I find that 18 years after 9/11, re-living the day has grown harder somehow and not easier.
A kind of shapeless panic takes hold of me sometime the day before and lasts until the day after. The knowing that everyone will be talking about the tragedy, and nothing else, for 24 hours. The predictable reality that the images from that day will be on a constant relentless loop. The surprising realization that the sights and smells and fears of that day are as easy to conjure up again as they were on that day. Each year, I breathe and move and live through the panic. I'd like to wish away, but it's a river I have to wade through. There's no other way around it.
The panic, of course, is not what makes the re-living harder. Instead, it's the guilt that multiplies and expands as the years go by. 18 years. We've had 18 more years. But they have not.
On 9/11, I was a young lawyer living and working in New York City. I've written often about my experiences of that day, but lately I've been thinking a lot about the day after 9/11.
On September 12, I woke up in my Queens townhouse, and walked outside. There was still visible smoke wafting across the river from Manhattan - where my Times Square law office was located - and it was unspoken that no one would be traveling into Manhattan that day. No memo went out. No phone call chain. No Facebook threads. No one switched their voicemail to an outgoing absence recording.
We all just stayed home.
I walked into town to buy a paper and a bagel at the local bodega. It felt like a very New York thing to do. And I wanted to do "New York things" that day. The small seaside Queens community where I lived at the time - Belle Harbor - was home to a disproportionate number of firefighters and first responders, and we would later learn that our neighborhood suffered the single largest per capita loss in the attacks. The quiet and emptiness of that morning after was a result of this fact and the fact that every single emergency worker - whether they were scheduled to work or not - was doing a shift at Ground Zero that morning.
At home, with my bagel and paper, I sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the television. I wanted to turn it off, but I felt compelled not to. I needed to believe all those missing people were still going to turn up alive.
The front page of the paper carried a photo that haunts me to this day. A photo of a firefighter carrying a lifeless man near the rubble. The caption read: "Firefighter carries unidentified injured man at the scene." The man was neither injured nor unidentified. In fact, to New Yorkers, the man was easily identifiable - he was the charismatic NYPD police chaplain named Father Mychal Judge. Father Judge had died at the scene, and the careless caption angered me. Of all the things to be angry about that morning, I chose this one. It felt more bite-sized and manageable than the rest. (Eventually, I would channel the frustration over the all-wrong caption and photo into an important plot point in my second novel, Secrets of Worry Dolls, but on 9/12, I had not yet found my story-telling voice. That would come much later.)
Later that afternoon, my husband, a New York City medical student, received a call that medical supplies were needed in Manhattan, and I pulled myself away from the television to help him transport supplies from his Brooklyn hospital to Ground Zero. We drove through an empty tunnel in eerie silence, missing for the first and last time, the traffic, the horns, the blaring and blinding noise that New York City was known for. We met police and first responders along the way, doling out supplies and breathing in for a moment the harsh debris they were all covered in.
It became painfully clear within a few hours that our bandages and antiseptics and sutures were not what they needed. We didn't have what they needed. No one did. So we returned home in silence. And defeat.
We threw out our clothes rather than trying to wash the stench from them and slept fitfully.
In the morning, we did the same thing we've done every morning since. We woke up changed.
18 years. It hasn't gotten any easier to re-live 9/11. But I'm just as grateful as I was then - for all of the days after.
I've been hunkered down in my life for the last few months. Here's what I've been up to:
Finishing my next novel (more on that later, but here's a hint: you might want to re-read LEMONGRASS HOPE this summer if you get a little free time. Just saying).
Sorting through my list of priorities to re-adjust (can you relate?)
Gathering my courage to sign up for an aerial yoga class.
Anyway, I'm back, and I'm going out on tour this summer for my latest novel, WHY WE LIE.
I'd love to see you out on the road. (For a list of upcoming events, click here.) Tell me what's new with you.
Eat the chocolate.
Go a little easier on yourself. Everyone air balls it occasionally. In the game of life, as in basketball, the air balls can be downright hysterical if you look at them the right way. So look at them that way today.
Don't hold a grudge about the rudest person you will meet today or even this week. Do you know how long it takes to build up that kind of immunity to kindness? Spoiler alert: a long time. Be impressed. Not mad.
Fun fact! There are 240 calories in two glasses of white wine. You burn 240 calories doing nothing but sitting for 24 hours straight. Coincidence? I think not.
By the way! Hearts are not actually heart-shaped. I know. Mind blown, right? Ok, you already knew that, but did you know that the "heart shape" actually has disputed origins and may have started with a giant fennel plant OR it may have evolved from the shape of, ahem, buttocks! Isn't that both bizarre and interesting?
(I know. Now you have a love letter with the word "buttocks" in it. You're welcome.)
Hey. You know who's interesting? You. You have a story to tell and a path you've taken with twists and turns and surprises that look nothing like mine or anyone else's and would make the writers of This Is Us salivate with the possibility. Tell your story. Even if it's just to your journal. Tell your story.
Oh, and thank you for reading and hearing my stories. Happy Valentine's Day. I'm so glad we're connected.
P.S. No really. Eat the chocolate. xoxo
P.P.S. Read any good love stories lately? Sharing is caring. Comment below.
Yesterday my family and I got trapped inside a store in New York City with Justin Bieber and a bunch of paparazzi and it turned out kind of awesome.
Well, for us, at least.
Hold on. Let me rewind.
For my oldest son's birthday gift, he requested a family day in our favorite city, Manhattan, instead of a birthday party or an extravagant gift. At 15, he's got one foot in childhood nostalgia and the other racing toward a future that will hold car keys, college visits, and broken curfews in no time at all. Needless to say, I was thrilled that his request was a nod to nostalgia. At least for one more year.
We filled the day with some of our favorite tourist stops including Central Park and Times Square, and when handed an unseasonably warm day, we decided to walk from Central Park to Midtown via 5th Avenue to do some window shopping.
We lingered in Tommy Hilfiger. Moved a little faster through the cologne-scented lobbies of Hollister and Abercrombie and Fitch and took in the extraordinary sights at Louis Vuitton and Gucci, with my son even trying on a jacket at Gucci for fun. His jaw dropped when he saw the $4,000 price tag.
"Who spends that kind of money? On a jacket?"
"I have no idea, actually." I laughed.
"Imagine having that kind of money to drop on a jacket? You got to admit. That would be fun."
"Oh, I don't know. I think there are better ways to spend money, don't you?"
He shrugged. He's 15 after all.
We made our way to Times Square, scored some discount play tickets for Aladdin, walked leisurely in and out of the M&M store for a pre-dinner snack, and then landed in the Swatch store. My youngest was picking out a watch to put on her Christmas list. I sent her to the other side of the store so I could buy it and put it away, and I was just finishing up my purchase when we heard a chorus of screams and yells at the front door to the store. There was a group of people closing in on the glass doors. They looked stuck there, almost as if they had somehow joined together as a mass and couldn't squeeze through the door in their conjoined state. I stood there staring at the screaming, frustrated optical illusion for a few moments, wondering why the people couldn't just separate and come inside to buy some adorable and colorful cheap plastic watches like I had done.
But then I realized a few larger men dressed in thick black hoodies were blocking the way. They kept pushing the mass back. A thin man in a hoodie decorated with embroidered roses popped through their grasp into the store shaking off the scene he'd just exited with annoyance, and looking around anxiously. Some security stayed outside the door, but a few security guards followed the thin, annoyed man inside, inadvertently bringing with them some straggling amateur photographers. A buzz of slowly escalating chaos ensued. I saw someone hold up a sign outside the door:
Justin, we love you.
Justin? As in, Bieber? Could it be? I tried to get a better look at him under his hood as he looked toward the store's side exit, furtively, for somewhere to escape to.
Concerned about the chaos, my husband started pushing the kids out the same exit Justin and his guards were eyeing.
"Come on," he demanded. "We don't know what's about to go down here." I stared for another beat, curiously, and then nodded, agreeing, pushing kids toward security guards who were blocking the doors to get outside. They were trying to keep everyone outside. But as a result we were stuck inside. A few men ushered Justin to a back stock room. We pushed past security and from the outside sidewalk, we watched as the guards conferred animatedly with store managers who obviously weren't too happy about the fact that Justin Bieber had just shut down their store.
No one inside the store looked too happy to see him. And he didn't seem to be enjoying himself. He wasn't even shopping for Swatches.
My kids and I continued watching the drama unfold as a few of the guards came outside and ran up the block trying to create a diversion, while a few more guards went back to the Swatch stock room and escorted Justin out the door we'd escaped from a few minutes earlier. The mass of people reassembled itself and followed him through Times Square yelling and screaming.
"Wow. That was crazy. Where's he even going, now?" My son asked as we walked the opposite way through Times Square with our discount play tickets, cheap plastic watches, and (albeit overpriced!) M&M's in hand.
"I don't know. Maybe Gucci?" I winked.
And we laughed. Because of course Justin Bieber is exactly the kind of person who can drop $4,000 on a Gucci jacket, but to be honest, yesterday, he just didn't look like he was having nearly as much fun as we were.
One year ago today my third novel was published. THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA is a psychological thriller about social media addiction and owning your truth.
On this book birthday, I'm celebrating all the fabulous milestones this particular book has achieved. In a full circle moment after leaving my 13+ year legal career, I was thrilled when the National Indie Excellence Awards panel named THEA the Winner in the Legal Thriller category. THEA was also chosen by Francis Ford Coppola and his winery to be one of the inaugural selections for #BooksAndBottles, an exclusive product pairing select wines exclusively with Tall Poppy Writer titles. And most importantly, dozens of book clubs across the country found THEA and invited me to attend their discussions live and via Facetime. All were shocked by the ending. I loved the conversations that ensued.
This month also marks FOUR years since my debut novel was published - pushing my publishing career out of the "infancy" and "toddler" stages and solidly into the "preschooler" realm. The metaphor holds up.
I like standing on my own two feet, but I can't do any of it alone.
I don't know what I don't know, and I still need lots of naps.
Since releasing LEMONGRASS HOPE in October 2014, I've been both surprised and frustrated by many aspects of the publishing world (again, the young child metaphors hold up!) , but I've never regretted my decision to release my stories into the world. And I'll never stop being grateful for the way you all have received them.
In March 2019, Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing will release my fourth novel (fifth book), WHY WE LIE, a contemporary political thriller set in D.C. To celebrate, on my book birthday, I am giving away a signed copy of both THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA and WHY WE LIE - one lie/one truth. All you need do is comment on my Facebook post (here) or Instagram post (here) with one lie and one truth (You don't even need to tell me which is which!)
I'll go first.
I was an extra in a Whitney Houston video.
I have no plans to write about the characters from my first novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE.
OK, your turn.
Things have been a little crazy over here.
September's frenzy kicked my butt, and the new school year has had a less than glamorous start, and four major appliances quit on me, and the dog has punished us for leaving her each day by ruining two carpets and a new pair of sneakers, and oh yes, the world has gone STARK RAVING MAD.
And every day, before I can even leave my bedroom to make a trip to the coffee maker, I have to trip over this basket of unmatched socks, which now totals exactly 7,642 socks without a mate. How is this possible? To have THIS MANY SOCKS that cannot be paired with another? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE, I yell out each and every morning.
No one answers me.
Cheap crew socks, lightly patterned Tommy Hilfiger socks that no one has any business spending money on, those non-skid socks they make you buy at the trampoline place, the long socks that barely fit over the soccer shin guards that shrink after the first washing, and more - all these socks are just peaking out over the top of an overflowing basket that taunts me day after day.
Sure, I could throw the whole thing away and start over, but there are risks involved. If someone is out of clean socks entirely, I can't point to the basket, and say: "pick two that are close." I keep the basket. It's the best option I have right now.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
The other day I thought, "My god. If I get struck by lightning today, someone will come to my house and see this basket of unmatched socks, and how embarrassing would THAT BE?!" I realized that the mess in my life just might be what's holding me together these days. I'm walking cautiously into the electrical storms of my life, because if I get struck by lightning, someone might come here and see my basket of socks, and you know what? That makes my mess just a little more palatable today than it was yesterday.
HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
It just is.
This picture? It's just a little glimpse of the mess. I can't show you the whole thing, and I won't ask you to show me your mess in return. But, embrace it. Let it keep you from standing under trees in the lightning. Take care of your messy self today.
If I can collect 7,642 unmatched socks, then anything is INDEED POSSIBLE.
The thing is.
Underneath all the discourse about Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford is a thinly veiled whisper of something else. Running through the rhetoric of “he said/she said” and “due process” and “presumption of innocence” is another thread pulled taut:
Even if she’s telling the truth, it’s NO.BIG.DEAL.
Boys will be boys.
I agree with that last point. I really do.
If we read to them from an early age - books of all shapes and sizes and subjects ... if we read to them about ballerinas and trucks and sloths and galaxies far far away and wizarding schools and llamas, boys will be boys who are literate and curious, interested and interesting.
If we teach our boys to respect themselves and their friends, to make good decisions in the face of temptations of alcohol, drugs, raging hormones, and a pervasive influx of societal pressures ...if we admit that we know and understand that these are not easy decisions and choices, and that we remember facing them, really we do, and that mistakes will be made, but those mistakes must be owned and regretted, not lied about, then boys will be boys that respect themselves and others.
If we show them that actions have consequences, and that a lifetime of good decisions has a certain trajectory, whereas bad decisions have a different one, boys will be boys who choose the former.
And if we discourage victims from reporting abuse and assault and injustice, by calling those that bravely tell their stories at the risk of losing everything - liars - then boys will be boys who don’t believe women.
And if we confirm a Supreme Court Justice, even if there are credible allegations that he attacked and sexually assaulted a 15 year old girl when he was 17, then boys will be boys who - rightfully so - don’t believe - US.
I spend a lot of time in coffee shops writing.
Maybe you'll say it's wrong, but I learned a long time ago in law school that when you enter the public domain, you sort of forfeit your right to privacy. (Granted, there have been much longer and more eloquent discussions of this premise and its nuances in various Supreme Court decisions, but allow me to cut through the layers for you: Coffee shop discussions are perfectly acceptable fodder for writer's block.)
Some of these discussions have made their way into my stories, and some have just made their way into my consciousness. And some have just entertained for a moment, and then evaporated.
But some stick with me. One overhead conversation still haunts me, not because of the speakers themselves, but because I can't stop thinking about the woman they were speaking about:
Woman: "You can't just drop in on her without calling first."
Woman: "Because you just can't. That's why."
Man: "But, why NOT?"
Woman: "Because, my God, she could be ...
who knows what she could be doing ...
she could be ...
I don't know ...
what if she's DANCING?"
I think about that woman often, at home where no one is watching.
And always, she is ... indeed ... DANCING.
Later I’d be doing anything I could to escape the city but a few minutes before 9 am that Tuesday morning, I was racing to make it into the city.
I backed into the curb in Brooklyn, claiming my usual street side parking spot outside the Sheepshead Bay Train Station. As I put the car in park, I heard the newscaster making an odd pronouncement. “If you’re near a television, turn it on. There’s a fire at the World Trade Center. Possibly some kind of kitchen fire or something.”
I paused at the strange news for only a moment, and then shut the car off. I wasn’t near a television. I was near the Manhattan bound Q Train, and I got on it.
As the subway came above ground in Manhattan, the Towers were in full view. By now they were both on fire. It didn’t appear to be a “kitchen fire or something.” Someone on the train whispered that they’d heard a plane crashed into the Towers. After that whisper, you could have heard a pin drop, as we stood on the train watching the billowing smoke in a collective daze.
At Times Square, I jumped off the train, and headed into the high rise that housed my law office. I rode the elevator up to the usually crowded and busy 42nd floor, but no one was in sight. I threw my bag down on my desk and walked to the nearest conference room where I found my missing colleagues. No one was talking. Everyone was staring at a flat screen on the wall. We all stared together. Not exactly sure what we were looking at, until …
“Oh my God. It just collapsed.”
A few moments of shock and paralysis and then we heard the news that more planes were missing.
Maybe I still wanted to believe this was some kind of freak accident because I was surprised when one of my friends turned to me and said, “We’re in Times Square. We might as well have a bullseye on us.”
We all decided to leave together and head to a friend’s uptown apartment, as far from the Towers as we could get. I left a message for my parents telling them that I was ok, and where I was headed. I called my husband – a med student doing rotations at a Brooklyn Hospital. He said he was helping set up triage for the overflow of wounded. (He would spend the day waiting. There was no overflow of wounded. There were simply alive and not alive.)
My law office comrades and I walked with the masses through Central Park. It was orderly and calm. No one was running or frantic. I was wearing linen pants and a lightweight tan sweater. It was unseasonably warm and the sky was blue and clear. My shoes were pointed flats, and they weren’t comfortable. I hadn’t been planning on walking 60 city blocks that day.
When we got to my friend’s apartment, we ordered Chinese, and had it delivered. I can’t remember who paid for it. Do I still owe someone money? We all sat in front of the television for hours. My friend and his partner debated using the sudden afternoon off to paint the guest closet. I looked at their choice of paint color and complimented it. Strange to remember these extra-ordinarily ordinary aspects of the day.
After lunch, we went up to the rooftop of the uptown apartment building and watched with strangers as the military jets flew in and over the city. A woman next to me with a vacant look in her eye, told me: “I was there. I got out. A lot of us got out.”
I wanted to believe her so I did.
And then suddenly, I needed to know something I hadn’t thought of earlier. “What’s today’s date?” I asked aloud. I looked down at my Blackberry and saw September 11 on the screen for the first time that day. And that moment on the rooftop, along with the Chinese takeout, the clear sky, uncomfortable shoes, and the linen pants, are what haunt my memories of that day.
I needed to know the date. So that I could remember.
How could I not know that I’d never forget?