In this live performance on Stand Up To Cancer 2010 (09/10/2010), Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong performs their hit song “Wake Me Up When September Ends.”
The following paragraphs introduce “The First Few And the Last Few,” one of the stories I wrote for The Acorn Gathering: Writers Uniting Against Cancer.
The Last Few And the First Few
By Duane Simolke
Dedicated to all people who risk their lives to protect others.
We entered the twenty-first century as we left the twentieth century: with uncertainty. But everything seemed safe for a while, safe and prosperous. Then the economy started to falter. And then September 11 happened.
I arrived in New York City two days after the attacks on the World Trade Center. When I’m not in active duty with the Army, I often work as a volunteer firefighter in El Paso, where my mother lives, or in Acorn. In case you haven’t heard of it, Acorn is a little town in West Texas, population 21,001. After my family left an even smaller town called “Ropesville,” I grew up in Acorn; my brother recently became the sheriff there, and I visited him for a while before coming on up here. It’s my first time up this far north in the states, though I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in my life.
I expected a call soon, one that would again cause me to travel. And, like the one I got just after I signed up with the Army, those travels would take me to a hostile, foreign land. In the meantime, I wanted to do what I could here. Everyone knows where I am and how to get hold of me, though I actually need to go back to the hotel and check my messages.
I haven’t slept since arriving at Ground Zero. Ground Zero—that’s what they’re calling the area of destruction. My mother, always biased, has been telling everyone that it was heroic of me to come here. The New York City firefighters, police officers, and rescue workers are the real heroes. I’m just helping out where I can. I’ve seen them help countless people already while sifting through the wreckage for survivors.
I’ve seen volunteers of every kind, and I’ve seen every good trait of humanity. New York hardly seems like the cruel, unfriendly place I’ve always heard about. We’re all doing what we can.
The team I was with finally convinced me to take a break. Instead of going back to the hotel, I walked a block away and collapsed in an alley, leaning against a building.
As I sit here, catching my breath, still wearing my helmet and my protective jacket, I reach into the pocket of my jeans to find an envelope, now all folded up and crinkled.
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