So, you want to meet my mother you say? Sure, sure I think we can arrange that. You’ll have to find that bastion of liberalism that she and my father live upon. It’s a hill overlooking a small pond and two fields in the middle of the cow and horse and chicken and Republican country of Central New Jersey. Oh, it’s beautiful – no doubt about that – and what it lacks in nearby facilities that would entertain a teenager, it more than makes up for with its beautiful seclusion and the leafy trees that hide my childhood home from the neighbors for about three quarters of the year.
And what about my mother? Well, she’s been wrong three or four times in the past twenty years. (That’s not a joke, we really do keep track because it happens so infrequently). When a relative said he ruled his house with an iron fist, she told him she ruled with an “iron lung.” (She can be very loud and frightening on occasion.) She also may be seen as a little emotionally detached at times, but it’s only because she talks straight to you and doesn’t bullshit around trying to mince words to make something sound nicer. I find that to be an admirable trait, and have adopted a bit of emotional detachment for myself. She’s a remarkable woman and one of the two people I admire most in this world (the other being my father).
September 11th, 2001.
I was in eighth grade. My science teacher, the delightfully edibly named Mr. Bacon, told us early that morning that a plane (perhaps planes at that point) had hit the towers. Alright, what does that mean, Mr. Bacon? A plane hit the towers? Haha, that’s weird! Haha, that’s funny. Haha! One kid’s birthday was on September 11th, and he thought it was the funniest thing that planes would be hitting the highest buildings in New York on his day. We all thought it was funny. It was funny because we were kids and because we had no idea what any of it meant. Maybe if we had stopped for a second to think we would have realized, “Wow – holy shit. What the fuck is happening in New York?!?” but we were a few years too young and a few brain cells too few for that.
The call came down from administration soon after Mr. Bacon had spilled the beans. “Don’t talk to the students about the attacks,” they said. So, the day progressed onward in a relatively normal fashion, but somewhere along the way it stopped being about a classmate getting a plane into a building as a birthday present and transformed into something much darker and more frightening and much more real. Teachers would throw up a few questions on the board, and then leave the classroom and run down to the staff room to check out the latest developments on the news, and slowly our collective early teen consciousness became aware of a change in the tide.
The teachers weren’t revealing any information, and after a point they stopped even pretending to teach. We talked amongst ourselves about planes and disasters and war, every few minutes looking up to either see an empty chair where our teacher used to sit or the sunken, pale face of an adult bearing the weight of something heavier than we could imagine.
By the end of the day, the news had spread throughout the school and an “official” announcement was sent through the loudspeaker by the principal. We took our buses home and wondered what would happen next.
My sister was a senior in high school and we both arrived home at the same time. The sky was the perfect clear blue that only exists in movies and memories. Summer still sat in the grasses and the trees and the flowers and smiled down upon us on that desolate day. It was beautiful. My sister and I clamored down the hill behind our house and ran to the garden where we knew we would find my mother. She stood up at the call of our voices, squinting into the bright sunlight. She waved a hand and smiled.
The tears had been threatening to run away from my sister’s eyes, and as we entered the garden they fulfilled their promise. The water poured and my sister choked out a few words as I stood dumbly behind, unsure of my place in the scene.
“Are – are we g-going to war? E-e-everyone says we-we’re going to war!” my sister stammered out.
“I don’t know,” my mother began, “We can’t know that now. But what we do know is – Wow – look at this day! What a beautiful day!” Her hands made operatic sweeping motions through the air. “Whatever happens will happen. We can’t control that. But for now we can enjoy this beautiful weather!” She took off her gardening hat and wiped her brow, “What a beautiful day!” she again repeated.
I thought that was enormously astute advice, but, to some, perhaps it could be misconstrued as being disconnected from reality. She was (is) never disconnected. She simply recognized the clear, pragmatic importance of certain things. Worrying about something she could not possibly affect in that particular moment was not high on her to-do list. But wasting a chance to garden on such a beautiful day? Now that would be something she would worry about.