Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Never Forget

One year ago tomorrow was my Checkmate Day; the day that my cancer was extracted from my body, the day that I was finally able to start fighting back. While I was keenly aware of my diagnosis anniversary as it approached, this one seemed to surface out of no where. That small realization -- that I will not always see this year as a reflection of last -- feels like a gigantic and unexpected victory. 

Of course, today is still a powerful anniversary, not in my cancer battle, but in our nation's history. I have never written about 9/11 but tonight, I want to. To be honest, I never expected that, either. 

*  *  *

Until this past month, I wasn't aware of the significant hype surrounding the first day of kindergarten, more so for the parents than the kids, perhaps. All that hype made me smile, but truthfully, I wasn't feeling the nostalgia, the anxiety, or the sadness that it seemed like other parents were feeling (can you say, Effexor?). Even Brian was having a tough time with the thought of Teddy going off to kindergarten, particularly, he told me, with the thought of Teddy trying to buy his lunch in a cafeteria full of kids that were bigger than him. I just laughed at this and told him that Teddy would be just fine. 

I realized how much I am like my mother when I didn't feel much emotion about my oldest's fast-approaching "first day." I had dropped Teddy off at day care since he was a few months old so it wasn't like this was the first time that he and I would spend our days apart. 

Perhaps because I hadn't built it up in my head as one of my grand visions, getting Teddy ready for kindergarten this past Monday morning was wonderfully precious. He was nervous, which was not only adorable, but it also meant that he wasn't feeling confident enough to be a pain in the a$$. That, in turn meant that he actually got dressed, ate his breakfast, and put his shoes on when I asked him to. Talk about firsts. 

When we heard the bus humming down the street, I saw Teddy jump up and down a few times. Then he climbed up the bus stairs, and was gone before I even knew what had happened. 

Immediately after the bus pulled away, Annabel was hysterical. “Teddyyyyy!!!" she screamed with elephant tears streaming down her face. "Whe-a did he go? I want him come baack!! Teddyyyy!! Come back!!!” she wailed in Brian’s arms. 

Brian quickly handed our screaming child to me so that he could rush to school. My mom had stopped by to see the action so she and I were left alone to console Annabel. My mom’s more the Oh, you're just fi-ine type, which I admit, can be very useful (see above), but sometimes I’m a bit more "granola-crunchy," as she likes to say. I've gathered that "granola-crunchy" is a term she made up, and I'm pretty sure that she uses it to mean that I explain things to my kids when she believes that "Oh, you're just fi-ine" would suffice. 

“He’ll be back later today; he just went to school,” I explained to Annabel as she continued to sob. "Did you want to be here when he gets off the bus?" I asked her. But she was too upset to answer. 

Brian was upstairs changing Annabel when Teddy’s bus pulled up to drop him off later that afternoon. When Annabel heard me yell, “Buh-us!” she leapt out of Brian’s arms before he even had a chance to hand her a clean shirt. As I walked down the driveway to meet Teddy, I turned around to see a tiny bolt of skinny whiteness and Lightning McQueen pajama pants flash by me.

“Teddy! Teddy! Ted! Ted! Ted!” she squeaked in the purest form of excitement I have ever seen. She was so happy to see him that she literally couldn’t get his full name out. 

The remaining kids on the bus looked out their windows in utter confusion, trying to figure out why this kid was half naked and why she was so excited. Their faces were priceless, as was the little scene I saw when I turned around. My two kids were standing in the driveway hugging each other.

“I love you, Ted,” Annabel declared.

Teddy let out a smile even though I think he was trying not to.

“Love you, Boo,” he replied. 

I will love that story as long as I live, and even more so on days like today when our two little cherubs bickered for most of the morning.  

*  *  *

Like many people young and old, I remember September 11, 2001 as if it were yesterday. My memories are not like a story that flows gracefully from one scene to the next. Rather, they are like short video clips set to slow motion. I remember so many of those clips, from just after 9am on 9/11 and through the days, weeks, and months afterwards. But there's only one of those clips that I want to write about tonight.

On the morning of 9/11/01, I was a senior at Bowdoin College, sitting in a class that I can't even remember. In fact, I really don't remember much about what I first heard or how I heard it. I just remember leaving class and thinking that the sky was so blue. I remember feeling like it was far too beautiful of a day for something horrible to happen. 

After that, my memories get blurry -- I got a ride back home from one of Brian's friends who knew lots of people in New York. I remember sitting there trying to think of everyone that I knew in New York and praying (yes, praying) that they were all safe. Then I remember watching the news from behind my hands. Brian was there with me by that point and I remember being so thankful that he could watch what I was not able to. And then I remember that kicked-in-the-gut feeling that my entire world was on the verge of ending. That thought came when I heard something about a plane near Washington, DC, possibly, heading for the White House.  

My slow motion video clip stops there. It freezes on the carpet that covered the stairs in me and my friends' apartment. I remember sitting on those stairs, fixated on that carpet. And I remembering thinking about my sister and realizing that if anything ever happened to her, I didn't know how I'd ever get up from there. 

On 9/11/2001, my sister was a student at The George Washington University. Having visited her several times, I knew how close to the White House she lived and worked and went to class. And so I remember that carpet through my shaking hands, and the newscasters' repeated frantic reports of a plane or even planes targeting our nation's capitol, and flashes of my sister's face. Twelve years ago today, tears streamed down my face as the thought of losing my sister terrorized me. 

This week I am reminded of one of the most precious gifts in the world -- the love for and from a brother or a sister. In the most tragic of ways, I remember that love every time I think of 9/11. I remember how relieved I was when I finally heard that Rachel was OK and, weeks later, when I finally started to trust that no other planes were going to be taken. I cannot even fathom what others have endured if they were not blessed with the news that I received. Even now, 12 years later, I cannot comprehend that thousands of brothers and sisters lost a brother or a sister that day. 

We are very blessed who have loved, and been loved by, a sibling. Even though on most days I remember that, on 9/11, I never forget it. 

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