Friday, September 11, 2009

Never a Sure Thing

I went through a long period in my 20s when there was literally zero family/personal tragedy. The worst things that happened to me from around age 21-27 involved relationship breakups. The most stress I experienced was typically related to apartment moves. Nobody in my extended family died. Nobody got sick, had major surgery, lost a limb, lost a house, lost a baby, got divorced... nothing. Things were very quiet in the "major life change" department. I'd been at my job for more than 5 years. I took the calm for granted.

As I left my office building on September 10, 2001, I walked across the street and past the World Trade Center for what would be the last time, although I didn't know it. As usual, I recognized a lot of the same people walking near me. I was on the same schedule with these strangers and saw many of them daily. "My life is like Groundhog Day," I thought. "Every day is the same. Something needs to change."

I really did think that. Of course, you know where this is going.

Change came in relentless waves after 9/11. I never returned to that office. After six months of professional limbo working in New Jersey with my colleagues at an alternate "temporary" site, I resigned and headed to DC for grad school and a job at a university that offered an uncompetitive salary and free graduate classes.

The drama and change continued. My aunt and then my grandma died. Steve and I got married. My dad had hip surgery. I finished grad school and found a new job. My mom had surgery on her vertebra. Steve went to Iraq for six months. My uncle died. Steve and I started trying to have a baby and had two losses right off the bat. Steve's dad began descending deeper into chronic illness. In the last year, two of my real-life friends lost their babies, born too early to survive. I finally made it to the second trimester and ended up in the hospital with preterm labor for 9 weeks. Lexie was born 10 weeks early.

I've wanted to ask someone -- why does this shit happen? Why do babies die? Why did nearly 3,000 people die on the whim of some sick asshole on the other side of the world? But there is no "why." You can get into specific causes, but the big-picture "why" -- it doesn't exist.

What this has taught me is that nothing is a sure thing. I didn't truly understand this before having some real adversity. I think it's good in some ways that I know this now, instead of sailing through life thinking it's a big deal if someone dents my car in the garage or the movers break my mirror. This knowledge can also be bad, though -- as in my earlier aversion to buying Lexie's wardrobe too far ahead. It's irrational. Chances are, now, she'll be alright. But who knows -- the world could end tomorrow. As long as we go together, I think I'd be ok with that.

I really don't have any words of wisdom about this day. I'll be remembering the friends I spent that Tuesday morning with, remembering the ashes and singed papers floating down to the ground in Brooklyn, remembering the acrid smell, remembering how the gorgeous September weather seemed all wrong for that day, remembering the 13 worried messages I had on my machine when I got home after everything happened. Remembering waking up the next morning to a moment of peace before the memories flooded back like a punch in the stomach. Remembering the fat plume of smoke that rose from lower Manhattan for weeks afterward.

Remembering how we thought things would never be the same.


Courtney B. said...

This is an amazing post!!!I too was there that day 8 years ago. Not as close as you....I worked in midtown. I will never forget that day as long as I live and every year on this day I get very somber. My daughter is 7 months old on Saturday and I still struggle when thinking too far ahead into the future. It was a struggle for me to have her but she is here and beautiful. And like you said if the world ended tomorrow as long as she is with me I am ok:) I really enjoy reading your blog

dcpeg said...

Very eloquent and evocative. You also nailed the feeling so many of us had during and following that infamous day. There are no guarantees in life so you plug along and enjoy it the best you can

Every year that passes, I shake less and appreciate more how lucky I am.

Tragedies do seem to come in clusters and, like you, I wonder why. Maybe it's a case of "getting them out of the way" so that we can have some truly joy-filled years. Lexie is such a gift, so perhaps you're starting on a roll of happiness for the coming years! Fingers crossed for all of us!!

FoggyDew said...

I have a picture I took of the Mall from the top of the steps of the Capitol on Sept. 6, 2001. On every previous trip to D.C. I'd made it a point to climb the Capitol steps humming along to "I'm Just a Bill." Little did I know that would be the last time I'd be able to take that picture.

I flew out of National on Sept. 10 to head back home. The next morning I was rushing around Fort Hood, Texas, talking to sources and writing my articles and wondering when, not if, the soldiers there would deploy.

MzMannerz said...

Amazing and poignant post.

Saffy said...

I remember that day - from the other side of the world - being woken by my baby to be's daddy, calling from the US, telling me that he was okay. I remember sitting there at 4am our time fixated on the television sitting there in disbelief... rubbing my tummy, thinking "I can't believe I'm bringing a baby into this"... and of course, I did, but only for 3 weeks, but that's another story. I get your point about Lexie's wardrobe - I refused point blank to take the plastic off our crib mattress until our new daughter was safely home. I thought that I'd be able to sell it on ebay as new if it stayed wrapped. That's how confident I was. I too would rather the world didn't end tomorrow but if it did, I'd hope that my daughter was somewhere else safe, gratefully going knowing that I'd brought a lovely little girl into the world.