I don’t like to think of 9/11/2001. I am sure most of you don’t, but I really have a particularly gag reaction to it because the event occurred only five months after my husband died. I had already battled a number of emotional issues in those five months and my mind just couldn’t handle another. I’d lost my husband and placed his ashes atop a mountain. My refusal to give any of the ashes to Mike’s mother had cost me a complete break with his family, particularly his mother who had emotionally terrorized me on a few occasions with phone calls that I still don’t like to think about. Perhaps I will cover this subject in a later blog entry, when I find the courage to say to a vast audience–one more vast than my close circle of friends–the details of my break with my husband’s family and the words his dysfunctional mother screamed at me… words, I know, she’d glow to know still haunt me to this day… that’s what an alcoholic is good at–stabbing you right in the gut with a blunt knife where you are most vulnerable and wrenching it back and forth. So, I guess in a way unconnected to the events of 9/11/2001, I know what terrorism is on an emotional level.
Anyway, whenever I think of 9/11/2001, I think of loneliness. A lot of people have stories of going home to their families and sharing the comfort of each other on that single night and every time I hear these stories, I’m admittedly overwhelmed with jealousy. I didn’t have that. I went home to an empty house. But I was scared. It was the one time in my adult life that perhaps I could have used a mother’s hug or a lover’s embrace and actually admitted fully to needing such a thing. I never like to admit to needing these things; I’m always afraid I sound dysfunctional. But I needed some comfort that night and I had none.
Perhaps I could have handled the loneliness and lack of comfort had I never had a husband from whom I would have gotten such things in a crisis such as that moment. Perhaps as a single young lady, I simply would have phoned a friend or called my mom or mooched my way to someone’s house for dinner. But at the time, I was grieving the death of my husband. And I didn’t want to burden anyone else with my problems. The fury of emotions that were bubbling within me on that day were wrapped up in anguish of reliving death. Part of me empathized with the new widows I knew were made on that day. Part me of screamed out against the utter pain of life. It was just more proof of how ugly existence could be, how variable life was, and how suddenly everything can change. It was just not a good day to be a five-month old widow.
Part of my emotions also surrounded the image of what could have been. Had Mike not died, he probably would have been out of town on business that day and therefore also trapped. Maybe I wouldn’t have had his comfort at all that night regardless of circumstances. He would have called me, I am sure, but we would have felt the utter desperation of being hopelessly parted from one another. If he weren’t too far away, maybe on the east coast or something, I am sure Mike would have been one of the people to rent a car and drive home to me. That’s just how he was. He wanted to be with me in emotionally stressful situations. He once booked a flight home from his dad’s house in Colorado to be with me because I was emotionally distraught after being fired from a job. I had told him not to do that, but he did it anyway. It was one of the reasons I loved him so much–he did things for me because he wanted to be there for me. I would have done the same for him.
I also used to torture myself by imagining what Mike would have done had he been on United Flight 93. I always think about how those people made desperate phone calls from the plane to their loved ones to say goodbye. I used to try to imagine what Mike would have sounded like had he done that. It made me cry to think about. I don’t think I would have wanted him to leave me such a message or, heaven forbid, to reach me and tell me what was happening on that plane. But because Mike traveled so much with his job, I could not stop myself from picturing the reality of the situation. If he had lived, would he have been on that plane? Would he have been anywhere near NYC for that matter? How would 9/11/2001 really have affected our lives?
I’ll never know. I think a part of me could not resist imagining the what-ifs of this situation because it made more sense in some way that he would die on a plane than the way he actually did die. It’s heroic, almost, to imagine him sacrificing his life to save the lives of countless. Do I think Mike would have been the type of guy to help those who resisted? Yes. Unfortunately. Because I think he was more altruistic than I could ever hope to be.
There is a chance, however, that despite Mike’s busy work schedule, he might have been home that week. And if he had, I would have had that lover’s embrace I craved that night. I would have had someone to go home to when I reluctantly left work. I wanted to stay at work that day just to be around people, even as the building was emptying. I had nowhere else to go. I dreaded the thought of returning to the house that already on normal days felt haunted and hollow.
In my version of how things should have turned out that day, I see myself crawling into bed with him and holding him in a tight embrace as though he were the only solid thing left on earth. Just like we did the evening before he died in the aftermath of a huge fight we’d had that week. In the real memory, I remember thinking that I was so lucky to have him in my life, that I would always have him in my life, and that he was my–to borrow an overused phrase–shelter from the storm. I fully realized my love for him in that moment. I swore to myself to never take him for granted again. Such irony life presents.
I think because of the comfort I had in that moment the evening before he died, I always transpose this memory over my memory of the 9/11/2001 because that is how it should have been when I returned from work that evening. I should have been able to snuggle up to him all night, unafraid of what the next morning would bring–life or more disaster–because I had him to comfort me all night. We had each other to comfort through the night. It wouldn’t have mattered if the world I knew crumbled underneath us. We would have been together in the aftermath.
Instead, I had an empty house. An empty bed. And I slept the rest of the night in nightmares, alternately sobbing for Mike and screaming at him for leaving me. This was how many of my nights were after he died. That’s all I remember of most of my nights in 2001. My voice echoing on empty walls as I implored him to appear before me to give me some message of hope about life after death. To let me know he was watching over me. To tell me everything was okay. Even when it wasn’t really okay.
I was shocked, too, that my parents never called me that night. Or any of my friends. But when I think back on it, and after having talked to friends on why I was left so alone during my grieving period in general, I have come to realize that I gave the impression to everyone that I didn’t need them. Some of my friends didn’t know what to do or say. I didn’t have a blog back then (blogs weren’t really around yet) to express how I felt in a way that would help anyone understand me. I internalized my grief and tried to look strong because I thought that’s what people wanted of me. I really needed a few sympathetic listeners–people who could listen to my grief without trying to fix it or suggest how to get around it. I am not sure anyone of my friends or family knew how to be there for me like that.
Some people have a lot of trouble dealing with people’s grief. These people, I re-categorized as acquaintances because I lost the closeness to them since I knew I could not come to them with my troubles. Perhaps that’s not fair, but whenever I felt my feelings were being shoved aside or blown off, I was hurt.
Other people would internalize my grief. My mom would start crying whenever I expressed how I felt, which just made me feel worse because I was causing her to feel horrible. I didn’t want to make everyone else around me feel as horrible as I felt so I stopped talking about my grief to people who couldn’t separate themselves from what I was saying. I think a lot of my close friends fell into this category. It’s not their fault; they loved Mike too. They didn’t have the capacity to listen without empathizing. These people are still my close friends. They just couldn’t help me.
I damaged a lot of relationships with my grief, too. I admit that. I caused strife and fighting in my family, hopelessly damaging relationships with some members of it. Perhaps it is because I had no release, no where to put all my anger and pain, so I lashed out people who I thought weren’t being sympathetic enough.
Either way, I know it’s partly my fault that I was alone on 9/11/2001. I was too afraid to ask for help. And, I guess, I expected people to offer it to me without my asking, even after I’d made myself appear as if I didn’t need it. I didn’t want to admit to being afraid. I wanted to show my poker face (which, if you really know me, I don’t really have a poker face). I wanted to be brave. Despite the fact that internally, I was falling to pieces.
I guess it’s no surprise to anyone that 9/11/2001 was the lowest point in my grief and probably in my entire life–even worse than the day Mike died because that was just too shocking to feel at the moment it happened. I’m sure it may have felt that way for many people–especially those who lost loved ones that horrible morning. I know I’m not alone in my grief of this day even though the grief I feel is more an internal reflection on what had happened in my own life. I felt like that year had spiraled out of control, beyond repair, and I learned about my own mortality in a way from which I’ve never recovered. Nightmares of nuclear war or a world in chaos which had plagued my youth suddenly seemed a real possibility. And I was more alone than I’d ever been in my entire life. And very much aware of how alone I was.
That’s why I still don’t like to think of 9/11/2001. I cringe when people bring it up and I roll my eyes at all the other news stories, references, and blog entries about it. I even scoff at my own silly attempt to remember what I don’t want to remember and to bring yet another whiny voice into the fold of a mass remembrance that brings so much pain. A mass remembrance that, to me, has always been the symbol of hypocrisy because in the same breath within which someone will tell me to get over the death my husband, the same person will tell me to remember reverently those who died on 9/11/2001 which has led me to two conclusions about how our society thinks one should politely grieve: 1) It’s okay to grieve forever an event in which many people have died and 2) It’s not okay grieve a singular, lusterless death; at least, not for too long.
My emotions around 9/11/2001 are mixed in jealousy, anger, fear, frustration, dissatisfaction, and loneliness. And even though I write about it now in my blog, I think today I need to put it out of my mind for awhile. Call me unpatriotic, but I’ve grieved enough for everyone.