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A Smile Gone, But Where?: Jimmy Breslin's post-9-11 column

In this Nov. 2, 2004, file photo, author-columnist

In this Nov. 2, 2004, file photo, author-columnist Jimmy Breslin poses for a photo in his New York apartment. Breslin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning chronicler of wise guys and underdogs who became the brash embodiment of the old-time, street smart New Yorker, died Sunday, March 19, 2017. His stepdaughter said Breslin died at his Manhattan home of complications from pneumonia. Credit: AP/JIM COOPER

This commentary by Jimmy Breslin was originally published in Newsday on Sept. 25, 2001.

I stand on the street corner in the darkness and wait for her, but for another day she is not here.
I don't remember the first time I saw her. I know the hour, between 5:45 and 6 a.m., because I already have finished swimming at this health club and she comes walking along on her way to the gym for her exercise.
The street was West 68th, between Columbus and Broadway, and I am walking down from Columbus and she is walking up from Broadway. In the darkness of the end of winter nights, she kept her eyes fixed straight ahead and her face showed resolve and a little apprehension upon seeing somebody walking toward her.
I stepped into the street and crossed to the other side.
She was young and had short black hair and a face that was delicate and filled with energy. She had a fast stride. Quick-quick-quick. I never more than glanced at her because I wanted to put her completely at ease. I walked across the street and went home.
This went on for a long time. One morning I was late or she was early and I was still on Columbus Avenue, almost at the corner of 68th Street, when she came around the corner with that fast walk. People who barely recognize each other and suddenly meet at a strange place exhibit warmth. She smiled a little and her lips said hello, but I did not hear her voice. I nodded.
From then on, when we would see each other on the familiar 68th Street, she would smile and I'd nod or smile back. But I still went to the other side of the street.
This went on through so many months of darkness and cold and morning rain, when we both walked with heads down, and then at times when the sky lightened and spring arrived and after it summer heat. Always, a nod and a smile and then I parted and she went on.
I never spoke to her, nor did she ever speak to me. I never got her name or where she was coming from at such an hour and what job she was going to for the rest of the day. She smiled, I nodded. Month after month.
I don't know when I realized that I had not seen her. It was 10 days ago, a week ago, but suddenly in the morning I noticed that she was not walking on the street at about 6 a.m.
I began to look carefully into the morning dimness to see if she was down the block someplace, not yet crossing Broadway, or if she was still coming down Broadway from uptown. I never knew where she came from. She just materialized on the street, walking so quickly. And now I did not see her all last week.
I found myself irritated. "Where is she?" I said aloud.
The days and nights of my working life had become one of hurt women asking in strained voices for lost men, and so many young men in tears standing in a hospital doorway and asking if the woman of their lives might possibly be inside.
And there was nobody. Not in the wreckage at the World Trade Center, nor at the hospitals. The morgue was empty. There were 6,453 listed as missing, all of them in the sky forever from the moment the building blew up.
And this young woman no longer passes me going the other way in the morning.
Not only do I not know her name, but I never saw her with anybody else. I have no one to ask.
Yesterday morning, on the 14th day since the catastrophe, I was around the corner on West 68th Street at the appointed hour. She was not there. She was not in the dimness on the other side of Broadway. When I reached the corner and looked uptown on Broadway, she was not one of those coming through the light of the outdoor newsstand on the corner of 69th.
She was not here in my morning.
I stood on the corner in front of the Food Emporium supermarket and looked for several minutes. Maybe she moved, I thought. Maybe she got married to some nice guy. Or maybe some nice guy she is already married to had a new job and they moved. Maybe she has a new job and her hours changed. Maybe she comes to exercise later in the morning. Maybe there is a pleasant reason for her not being here in the morning. Maybe she will simply be here tomorrow and not have the slightest idea why I am upset.
Right now, as I stand on the street corner in the early morning, this young woman, whose name I do not know, whose voice I have never heard, is part of the overwhelming anxiety of the days of my September in the city.
The butcher from the supermarket came out, holding a container of coffee.
"What are you looking for?" he said.
"They'll come," he said.
"I hope so," I said.