All week long, on the TV, on the radio, in print, I've heard and seen the same question asked over and over again: "What were you doing when the planes hit on 9/11?" The answers vary considerably and yet they all seem to share a common theme: It was a normal day. People were interrupted while doing yoga, attending a meeting, taking their dogs for a walk. Everything was fine and then boom, just like that, the world fell into chaos.
I can't imagine what that must have been like. What must have it been like to go from fine to unfathomably horrific in a matter of seconds? I wouldn't know because that was not my experience. See, my world went from horrific to unfathomably horrific. Like everyone else, I remember what I was doing the moment I heard about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. I was talking to my husband about the possibility of ending our marriage. Unlike what happened in New York this discussion had not come up out of nowhere. I had been living in hell for well over a year and in the 9th circle of hell for at least 8 months. It had been 8 months earlier that my husband had been diagnosed with a serious mood disorder. He initially attributed all the lies and massive financial debt he had gotten us into (and had managed to conceal from me in previous years) to that illness. I wanted to stand by him and help him conquer the illness but I had certain conditions. He had to see a psychiatrist regularly and he had to take the medication the doctor felt he needed to take. He needed to stop lying to me and he needed to come clean about anything he had lied to me about up to that point. On the morning of 9/11 I came to realize that he had not done the latter two things. Within days I would discover that he hadn't done ANY of those things. Every day I woke up wondering if there would be another secret discovered, another crisis to deal with. My husband's lies were unraveling and he was unraveling right along with them. He didn't want me to leave. He was threatening suicide on a weekly basis. One time he even hurt himself badly enough to require an emergency room visit. He had started to carry his gun in the trunk of his car...as if he wanted it close in case he might finally work up the nerve to "end it." Our son was barely two years old and we were living in a scary violent little world and I wanted to get us out but I wanted to do it in a way that wouldn't end with...well, death.
That's what I was dealing with when a friend called me and told me to turn on the TV. That's was the event I had to emotionally transition from in order to process that the World Trade Center was gone.
That's the mental state within my home when we discovered The Pentagon had been hit...The Pentagon where my brother-in-law frequently worked.
For the next half hour my husband and I were on exactly the same page: find out if his brother was okay. We tried desperately to get through to our relatives Back East, we made calls, sent emails, tried everything. Eventually we got word that his brother was totally fine and in that moment my husband and I both broke into laughter and embraced.
It was the last time I ever hugged my husband. The last time we shared a pure emotion that wasn't tainted with bitterness, anger, hurt, sadness or distrust. It didn't even last the hour. Once I knew that those I loved were OK my mind went to all the families who were getting very different news about their loved ones. I no longer wanted to deal with my marriage that day. I needed the time to absorb what was happening in the world. Like everyone else I was in shock and I knew that when the shock ended I would be in pain. But my husband had already been lost in his own despair for months. Depression doesn't allow you to see what's outside of it. He didn't want to (and perhaps couldn't) focus on what was happening at that moment in the world. He wanted to talk about "us." I get that but I needed another day. I couldn't handle everything at once. That upset him. I went out with my son for some fresh air. When I came back his car was there but he didn't answer me when I called out to him in the house. I mechanically checked the bathrooms and closet to see if that was the day that he had chosen to commit suicide. It wasn't but in the following days things got even more complicated in my marriage. More secrets were revealed and my marriage ended.
I've been listening to the 9/11 coverage for a week and for the first few days I found that I couldn't separate the ten year anniversary of 9/11 from the ten year anniversary of the end of my marriage. The memories made me anxious. They brought back some of the fear and resentment.
And then I went online and started to watch clips of what happened on that day in New York and DC. I listened and read more and more articles about those who had lost their loved ones in the attacks. I watched old news reports. I didn't understand what I was doing at first. Didn't understand why it was so important to me to immerse myself in that earth-shattering moment in time. It certainly wasn't an escape. The stories of 9/11 still bring tears to my eyes.
But as the week went on I began to realize that I was thinking about my personal memories associated with that moment less and less. My anxiety had moved to sadness and then feelings of hope and solidarity for those who had survived. It took me a while to get it but by watching those clips, reading those articles, immersing myself in that history I was allowing myself to grieve the way I hadn't fully been able to do on the actual day. Yes, on September 11, 2001 I had felt the anger and grief of the nation but I had been forced to split my attention between that and the literal survival of the individuals in my own family. It had been too much to process so I had forced myself into automatic pilot. People were sharing their stories, sharing their grief and back then I couldn't even give them my full attention. But that's not the case now. My ex is no longer a threat to himself and he's certainly not a threat to anyone else. We're not close but we're not at odds and we're certainly not at war.
So today, finally, I can truly grieve with the survivors and the families of those who didn't make it in the attacks. By listening to their stories again and again I'm reframing the day to what it's supposed to be. Today is a memorial to America's fallen heroes and our national perseverance. I don't have to split my attention and I won't. What those people went through is...well, there really are no words for it. Today they have all of my prayers and all of my focus. Today I cherish their memories. It's such a little thing but I wanted to give them that. I wanted to give that to myself too and to our country. I don't need to mark the anniversary of the end of my marriage. That's not what today is.
Today is the anniversary of the day our nation proved that we were stronger than those who seek to destroy us. Today that is my sole focus.
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SO MUCH FOR MY HAPPY ENDING