Does anyone else remember how 9/11 seemed like the fire that cleansed? How afterwards those of us with only public losses felt we would never be able to be mean again, we’d never be able to endure hurting anyone, we’d change our lives, we’d help make the world better for everyone. We were wide awake and stunned and constantly going back to the video, the rubble mountains, the list of names in an attempt to process the largeness of the event.
Lovers committed. Friends and families reunited. We knew the sky would clear one day and by God, we’d have our priorities straight.
I remember watching the towers fall in the 5th floor conference room. Someone spotted a fire not too far away, I asserted it must be an accident in a trendy wood-fired oven but it was the Pentagon. I skipped the third class in our statistics intensive to return home and witness, try to help, see, even though we couldn’t go below 14th street. I remember the posters on lampposts everywhere, touting hope, loss, denial. I remember co-signing for a cell phone for my sister who’d walked north in the dust with her cat, living for who-knows-how-long in a friend’s basement music studio.
Gavin drew the gorgeous blue sky he remembers that whole clear day.
I remember feeling like I was really, finally a grown up. I would be part of the solution. It was my turn to step up. My generation had a Pearl Harbor, but we couldn’t see what it meant or what the story arc would be. Remember that we didn’t know if it would be the only attack?
Then it turned into a war, a war I couldn’t connect to the events, and then a second war, and everything got all muddied up. We took sides. The pain backed off, and we forgot how things were going to be better different. We had fires burning all over the place, too many to count, and everyone seemed to get comfortable again.
I finished grad school and reproduced my genetic material.
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Gavin’s diagnosis on 9/7/04 was another day that changed everything. He lived 2 years with a stage IV cancer. A year and a half after his death I started dating and found The First pretty quickly. .
It’s so weird to read about your life in someone else’s book or blog, but young widows have that experience all the time. It’s validating but can be spooky.
Abigail Carter lost her husband on 9/11, in 9/11, and she’s written a wonderful book, The Alchemy of Loss, describing her experiences as a young widowed Mom and some of her upward trajectory out of the pit of loss. She continues to chronicle her recovery on a blog and I love her.
Her first relationship after widowhood was so much like my intense five weeks with The First. She says:
“I was rocked sideways by my own desire, fervor, and heat, the persistent ache of my loneliness forgotten, or perhaps soothed. My new partner, equally wiling, had endured two years of unrequited love from his soon-to-be-ex-wife. // In the coming weeks, we wrote more flirty e-mails full of desire. He wrote me a poem. Is this a phoenix love we have, rising from the ashes of other lives and other loves to clutch life as it passes? … I found myself in a lustful relationship, based not on reality, but on a sleepy, hazy, live-in-the-moment dreamscape.” (p. 236)
I can’t describe my feelings any better. The First and I were twinned, worried we’d dry up. We didn’t share poetry; just sexy texts. To help fill in our world of unreality I gave him the His Dark Materials trilogy for Christmas. Unlike Abby and her love, we kept the kids completely out of it, which definitely added to the sense of fantasy and probably to our lack of judgment.
“I sometimes tried to imagine what our life might be like together -- one large car, four children -- but the image never quite came. // We both had messy lives. We both knew that we were holding each other back from dealing with them. … I wasn’t yet ready to commit so seriously to a man who would sacrifice what was best for him and his kids to be with me, so I began to pull away.” (p. 238)
I could imagine merging our households eventually, but his divorce was starting to happen. All of a sudden I was invisibly in a tussle with his soon-to-be-ex. I couldn’t win against his kids and didn’t want to be part of the changed game. I understood my moral imperative to get out and ended it a week later.
Is it a widowhood thing (many of us share eerily similar experiences) or is every rebound like this?
For me and I think for Abby too, rebound relationships helped us rebuild our energy, imagine new roles, and find strength in different areas. As fantasies, they served their role and then sunsetted out of our lives.
Were those two wars like rebounds for a country trying to comprehend its biggest hurt ever?
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