DISCLAIMER: Adam-12 is the property of MarkVII/Universal and no copyright infringement is intended with the publication of this piece. Cover courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, author Anthony Quintano. ALL ORIGINAL CONTENT OF THIS STORY IS THE SOLE PROPERTY OF BAMBOOZLEPIG AND MAY NOT BE USED WITHOUT PERMISSION. *This story may contain graphic language or depictions of potentially upsetting situations, therefore reader discretion is advised.* Feedback is always welcomed and thank you for reading!
Written to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there is also a similar piece over in the Emergency! fandom entitled "Full Circle" and I encourage you to check it out, too. The views expressed are my own, and these two stories are NOT in canon with the timeline I have planned for the characters, so they are strictly standalone stories that are not connected to any of my works, either past or present. This is dedicated to the people who lost their lives, not only on that day but in the years since then from health complications of working The Pile at Ground Zero. It is also dedicated to the servicemen and women who have laid down their lives in service to our country. May they and their noble sacrifices never be forgotten.
REMEMBRANCE AND REFLECTION
He is seated between Jim and I, a restless little bundle of six-year-old energy named J.J., fidgeting nervously, swinging his legs over the edge of the pew and looking around him with intense curiosity, his blue eyes darting here and there as he watches people filing into the stuffy sanctuary that is filled with the smell of incense and flowers and perfume. He tugs on Jim's shirt sleeve, pointing to the flowers. "Grandpa Jim, why's there so many flowers?" he asks in a whisper. "They're really stinky an' I don't like flowers very much, do you?"
"There's so many flowers because people decided to send them, that's why," Jim tells him. "And yes, I like flowers, J.J.. You learn to appreciate them when you get older."
"I won't," little J.J. announces firmly, folding his arms across his chest. "I think they're stinky and yucky, an' only girls like 'em, and girls are stinky and yucky, too."
"You won't think that when you get older, trust me, kiddo," I tell him, exchanging a wry grin with Jim over the top of J.J.'s mop of dark brown hair.
"Well, yeah," J.J. sighs, rolling his eyes with six-year-old disdain. "You hafta like girls like my Grammas, 'cuz you're married to 'em. I'm never gonna get married, I'm gonna stay single forever, 'cuz I don't like girls, they wanna kiss me all the time."
Seated on the other side of me, my wife pokes me in the arm with a chuckle. "Sounds familiar, Pete, doesn't it?"
J.J. points to the dust motes that drift in the fingers of sunlight that poke through the stained glass windows of the sanctuary. "Look!" he exclaims. "God colored the dust for us! It's really pretty!" Then he pauses, thinking for a moment. "It also means that God doesn't dust very well in here. He must not be a very good housekeeper."
"Shh, sweetie," says Jean, leaning around Jim and holding a finger up to her lips as next to her, Jim chokes back a laugh. "Let's not talk about God's housekeeping or lack thereof."
"But Mommy wouldn't be very happy with all of God's dust," he says knowingly. "She'd pull out her can of Pledge and dustrag and show God how to do it right."
"J.J., shush," Jean tells him, patting his knee. "Let's not talk anymore, okay? We're in church, remember?"
"But I'm boooored," he complains mightily, fidgeting once more. "My suit is too hot and the pants are making my tushy itchy. Can I take 'em off?"
"Not until we get home, honey," Jean tells him. "Now settle down and be quiet, okay?"
"Okay," he nods, his bangs flopping into his eyes and I reach down, smoothing them back from his forehead. He looks up at me with curiosity. "Grandpa Pete, does your suit make your tushy itchy?"
I cough, trying to hide my laugh. "Sometimes, kiddo," I tell him. "When your Grandma puts too much starch in my pants."
"I never do that," my wife hisses from next to me, giving me a sharp jab in the ribcage with her elbow.
"Really?" I hiss back. "Because my pants can stand by themselves, you've put that much starch in them."
J.J. tugs on my shirt sleeve. "Grandpa Pete, can I see your pants stand by themselves when we get home?" he asks. "That sounds so cool! Can they also walk by themselves?"
"No, but his underwear can," my wife tells him sweetly, leaning around me to pat J.J.'s knee.
"Do you MIND?" I hiss at her through clenched teeth.
J.J. reaches up inquisitive fingers. "You sure have some pretty ribbons on your shirt, Grandpa," he tells me, stroking the row of ribbons that march above my breast pocket. "What are they all for?"
"He won best in show a lot at the dog shows, J.J.," Jim quips.
"Yeah, I was quite the prize stud," I boast a little, and my wife jabs me in the ribs again while Jean Reed shoots me a glare.
"Peter Joseph Malloy, watch your mouth in front of the child," my wife admonishes me.
"Uh-oh, Grandpa," J.J. says warily. "Gramma used all three of your names, you're in trouble, I think."
"Only just a bit," I assure him, patting his shoulder.
He reaches up, fingers petting the double-barred gold shooting medallion pinned to my uniform shirt. "What's that?" he asks.
"It's my distinguished expert medal," I tell him.
His freckled little nose wrinkles in confusion. "What's an extinguished expert?"
"It means he usually got what he was shooting at, J.J.," Jim tells him.
J.J. turns to him. "But you only got a silver one, Grandpa Jim," he says, touching Jim's silver sharpshooter medallion. "Does that mean you didn't get whatever you were shooting at?"
"Yeah, he might not have hit the target, but he sure could wing it," I tell him, ignoring Jim's scowl.
J.J. studies my badge. "Your badge is different from Mommy's and Daddy's," he says. "And you have an equal sign on your collar, what does that mean, that you can add and subtract?"
"Only when he's using all ten fingers and toes, honey," Jim quips, handily ignoring my dark look.
"Grandpa Jim only has a minus sign on his collar, does that mean he can only subtract?" JJ asks.
"Yeah, and he definitely subtracts a lot, too," I grin.
"Sweetie, do you want to sit over here by me?" Jean asks, trying to distract him.
"Nah, I wanna sit between my two Grandpas," he says firmly. "Sometimes they make funny noises and it always makes me laugh, like when they ask me to pull their fingers."
"J.J.!" Jean and my wife both hiss in shocked disapproval as Jim and I try hard to hide our mirth. "Manners, please!" Jean admonishes, shaking a finger at him.
J.J. leans forward in the pew, looking at the people seated across the aisle from us, then he twists in his seat, getting up on his knees and looking back at the people seated behind us. "Hi!" he exclaims, giving them a grin that reveals a missing front tooth. "Do I know you?"
"J.J., sit down!" Jean hisses, tugging on his suitcoat. "Jim, make him get down!" she says, jabbing her husband in the side.
"J.J., sit down and face the front like a good little boy," Jim tells him.
"But I don't wanna," he whines. "I don't know these people, why are they all here?"
"They're here to pay their respects, honey," my wife tells him. "Now sit down and face front and hush."
"But I don't wanna be quiet," J.J. complains loudly, fidgeting restlessly in the seat once more. "Tell these people to hurry up and pay their prospects and go home, so I can go home too and take my pants off, 'cuz they're really REALLY making my tushy itchy." And around us, people break up into titters of laughter as Jean reaches around and grabs J.J.'s arm firmly in her hand, shaking it.
"James Aloysius Reed the Third, you settle down and hush up or I'm going to turn you over my knee!" she warns sharply.
Chastened, J.J.'s bright blue eyes start to fill up with tears and his lower lip quivers dangerously as he stares at his grandmother. "I want my Mommy an' Daddy," he whimpers, leaning into me. "Where are they? Why aren't they here?"
Stricken, the mirth of a few moments ago gone in an instant, and I put an arm around my little grandson, comforting him just as much as I try to comfort myself. "Sweetie, we've been over this before, your Mommy and Daddy…" I begin, but J.J. twists away from me.
"No," he says firmly, as if denying it won't make it true. "I wanna go home. I don't wanna be here anymore. There's too many people and the flowers are stinky and my pants are making my tushy itch, and I wanna go home to my Mommy and Daddy." He points to the pair of portraits that sit wooden easels at the altar. "I don't want just pictures of 'em, I wanna see 'em, so I can give 'em hugs and kisses. I haven't seen 'em for so many days now and I wanna see 'em so I can play car crashes with Daddy and eat Mommy's chocolate chip cookies that she makes just for me."
"Oh, honey," Jean says, her voice breaking as she reaches out to take him, but he jerks away from her in six-year-old indignation, his face screwed up in anger and confusion and sorrow.
"I wanna go home," he repeats, the words tumbling out in a sob. "I don't know why they went away, I don't unnerstand it."
"Sweetie, none of us do," Jim says, putting his arm around the little boy and pulling him to him, his own eyes wet with tears. "It's not for us to understand, only God knows why this happened."
"Well tell God to quit playing with my Mommy and Daddy and send 'em home to me," he cries plaintively. "I need 'em worse than God does. I haven't shown Daddy the picture I drew for him, and the flowers I picked for Mommy are starting to die, and she hasn't seen them yet."
"They've seen them, J.J.," I tell him in a gruff voice that is choked with my own emotion. "Trust me, honey, they have."
"But they haven't been home to tuck me into bed at night, and Daddy hasn't been there to read me bedtime stories in his funny voices, and Mommy isn't there to kiss me goodnight, and I don't unnerstand why." He leans into me, his little body shaking with sobs. "Was it something I did that made them go away?" he weeps, fingers clutching the sleeve of my shirt. "Was I bad or something and they ran away from me?"
"No, honey, it was nothing at all that you did and I want you to stop thinking that," I tell him as I pull him into my lap. "Like Grandpa Jim said, it's not for us to understand, it's God's will…"
"I HATE God!" he spits out in bitter vehemence, his little fist slamming against my shoulder, his little face red with anger and sadness, his cheeks slick with tears. "He took my Mommy and Daddy away from me and I HATE Him! He didn't even let me say goodbye to them."
"That's why we're here now, honey," Jean tells him, wiping at her own tears with a lacy hanky. "To say our goodbyes."
"But that's not my Mommy and Daddy up there," he wails, pointing to the pictures once more. "I want my Mommy and Daddy!" He collapses against my chest then, sobbing bitterly, and my own tears splash onto my hands as I rub soothing circles on his back, trying to comfort him.
But it's cold comfort, I know, for this same kind of scene is playing out all over the United States, as other families besides ours mourns horrific losses; losses that occurred when a madman who hated America sent his henchmen to crash planes into buildings, killing thousands of innocent people, just for his glory. And that horror and bloodshed and violent loss…it's something we cannot explain to a six-year-old little boy, when we cannot even explain it to ourselves, and all we know is that our lives have been shattered, like so many other lives, on that day the world changed forever. And all we can do is pick up the pieces and carry on for our little grandson, for it's what his parents would want…
And it's what we Americans do.
The young man approaches the podium, a lanky teenager dressed neatly in a blue suit and tie, with a mop of shaggy brown hair that he flicks out of his eyes with a toss of his head. Clearing his throat nervously, he looks down at the papers in his hand, staring at them as he gathers his strength and nerves to speak before the assembled multitude. Then he looks up, with blue eyes that are so like his father's, with a smile that is so like his mother's, he begins to speak in a clear voice, his words ringing stridently through the crowd gathered at Ground Zero.
"On September 11, 2001, my world, and that of thousands of others, was forever shattered by an act of evil and malicious cowardice, when men acting on behalf of Osama bin Laden flew planes into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing 2,975 innocent civilians in a brutal and vicious attack on our homeland, making that beautiful fall day the worst day in American history, forever known as the day that our innocence was forever lost in a heartbeat. We quickly came together as a nation, as a world, mourning our losses and trying to help those that survived, even as we prepared to fight for justice in a world that had so suddenly changed in the blink of an eye. We swiftly learned the meaning of fear and of hatred, of sorrow and of pain, of horror and of hell, in those days and weeks and months after the attack…but we also learned what heroes are, not only in the brave servicemen and women currently serving in the Armed Forces and keeping our country safe, but in the police officers and firefighters, and even the ordinary civilians, who rushed into those same burning buildings that so many were trying to flee, perishing when the twin towers came crashing down into huge piles of smoke and flame, reduced to nothing but rubble and dust. All of them who have laid down their lives in service to their country and fellow man should be commended with the highest honors, for what a noble sacrifice…as the Bible reminds us, 'Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.' And let us never forget those noble sacrifices made in service to this country or to its people."
He takes a deep breath and continues. "In the years that have passed, we have put the pieces of our lives back together and slowly learned to live again in this strange new world, without our mothers, without our fathers, without our brothers and sisters, the friends and family that we held so dear, that we lost so tragically that day. It has been hard, and there have been many times that we have been lost and alone and afraid, angry and grief-stricken and hating not only the rest of the world, but also hating God for taking them from us so soon, without allowing us to say goodbye to them. But even though they are gone from this Earth, they are with us still, living on in our hearts, our minds, our memories, and it's there that they will remain forever, for no one, not even a madman with a vendetta against the United States, can take that away from any of us, it is our treasure and our joy and our love that will never be forgotten.
And on that day of September 11, 2001, exactly ten years ago today, our nation and our world came together, putting aside our political differences, our religious differences, all our disagreements, standing together in the face of grief and shocking horror and so much loss. It was a time like no other, for it was the first time we were all united as one, and so I ask you all today, not only here, but all across the United States, all across the world, to set aside those differences and come together once again as one, not united in grief this time, but in celebration…for what better way to honor the thousands of people lost than to rejoice in their lives, in how they lived and laughed and loved, what they stood for and what they believed in. If September 11, 2001 was a day of worldwide sorrow, then let September 11, 2011 be a day of worldwide rejoicing and happiness as we remember not the tragedy and the deaths that day, but the lives lived up until that very moment…I can think of no better honor, no better respect, no better remembrance, no better tribute than that, and I think it would make our lost loved ones proud of us to see us celebrating them in this way. So today, I remember my father, James Aloysius Reed, Jr., of the New York City Fire Department, and my mother, Molly Ann Malloy-Reed, of the New York City Police Department, both whom perished that day…but I remember them not with sorrow or tears or angry bitterness, I remember them with love and laughter, and the lives they led and the people they were. I know that my parents loved and cherished me very much, just as much as I loved and cherished them, and my grandparents and aunts and uncles have made sure to keep their memories alive for me, and I can think of no better way than to honor and pay my tribute and respects to my Mom and my Dad than to remember the joy and the happiness they shared. Thank you."
And as applause and cheers erupts from the crowd, the lanky young man steps down from the podium, flashing a grin at Jim and me.
For he is our grandson, and we're mighty damned proud of him.
And we know his parents are, too.