As a junior at Troy State, I met Donna as she was an incoming freshman. You know those people that you like, you enjoy being around, but neither you nor they put up any effort to really spend a lot of time together -- you see them around, are very friendly and genuine with each other, then you bid your adieu until the next time?
That was me and Donna Tucker. She rushed and pledged Alpha Gamma Delta (my personal fave of the sororities full of girls who would never go out with me) and I was Farmhouse, so we definitely crossed paths routinely. Yet, we never got to know each other.
And that was okay. I'm not lamenting that Donna and I were never BFFs, or that she didn't pay more attention to me -- despite her beauty and her loud personality, I never really dug her romantically. She was just... Donna Tucker. Cute, funny, outspoken Donna. She loved Jesus, and I considered her a friend.
And when I graduated from Troy State in March of 1998, and then moved to Birmingham in August of that same year, she wasn't on my list to try to find and say goodbye to. Conversely, when she left Troy, she never had any reason to find me.
Because that's how we are with people, and that's quite alright to be that way. We can't be besties with everyone, we just don't have time for it. But we can still be friends, good friends for coffee and conversation, without having to keep up with each other. Good friends for a smile and a laugh and sort of inside joke that's a callback to something long ago and even gas. Like, for the car, not the Taco Bell kind.
You see, September 11th, 2001, was the last time I saw Donna Tucker, or heard her voice, or heard anything about her at all. She may be single now, living in Tacoma. She might be a married stay at home mom to five kids over in Homewood. She could be a successful exec at an Atlanta area corporation, or an artist with an Etsy shop... I legit have no idea. I even tried to look her up on Facebook tonight, but found nothing.
Like all of you who remember that day, September 11th, was a crazy day. I saw the news about the plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers (I was there a mere 3 years prior!) and watched in disbelief as another plane flew into the the tower, then saw the news coverage switch to Washington DC because there was an explosion at the Pentagon and heard there were more hijacked planes on the way to Disney World or Chicago or Los Angeles or wherever (it twas a blessing indeed that only four planes were taken, with only three getting to their intended targets).
I was working at 106.9 The Point, though you would know it now as 106.9 The Eagle (actually... I think at that time it was Oldies 106.9...) but either way, I was sort of interning with Rob & Shannon in the mornings as the events of the day unfolded. And around 9a, I still had to actually go to work on the other side of the building.
No one was really working, to be honest. Everyone sat in their cubes, stunned, trying to read stuff on the internet as page after page would load and crash, or not load at all, due to being overwhelmed. MSNBC's page had the familiar picture of the South Tower with the explosion shooting from the side. Fox News page wouldn't even come up. I meandered my way through the morning and finally got to lunch, and had to get out of the office, even for just a minute.
Of course, I knew gas was going to go up, because in times like these, it always did, so whether I was a reacting to the problem or was part of the problem, I headed for the BP station on the corner of Lakeshore and Columbiana to fill up my tank.
And as I stood there, mind whirling from everything, I heard, "Well hey David Dollar". I turned around, already knowing the face I'd see because the voice is so recognizable.
And I was right.
"Hey Donna Tucker," I replied, with a smile.
"Been a morning, huh?" she said back, with words that seem empty, things you'd say as you passed someone familiar in a grocery store, then hurried past and then spent the next 1/2 hour scoping the aisles to avoid more conversation. No, Donna was real. It's all she knew how to be, really.
"Yeah, you could say that," I chuckled with exasperation.
Is this what we actually said? I have no clue. But it is the air of the words we chose. Friendly. Light. Fun. Authentic.
I asked her how she was, where she was, and she told me of her then-current life, which seemed pleasant enough. She asked me the same type questions, and I answered in kind -- single, working, no I havent seen ____ but I've heard he's here -- and our conversation lasted no more than a few minutes, however long it took for my car and her car to top each top off with fuel.
We said our goodbyes, wished each other well, climbed into our respective vehicles, and our paths, that only slightly intertwined years before and had only for a moment touched on this day, then diverged out into different directions once again.
It was the calm of my entire day.
I went home for a minute, back to my apartment. I shed a few tears as I watched more footage in my room. It took a deep breath, went back to my car, drove back to work and finished the day. The next few days were the same -- the radio station was like other stations, both TV and radio, with wall to wall coverage for at least three days. Even if I wanted to get away from the news, and there were times I was ready to leave it, it was all around me. At home, I could shut out the world if needed, but myself and my roommates Mikey, Shawn, Tom, Tommy, and anyone else there discussed it all at length. Probably needed to, just to voice our thoughts.
But Donna Tucker. For 7 minutes on September 11, 2001, there was no attack. There was no collapsing towers or thousands of lives lost. For about 7 minutes, I had a warm, pleasant conversation with Donna Tucker. It was exactly what I needed. A friendly -- and beautiful -- face to look at, and a perky and wonderful voice to listen to when the whole world had collapsed into ugly and horrible.
Strangely, Donna doesn't cross my mind often, and that's not an insult to my memory of her, as I can pretty much guarantee "d$" is never top of mind for her either... but she does come front and center in those front and center lobes of my brain on 9/11.
She was my levity. She was my calm.
Thank you, Donna. And I hope you are well. And as the world once again falls slowly apart, maybe another gas station meet up would be helpful.