September 11, 2001. Every year I can feel the vibrations of this anniversary for weeks before it approaches. When it finally arrives, it is almost a relief to cry a little and move on. No I didn’t lose a loved one in the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers but in a weird twist of fate I did lose a loved one that day. Or at least I was supposed to. That was the day I was scheduled to give birth to my daughter Faith
whom we already knew was dead or dying but for whom we were still secretly praying for a miracle. Instead I woke up to my mom calling me to tell me she wasn’t going to make her flight that morning after all.
“But why…?” I stuttered in a haze of disbelief. If ever a girl needed her mom, it was now.
“There’s been a… I can’t explain it. Go turn on your T.V.”
“What? Which channel?”
“Any of them.”
I got to my T.V. just in time to see the second tower come crashing down. At the time no one really knew what was happening so I went to work. (I will leave it to you to shake your head over the fact that I refused to take off work even on the day my labor was scheduled to be induced.) My students and I spent the entire class period surfing the Internet trying to find more information until I finally just dismissed them early so they could go hold their loved ones a little tighter.
After I was done teaching I went to my doctor’s appointment. There wasn’t a soul there but the doctor, my husband and I. Just to be safe they were clearing all non-essential cases from the hospital, women gestating dying babies included. And so while the rest of the country walked around in a haze of grief and mourning, my too-still belly and I joined them. My grief was private but it felt as if every stranger shared my pain. This is what I remember.
Sometimes you remember the anniversary but sometimes the anniversary remembers you.
March 8th, 2004. This date too sends out shock waves, predictors of the earthquake to come. This was the date of the sentencing of my abusive ex-boyfriend
, the culmination of an ugly court case and the worst nine months of my entire life. I watched via tape because again I was incapacitated with pregnancy.
He plead guilty saving us all the protracted indignity of a jury trial and yet still getting in one last dig by using an “Alford Plea” meaning that all his admission of guilt meant was that he believed the State had enough evidence to convict but he wasn’t admitting that he did anything wrong. After he was chastised by the judge and led away in handcuffs, my body let out a huge sigh of relief finally releasing the teeth-chattering anxiety I’d been holding for the duration of the court case. The relief was so great that I went into labor and my second son was born early the next day. This was not coincidence. And yet despite it being a day of great import to me I never remember it.
Yesterday found me spilling my guts to a friend. At first I was confused – ostensibly we had met so that she could vent about her problems. She has a demanding and difficult yet very important job: she’s a public defender, the lawyer who represents the people charged with crimes a.k.a. the most hated lawyer. And she just got assigned her first murder case. Clearly her issues are more pressing than mine.
Yet I insisted on hijacking the conversation with my 10-years-in-the-past issues, asking her why the defense attorney who represented my boyfriend was such a jerk to me, why the ex was allowed to use the Alford Plea, why I wasn’t allowed to read the results of his psychological evaluation, why, why, why. During the trial, whether it was because I lacked the wherewithal to ask them or because the State’s lawyer lacked the wherewithal to answer them, I ended up with a lot of unanswered and unexplained questions. My friend with her unique legal perspective was able to finally give me some answers. Answers I didn’t even realize I still wanted until she so gently offered them.
After an hour I finally stopped myself long enough to ask the why of myself. Why all the questions? Why the resurgence of the memories and nightmares? Why the dull ache in my stomach for the past few days? Perhaps even why the panic attacks? And especially why now*? And then the date hit me: the anniversary that I demand myself to forget was coming for me. Strangely Hallmark doesn’t have a card for this. All the sadness, the worry, the fear, the self-loathing: My grief was public and it felt like no one shared my pain. This is what I do not remember.
But my body does. Like wax lost in a batik, strange what the heart chooses to hold between the pauses in its rhythms.
*In wondering why this anniversary felt particularly hard this year, it didn’t occur to me until I wrote this post that this is the seventh year. In addition to jail time, treatment and some fines, the judge sentenced him to seven years on the Sex Offender Registry. In a week he will be taken off the registry and I’ll no longer know where he is. No one will. No wonder I had a panic attack.
Do you have an anniversary that sneaks up on you every year? Do any of you have things that your body remembers before your mind does? What were you doing on Sep. 11, 2001?