Where was I on 9/11? I was beginning my second year of graduate school. It was a beautiful New England September day. I had my first ever presentation in front of other grad students and my advisor in two days, and had planned to spend the day preparing. As I was arriving at the physics building, I walked by construction workers in a pickup truck blasting news radio, and thought it was odd. When I got to my office, my officemate and his wife told me that planes had crashed into the WTC.
My dad was at work in one of the areas that was on the news. I called for what seemed like hours until the phone finally connected. I somehow (I don’t believe I had a cell phone yet) connected with my then best friend, and waited for her. A British couple, not having heard, I guess, asked me directions. My friend and I went to one of the big lecture halls and watched on CNN.
Eventually I went home; I was unable to focus at all on preparing my presentation the following day, and it ended up not going that well. There were no planes at all overhead, except fighter jets.
I simply can’t believe it’s been 17 years, because the memories of that day are fresh for me, and vivid. There is an entire generation of kids, including mine, who don’t remember that day. I guess all of history are like that; Pearl Harbor Day, major wars…at the time they are so much a part of the collective experience that you can’t imagine anybody NOT having been touched by it. But slowly time passes, and eventually there is nobody living who has a firsthand memory.
For sure, those of us who were alive that day will never forget.
I remember how open airports were before–how you could walk up to the gate and say goodbye to your loved ones; buy an open ticket and show up at the airport, as though you were boarding a bus, and be where you wanted within hours. All of that changed, I guess permanently. I wouldn’t even remember myself, except that I made an effort to.
Our kids won’t remember the time when things were simpler; when it never occurred to anyone that a plane could be used as a bomb. That makes me sad.
Well, here we are on the other side of the country. Last week I finally got new car plates, which I guess breaks my last legal tie to my old home.
For the last two nights, I’ve had strange dreams.
In the first, I was in grad school again, awaiting my thesis defense. Which is a usual variant of a dream I have. Except this time–for the first time–my PhD was in my new field, not the original one that I did my PhD in. The work I was presenting was the work I had done post-PhD. And I felt OK about it. I woke up at 5 a.m., fell back asleep and re-entered the dream a few times. I just remember one of the series; I was in a dorm room–not one I recognize. A grad school classmate of mine named Jason walked in. I remember wondering how he could just walk into my dorm room and feeling somewhat powerless. His blonde girlfriend was with him and they started making out. My walls were decorated with loudly colorful photos of Hindu gods that I had gotten from the temple; I remembered putting them up not because I was religious, but because I had no wall art and I assumed nobody would ever visit me. Jason and his girlfriend started making out, which was in contrast with the traditional Hindu deities all around, and I felt quite uncomfortable.
Jason left. She asked me how it had been, balancing work and family. I felt old, and said it had been very, very hard. As I spoke she started crying and I recognized that she must be pregnant herself and worried. I held her and for some reason started crying too, but also wondering why I was crying. When I woke up we were crying together.
Then in last night’s dream, I was back in my childhood home. There was a tornado coming. I remember seeing the funnel cloud, which was a double funnel, then thinking back to whether in my waking life I had ever seen a real funnel cloud (I’m not sure; I saw many things I think might have been funnels). There was some sort of inspector visiting, as was my dad’s whole family. I can’t remember if my dad was there too. We all went into the basement with a weather radio and huddled there. The inspector was proud because by the time he got there we were all already in the basement. In the end I think the tornado missed us, and I woke up.
Our transition to the other end of the country has been okay. The place we live now is much more diverse than the ones we left. There are cultural activities for my kids within easy driving distance. The downside is that I have a lot more responsibility than I did at our old home. I see my husband much less…back in residency, he would have five or six bad rotations in a year where he arrived home very late; now it’s the same thing every day and it’s like a permanent bad rotation. I am tired almost all the time.
My mom said today that there were three phases of her marriage; before kids, while raising me, and after. She said that the phase where she and my dad grew apart was when they had me. That before me, her marriage was like an extended six year honeymoon. Then with me, there was financial strain and other strain. Then after I left for college, things became wonderful again. That in retirement they were always together and very much in love.
At the age of 39 I heard my mom say, for the first time, that if she hadn’t had kids, she wouldn’t have regretted it. I don’t know what that means, exactly. I don’t feel bad that she said it, though perhaps I ought. I never felt unloved. It’s hard work raising kids, but in my case if I had not, I think I very much would have regretted it.
Things are different.
I am almost 39. A year and four days away from being 40.
My son is almost 3.
I haven’t written any fiction or poetry in a year.
We are about to move across the country. We are about to move away from the fireflies.
I have a new job. I am a scientist again.
I’ve been in a temporary job for 15 months. It was in the process of becoming permanent.
On the third anniversary of my dad’s death, I was told that it would not become permanent. Sort of like a firing. Well that afternoon they did extend me another three months, so here I am doing my job, sort of a lame duck.
Meanwhile my husband has found a fellowship on the other side of the country. I’m not sure what that means for me.
Also, I reached out to an old friend from my academic days and rekindled a friendship. That part was nice. We went out to a university restaurant for Greek food last week; falafel and octopus, and brussels sprouts.
It should be a happy day; it was once. It’s my dad’s third birthday since he passed, I think. I’ve lost count…that whole part of my life is a blur. What is it now? His un-birthday? My kids won’t even remember it…I don’t remember my grandfathers’. I miss him. I normally work from home on Fridays, but I found an excuse to go to work so I don’t have to be alone with my thoughts all day.
My good friend is doing the fade on me. I really have to go “no contact” on him. What a day.
My boss asked me today about Hinduism/Buddhism and detachment. “How,” she wondered, “do you have a detached marriage?” “And if you love someone and that person dies, are you supposed to not grieve?”
I don’t know the answer. It’s something I’ve wondered about myself, though I haven’t given it much thought in a long time.
My husband also thought that the Gita says not to feel at all–never to laugh too hard, or cry. And I disagree with that to an extent. I think the Gita says to feel the feelings, but not to let them govern your actions. Self-control, basically.