spirit with something that will make us whole again. Somehow we need to feel the experience in a way that following the news coverage just doesn't accomplish. Brian W. Vaszily found a way, and shares it with us in this brilliant anthology of thoughts, feelings, desires and dreams that were cut short on that terrible Tuesday. Through imagined characters he does what no news story or survivor's account can--he brings us into the lives of the departed--people so much like our friends, our families, and ourselves--as their final minutes play out. This uplifting work gently guides the reader beyond the tragedy of stone and steel to reaffirm what is truly important about being alive. [Cover art by Mary Z. Wolf]
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
In fourth grade, Brian Vaszily's first story received an award in an Illinois contest where the poet Gwendolyn Brooks told him, "You've really got a knack for this, young man, keep working at it." He kept working at it, with fiction and non-fiction contributions to various magazines, newspapers, and a book anthology, as well as two unpublished novels. Brian grew up in Chicago, earned his B.A. in English from Northern Illinois University, and currently resides in a northwest suburb of Chicago, where he absolutely adores his wife, son, stepdaughter, two cats, and even his untrainable dog. Beyond Stone and Steel: A Memorial to the September 11, 2001 Victims is his first published book.
"Of the many, many books published since September 11, 2001, by experts and analysts as well as established and first-time authors, Beyond Stone and Steel represents a few of the most moving, thought-provoking and inspiring titles. As the sharp pain of September 11th's needless attack on our country settles into a dull ache, most of us are left shaking our heads and wondering whether the renewed "spirit of America" we experienced directly after the tragedy will last much longer. This book recreates that spirit and brings it into poignant focus. If you felt even a tremor of emotion during that first week of horror, when images of crashing planes and falling towers flickered constantly on our televisions and in our minds, you must read Beyond Stone and Steel. 5 stars Highly Recommended"Sonya Bateman -- BookReviewClub.com
"Obviously, this is not easy or pleasant reading. For some, attempting to read this book is a permanent impossibility. For everyone else, this is a must read. If this book can help the grief process, if it can give those left behind even a glimpse of what was going through the minds of their loved ones just before the end, then Vaszily has done a Great Service. It is well worth reading."-- Dead Tree Reviews
"While most Americans have gotten back to their routines, the images and feelings of 9/11 will continue to haunt us for generations, much the way the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger or the assassination of President Kennedy does. We move on, but we remember. Vaszily imagined details of those beyond the stone and steel "because I needed to, because no matter where else I've gone and what else I've tried to do since that first footage of Flight 175 heading for the South Tower, my mind keeps taking me inside those planes and buildings. I have full faith that I got their essence right," he said. Judge for yourself. Here is a sample: "I was a soldier. Age 22. I was in the Pentagon. And I was just killed. It surprises me that, if I were allowed to come back for just one day, I would not grab my gun to hunt down my killers with my brothers and sisters in arms. I would call my mom. For more than three weeks, I have not called her. For almost six months, I have not been back to Texas to see her. And now, never again." Pick the book up, remember, then wipe your eyes and go call your mother."Jean Peerenboom -- Green Bay Press-Gazette
Flight 175, 7:58 a.m.
MAURO RAMIREZ adored his children. When he held his wife on the couch or in bed, she would sometimes whisper her wish in his ear, that he spend less time working and more at home. He would pull her closer and confide that his only dream was for his children to receive a strong education and grow into successful adults.
He has experienced his share of hardship, Mauro would tell her, but all in all it has been a good life. A wonderful life, because he was lucky enough to find her. But, he would add, he wants to make sure his children's lives are even better. Here in the Land of Opportunity, it can happen. It will happen.
Like all parents, Mauro had specific visions of who his children might become.
His daughter, with her quick wit and deep need to always have the last word, a trial attorney standing up for the rights of oppressed individuals everywhere. His son, a professional soccer player kicking the winning goal for the U.S. Olympic team. Okay, he knew these were massive goals, and they were not necessarily goals belonging to his kids (although soccer heroes plastered his son's walls). But a man can fantasize, can't he?
All he really wanted, he would tell his wife after placing the night's kiss on her lips, is for them to be happy. To be happy.
He checked again to make sure his seat buckle was fastened.
Behind Mauro, Janice Wilkington stared out her window at the Logan Airport employee directing their plane with his fluorescent batons. She would someday lead her own company.
That vision inspired her through college, pushed her to hit the library on those nights when it seemed everyone else was primping their hair and painting their faces to hit the local bars. At least it inspired her on most of those nights.
She wasn't sure what her business would specialize in yet--perhaps a market research firm, or perhaps even the chain of pet stores she and her brother, as little kids, used to play that they owned.
If it were pet stores, she'd make sure her dogs and cats came from reputable breeders who treated all their animals humanely. That'd be rule number one, executive edict. She'd even offer her brother a job, but just like when they played, he'd have to report to her. And clean out their cages.
Whatever business Janice eventually opened, she would pour in every ounce of her energy to make it succeed. It wouldn't have to be another Microsoft or Wal-Mart--would be nice, though!--but it would have to be an example to all other businesses in terms of quality of product and service, and how she treated her employees. No wages below double the minimum wage, not even for the most basic jobs. Free daycare benefits, and generous absence of leave policies for both mothers and fathers of new babies. And lots of company outings, since people don't get enough time to enjoy themselves as it is.
A feeling of eagerness welled inside Janice; she'd be completing her studies soon and then starting that first real job, the one paying more--hopefully a lot more--than the internship. She'd pour it on there, and continue pouring it on. Look out world, here comes Janice!
Yes, she'd absolutely lead her own company someday, and it would be a damned good place to work.
* * * *
"YOU FIXING up your home?" Marla Capinstadt asked the man leafing through a home improvement magazine next to her.
If the economy ever improved and her stock options panned out, she hoped to find a big dilapidated Victorian in some small town that she and her husband could fix up. Paint it pink and blue and white, lay solid oak floors in every room of the house, hang frilly white curtains in the kitchen windows. They'd open it as a bed and breakfast.
"I live in a condo, a high-rise," the man, Bjorn Henson, smiled. "Don't want to have anything to do with maintaining a house, actually. Magazine's just something to look at." Instead, Bjorn dreamed of visiting every major winery in the world. He'd start with France, of course, and work his way across all of Europe. Then he'd hit Napa Valley--he'd been there once, but only briefly--and sip his way across North America. On to South America, whose wines had steadily improved over recent years, then over to Australia and Asia and the most exotic destinations. He had it all planned out.
"Why? You happen to be a carpenter?" Bjorn asked Marla.
She chuckled. "Not yet. I work with computers. But I intend to be."
The Victorian bed and breakfast would have a white spiral staircase on the interior. Whether spiral staircases were Victorian or not. And each bedroom would have a different theme patterned after famous historical figures. A Napoleon Room, Queen Victoria Room, Captain Cook Room, Peter Pan Room. Peter Pan wasn't exactly historical, she knew that, but one of the rooms had to be whimsical. Fun. And she always loved Peter Pan. The dining room, meanwhile, would be pure Frank Lloyd Wright. Not Victorian at all, but it was their bed and breakfast, they could design it however they wanted. And every morning, the smell of pancakes and bacon would waft from the kitchen into that dining room, then curl up the staircase and into each of the bedrooms, luring the guests out. Only problem was, Marla and her husband both hated to cook. They ate out way too much. But maybe the Victorian would change that.
"You going to build your own house, then?" Bjorn continued.
"No. My husband and I are going to buy an old house somewhere and fix it up. Make it a bed and breakfast. Just as soon as we get rich."
"Ah, yes. And I'd love to spend a whole month there, just as soon as I get rich." Bjorn winked at Marla, and she grinned back. They continued talking.
* * * *
WHEN ERICA Bristle's daddy asked her on her recent fourth birthday what she wanted to be when she grew up, Erica said, "A million-billionaire." When he asked her what she'd do with all that money, Erica said, "I'd buy you and mommy a ship with a pool, a mansion all for Shelty, and every game that ever existed for me. And I'd get grandma a pair of golden slippers." Shelty was their collie.
Erica loved to play board games like Candyman and Chutes and Ladders. In fact, her daddy, warm and tall next to her, had promised to pull out a portable version of Connect Four as soon as the plane was in the air, and she hoped she'd win.
* * * *
"LET ME help you with that," Dean Flannagan offered Eleanor Borolle as she struggled to fit her bag into the overhead compartment.
She thanked Dean and allowed him to take control of the task while carefully lowering herself into her seat.
The pilot who had greeted her upon entering the plane, with his deep voice, broad smile and shoulders and especially that spicy musk scent, reminded her of her first boyfriend from some sixty-odd years before. He was a quality young man, that old boyfriend--not right for her with his crazy ideas and daredevil ways--but a quality young man nonetheless. Who also kissed like an angel.
She hoped he was still alive, perhaps fishing on a lake somewhere as he so enjoyed doing back when. She made herself hope he had found himself a loving wife who was still with him to this day, and then settled into remembering details of their very first date together.
Dean Flannagan liked his job. Some days he even loved it. On every flight there seemed to be at least one rude person out to ruin his mood, but far more common were the good people that made it all worthwhile.
These passengers--whether destined for business deals, sun and fun, family or friends--deserved his full attention, even on days when it took all of him to give it to them. In fact, even with the airline's cramped seats and bland food opposing him, Dean considered it his mission to make customers comfortable enough to sleep, work, read, or chat.
"Never underestimate the value of helping someone have a better day," he once told a rookie flight attendant. And though he used to dream of being a movie director, helping people have a better day through his Hollywood blockbusters, he was still often surprised with how content his job made him.
However small his acts--a pillow tucked under an old man's snoozing head, a grape lollipop to calm a frantic child (and the passengers around the child), a soothing reassurance for a petrified flyer that all will be fine--he did make a difference. And in what other job would he get to meet so many interesting people? A man who climbed Mt. Everest, the woman who created the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., an old soldier who fought in the trenches during World War I, and even a woman from Poland who made a full-time living off of writing poetry. And who else could say they served bottled water to Bob Dylan, a cold hamburger to Stephen King, two warm Cokes to Chelsea Clinton, and the latest issue of Sports Illustrated to Monica Seles--all within the same week?
Dean stood at the front of the 767 aisle and surveyed the passengers settling into their seats, their conversations, their novels, newspapers and magazines.
A group of passengers like every other group of passengers upon first glance. But a group of individuals, with dreams, goals, fears, loves and versions of life lived absolutely different from any other, upon even the briefest consideration.
Mothers and fathers, grandparents, uncles and nieces and cousins. All of them someone's child. All of them with stories to tell, stories worth hearing, testaments to the great joys and challenges of being alive.
Dean wondered what he'd get to hear today, and from whom. That woman in the blue skirt who carried herself with such dignity, the little boy with both shoes untied, that young man who seemed so shy? Always, at least one of them wanted to share something, some small tale worth laughing about, pondering, or even crying over.
He was not wealthy, the world did not view him as particularly important, but his job was good. He liked it.
Some days, he even loved it.