Friday, April 28, 2006

Occasionally Upset


I am watching the late-night re-run of Larry King Live. This is my first problem.

I should be sewing, but I am tired enough that I keep cutting satin backs for blankies to the wrong size. Lately, I am always a little too tired to perform my assigned tasks with any degree of accuracy. I'm in that place where my plate is a little too full and I feel a little too overwhelmed to balance it with any grace.

So I called it quits, and brought my computer to bed in order to write one of the half dozen blog posts I have brewing: reflections on feminism, L.'s pre-school conference report, introducing my best frenemy, my mom's liposuction...there's just so much to say and tell. My sister, whom I pushed to blog, now tells me that I need to post more often. Chalk this up to one of the half-dozen things that I want to do and don't have time to do well. Or rather, to do well enough to suit myself.

And now I'm watching previously enjoyed Larry King. The show tonight is about the 9/11 movie, United 93. Even though I try to keep it in perspective, it's upsetting me, yet I can't seem to turn it off. My throat closes and I keep tearing up a little, but I'm watching anyway. It makes me think about the day itself, my pregnancy with L., my Dad, and loss in general. I lost my Dad to colon cancer almost two years ago; the memory of the day he died evokes the same kind of tight-chested fear that I experienced on September 11th. One of those days was huge and earth-shaking, the other was personal and family-shaking. But the trauma of the events, and the way the images, sounds, and smells are indelibly burned in my synapses seem similar. The smothering sensation of loss is oddly the same.

I live in Southeastern Minnesota, and I grew up in Upstate NY. But although I have now lived in 2 different countries, 3 of the world's major cities, and 3 states, I consider myself a New Yorker. Any of you who are real New Yorkers (and my sister, my husband and somewhere out there, my Dad) can allow themselves a large guffaw right about here. I lived in a med school dorm in the Northeast Bronx for two years, and then spent three years on the Upper East Side while Dirk completed his residency at the city's largest public hospital. I am clearly, by most standards, not a New Yorker. But the city I never intended to love captured my heart completely. While Dirk and I agree that we aren't going to be house-poor and join the charter school/private-school rat race that Manhattan inspires, I think about it every day. In fact, I've already picked out our retirement home, right on East 84th, between York and East End. It's a lovely garden townhome with a one-car tuck-under. Perfection...and likely a pipe dream.

We both happened to be home, in our 400 square foot apartment on First Avenue on 9/11. I was 6 months pregnant with L., and unsure at best what my life as a future SAHM would be like. To be truthful, I was terrified. And that was before I turned on my T.V. that morning. It was a rare morning that I didn't have the T.V. turned on to watch Good Morning America, but Dirk had just finished a night-float shift, and when he got home at 8:30 and went to bed, I dragged my pregnant self back to bed with him. My phone rang just after 9:00, and I heard my sister on the answering machine.

"K? Are you there? Pick up. I'm in the car, and they're saying on the radio that something happened at the U.N. Can you turn on your local news and see? Pick up!"

So I picked up the phone and turned on the television. You know the rest.

Now, by all measures, I was a lucky resident of Manhattan that day. We lived about 7 miles uptown from the WTC. All the smoke on your screens that day blew over the harbor and Brooklyn - but in my neighborhood it was a picture-perfect September day. My mom kept calling to ask me if any of the fires were creeping closer, but the sky outside my window was blue and cloudless, except for the plume that rose in the distance. I didn't know anyone who worked that far downtown. I was probably as far removed from the event as anyone on the island that day could be. When I have bad dreams, when I watch the sky - still, even here in the middle-of-nowhere MN, when I watch Larry King and cry, I think that I must have a serious problem with melodrama. After all, I was really only witness to the event in the same way that most of you were witness to it: on T.V. I have no real claim to PTSD, five years after an event I watched from a fairly safe and sanitized distance.

But it was still the scariest day of my life. And I think it was the day that I became a mother. My overwhelming thought was fear for the safety of the little girl inside me. I had a daily pregnancy journal, bought at the B&N on E. 86th, and later that day - after the towers had come down, after we'd ventured outside to see the smoke rising and thousands of silent people in suits marching North on the sidewalks lining a deserted First Ave., after we found our neighborhood bars and pizza joints stuffed full of wide-eyed zombies - I sat down in the bathroom to jot down my daily thoughts.

I am not, as one might tell from this blog, an avid journal writer. While I consider myself to be introspective, I am not one to write out my hopes and fears. Every few years, I take down a battered composition notebook and jot down some drivel. So my daily journal for the duration of L.'s pregnancy was a forced exercise that I put myself through in order to try to psych myself up for the impending arrival of my bundle of terror. But that was the day that I began to think about her safety and well-being, instead of my own. I began to think about what life we may or may not be allowed to share with her. As I wrote that I would strive to teach her tolerance above all, and raise her to be a woman who would help bring peace to our clearly troubled world, I began to think about what kind of parent I would be, instead of how my life would change when she arrived. Her, not me.

I've been thinking about this subject all day: how I became a mother. Not a woman with a child, but a mother. You all know that it's different. Then Larry King - of all the ridiculous creatures - brought it all full circle, in a weird, roundabout, melodramatic way. Maybe I just needed a good moment of wallowing to let out some tension with those tears. Maybe I just needed to feel empathy with the parents talking about their lost children to help me see past the unfolded laundry and unfinished work.

6 comments:

lynsalyns said...

Beautiful, KK. I remember that day so well and the terror I felt knowing you and Dirk and L were so close to such violence. I wanted to get to you more than anything - to see you for myself and know you were alright and safe.

I love you lots, little sister.

Mom101 said...

I'm with Amy, this is beautiful.

I myself has avoided all the press on that movie to the best of my ability. Like you I was in Manhattan that day, only I was in the west village. I watched the towers fall, live with my own eyes, from my balcony less than a mile north. Oh, and it was my birthday.

I suppose I'll have more to say on it come September. But I agree that event had a lot to do with me closing some doors and opening the ones that led me to motherhood. Thanks for the reminder. I owe you for that.

Binky said...

All I can say is that I love this post.

lynsalyns said...

Told you it was a great post.

As Emmie says, "Moe." Keep it up.

mothergoosemouse said...

Similar situation (except I was at work on the west side of midtown and walked home to the east side, E. 66th and Second Ave, and I was only three months pregnant) and similar feelings. I also used to work at the Pentagon, and Kyle and I were scheduled to fly later that day.

I can't watch the movie. My visual imagination is way too active already when it comes to such tragic events. I don't think a movie producer can conjure up anything worse than what I've already envisioned, and I think about it every day as it is.

By the way, found you at Motherhood Uncensored where we had similar reactions to MS, so I knew I needed to come check you out.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

wonderful post, karen.