It’s raining. The sidewalks are full of people scurrying off to drier places. Cooper has to squeeze his mother’s hand and run to keep up or else he’ll be lost in the crowd. Cooper tries to see past all the bumping legs and handbags around him. He wishes they had stayed in the nice warm restaurant a little longer, but his mom said they had to make it to the memorial before it closed. He asked what a “memrial” was, and she said it was like the word “memory” and that it was made for people to remember the bad things that had happened and the good people they happened to.
Cooper and his mom finally leave the busy sidewalk and head towards a building that looks like a shiny piece of pie. Once Cooper walks inside, he wipes his face with his sleeve and points at a man in uniform. “Is that a policeman?” he asks.
“He’s kind-of like a policeman,” his mother answers, taking his jacket. “He’s here to make sure everyone is safe.”
“What are those?” Cooper points to the row of gray gates separating them from the rest of the building.
She places both their jackets in a similarly gray bin. “We walk through them and it goes beep if there’s any metal.”
Cooper tightens his grip on his mom’s hand and together they step through the gate. When it doesn’t beep, Cooper gives his mom a thumbs up. He takes his coat back, even though it’s dripping wet, and looks around. People are talking to one another, but it’s a quiet kind of talk that Cooper doesn’t understand. No one whispers, everyone talks, yet everyone is quiet. He wants to ask his mom what this means, but they are already walking across the hall and down some stairs.
On the next floor, the first thing Cooper sees is a pair of tall metal pillars. They look old because they’re rusted and broken off into separate pieces near the top. “Can I touch it?” Cooper asks. His mother shakes her head.
They both examine the room to figure out where to go next. There’s a help desk on the other side that looks so neat and clean like the floor and the walls and the lights and the stairs. Cooper looks back at the pillars just to make sure they’re still there. “They don’t hold anything up,” he realizes.
“They used to,” his mother answers.
After watching other people walk down the stairs and go left, Cooper and his mother go left as well and finds themselves walking on a bridge alongside a cement wall with strange shapes poking out of it. Cooper thinks they look like Legos and wonders if anything used to be connected to them.
Around a corner, Cooper’s mother spots something and brings him over to the side of the bridge. She points to something the wall. “Do you know what those are?” she asks. Cooper follows her gaze and sees projections of people’s faces surrounded by some large words in bold. Most of them say “MISSING” in black or red ink above the picture. Every second, one of the projections is replaces by another. Different person, same word.
“We made one of those for Murphy when he ran away,” Cooper says. “They make them for people too? Did they run away?”
“No, they didn’t run away,” his mother replies, “but the people who cared about them didn’t know where they were so they made these posters to try to find them.”
“Did they find them like how we found Murphy?”
His mother shakes her head.
They walk down another flight of stairs. Cooper looks up and wonders how much of the building is above him. It feels like there is less air down here, or maybe it’s just warmer. Either way, Cooper feels a little dizzy as they reach the ground. He hears noises coming from a room ahead of him, and listening closer, he realizes it’s a recording of people saying names. It sounds official, like roll call at the beginning of class, because they say the entire name and they say it slowly.
“Do you know what this used to be, Cooper?” Cooper looks up at his mother. Her face is wet. Cooper shrugs. “This is the North Tower,” she tells him. “Do you remember the North Tower?”
“Is that where Daddy worked?” He asks. His mother nods.
Cooper thinks the recording is too loud. He doesn’t like how it keeps saying people’s names over and over. “Can we leave?” he asks. His mother nods.
As they walk back up the stairs, Cooper says, “I don’t like mem’rials. Mem’rials have all bad memories and no good memories. I don’t like remembering that Daddy’s gone.”
“Memorials aren’t just about remembering the bad thing that happened,” his mother explains. “They’re about remembering what happened before too, and what can happen in the future.”
“So good memories can happen in the future?”
His mother stops and kneels in front of him. She puts her hands on his shoulders and smiles. “Sweetheart, we can make the future as good as we want. But we need memorials to remind us that we can get through the bad times too. Do you understand?” she asks.