The date comes on my calendar every year, like any other date. People go to work, schedule meetings, roll out new movies and products. As if it were any other date.
From the end of August to the middle of September, I try to pretend it's any other date. I try to mentally skip past it, hoping to forget it like the anniversary of something insignificant. But in waves, I remember.
As the waves of other people's pain and memory rise, mine are stirred. And there are so many memories, all dark, all mingled.
9/11 was my dad's birthday. When the twin towers were attacked in NY, he had just lost his dad to an early heart attack. The last time they'd spoken was an argument, & he never got over that.
Dad's second marriage broke up that year, and we spent his next birthday together, with sadness that was palpable. He tried to be enthusiastic, and he was glad not to be alone, I could tell, but nothing really brought much joy.
Soon after that, his sister died, unexpectedly and mysteriously. She had been his best friend, only a year younger than he. They shared the same birthday. Again, though, she had been estranged from Dad since her own divorce. It was hard on him, but when the chance of reconciliation was gone, I think that's when we lost him, really.
The grief ate away at him until he collapsed with his own heart attack. He was only 48 and had never been in the hospital before, but he spent three solid months in ICU, with one complication after another.
He recovered, and walked my sister down the aisle. We thought he would be fine. His dad suffered with heart problems for 20 years before he died.
9/11 was the last time I saw my dad alive. We went to celebrate his birthday with him again, but he was miserable. It was his first birthday since his sister had died.
Two weeks later, Dad died. The shock and the grief were so incredible, they shook my marriage, as his dad's death had dislodged his own. I felt myself slipping away, the way I'd watched my dad slip.
My dad and I had had one of those complicated divorced-parent relationships, in which it's hard to know what's true and if you're loved. He'd said it so many times, had clearly been afraid I might not know, but in the over-analysis of what's right, I had often missed what was good.
Things had gotten better between Dad and me in the years before he died. We'd become friends, thanks to our spouses' understanding of us. It turned out we were a lot alike, and once we saw that, I think we understood each other enough better to allow space for each other. And we each had a refuge to run to, who would turn us back to each other.
We had those few years together, and we spent a half hour alone together the last night I saw him. He often dealt with grief with anger, pushing people away, but before I left that night, he sat beside me and told me how he missed his sister. He had spent most of the evening furious at everything, trying to hold it in, and blowing bits of steam through clenched teeth. I told him how I loved him. And because of that 30 minutes, my last memories of my dad are good.
I try to remember my dad in my relationships now. I try to forgive quickly, think about how I'm feeling versus how I'm acting. I try to treat people the way I'd want to remember treating them when they die, since there's no guarantee we'll see each other again.
Except in September, when I try to forget. But the flags of other people's pain, of so much sadness surrounding the date, remind me. And I wish business could go on as usual, so I could forget, so the memories would not be stirred.
The signs of healing and moving on, of meetings and birthdays and business on the date...they remind me, too. Perhaps that means I cannot forget, because I want the whole world to stop on 9/11 so I can grieve, so my loss is acknowledged. I want others to be able to stop and grieve their losses, too.
My children make the difference. Before I was pregnant with #3, I dreamed that my dad told me we were going to have a little girl and that her name would be Abigail. The name means "your father is rejoicing," and it gives me peace that at last his sadness is gone.
Abigail was born nine months later, and she is sitting in my lap now, bringing me back to the present, out of my memories, reminding me with her own fat tears and incredible smile and labored words that I'm needed and loved, and the pain of the memories softens with the mysterious blessings of the mundane.