9 years.
September 11, 2010, 12:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

9 years ago, I was in 10th grade. In the past 9 years, I have had a lot of time to grow up, reflect on the events of that day and process it. The day of, I was in shock, like everyone else was. That day changed the world forever, and changed our lives. I maintain that my childhood ended in many ways that day. I was 15. My entire sentient childhood, we had been at peace. I have vague memories of the first Gulf War, but I was 5 and it was so brief that it didn’t register significantly. I remember my father making me watch footage of the Berlin Wall being torn down. I never had any true grasp of what the Cold War was like. My life up until 9/11 was peaceful, and I naively thought it could always be that way. Those of us who were coming of age at that time will forever have the end of our innocence marked on that day.

It’s important to remember. It’s important to reflect. It’s been 9 years, and I don’t have clear memories of what I was thinking that day. I’d like to take this space, today, to record what I remember now, because in another 9 years, who knows how little I’ll remember?

I was in 10th grade, sitting in chemistry class, during the first period lab. It was the beginning of the school year, so we were talking about the periodic table, I believe. My 9th grade earth science teacher, who had the room next door, came running into the classroom. He didn’t say a word, he just flipped on the TV and turned it to a news channel. We all stood in silence watching, not grasping what was happening. And then it hit us: a plane had just hit the first tower in the World Trade Center. We knew less than 10 minutes after the first strike, which means we saw the 2nd strike live. I watched the plane fly into the second tower live and I screamed. We all did; we couldn’t stop it. The smoke pouring out of the top of the building was unbelievable. The whole thing was unbelievable. Chemistry class stopped at that point. Before 2nd period was over, the 3rd plane had hit the Pentagon. It then hit us that this was not just one attack, this was a concerted effort and who knew where else they were going to go? During third period, we heard that the 4th plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, only a few hours west.

We felt like we were in the center of the attacks. New York City was 3 hours north, DC was three hours south, Shanksville was 3 hours west.

When I started to grasp the enormity of the attacks, I realized that my cousin worked in New York City, in the World Financial Center, right next door. She’s my godmother. I called my mom at work, and all I could say was “Mom” before I started crying. She was shaken, but she pulled it together to help me pull it together. I was only fifteen; my childhood had just ended; my godmother might be one of the victims.

In 3rd period, we watched the small, elongated figures falling to their deaths from the towers. During the footage from the ground, we could hear them hitting the ground. It was nauseating.

Then we watched them fall. Watching a building that large, one I had toured only a year ago, crumble into the ground, seemed unreal. It didn’t seem possible it could just disintegrate into a pile of dust. Watching it happen to the second building was absurd. How do you comprehend that? I don’t know if you can. I don’t think I have yet.

My cousin was fine. She and most of her department were in Florida for a meeting or something. They watched in horror from a distance like the rest of us. Her husband worked in midtown Manhattan. He walked home that day, to Hoboken. It was a long walk. After that, they decided they needed to bring some good into the world. Their first daughter was born in October 2002.

I remember how weird it was to not have planes flying over head for a few weeks after. I remember how even weirder it was when we did see planes flying: they certainly were not commercial flights.

I went home that afternoon, after school. My dad was home, watching the footage. I’ve never seen him so angry. He was white, silent.

My mom didn’t get home until close to midnight. She went to the local Red Cross. We were so close to NYC, getting blood up there wasn’t hard. Everyone who could donate flooded them. The wait was hours. She’s tall, loud and domineering. Instead of waiting to donate blood, she helped the overwhelmed nurses and staff organize everyone, and get the lines moving faster. She didn’t donate until the very end, and then she came home. She needed to do something; she’s good at ordering people around. The nurses were grateful.

My dad and I ate dinner in silence, and then continued to watch the footage.

That night, I had dreams about a city on fire. I had that dream over and over for the next few weeks.

I was in the marching band. That Friday we had our first game of the season, against Ephrata. The schools agreed to have a moment of silence and special memorial in honor of 9/11. Our best trumpet and their best trumpet stood outside the stadium, playing Taps, coming into the stadium with the honor guard and flag. It was eerie and moving; the whole stadium was in tears. Football players knelt and cried.

Six months later, the honors English classes took a special field trip to NYC to see The Crucible on Broadway. Our first stop was ground zero. We stood in silence, in line, reading the graffiti covering the particle board dividers. Prayers, well-wishes, poems, signatures. Thousands of people, needing to leave their mark on that terrible scar. We stood on the viewing platform. Much of the wreckage had already been removed. It was an empty whole. We watched the workers find what they thought were human remains. As they were removed, everyone saluted. I cried. They still had the huge beams of light, the “Tribute of Light”, shining into the sky in memory of the towers and the victims. We could see them as we left the city. The whole bus had their faces plastered to the windows, watching those beams reach into the heavens, and get smaller until they went out of sight. I’m so glad I was able to see that in person.

I apparently didn’t use many tissues in my bedroom between 2001 and when I left for college in 2004, because there is still a tissue box with a picture of the pre 9/11 NYC skyline, and the date, and “In God We Trust”. It seems a little crass to put that on a tissue box, but there it is. I hope it stays there for many years to become.

That day was hell. The weeks and months and years after it have been hell. Never forget. Never again. So much of our lives since then have been defined by that day, and so much of who we are now has been defined by that attack. And yet, I know, we can never let it define us.

But we still have to remember, and I want to be able to tell my children about that day. I want them to understand just how terrible that day was. And I don’t want them to forget.


The Hard Stuff
September 1, 2010, 2:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My dad was 44 when I was born. I am his 2nd child, my brother being 13 years my senior. Having an older dad was hard as a kid, but I think it’s harder as an adult.

We butted heads through my teens. It was a mix of he and I having the same stubborn personality, the fact that I was an asshole teenager, and the fact that he had zero patience, understanding or respect for me. It was frustrating, and I don’t know if we’ll ever have the kind of close father-daughter relationship I see my friends have. That was hard. That is still hard, even though we no longer scream at each other over the dinner table.

My dad is 68 now. I am 24.

Five years ago this summer, my father was in the hospital for 6 weeks. It started one afternoon, while I was at work. He took a stumble, as my mother put it, and scraped up his knees. Shortly before that, he was a real dick to my mom, completely out of character.

Later that night, he lost the ability to speak, altogether.

He didn’t speak for a week, and my mom tried to pretend like it was okay.

It wasn’t okay, not even a little bit. I tried to argue with her about it, that that’s not normal. It’s not okay. He stumbled, he had a personality change, and he stopped speaking. I escaped the crazy by working at the fish market constantly, and sitting in the living rooms of my friends.

I was 19. It was hard.

The day I decided that I was going to call my brother and tell him what was wrong, and that they weren’t doing anything about it, and ask him to play the Big Brother card and make them come to their senses and take Dad to the hospital, my mom called and left a message on my phone at work saying that she was taking him to the hospital.

That was the first time I cried, but it wasn’t the  last.

There was something very wrong, but it took them a while to figure out what it was. First, they thought he lost the ability to speak because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen to his head because of a GI bleed. They did a full endoscopic test on his GI, and didn’t find any bleeds, but they did find cancer, in his colon.

The day my mom told me that was June 29, 2005. It was their 21st wedding anniversary. My friend Jerri and I took her to dinner at the Catholic Bar, where a lot of people from our church would gather. The owner, a fellow parishioner, sat and listened to our tale of woe, gave us free french fries and my mom a beer, and offered her prayers. I hugged my mom that night as she cried, and I didn’t know what to say. How do you know what to say to that?

I was only 19.

They found the cancer, but they hadn’t figured out why my dad couldn’t speak. It was coming back, though.

They operated on him the next night, and took out 15 cm of his colon, and also all of the cancer. That night, my mom crawled into his hospital bed with him, waiting for him to be taken into surgery. I stayed at home.

While on the operating table, he suffered 2 strokes. They discovered (decided?) that what caused all the problems to begin with was a stroke. His stroke count was up to 3. They were minor, but they again affected his speech, and also the right side of his body.

Because of all the anti-stroke drugs they put him on, he had a hard time recovering from the surgery. Because he had a hard time recovering from the surgery, he had a hard time recovering from the strokes. I visited him infrequently, because it was hard. I was only 19. My friend Jerri and I went to visit him, and found him in the physical therapy room, doing some sort of exercise. He had lost a lot of weight, was pale and drawn. It was scary. As we were leaving, I blacked out for a few seconds and fell to the ground. Luckily nobody medical noticed. It was the first time I’d ever done that, and I’m fairly certain it’s because I stopped breathing while I was there.

I was only 19. My dad was in the hospital after having 3 strokes, major surgery and cancer.

While this was all going on, my Grandma took to calling every day. No one remembers if it was my dad or my aunt who decided she wasn’t to be told, but there was a decision made by the grown-ups that it would just worry her. After three weeks of her calling every day, and me having to lie to my dear, sweet, sainted grandmother about why her son couldn’t come to the phone, my brother and I made an executive decision to ignore the grownups and tell her the truth. That was hard, but not nearly as hard as lying to her, knowing that she knew I was lying. My father is not the kind of son who ignores his mother for 3 weeks, and we both knew that.

My mom spent all her time not at work at the hospital. I spent all my time selling fish to wealthy people, trying to pretend that this wasn’t my first college summer. I cried to my boyfriend over the phone, and he tried his best. But he was only 19, and his parents weren’t in their 60’s. He couldn’t understand.

While this was happening, everything else fell apart, mechanically speaking. The dryer stopped working. The hot water heater stopped working. The windows in the car got stuck in the down position, in the summer. We didn’t have the money to fix these things, nor the time to figure it out ourselves. I spent a lot of time sitting with my dog, Bandit, the most loyal and loving dog. She lay next to me, letting me pet her as I cried. She understood.

When my dad finally came home, it was even harder. He couldn’t do anything, and it made him so angry. He would yell at my mom, and she would yell back, and I would escape to other people’s houses without telling them where I was going. I was 19, after all. He sat in the kitchen, as my mother’s kind hair dresser came to give him a hair cut and trim his beard. She refused to take any payment, and I haven’t ever seen my parents so embarrassed. Her actions were kind, but also a little cruel.

The first weekend he was home, my boyfriend came to visit. The plan was that he was going to drive out Friday morning. Thursday night, I called him, only to find out that he was sitting in the emergency room because he had totaled the car by driving through a red light. He had no way of coming out. It looked like the trip was canceled. I cried, because nothing was working out. I needed him with me, and he drove his car right into someone else’s. I should have been grateful that no one was hurt. But I needed something to work that summer. His best friend canceled his plans for the weekend to drive him out, instead. He canceled a date with a hot girl and gave up his work hours, so that I could have a few days of normalcy. We took my cousin to Hershey Park, and while we were flying on the rollercoasters, I tried to pretend like they could fly me away from everything at home. I have never been so grateful to him as I was that weekend, for giving me the touchstone I needed then, and have come to rely on every year after.

The next week, my father started having visiting nurses come to take care of his wound from the surgery, the one that wasn’t healing. My mom went back to work. I was going back to college in a few weeks, an escape I needed. He thought it was a good idea to take off his bandage himself in the shower, before the nurse arrived. I don’t know what possessed him to do that, but he bled all over the bathroom. The bathtub, the floor. I have never seen so much blood. I got up that morning to go to the bathroom and shower before meeting my childhood best friend for breakfast. I was late for that breakfast, but I never screamed when I saw that much blood. I believe it was more of an exhale. My parents oddly have carpet in their bathroom, and I vowed then to never follow that trend, as I knelt on the floor in my pajamas trying to scrub the blood out of the carpet. I knew that if I let it set, my parents would have blood stains in their carpet forever, and that was not something I wanted to haunt my mother. I grew up as I cleaned the bathroom. I set my teeth, and I did what I had to. When the nurse arrived she gave me some tips to lift the blood. I will never forget that morning.

I left to go back to college. It was a breath of fresh air to not be in that house, to not be the 19 year old daughter of a sick, 63 year old man.

A few weeks into college, my dad had another stroke. A minor one, but this time, my mom took him to the hospital right away. He hasn’t had another. You wouldn’t know he had any strokes by looking at him. He has some weakness on the right side, but only he knows it. He has a hard time recalling words, but you only know that if you knew how precise he was with his language before the stroke. He is weakened. He is stronger than he was 5 years ago, though.

A few weeks after that, I got a call from my mom after an organic chemistry exam saying that my dog was dead. The dog I had had since I was 11, the dog who chose me in the animal rescue league, the dog who didn’t need to be trained because she was already perfect. My dad had taken her for a walk in the park, and as he got her out of the car, something happened. Either she darted into the street, something she never did, because she was perfect, or someone swerved into the shoulder of the road and hit her. It was the capstone of an awful summer, an awful  year.

I was only 19. My dad was 63, and had had 4 strokes, cancer, major surgery, and a wound that wouldn’t heal until the next spring. He got the hiccups for weeks. My dog was dead. My boyfriend, who has since become my fiance, totaled his car and barely avoided disaster himself. It was an awful year.

I have never been so humbled as I was that year, and I hope never to again. I learned how it felt to close my eyes in the face of an unrelenting storm, to breathe through it and hope we all would come out the other side in one piece. I learned how to kneel and pray my way through a blood soaked bathroom. I learned at an early age how hard old age is. I learned how perfect my life had been, how blessed I have always been, and how blessed I would continue to be. My dog may not have made it through that year, but my dad did. My family did.

This year, I am getting married. The one thing I have worried the most about, and prayed the hardest over, is my father walking me down the aisle. He has had some scary medical emergencies since 2005, one involving bad interactions in his drugs that caused his blood pressure to drop very very low, and one where he caught pneumonia and almost died. I have learned to dread late night phone calls. I dread getting one between now and October 23. I dread not having him at wedding, not having him walk me down the aisle.

We might not have the strongest or closest relationship. But I want him in my life. I want him at my wedding, at my side. But I learned from 2005 that events are not in our control, and if that is something I have to give up, I will have to close my eyes and let the pain wash over me, and walk myself down the aisle. It will be okay.

I worry so about this, anyway.