Yesterday, Today, Thirteen Years Ago

On a perfect late summer afternoon the boys raced around the playground. My friend and I relaxed on the grass a short distance away. I watched my two kids lazily, and gossiped with my pal. Our friends who are brand new parents strolled over with their son and joined us. It was a lovely time even if I did have to get up every few minutes in order to force my children to apologize to whomever it was that they just hit.

A small firetruck sped down the street, sirens wailing, causing the kids to stop what they were doing and watch. It turned the corner down the long side of the park and pulled next to the basketball court. An ambulance followed along with another small firetruck. In the next few minutes six police cars joined them. By then our kids had crowded around us and started asking questions.

My friend noticed a person performing chest compressions on someone before the first rescue vehicle reached them. The teens playing basketball crowed around. Paramedics took over. But after many minutes they stopped. Put the person receiving the compressions on a gurney and into the ambulance. The doors closed. The ambulance sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the teenagers wandered away and got back to their game. The cops milled around. No one seemed to be in the ambulance with the person.

The younger kids didn’t understand, but the pair of five year old boys in our group had so many questions. We explained how all the rescue personnel were there to help someone who had an accident. We did not explain that it was clear the person had died.

Forty-five minutes earlier the kids were playing on the playground. I was lounging on the ground, chatting with good friends. A person was walking around the perimeter of the park. And then that person wasn’t walking anymore. We were in a park with forty or so other humans, most of whom we will never know. We were all there together for a moment, hearts beating, living life, people coming and going. And then one of us was gone while the rest of us watched awkwardly from a distance.

The boys ran off and started to play again, our chitchat resumed although our eyes were on the ambulance. We left the park, went home, cooked dinner, told our spouses about it, checked local news sources to see if it was mentioned, but mostly got on with our lives.

But the people who loved the person in the park? September 10, 2014 will be a day they never forget. Their lives changed yesterday. I thought about those people last night. And somehow the thought of them got tied up in the thoughts about today.

Thirteen years later and it would be fair to say that I haven’t come to terms with September 11th. Every anniversary I feel closer and further away from what happened. I feel angrier. More lost.

When the subway I was riding on that day pulled into the Fulton Street station both planes had already hit the towers. But the majority of the people who would die there were still alive. They were alive as the subway left Fulton Street and made the short trip to the World Trade Center stop. They were alive when we arrived in the Village at the West 4th Street station. They were alive as I climbed the stairs from underground on 86th Street on the Upper West Side. They were alive when I took money out of the ATM and bought a pack of Camel Lights. They were alive while I rushed into the tiny studio apartment that served as an office. As I desperately tried to reach my boss. As I turned on the tiny TV. As I tried to comprehend that a land line in New York City did not have a dial tone. And then suddenly they were dead.

It has been thirteen years and I still don’t understand. I was so close to what happened geographically. And I was unscathed.

I was so close geographically, but I lost neither my life, nor the life of a loved one. Sometimes location means nothing. Grief doesn’t permeate my life every single day the way it does for those who lost family that day. Most of the time I can easily block out the memories. Today I can’t. The morning thirteen years ago replays over and over in my mind as I walk through life pretending that all is well.

But isn’t that how most Americans experience September 11th? Loss can take your breath away even when you don’t know the person in the park or the people on the planes, in the towers, or the government building.

I haven’t come to terms with what happened that day. But it sure as hell has shown me what poison hate and extremism are. Directed at us or by us.

photo (46)

Sometime between ’99 and ’01. A boozy night on our roof with K and a disposable camera.

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1998

Last Thursday a phone call in which I actually had to hear the person on the other line chased me into my father’s office. A house filled with four boys all four years old or younger is never a quiet house. Unless something is terribly wrong. The photos behind his desk took me on a stroll down memory lane until the one below stopped me cold.

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Rockefeller Center, December 1998.

Took me a second to be sure it was from 1998, but my long hair was the giveaway. The spring of my senior year of college I chopped it at chin level. The details aren’t clear-was my best friend T visiting? Did she take the picture? What else did we do that day?

1998. Bile rose in my throat as I considered myself as an almost-22 year old. Z and I had been dating for 6 months or so. We already had decided we would be getting married. I looked at that girl, that child and felt disgust at her stupidity. Who the hell did I think I was? Where did I get off thinking I knew how to be a partner in a marriage? I didn’t even know how to take care of myself.

I looked at myself and saw everything that has happened in the last 15 years-September 11th, my mental breakdown, the near loss of our marriage, clawing our way back, moving to Providence and trying to figure out an identity that didn’t include living in New York, getting pregnant, moving to Syracuse, T, the miscarriage, C. I looked at myself and was repulsed by that girl who had no idea what the future held.

Then I looked at Z.

And thought, “Damn, he was hot.”

I could look at him and simply feel nostalgia. Why does remembering who I used to be cause me such blinding anger? Why do I have no compassion for my former self?

I could be wrong about this, but I don’t think I’m the only one. I think a lot of us are unkind to the young women we used to be. Why do we do it? What does it achieve?

Am I really angry at the girl I used to be because she did not predict a catastrophic terrorist attack that surprised the entire nation? Am I mad at her because she was unaware that she suffered from a mental illness?

Because that is ridiculous. And unhelpful. And frankly, really very unkind.

So I tried to let go of my feelings about baby me. I tried to look at the picture and remember the heady days of our early courtship. We were in love, we were having fun, we were enjoying the hell out of being young. What the hell is wrong with all that? I remembered it was Thursday. I looked at the two kids in love and I snapped a picture with my phone for instagram– #TBT, baby.

Hey friends? I think you should be nicer to yourselves as well.

cordano leonard family

Our family 15 years later. Hopefully when I look at this in another 15 years it will be with much more kindness.

new years cousins

Cousins watching crazy folks go down the waterslide on January first.

Twelve Years Later Learning To Let Go

Three years ago I wrote about my September 11th. This anniversary is still fraught for me. I am still angry and confused and bereft. At 7am this morning I snapped on the radio in our bathroom just as the headlines were beginning. The lead story was the one year anniversary of the Benghazi attacks with no mention of the attacks in 2001 that served as inspiration. In fact, September 11th, 2001 was the 5th or 6th story of the day. I stood in the shower and wept, filled with rage that the twelfth anniversary of the attacks didn’t even make the equivalent of the front page of Morning Edition. My in-laws are visiting and brought home the New York Times. The attacks didn’t make it to the actual front page either.

If I’m honest my own experience of the day is different than it used to be. For the last several days I haven’t been filled with dread, the day has not been playing on a loop in my mind non-stop like it used to as a buildup to the anniversary. I am so far from the 24 year old girl who walked through September 11th that I can barely recognize her.

Time relentlessly and heartlessly marches on. One of the central events of my life is becoming a national footnote. Should it? Does it make more sense to concentrate on the tragedy in Benghazi last year? Or the crisis with Syria? Or the struggling economy? What should we be remembering on September 11th?

Maybe it is time for me to let go of the anger and fear that define this day for me. I had a front seat to an attack on our nation. Maybe it is time to feel proud that my beliefs in America were not shaken.

I still believe we are a great nation some days and we have the potential to be much greater. I believe that the Constitution is an extraordinary and beautiful and sophisticated document that has matured alongside the nation. I believe in freedom and self determination and representative democracy (or a constitutional republic if you are getting all technical). I believe that the founding fathers would be outraged to learn that the American Government engaged in torture because then ends do not justify the means. We are better than than! We must be better than that! I believe that freedom comes at a cost, that sometimes we will be attacked in terrible ways, but our response must never be internment camps or racial profiling or attacks on religions that scare us because we cannot see through our ignorance and fear to the difference between extremists and god fearing people who are different from us.

Over the last twelve years I have been terribly disappointed in America. Some of the reactions of hatred and vengeance have made me wonder if Osama bin Laden did win that day, if he did show that we are less than we claim to be. But I still have hope. I hope that we can do better as a country and show the world that freedom and equality and compassion are the right way to live.

We have a long way to go at home-with rights for minorities, the LGBT community, pay equality for women. We need to care for our own by making health insurance available, by raising the minimum wage, by making sure that the disenfranchised are able to participate in our political system by voting.

In this one area of my life I choose to be an optimist. I believe America has been great, occasionally still is great, and will be great. After living through September 11th in 2001 I could have let the grief make me small. But guess what terrorists? Fuck you. You lose. Because I believe in my country. And you know what? So many of the New Yorkers I know who also lived through that day do as well. And as an added bonus we are smart enough to understand that Muslim does not equal terrorist. We will not fear someone based on the color of their skin. And we will try to convince our fellow countrymen that freedom is the goal. That indulging our fear equals defeat.

So fuck you. Fuck. You. You haven’t defeated me and millions of people like me.

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And friends, remember to vote. That is where we can make a difference.

morning on the porch

None of us knows what is going to happen tomorrow or next week or next year. The best we can do is love what we have now. This morning I loved my three guys in this unseasonably hot weather as we took a couple of minutes to spend together before embarking on our day.

voltron

We were safe because Voltron was there to protect us.