Tag Archives: memory

Run like you

994503_20135338Last night on the freeway I came upon an accident that I must have missed witnessing by less than a minute. The white SUV, flipped on its side on the side of the road, had twisted metal everywhere. Its lights were still on and I could see the silhouettes of two people, still hanging in their seats. I did not let my gaze rest there, having that sick, gut feeling that I was in the presence of lives, if not at that instant lost, permanently altered.

In those same few split seconds, I saw people running. There were five, six, seven, cars pulled over, hazards switched on, with people running, full throttle, toward the people in that SUV. From the furthest car came a uniformed police officer who must have just gotten off his shift. He was, in the parlance of eighth grade, totally booking.

“Wow,” I said out loud. Then, “oh yeah… om mani padme hung.” This is what my teacher says to do when you are not a medic, when you know that you would get in the way of people who know what they are doing, but you wish to help. (I am not a very good Buddhist scholar, but I understand this mantra as basically a wish or a prayer for love and compassion for all of the people involved.)

Moments later, at my exit, a man in a car next to me waved for me to roll my window down. For some reason, I thought he was going to tell me I had a spent taillight or maybe that he liked my bumper sticker, but instead he asked me “did you see that accident back there?”

When I told him I had, he recounted a particularly grisly detail that he had witnessed about one of the passengers, how difficult it would be for him to release that image from his mind.

“I feel so blessed, I’ve never been in a bad car accident,” he said. “Have you?”

I nodded that I had.

“Are you all okay now? Everything better?”

“Um, yeah,” I said, knowing that the answer was more complicated than yes or no. I wasn’t physically hurt. But I was driving someone I love, and he was.  Our lives continued, permanently altered.

“Be safe tonight, okay?” the man said. “You’re too purty to get hurt.”

I thanked him, kind of bemused that purty-ness would or should protect one from anything, but I appreciated his wish for my safety.

This morning I woke up from dreaming about those people running toward that SUV. They were conflated with the memory of hanging from my own seatbelt in my car, at 17, seeing people running toward me and my brother with everything they had in them, having others seem to appear out of nowhere. Having people leave messages on our answering machine that said “was that your car I saw on the news?”

There are people in the world who charge toward people who are hurt with everything they have in them. Sometimes it’s physical injury, sometimes it’s a more subtle one, like shame or fear.

They are such a miracle, you know?

I’m not enough like them. But I want to be.

Related Posts:

Under the Whale

I tempted fate when I was seven.

I looked up at the life-sized replica of a blue whale, diving toward the ground in the Hall of Ocean Life in the American Museum of Natural History. I couldn’t find a logical reason for it to hang there securely, touching the ceiling with only a small portion of its spine. I was certain that if I ventured beneath the lines of its long, wide belly it would fall and I’d be crushed.

But I inched toward it, stretched my leg outward and planted one foot in the line of mortal danger before pulling it right back out again. I filled my lungs with air, took a full step in and dashed back out like my foot was on fire. Then I steeled myself and went under again, maybe two or three steps before my hasty retreat. Finally I held my breath, sprinted beneath the whale’s most daunting section and stood there, not blinking, for the length of a heartbeat.

I can remember doing this a few times as a child on weekend visits to Manhattan. Once I’d mustered the courage to gaze straight up into the metric ton of fiberglass whale jowls, my work there was done. I’d found the courage to face and survive my fabricated deathtrap scenario. I was ready to explore the open sea. Or the third grade.

In my twenties, I bought a big postcard of the AMNH whale on a trip back east to pin to a bulletin board that hung above my desk. A timid alternative weekly reporter who sometimes had to tackle a governor for comment or interview an ex-Neo Nazi, there were many days when I felt myself reliving that ritual. I’d stick my toe into that civic event, linger on the side, then bolt right up to that politician and breathlessly ask my hard question. Although, truth be told, I think George Voinovich reminded me more of a woodchuck than a majestic whale when I stared into his jowls.

A coworker puzzled over the postcard once when he stopped to talk to me. I explained my childhood ritual, and said venturing under the whale seemed like life in our struggling medium. He laughed appreciatively, and began whooping “living under the whale!” over my cubicle wall at me whenever he passed by. This would be, we joked during smoke breaks, the name of my memoir one day.

I’ve faced a few falling whales since I was seven, and not all of them have been a product of my imagination. This year, I feel like I might as well get a 100-foot backpack and carry the thing around. That’s just the kind of year it’s been — relentless in its bad news and losses and lessons. 2010 has some kind of point to make.

But the days of immediate stress and crisis are, in some ways easier than the days you spend in their wake. Still tired, you stand on the perimeter of the room, deciding how, or whether you should even try to face your personal boogeymammal. You start thinking about which screws you loosened in your own life that helped things fall apart. Suddenly the Hall of Ocean Life is the last place you want to visit.

Yesterday I met a friend for coffee and we reminded each other of a piece of advice we’d both been given by our wiser friends: Sometimes you have to let yourself mourn the life you were expecting, the life thought you deserved, in order to move on.  In some ways, I feel like I’ve already been doing that for a while, but I’ve signed a one-year commitment to an Al-Anon 12 Step group to keep pushing through that process to a new place.

I used to think the steps were something only alcoholics do, but I no longer see it as a chore or a burden. It’s an unburdening. I feel so lucky that this opportunity to try and build a brick house beneath the whale has come to me.

I don’t know how much more I will say directly about that process here – maybe nothing, maybe a ton – but it felt important to at least say it once. Today would have been my 10th wedding anniversary, an occasion to celebrate under different circumstances. Writing this – putting that first toe back out into the line of mortal peril – is how I’m handling that.

I took my son to the AMNH this summer, where we made it a point to venture into the Hall of Ocean Life, even though he would have happily spent the entire visit without leaving its Rose Center for Earth and Space. I told him about my childhood fears. He stood under all 96 feet of whale, looking up and said “this doesn’t scare me, mom.”  I thought about being hurt, but instead I said “I’m glad. I’m not scared of it anymore either.”

He honored me by buying a plush version of the whale as the emblem of the place he loved the most in New York City.

Related Posts:

This rubber band

Ten-ish years ago, one of my best childhood friends and her husband split up. Being engaged, rounding 30 and kidless, I can’t say I at all understood how difficult her decision to venture forward on her own with two young daughters really was. But I did what I knew to do as a long-time friend — I simply spent a lot of time with her. We regaled her daughters with stories about the things we did when we were girls: the songs we liked to sing until 2 am, the way we seemed to be perpetually rearranging each other’s bedrooms, our gullibility in thinking that we could be “discovered” by a Hollywood agent on the way to buy milk for her mom in suburban Ohio.

And we laughed like crazy. We laughed with her girls the way we did when we were girls together. I accompanied them on mundane trips to the drug store. They liked to brush and braid my hair when we talked. Like their mom, I began to count the girls among my best friends.

“You should have a baby, Tracy,” her older daughter – six or seven-ish at the time –told me while thumbing through stickers at a craft store. “So we can be friends with her and play with her.”

Soon enough, I told her, reminding her that a baby is a long way from a kid. That a baby could also be a boy. A baby would be okay, she told me. Maybe not a boy, but… well, she could babysit him. Maybe.

Her younger daughter was four or five-ish in that time. I liked to read Shel Silverstein poems to her at bedtime. A born comedian, she was already delivering jokes punctuated with “I’ll be here all week” and cracking me up with nonsequitur statements like “I’m weak without light” when I had a mouthful of food. I told her mom that she needed to investigate whether there was any such thing as a kids’ comedy camp in the Catskill Mountains.

I realized in that time what perfection childhood can be. How deserving every kid is of an appreciative audience now and then, how happy and privileged I felt to be in the front row of their lives, how fun it is to make sense of the world through play. They taught me that there’s something about the way of seeing things when you’re around five that’s utterly spectacular well before I had my own almost five-year-old.

Their mom was in the hospital with us when my son was born, and the girls both held him in the first days of his life. They are teenagers now. And as their social lives grow, I don’t always see them when I see their mom, but when I do, I see that they both have the patience for and joy in play with Declan that their mother had with them.

We spent the whole day together about a week ago, doing the same kinds of simple, everyday things we did a decade ago. Declan was talking about the sizes of different breeds of puppies at lunchtime, so we all went and looked at some. We did household errands, made infinitely more interesting because we were all doing them together. The girls asked my son for hugs and tickled him and their mom bought him a $3 ball.

Before we left, we sat on the floor of their house, playing “Hot Potato,” but no one was really ever out. Declan held onto the ball every round, hitting my still deadpan comedy-inclined teenage friend with it at the last minute while laughing hysterically.

Lately, I’ve been testing the elasticity of many of the friendships I’ve collected in this life and finding that they can snap back into shape more easily than I realized. A week ago I had a day that, on paper, may look pretty unspectacular. But it was a great day.

Related Posts:

Mean girl, reconsidered

She was my mean girl in high school.

I dreaded going to school. I dreaded the classes we had together.

I was sure it was her that scrawled the word “bitch” on my locker or my notebook that one day in French class, that she convinced one of her friends to do it. I remember the whispers, the loud mocking laughs paired with sharp glances my direction. There was a boy we had in common. And I had just switched back to public from private school, which automatically branded me elitist.

She and I made dramatic gestures to turn ourselves into friends in front of teachers and counselors, or at least make ourselves into non-enemies, but they didn’t seem to last. There was weirdness, and fundamental mistrust. She, like so many things about high school, made me restless and anxious to leave. So I did. I made my junior year into my junior/senior year so I could be far from proms and football games and mean girls and graffiti before I turned 17.

The other day, Facebook sent me some message that one guy or another wanted me to confirm that we were classmates on some application or other. I clicked there and looked around and suddenly there she was, the same big eyes, the same perfect makeup, the same smooth hair.

For some reason her profile is public, so naturally, I look. I wonder who she has become, if I could learn something that would make her more or less horrible in my memory, if we share anything. She is single, I see. There are a lot of pictures of her alone or with pets. There she is at our reunion, which I’d never dream of attending, photographed with a couple of other women that I hope to never see again. And then there are pictures of her with family. Of her radiant and pregnant. Of her pained and in labor.

And then one of her with severely bloodshot eyes, her face smeared with tears. She is holding a tiny, swaddled, lifeless baby. She looks throttled by grief. Or shock. Or something I can barely begin to know how to understand.

“Don’t be sad,” the caption of the picture says. “We loved her very much.” There are no comments or condolences, no words of encouragement beneath it. Just those words. Her own.

I feel it in the pit of my stomach – how brave this is, putting that experience of motherhood, that grief, right out there where high school bitches can run into it haphazardly. It answers questions. It keeps out the riff-raff. It shares something horrible and intimate and defining.

I wonder if I was a mean girl, too. If we were mean to each other. Did I steal her boyfriend? Not according to him, but he was a teenage boy, and I was in that private school at the time, so maybe I don’t know. Did she know how cruel her actions felt? Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. Did I do anything cruel? I don’t remember. I might not have had the social currency that she did, but I know I was hurting in that environment, so probably.

I don’t live with mean girl scars on the surface of my life the way they do in the movies. There are moments when they suddenly swell and pulse, but I don’t long to show up at reunions with high hair and fashion gear, claiming that I invented the Post-it note. High school wasn’t always a social joy, but I’ve had lots of social joy since then.

I wish she could remain my two-dimensional high school mean girl. I could go on with my reunion-less life, letting her be one of the caricatures from my teenage years that I haven’t seen since. I wish that grief-smacked expression never had to cross her face. I wish I could look at her Facebook photos and see her daughter alive, twirling in the sunlight. I’d buy her big, stinky red permanent markers and offer up my locker, my car or my teenaged forehead for 100 bitch stamps to change things for her if I could.

I wish. I wish. I wish.

Related Posts:


This is me in all of my three-weeks-from-17, just-graduated glory, standing next to my brother on a commuter ferry that took us from central New Jersey to South Street Seaport, right in the shadow of the World Trade Center.

In the 1980s, we made most of our treks into New York with our dad. But on the occasion of my early departure from high school, we went back to visit a few childhood friends with mom.

Mom and I unearthed these pictures this summer. Andy and I look so damn serious, which probably has something to do with the fact that it’s early in the morning on an overcast day and neither of us has discovered coffee yet.

I know we’re anxious to get there because we were always anxious to get to Manhattan. At least I know that I was. I was always anxious to be in the thick of crowds and inconceivable buildings and art and celebrities walking around like ordinary people and giant fiberglass whales and taxi cabs and attitude and Fifth Avenue store windows and Broadway musicals.

It seems so much more mortal to me now. But my childhood and teenage memories of this city are the ones that I carry. I remember it this way. I remember this skyline. It was everything in the universe that I could imagine on one little island.

Related Posts:

I Wanna Rock With You: The Michael Jackson memory filter

I never had my own pair of roller skates with hand-made pink baby pom-pons draped over the laces. I don’t remember wanting them. The scuffed gray rentals with faded red stoppers on the toes were good enough. United Skates of America (USA) was a dim place, and the nuclear orange, black-lit flames of the “Disco Inferno” balcony where couples would go and look down at the skaters were far more mesmerizing than anything you could wear on your feet.

We were a displaced, split-up family, displacing our cousins out of having their own bedrooms for a summer while mom looked for a job and a place where she, my brother and I could live in Ohio. The chance to live with our cousins seemed like a dream come true for my brother and I, but it was as hard as it was fun. We became a house of five kids and three adults who sang a lot of “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge and “Boogie Oogie Oogie” by a Taste of Honey in the living room. We drew chest hair on brown grocery bags, wore them like tank tops and danced to “Macho Man” by the Village People for our parents, who laughed hysterically with their hands over their faces. We all fought about stupid things. My mom left my brother and I there for a couple of weeks while she packed up our childhood house on the Jersey shore because she didn’t think we should see it empty. I got in trouble for putting my fingers too close to the electric egg beater when my aunt made a cake. We made massive forts out of bar stools and blankets. I turned 9. We put shoes on our knees and sang “Short People” by Randy Newman (really, what kid didn’t in 1979?).

We got to go roller skating at USA, where it seemed like nighttime no matter what time it actually was. We did laps together, holding hands in a line when Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” came on. We were too young to care about boyfriends and girlfriends so when couples ironically paired off under the disco ball lights during “She’s Out of My Life” my cousins and I skated into the island in the middle of the rink and pretended to sob along with Michael. My aunt or uncle bought “Off the Wall” on vinyl and it gave us a new crop of summer anthems to dance to until my mom started a job and found us a brick house with a lime green master bedroom and a neighbor dog named Thor.

My brother had the jacket from the “Beat It” video and he made awesome, tough-guy faces when he wore it. I remember MTV (and therefore my girlfriends and I being 13 or so) treating the time Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire during a video shoot like the most important breaking news story of our time. I remember watching him moonwalk for the first time on the Motown tribute show and feeling like it looked way more magical than anything Doug Henning had ever mustered. I joined a record club without my mom’s permission soon after that so I could have the 4-record 25 years of Motown collection and boy, I got in some big time trouble but boy, do I still love that music.

I remember thinking “We Are the World” meant that celebrities were good, generous people. And seeing the weird Captain EO movie at Epcot when I was 16 and at Disneyworld for the first time. And pretending that “Man in the Mirror” would inspire my friends and I to march on Washington in college. And thinking that the King of Pop was tragic. And thinking he was crazy. That he was a jerk when I read about how he bought the rights to the Beatles catalog out from under Paul McCartney. And how much I loved his face on the cover of “Off the Wall” and wished that he did too.

In the mid-90s, I was the only female among a bunch of reporters that showed up at a strip bar where his sister LaToya lip-synched to a recording of herself, singing his hits and some kind of Casio-driven medley of Edith Piaf songs. The entire audience was press because it was also the night of the NCAA finals, except for some kids in the parking lot who begged the police officers there to get an autograph for them. The cops obliged, which was kind of dear but also weird. Being that one degree from Michael seemed like the real thrill the kids were seeking.

I was surprised how sad I felt when I heard about MJ’s untimely demise today. I had just watched my son spend the afternoon with his cousins – hugging, swimming, laughing hysterically, sneaking candy and having important arguments over whether “good guy” balls made out of wool felt should be flushed down a fake toilet (also made of wool felt, and actually a bowl) or not. I drove him home just before a chain of thunderstorms hit the house, hugged his dad, cranked up “I Wanna Rock With You,” on the stereo and danced with them the way I did when I had fake chest hair in my cousins’ living room.

[dailymotion id=x1a243_michael-jackson-rock-with-you_music&related=1]
Michael Jackson – Rock with you
Uploaded by Discodandan. – See the latest featured music videos.

What do your memories look like when you see them through the Michael Jackson filter?

Related Posts:


My Facebook connections seem to compound by the day, but I couldn’t feel less connected in general. It’s a little disjointing, this proliferating collection of re-connections with people who have known me at different enough times, in different enough ways, that I’m starting to feel like a whole collection of people.

Yesterday, a picture of me appeared from when I was 18 or 19 at a party. The friend who posted the picture was someone I was close to in college – one of my first truly smart, fun and magical girlfriends, who also guided me into some of the best American literature classes I took in college. I lost touch with her until Facebook, where I found her still looking beautiful and young and with a brand new baby.

There are four of us in the picture. Three of us (including me and my friend) are looking at a Polaroid and laughing. I couldn’t remember the third too well. I Googled her name to see if I could find a better picture. She was easy to find. When I saw her face again, I remembered this long, thin Southern girl full of energy, big laughter and a skill for all kinds of clowning – although that’s about all I remember. It seems she’s lived a pretty remarkable life, holding down an organic farm, making art and working extensively in the rebuilding of New Orleans after Katrina and the Gulf Coast after Ike.

Late last year, she was in a horrible car accident. Her family has constructed a web site full of tributes to her life, and a gut-wrenching Caring Bridge diary about her current condition.

The fourth woman has her back turned to the camera, but I would know who she was from her roll of long blond hair, even if she wasn’t identified.

She was a New Yorker, like so many people I went to college with, a few years older than me and apparently a minor child star, although I don’t think I knew that last fact until years later. She was heady and clever and seemed sort of intellectually untouchable to me. Although we were more friends of each others’ friends than friends to each other, she suggested that I read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper and Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, and I did. She’s not someone that I imagined ever gave me another thought once we left our mountain valley campus.

“You and I don’t know each other all that well, and I’m not asking you to tell me anything,” she once said to me, after we’d run in the same social circles well over a year. “I have enough of my own shit going on that I don’t need to hear anyone else’s. But I can see that you’ve seen or been through something life-altering, something that seems to have rocked you pretty hard. I don’t know what it is, but it’s all over you. You look scared.”

She was right. I told her so. And because what I had seen was a friend, in shock, shaking, with neck and wrists cut open by his own hand who was still, gratefully, alive, I couldn’t talk about it and I didn’t. Yes, I told her, something awful has happened, and no, I can’t say what.

“Isn’t it great to know that you’re porous, like a sponge?” She laughed, a sharpened sympathy about her. She hugged me – being reassuring while maintaining a distance – before going on her way.

A couple or a few years ago, I read in my alumni magazine that she died, at age 36, of a brain aneurysm. She was gone, just like that. Her mother, who had submitted the information, said that she had been happily married when it happened. She also said that, as an organ donor, her daughter’s final act saved the lives of several other people.

Related Posts:

Things I remember about being younger

I spent part of the summer that I turned 20 hanging out with a guy I’ll call Ted who had the word wiggle in his last name. (Really.) He was obsessed with Stan Lee and constantly drew cartoons on the backs of envelopes, napkins and stray scraps of paper. We canvassed southern Connecticut with clipboards from Ralph Nader’s citizen action group and hung out late with our team after work on the Long Island Sound beaches we wanted to see cleaned up. I made him listen to Boogie Down Productions and we drove to Giants Stadium to see David Bowie who sang “Young Americans” only because we were there, we were certain.

I bid him an amicable goodbye and drove back to Ohio in late July, ready to take a road trip with my best childhood friend. She and I took one leg of our trip north, where we hiked the Niagara gorge, listened to a Canadian bartender hold forth about the secret meanings of songs by the Guess Who, wandered the streets of Toronto and got turned away from a Hard Rock Café because of a rip in the knee of my jeans. On our southern leg, we spent time in hostels in Baltimore and D.C. so we could go to free museums for a couple of days, but the time we planned to spend on the beach was destined to be rainy, so we turned the car back north instead.

She had moved out to Western Massachusetts, close to where I was going to college, after doing some road trip time on her own and visiting me twice. She always set her arrival date on the full moon because we have been unequivocally, comfortably silly together ever since we met in the fourth grade. She tried classes at UMass for a bit, but people and comforts in Ohio called her home that summer. She left a sort-of boyfriend out east, and he wanted to see her home state, so we made the trek back toward the Berkshires to retrieve him.

Ted was staying with one of his own childhood friends in Waterbury, Connecticut trying to figure out the next step in his life. He invited us to stop and stay on the living room futon, because our northern detour had kept us in the car for over 10 hours already and we needed a break.

Ted’s friend’s real name was Lenny, but late in high school, he insisted that everyone called him Sean because he was obsessed with Sean Penn. By the time I met Lenny, he wasn’t obsessed with Sean Penn anymore. He was obsessed with Billy Idol, but a third name change didn’t seem reasonable, so Sean he remained, except to Ted, who found the whole thing hilarious, and insisted on calling him Lenny/Sean.

We walked into Lenny/Sean’s apartment while he was still at work, so Ted greeted us alone. The shelves in the entry hallway were full of photos of Lenny/Sean’s family. Among the obvious parents and uncles and grandparents and cousins were two framed pictures of Billy Idol. He sat casually in a chair in one shot, every part of his body completely relaxed, except for his shellacked hair. He wore shades and a leather jacket in the other, giving the camera an uncharacteristically shy smile over his shoulder. Ted picked up one of the frames and handed it to me. It was clear that the pictures came from a magazine.

The living room had a more overt homage, with a giant white silk screen tapestry of sneering Billy hanging over the futon. The three of us ate pizza and collapsed on the floor, staring up at the pop star’s mean-looking mug.

“Aw… cheer up, Billy,” one of us said, which we all found unreasonably funny. We laughed, manic and punch-drunk for what seemed like a half an hour as we reassured the giant, sneering face that there was no reason to be so angry, that things weren’t so bad.

We regrouped by the time that Lenny/Sean came home from work and settled in for a visit, which was pleasant and free of any mention of “White Weddings” or “Rebel Yells.” Then he grabbed his guitar and sat on the edge of the futon. Ted shot me a slightly alarmed, but bemused look.

Lenny/Sean sang us a song that he wrote, which, to my freshly 20-year-old brain, sounded just fine enough, and thankfully, there were no sneers involved.

But then he launched into a long solo, which he dovetailed into another song that we didn’t recognize, until Lenny/Sean sang the chorus with conviction: “Flesh! Flesh for Fantasy…”

We raised our fists, sneered and sang along.

Related Posts:

September 11

The first tower opened the year that I was born, near enough to Manhattan’s bridges and tunnels for my father to traverse them daily. I only went inside of the World Trade Center a handful of times, but I looked to the twin towers constantly. When they came into view from one of the New Jersey freeways, it meant an adventure was close at hand – always a day inside of one or more of the museums, maybe a stop at FAO Schwartz if I was lucky.

The first time I boarded a plane in Columbus, bound for the LaGuardia airport without an adult, it was my 10th birthday. From that point on, my little brother and I made that trip about three times a year to see our father. Divorce had moved us to Ohio with our mom. I always asked my dad if he could book our flight there at nighttime so that I could look for the city. The hammock of skyline bounded by the Empire State building and the towers helped me pick it out. In all of the awkwardness and emotion of a family split, there was comfort in its glimmer.

We got at least one Manhattan adventure on every trip that kept growing in scope — more Broadway, more restaurants, more celebrity-gazing. (Thanks for waving to me when I was 11, and looked at you wide-eyed in Central Park, William Hurt. It was sweet. And frankly, Sean Penn, you kind of scared me.) As a kid, I never imagined that I wouldn’t live there in my adult life.

Seven years ago this morning, I remember turning on the television, seeing both towers still standing, but burning, and wondering what strange apocalyptic movie VH1 was strangely airing that I had never heard of. I realized the same scene was on every channel. Then I had the body memory of standing on the top floor of Tower Two on a spring day so windy that the outdoor observation deck was closed. The building swayed, and over and over, my knees felt weak. I called my dad, thankfully home and safe in Connecticut, who was processing the scene himself, then getting off the phone to talk to my stepmother, who had just arrived in Grand Central station, safe, but stranded in the chaos of the island for the day as everything shut down, as we all watched in shock as the two towers crumbled.

We were safe, and after I waited for news of colleagues, as well as college and childhood friends for several days, I found out that they were safe too. But my dad and my stepmother talked of the empty cars left at the train stations that week, and the heartsickness that pervaded the entire region for months, the heartsickness that’s clearly still there as I’m watching the children of victims, teenagers who must have been so tenderly young when it happened, place flowers on memorials this morning.

Two months before that day, the company that I worked for decided to shut its Columbus office. I could come work in Los Angeles, they said. How about Atlanta? Then one man called and said “would you be interested in coming to New York?” And Dan and I talked about it seriously. Married less than a year, maybe we could move to Hoboken. Maybe I could move there for a few months alone while he tried to sell his business. But moving for a dot-com didn’t seem very wise, finding a place to live with our beloved dog in or around Manhattan didn’t seem feasible, and shutting down in my husband’s night club seemed like it would leave a cultural wound in Columbus. I imagined in an office 13-ish blocks away, and felt selfishly grateful to instead be at a distance of 477 well-worn miles.

But for all of the hours I spent weepy and confused and frightened and on the phone or watching the horrible-ness and heartbreak and tragedy of it all on television that day, there’s one memory that stands out in my mind most of all. My mother called me to remind me that it was my grandmother’s birthday. I called her close to evening.

“Well, whoever thought I wanted this for my birthday was a real shithead,” my grandmother told me. She wasn’t that salty-tongued most of the time, but you know, sometimes events call for it. “They should take it back.”

In two more days, she would be facing the two-year anniversary of my grandfather‘s death – a man she spent 61+ years head over heels in love with, parented five children with, laughed with and adored. He went into the hospital on the eve of her birthday, then clung dearly to life until he was more than a day clear of it, willfully fighting (if you ask any of his children or grandkids) to leave September 11th with no significance other than it being Grandma’s birthday. He died just a couple of hours after she kissed him goodnight and we all left our hospital vigil, in the early morning hours of September 13.

She had lived through the great depression and World War II. The state of the world shifting, friends and loved ones living in danger of violence — these were not the new experiences for her that they were for me. And September 13 was the day that she received the deepest scar on her heart.

We lost her in 2004, a year before my son was born. Her simple assessment of that day reminded me of how fragile we can be, how quickly scarred and how, reluctantly and painfully or just because we have to, we learn to adapt.

Related Posts:

Windows of distraction

Jen over at one plus two listed seven windows of her soul and asked us for our own. It was just the distraction I needed this morning to clear some of my writing cobwebs, so I thought I’d share my answer here, and add a couple for good measure. Go visit her and share yours too.

1. The swing set, marshes, bulrushes and our little dock on a culde-sac that opened into an expanse of water – the view from my bedroom in my childhood home in Oceanport, New Jersey.

2. The view from the guest bedroom at my grandparents house. There was a gigantic hill we liked to roll ourselves sick down in summer, where neighborhood teenagers came to sled on winter weekend nights until my grandfather played Taps out the window on his trumpet to get them to leave.

3. The windows of the giant, obnoxiously purple bus that first took us up the Santorini cliffside. I mistook my nausea for anxiety about it tipping over, when it was mostly the early stages of morning sickness. (Not that a giant purple bus making hairpin turns on cliff sides didn’t turn more stomachs than my own…)

4. The lilting frame the locust tree leaves and branches make around a piece of sky on our back deck when we lie down on our built-in bench. And the small, second-story window where Declan often looks for the rising moon.

5. The view of Mount Norwottuck outside my campus apartment in Massachusetts – it made all of Hampshire’s ugly 1970s architecture go away. So did my enchanted pine forest there. There’s one so much like it in Yellow Springs, Ohio. All pine forests feel like rooms.

6. The door that opened up to a hammock, rocks, then the sea on Isla Mujeres on our honeymoon.

7. The windows of a beach house in Rhode Island we used to visit in the summertime after we moved to Ohio. Not because of what I could see, but what I could hear, and how very well I slept.

More people are taking part in this writing prompt, courtesy of Jessica at Oh, the Joys. Here is a list you can snag to put at the bottom of your post. If you join in, let me know and I’ll add you to the list:

jen with seven windows of my soul
Jessica with Eleven Windows
Tracy from Tiny Mantras
Defiant Muse from Musings
LSM with Windows
Mrs. Prufrock
Sugarplum’s Mom
Kaliroz with windows
BarrenAlbion with seven windows of my soul
Arwen with windows to my soul
Somewhere in the suburbs with windows
Karen with eight windows
Jennifer with Seven views

Related Posts: