“Can we go in the house now”? Booger asked sheepishly. Not that he wasn’t as patriotic as the next fella mind you. He just wasn’t real keen on standing out in front of the bar on Friday night huddled together with candles. The beer was inside. So they moved back into the darkness around the bar with those candles shining brightly on top of it and resumed THE conversation. The very same conversation that was going on all over the damn world that night.
Our president had asked all of us in this fine country of ours to join together in a moment of solidarity in response to the terror we had witnessed and experienced earlier in that week. The mood was still somber and bleak. How could this happen? Why do they hate us so bad? What exactly IS Islam? Where the hell is Afghanistan anyway? How many look-alikes does Saddam actually have? All of these questions and theories floated around the bar among the usual Friday night crowd, minus a few. Liza and Noler were there as usual. Gene and Mary Beth, who know everybody’s beer by heart, were not their usual jolly selves. “How you been Mary Beth”? asked Liza. “Working your tail off as usual” ? Mary Beth is Gene’s seventh and last wife because he’s old enough to know when he's got a keeper. She works 3rd shift at a local factory and then comes to that bar and tends to its’ patrons like all their mamas. She keeps em comin’ back. Gene may be the heart of Sap’s, but Mary Beth is the soul.
Bill and Noler pulled pills. A lively domino game was in action as usual. A schizoid playlist of everything from George Jones to Santana sang from the jukebox which is always powered by community donations taken by Mary Beth, one buck at a time. The information center of the burg……that’s what this place is . If you wanted to know who was doing who and how often, this was the place to find out in between chats about kids and dogs and farming and the latest internet jokes. Golf is sacred as is football season…..particularly Vols and Tide. The 3rd Saturday in October is a national holiday you know. The place has been the cause of a lot of heartache in romance, but all in all it’s a happy place…..one where everybody knows your name. Kinda like a redneck Cheers.
Liza and Noler were considered a success story in the book of love. They had split when Babygirl was just a little kid but had gotten back together to get her raised up and to repair the financial damage caused by years of living high on the hog and less than a year of single life. Finally past the hardships of bankruptcy, they were beginning to see the light again. Something was missing though still. They were roommates, and they both knew it. Bound by a child they both loved and a host of friends and family that were familiar and comfortable, they stayed the course. Never mind that there was no passion. Passion was for other folks whose lives were filled with excitement and adventure. And of course for Bill when he managed to get home in time to cook lobster and drink wine with Kristy.
Often times on nights that they went to the bar, they would return home after “just one more” to their usual routine. Noler snoring like a freight train……Liza camped out on the couch to avoid the racket watching Howard Stern and dreaming of a different life, one in which she was the central player and not on the periphery. “I always thought you just settled” her Mama told her when they talked about it later. No wonder the passion was confined to a night here and there with a hooter for a prelude. That floaty feeling makes you forget about who you’re with and why you’re there…..leaving you with a single minded purpose…..sex. In fact, in the end that was all she had……a hooter and self pleasure with fantasies about whomever caught her eye at that particular time.
The orange alert had begun on Tuesday morning of that week…..September 11, 2001. It was a quiet day at the hospital where Liza worked. She and the Little General had just returned from the smoke shack outside when Ms. Anita delivered the news with fear in her eyes. There was no smile to show off that gold crown in front with the little star cut out. Pure terror. “The World Trade Center has been bombed…..the Pentagon too.” Nah. No way. Couldn’t be true. Liza and Sherry wandered aimlessly to the doctor’s lounge to check out the television coverage. Sherry’s hubby Big Ron affectionately called her the “little general” because she was short in stature but feisty enough to keep his big self in line. That feisty temperment melted as she and Liza watched the drama unfold on that television. As the day wore on more details filtered in via radio into the laboratory where business as usual became muted by fear. It was worse than we ever imagined. Suicide hijackers had winged it right into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and there was nothing America could do but helplessly watch the towers fall, one by one.
In the days and weeks that followed more travesty occurred in the name of benevolence. The Red Cross collected thousands of units of blood that were ultimately destroyed because there were no survivors to receive it. Relief funds were hard to come by for those who needed them most. Christians blamed Muslims and Israelis said “ Now you see how we live every day…..in fear of terrorism.” Though the allies of this country were many, the detractors were numerous. An internal debate boiled over whether or not we really deserved what we got on that day.
Later that week the chaplain led a prayer service on the front lawn of the hospital. “God Bless America” they sang. They cried and prayed and held hands and felt the sadness and fear spread from limb to limb. And they knew that their lives would somehow never be the same. Liza had positioned herself behind Fred when the procession landed outside around the flagpole. She wasn’t exactly sure why……but she knew that she needed the comfort of his presence then like she had never needed anything else before.