September 11

The anniversary.  I sense its arrival and hate that it’s coming.  I hate that there are so many shoulds surrounding that day.


I hate that there are so many “never before seen” pieces of raw video footage from the September 11 attacks, and that there will be hour upon hour of retrospectives.  I hate how we mark it in years and in television specials, in t-shirts and bumper stickers, in coffee table books and in window decals.

I hate that it ever happened, and that so many people are forever changed, damaged, and cheated.  Wives without husbands. Sons without mothers. Aging parents without adult children.  Friends left alone with their memories.  Marriages that never took place.  Holes in family pictures where people should be.
I hate that it’s still the first thing I think of when a plane flies too close overhead. Or that I think of it sometimes when the power goes out.  I hate that I will never again be at ease if I travel by plane, and that I worry more about flying without my family, and dying without them and leaving them, than having us all perish together.  I hate that I’ve actually thought of that.  I hate that my children will fly without me on a plane someday, or live in a large city far away, and that my fear will always be there, right there, no matter how I rationalize it.
I hate that the news media tries to make 9/11 victims into two-dimensional heroes. They weren’t sound bites.  They were people.  People who held hands and jumped together from unimaginable smoke and flames, who ran up flights of stairs with forty pounds of gear on their backs, towards — and not from — the horror, who ushered everyone out of the building, who made a split-second decision to help someone else without thinking of themselves first.  It feels ugly sometimes to hear those snippets and see those photos, because it has come to define them as all they were.  To their families, to their friends, to their mothers, to their commuter bus buddies, to their softball teams, to their neighbors, they were an immeasurable amount  more — not to be minimized in thirty seconds or in a still image.  It’s painful and breath-snatching to absorb that incomprehensible loss, over and over again, so many times, to so many families.  But we need to remember them that way. They deserve that, at least.

I hate that I’m going to have to explain the reality of 9/11 to my almost ten year-old daughter, who will have more questions than I’ll ever be ready to answer.  How do you explain the deaths of so many people, all at once, in a hushed, horrible black cloud of smoke, who were simply gone, taken, stolen? How can you tell a child that such a thing won’t ever happen again?  You can’t.  Then I hate how weak I feel when I think of the mothers who had to parent alone — my God, who had to give birth alone surrounded by so much sadness, and see the unmistakable face of the person they’d lost in their newborn child — because their husbands died in those towers and on those planes, and never once saw their babies.
I hate that there are naive, childish, delusional parts of my psyche that want someone — anyone, anyone who holds the magical turnkey — to say it never happened, it was all a mistake, and that every single person who was lost that day can somehow return. Everyone in those towers and planes, in the Pentagon building, and in the FDNY fire trucks, can all be returned to their families and their lives. I’d return the gift of the last ten years to make that happen.  As long as all the good could remain, as long as what I’d been given in marriage and motherhood could stay, as long as I could still be who I’ve grown into in spite of and because of it, then I’d hand those years back, so all the girlfriends and cubicle workers and brothers and mothers and toddlers and uncles could have them again and hold them, right where they were on September 10, before that God-less, still unimaginable day ever happened.
I hate that there are certain songs, like Train’s inocuous “Drops of Jupiter,” that strangely transport me to where I was a few hours and days after the towers fell, numb from crying and watching the explosion over and over and over and over and over again on the TV until I had to turn it off.  After days of sitting together on our couch in front of the television, stunned and dazed, my husband and I realized that we had no food in the house and needed to go to the supermarket. I drove on Marina Boulevard in San Francisco, where we were living, and remember how white the sidewalks looked, how bright and empty they were, because no one was outside.
When I arrived at the supermarket, the store was silent, and the cashiers stood huddled together, whispering to each other.  I got back in the car, robotic, driving, not remembering how I got there, not even feeling contained in my physical body, and “Drops of Jupiter” wafted from the radio. It seems foolish and odd to say it, but there were lines like “tell me did you sail across the sun did you make it to the Milky Way to see the lights all faded and that heaven is overrated” and I thought of those thousands of souls, all together, somehow peaceful in spite of how they’d been taken so violently from this world. I cried at my childish, fantastical hope that they somehow saw all of us down here, lost and terrified and mourning, and that whatever place or state of being that they’d gone to was one of infinite love and eternal peace, somehow all-encompassing and holding them so tenderly, sparing them from the pull and grief in needing to return to all of us.  That they were alright, I guess.  That they still were, in some beautiful form. That’s what I needed to know.  Tears still come when I hear it.

I hate that there will be an expectation of closure when we come to September 12, 2011, as if we can somehow quantify or encapsulate our grief, neatly and plainly.  It doesn’t work that way.  It shouldn’t.
I hate that I don’t know what else to do but write about it, and that whatever I write will never be enough.
I hate that I haven’t gotten over it. Still. Ever. I hate that none of us ever can.

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  1. Thank you. I have been trying to stay in my bubble leading up to this weekend and am now out of it- for better or worse. Beautifully written…

  2. Beautifully written, Kathleen. Beautifully. You put into words what so many of us are feeling. I'm a ball of anxiety as Sunday approaches. I keep hoping that I'll feel better on Sept. 12, but I know that I won't. As you said, I never will. Kyra and I were watching the news tonight, and as they showed images of the 2nd plane hitting the building, I watched her shaking her head. The kind of shaking-her-head that, as a typical 12 year old, she shouldn't even know how to make. It was heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Love ya, girl.

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