It's not that I want to do them. In fact, I keep hoping that this will be the year I don't. But at nine years and counting, I'm not ready to give them up.
The first is I cry. Early and often. I cry remembering everything that happened on that awful day and the days that followed. I cry at how my city, my country, my world changed. And I cry over the fact that I'm still crying about it nine years later.
I grew up always knowing when Pearl Harbor Day was. My parents would always comment on it every December 7. They'd tell us how it rocked their world, even though they didn't grow up in the U.S. But they'd tell us dry-eyed and matter-of-fact. Some day I'll be like that about September 11. My kids are already, and it's their December 7 and November 22 all rolled into one.
The second is that I read a sequence of emails from that day. I'm on a smallish email list of working mothers who practice attachment parenting and we talk about issues of parenting and work and just general stuff. Some of us met on the list; some of us brought friends to the list; many of us have gotten close over the years. A bunch live in NYC; another bunch in Boston. A smattering live in a variety of other places: Texas, Australia, California. We've been together for years, most of us. On September 11, 2001 at 8:50 a.m. one of our NYC contingent posted an email with the subject line of "Oh shit --". The message said "The World Trade Center just blew up and I saw it out my window."
I read the whole thread every year, reliving all the horror and the confusion and the information and misinformation we shared that day. I had a blackberry and we had email service most of the day, although I was out on the street once we evacuated. I can remember reading all those messages the first time and I feel compelled to relive the experience through my words and those of my fellow moms.
The third thing I do is re-read this series . It's my 9/11 story series, although that wasn't my intent. It's called "Taking Chances" and when I started to write it (years after 9/11) I conceived of it as being about a number of people taking emotional risks, some of which would work out well and some disastrously. Its working title was "the risk series." In it, I have characters who try to get their lovers to commit to a more serious relationship, risking losing the relationship altogether; there's a closeted young man who comes out to his mother; someone decides to adopt a baby knowing he may lose his partner in the process, etc. Emotional risks.
But I had a 9/11 story to write and I didn't know it. I'd avoided writing one when everyone was doing them right after. I felt like you need some distance to do it right, and then after a while I felt I didn't want to. Still it was there. As my characters struggle with what feels risky to them they don't know that - like the people who perished at the WTC and the Pentagon - the biggest risk they were taking was just getting up and going to work. The actual act of violence is nothing like 9/11, but the devastation is the same. Some of my characters survived and some didn't. All were changed, and in subsequent stories they look back on 4/16, when it happened, like we view 9/11.
While I was writing that story I was taking my girls to school one day, as I did every morning, and Kendra asked me to read what I was working on. I demurred and she assumed there was a sex scene (since I never read those to the kids) and said I should just skip that part. I said that it wasn't sex, but that this story was kind of my 9/11 story and the part I had just written was pretty intense. She said, in that I-know-so-much-more-than-adults voice that anyone who has ever had a pre-teen will remember, "Mooommmmmm. I lived through the real thing. I think I can handle the X-Men version." And she did. And she could.