Well, probably nothing will actually be different.
A few weeks ago I was on a conference call with some writer friends and we were talking about how anxious we are for the new year. For the turning of the page. For 2021 to arrive. For everything to be different.
"Well, probably nothing will actually BE different," one of my friends remarked, and in that instant I felt an unmistakable wave of terror, as I realized:
Oh dear God. That's right. NOTHING WILL CHANGE.
Let's face it. We spent the last few weeks white-knuckling it, waiting for January 1 like an antidote to the poison we'd all overdosed on in the previous 11 months. But as 2020 became 2021, the virus stayed among us like an unwelcome guest. The surges have continued. Quarantines and travel restrictions have remained in place. The traditional New Year's Eve and New Year's Day plans were canceled in favor of staying away and staying in. We couldn't celebrate or socialize or even hug each other.
January 1 has arrived looking very much the same as the days we'd wished so hard to escape from.
Only it isn't.
As the clock ticked down to midnight last night, I found myself on my Instagram page, scrolling back to the previous January 1, trying to summon some of that pre-pandemic bliss and happiness that we all keep telling ourselves we were feeling just before the world shut down, and that's when I realized:
Oh thank God. EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED.
I know we keep telling ourselves that everything was so much better before. That the sacrifices and grief we've experienced in 2020 have rocked us to our core and that that's a bad thing. That we want things to go back to the way they used to be - that we need things to just go back to being "normal."
But you guys, that's kind of a lie.
I mean, maybe you had some self-awareness and maturity that I lacked this time last year. I don't discount that possibility. But as for me, I was downright ridiculous. Taking all sorts of things for granted. Certain I'd be able to carry out my planned live book tour for I KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, and cart my kids around to their spring sports. Certain I'd spend all the relevant holidays with my parents and attend really big parties in really crowded places. The picture I posted on social media on January 1, 2020, was egregiously wrong. I was in Disney and I was all "Yay 2020. Here we goooooo."
I mean. Seriously, for the actual love of everything. (For the record, I was wearing sunglasses in that horrifying New Year's Day post, which seems fitting, because I have to believe if you could have seen my eyes, you'd have known I was lying about everything - and especially knowing just how great 2020 was going to beeeeeee.)
In reality, 2020 had the same chance of falling flat on its face as 2021 does. Only, I wasn't smart enough to realize it then. To prepare for it. To level with myself. And that's not a pessimistic viewpoint, because if you've met me, you know, I'm a glass-is-half-full-at-all-times-don't-you-dare-tell-me-it's-not kind of girl.
It's just that we don't KNOW what the new year has in store for us, just as we didn't know what 2020 had in store for us, and to pretend otherwise is silly.
But here's what's not. Silly, that is.
Resolving to stop taking every damn thing for granted. Resolving to love fiercely and be loved in return and be a good, no a GREAT, friend, and writing the stories that haunt us, and traveling every single chance we can - even if it's to an outdoor, socially distanced event (actually, especially if it is!) and hugging our parents every single chance we get, and getting vaccinated, and planning a little, but not a lot, and recognizing every single minute that we're just not as smart as the universe at the end of the day.
I guess what I'm trying to say is: It's true that as of today, everything is exactly the same as it always was.
Everything, that is, except US.
Which is honestly, if you think about it - the best news of all.
Happy New Year, you guys. LET'S GOOOOOO.
“You do realize this is all your fault, don’t you?”
My sister laughs wryly from her Zoom box and tilts her half-full wine glass toward me. We’re toasting to better times ahead. Days when we can travel again. Reschedule our canceled 2020 trips to Nashville and St. Lucia. See our parents again. Hug.
“I know,” I smile back at her through the screen. I raise my glass – also half-full, and meet her toast with a wink.
I have spent the last five years – at writing conferences and Bar Association meetings and CLE classes, counseling would-be writers and transitioning attorneys that they can have the future they want if they only say it out loud. I talk boldly about the fierce, life-changing power – of words. I tell anyone this secret who asks for advice on using their JD for good, or on breaking into the elusive publishing industry, or on turning any far-fetched dream into a realistic goal. I lean in close. I tell them yes, you can do it. You just need to: Say. It. Out. Loud.
When I was a young litigator in New York, I had a mentor who taught me a strategy – a gimmick really – that we used often in closing arguments. As the civil defense attorney at trial, I got to go first with my closing argument. It was better to go last, of course. It was better to send the jury with your closing thoughts fresh in their mind as they took to deliberation. But I didn’t get to go last, so I had a different plan. I’d prop up a giant poster-sized legal pad on an easel in front of the jury, and I’d choose three key phrases I wanted them to remember from my closing. Phrases that would disrupt the case if only they’d keep them fresh in their brains when all the lawyer talking was done and it was time to deliberate.
I’d say those three key phrases out loud, and write them and repeat them and leave them there in my carefully scrawled Catholic School cursive penmanship, up on the easel when I was finished, facing the jury. When opposing counsel took the floor, he or she would have three options.
First, to decide whether to abandon their prepared closing, and address my 3 main (potentially) case-winning takeaways, resulting in a flustered and likely haphazard closing argument.
Second, to ignore my poster-sized legal pad, leaving the jury confused and probably glancing over at my words throughout the other side’s closing.
Or three – my favorite – my absolute favorite option – to remove the legal pad from the easel, and dramatically discard it, face down, off to the side of the courtroom, before delivering their previously prepared closing argument. When opposing counsel chose that option and dismissed my words violently in front of the jury, a few jurors would inevitably gasp out loud, and I’d already know I won.
Later as a published writer, I’d confirm the lessons I learned as a young litigator. That story is everything and that words have power. The universe hears you. And it’s not so easy to just delete words from the universe’s pages once they’re out there. This is the liberating magic of my advice to would-be writers and transitioning professionals. This too is the danger.
In early 2020, I told the universe I needed just a small break in the spring sports schedule. And then, one day when I was feeling particularly exhausted and heartbroken, I asked the universe for a late season snowstorm – “something, anything that will close the freaking world down until I can catch my breath.”
(I know. I’m sorry.)
All of this is to say that given the timing of the world shutting down, I leaned all the way in. I exhaled. I put my life back together. I healed my heart. I wrote a book. There were gruesome, life-altering consequences of all this saying it out loud for me and my family, just as there were for yours. I take none of it lightly. Please don’t think I take one moment of it lightly. My life and my home look completely different than they did a year ago.
And when my kids say now how much they miss their friends – how much they miss school – something I never thought I’d hear my kids say in my lifetime, I’m overcome with a sense of sadness.
When I think about how many people we are all missing this holiday season –those who have been claimed by the virus –and those we simply cannot see because we are trying to keep our healthy friends and family free from the virus – I’m overwhelmed with grief.
There is a part of me that clings to that reckless optimism grounded in the advice I’ve been sharing with disgruntled lawyers and aspiring writers for years. Change can be effected by that which is simply said out loud.
Because it’s clear that the universe has spoken loudly in 2020 and it is equally clear there is indeed a fierce, life-changing power in its words:
Nothing is promised. Appreciate every single moment. Be still. Be grateful.
I think I'm realizing that, at the end of the day, it’s time for me to stop talking so damn much and just listen.
3/15/2020 2 Comments
There is something really remarkable happening in America today.
Beyond the hand sanitizer shortage and the re-education about washing one’s hands, there’s something else. Beyond the difference between presumptive and confirmed cases and the facts and figures about clusters and the geography of Wuhan City, there is more. Beyond all the daily and hourly news coverage is the thing no one is talking about: the remarkable irony of a global and paralyzing crisis impacting this particular class of American graduating seniors.
This spring marks the graduation of the first American high school class to live entirely post-9/11. Many of them, based on simple gestational calculations, will have had mothers who were pregnant with them on or around 9/11. They are in fact, the first graduating class of true 9/11 survivors. These seniors came into a world already reeling from the greatest tragedy of a generation and they grew up in a world with fear and war woven into their very fabric of existence. One could argue that nothing should have shaken them.
Except it has.
This senior class is now facing a global health crisis and trying to evaluate what it means for them. Every day – indeed, every hour – brings with it new cases, new recommendations, and new fears. And with the growing fears come mounting disappointments, some of which are unique and particularly poignant for these graduating seniors. Short and long term school closures bring with them cancellation of major milestone senior moments and extracurricular activities that would otherwise have been memories of a lifetime. Just last week, the YMCA cancelled its Short Course National and YMCA Diving National Championships, for the first time since 1947, eliminating a major competition for senior swimmers who have been training their whole high school careers for this moment. The Class of 2020 is now facing a very real possibility that they will graduate never having been able to attend a prom, or a senior night at their spring sport, or their seminal senior orchestra concert.
At a time in which everyone in our country is being asked to sacrifice, it’s tempting to overlook the sacrifices of these seniors. After all, everyone is facing disappointments and cancellations. Everyone is facing a global health crisis and all the unknowns and sadnesses that come with it. These disapointments of the current Senior class might be getting a little lost amid other news and other concerns.
But consider this.
The Class of 2020? They have never really known what the world looks like before and after a crisis. They’ve only known after. They have always lived after.
Or so they thought.
Before 9/11, we all took certain things for granted. Ease of travel, peacetime, immigration attitudes, health of our first responders, privacy. We got lazy. Probably even a little selfish. After 9/11, a new way of life emerged. We grew up quickly and we told later generations, especially, this generation – you have no idea what the world was like before. You have no idea how much things have changed.
But now, this new crisis, a global health crisis, has come along just in time for these graduating seniors to understand what it means to have lived before. And perhaps as happened in 2001, it will help them grow up a bit as well.
Before the start of 2020, the world – including these seniors – largely took for granted health, vaccines, and importantly, the ability to gather in crowds, large and small, to protest, to march, to celebrate, to pray. And now, a new reality has emerged for these 9/11 survivors. Gatherings are banned outright in some places. Schools and colleges are closing and/or shifting to online models. Mandatory closures have been imposed. Self-quarantines and social distancing have become the new normal.
Our seniors are lamenting. Why now? Why us?
For those of us who lived before and after 9/11, it’s our job to usher these teens through this crisis, since they never had the chance to actually live through 9/11. They lack perspective, and we have an opportunity to help them find it in this crisis.
The idea behind bans and self-quarantines and social distancing, and the potential cancellation of some of the most important milestones of their senior year, of course, is not to ruin our seniors’ lives. The idea is for communities to reduce mass exposures and, most importantly, slow the spread of the coronavirus. The hope is to stop the virus if possible, but if not, to help our American health care system handle the influx of patients, and avoid becoming overwhelmed beyond capacity at any one point in time. (See the NYT piece on “Flattening the Cure.”) It’s about more than keeping ourselves healthy; it’s about keeping others healthier for longer. It’s about establishing a longer timeline – in other words, one with more afters and befores.
If there’s anything we have learned having lived through 9/11, it’s that the befores in life give us profound perspective later on. That’s something our current seniors might not have understood until now. And that perspective will help them weather this new crisis, turn outward, change and grow. It will help them handle the next crisis and the one after that.
There’s no doubt they can do it.
They are truly survivors, after all.
(P.S. For years, I've been so intrigued by the realization that this year's graduating class would be composed of the first 9/11 survivors, I set my latest novel, I KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, against the backdrop of the 2020 Commencement. Just because it's fiction - doesn't mean it's not true. xo, Amy)
What if you finally stop running away from the story you were always meant to tell?
In the spring of 2020, an ambitious journalist, Rory Garcia, gets detoured on her way to a protest at New York City Hall, and stumbles upon the commencement ceremony of a very special class, composed completely of 37 students born to women who were pregnant on 9/11. They are, in fact, the very first graduating high school class of true 9/11 survivors.
Valedictorian, Hope Campton, is scheduled to give the commencement speech for the class at Carnegie Hall, but delays and absences threaten to ruin the day. While Rory is waiting, a mysterious stranger tells her a time-bending tale about epic love, loss, and sacrifice, and suddenly the story Rory thinks she is covering only from the outside becomes so much more.
Take the "Did that just happen?" from Life of Pi and splice it with the parallel lives and loves Gwyneth Paltrow faced in Sliding Doors, add some ghosts of Sophie's Choice and you've got I KNOW HOW THIS ENDS,
Available everywhere today.
-Jacquelyn Mitchard, NYT #1 Bestselling author, THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN
"Amy Impellizzeri once again proves herself a true standout voice in the fiction world."
-Kristy Woodson Harvey, bestselling author of Slightly South of Simple
"Compelling ... Be prepared to tell yourself, 'Just one more chapter...'
-Camille di Maio, Bestselling author of THE MEMORY OF US & THE BEAUTIFUL STRANGERS
Women Writers, Women's Books
Author, Once Upon A Sunset
Huge thanks to my friends at News12 for the chance to talk about a fabulous event coming up in the Hamptons later this month - the Second Annual Bedside Reading Hamptons Authors Weekend. From February 28-March 1, I'll be in the Hamptons with 5 other amazing authors, for a jam-packed weekend filled with cooking demonstrations, cocktail parties, and more. Check out the full itinerary here. My newest novel, I KNOW HOW THIS ENDS, the follow-up to my debut novel, LEMONGRASS HOPE, officially launches March 3, 2020, but advance copies will be available in the Hamptons over the Leap Year weekend.
The thing is - I'm so excited to share this story with you. That's what I was telling News12. That's why I'm talking with my hands SO MUCH. Come visit us in the Hamptons. If you can't make it to the Hamptons, I hope to see you at another upcoming event.
I'll be on the road until June at least. With friends. And I hope you'll be there too. Let's talk about how it ends together. xo
This post was originally published in 2013. Here's a look back in time to the year that I finally finished that pesky novel I'd been working on for 4 years: the novel that became my debut: Lemongrass Hope.
As I get ready to release my fifth novel into the world (the follow-up novel to Lemongrass Hope), it was a little jarring to remember how many times I almost gave up. The truth was, I didn't, and still don't, know how it all ends.
Another Repo Truck was here the other night. They show up every few months.
Sometimes they arrive in the middle of the night - headlights streaming into my bedroom window, waking me up with a start. Sometimes a nicely dressed man will come to the door at noon, and politely ask where I am hiding the car.
They're not looking for me, of course. Or anyone I know.
They are looking for the man who used to live here, before we bought the house. A man who hasn't lived here for many years, and who apparently stopped paying for his Ford Explorer a few years ago, when he realized he had "bitten off more than he could chew."
This is how I explain it to the kids that night, as the enormous tow truck sat in our driveway for a half hour after dusk, while my husband summoned the police to try to end this seemingly endless pattern.
He STOLE a car, Mom?
You mean, our house is like a CRIME SCENE?
That is awesome!
It is only the first week of summer break, and they are positively RAPTUROUS about how things are shaping up already.
And as I am cleaning up dinner dishes with swirling police lights, several officers, and a mountain-shaped, heavily tattooed Repo Man sitting in his truck just outside the door, I am thinking that maybe it's a good thing that summer has finally arrived, because this is not even CLOSE to the most hectic night I've had lately.
It's not even in the top 10.
Don't get me wrong. This was a great school year. The kids had great years - blooming and thriving - each in their individual ways.
But for me - let's just say, this has not been the quietest of school years.
In a lot of ways, it was reminiscent of the 2009-2010 school year.
That was the year that I committed to doing ONLY things I wanted to do - for one whole year. I only returned calls of people I wanted to talk to. I only did things that made me deliriously happy. I left a draining position at a corporate law firm. I discovered Hybrid Mom, and started freelancing. I started volunteering. I got my first stint as "Homeroom Mom." I joined the gym. I signed up for Facebook.
Oh, and I started writing my book that year.
I had stopped writing (creatively, at least) many years before, when an American Literature professor and I butted heads over the literary merit of the controversial book, Lolita, and he rewarded my term paper accordingly.
In hindsight, the C was probably deserved, the "+" was just a patronizing dig.
But the truth is, that C+ shook up what I thought about my writing, my voice, and even my law school dreams.
Soon after the C+, a friend who had recently started law school cheered me up over drinks, explaining that I shouldn't let my American Lit grade deter me from my law school aspirations.
In fact, law school success - my kind friend informed me - requires swallowing any creative voice you might have. And instead of being horrified by this little bit of news, I finished my drink, re-committed myself to going to law school, and swore I would never again write another piece of creative work in my own voice again.
Fast forward to 2009, when I started writing again.
Take THAT, Lolita and American Lit.
After years of writing nothing but legal briefs, oral argument outlines, and deposition questions, I picked up a pen and wrote "Unscathed," my story of healing after a plane crashed on my residential corner years before. I applied for and obtained a column on Examiner.com. My work started getting picked up in other places: The Huffington Post, Law Practice Today, The Glass Hammer, Yahoo Shine. People began paying me to write, and I began calling myself a writer.
I started a novel, and I made great headway. But when the year was up - the year I'd given myself to do ONLY things I wanted - I stalled and stopped on the novel, putting it aside for another day.
So, this school year has been a lot like the 2009-2010 year in that I only took on things I wanted to do again this year. Which has included work with my favorite start-up company, treasurer of a local judicial campaign, heading up a town-wide hurricane relief effort, holding down an Art Goes to School teaching position, two Board positions, three homeroom mom spots, teeball team mom responsibilities, and trying to (almost) never miss Book Club, Vegan Cooking Club, or Body Combat class.
Oh, and I've been working on the novel again this year.
I've given myself permission to spend some of our free time - nights, weekends, to work on it. To type on my laptop while dinner is cooking. To tuck the kids in a few minutes early so I can still work while I have some waning energy left at the end of the night. To wake up when it's still dark out to finish another 1,000 words before the sun - or any of my kiddos - are up.
It's been a little nuts around here. Laundry backs up and sometimes we do toilet paper roulette - one or two rolls travel among the bathrooms in the house - for two full days before I actually get to the grocery store. We're not always on time to events, and I did forget about drum lessons exactly once.
So frankly, when the Repo Man shows up again, and the police have to be summoned, I'm not all that impressed by the ensuing chaos. But I do pause for a moment as I explain to the kids what "biting off more than you can chew" really means.
And I wonder - not for the first time - if maybe I should put away the novel again for a little while, now that the school year is over.
That moment passes quickly.
With the Repo Man still outside, I decide that despite the chaos, unlike in the summer of 2010, I'm not calling an end to the year of doing only what I want. Because I really do believe - at my core - that EVERY year should be spent doing things you REALLY want to do.
Take THAT, Lolita and American Lit.
After all, let's not forget that even though he's at my house - the Repo Man isn't actually here for me.
It's not me who has bitten off more than I can chew.
P.S. So how did a post from 2013 find its way to 2019? It's a long story, really.
I found a bunch of archived blog posts that I wrote when my children (2 teens and a pre-teen) were smaller, and this piece feels so poignant now as I am long past the days of children waking me at night.
When this piece first got picked up by Yahoo in 2010 (it was one of my first published pieces), I got skewered with judgment and blame by many commenters who believed that I was doing everything all wrong and that sleep and rest were attainable if only I wasn't so weak.
Now, looking back, I see that all those early sleepless nights were just training for the long marathon of motherhood, in which sleep is the constant, elusive thing forever.
And I'm stronger for those early days. I really am.
Originally published on Yahoo Shine: "In this House No One Sleeps" 2010)
Recently, I read about a scientific theory by UCLA sleep researcher, Jerome Siegel, who is trying to figure out why animals and humans sleep.
Siegel has suggested that there is no vital universal function for sleep. In other words, Siegel denounces the popular idea that animals sleep because there is some physiological or neural function that must be accomplished when they are sleeping, and cannot be accomplished when they are awake. Siegel suggests instead that the main functions of sleep are to conserve resources and maintain efficiency.
In other words: to stay out of the way until there is reason to wake.
Now, I’m no scientist. And I confess that until I read about Jerome Siegel, I’m not sure I even knew there was such a thing as a “sleep researcher.” However, I know Jerome Siegel is right. For one thing, I trust his methodology since I relate to his studied demographic. (Noting that newborn whales and dolphins and their mothers survive on an almost complete lack of sleep, Siegel hypothesized that there must be something other than a physiological motive for sleep.)
Which leads me to the real reason that I believe Jerome Siegel is onto something. I’m referring to the indisputable truth that no one sleeps through the night in my house.
Almost every night I tuck my children in and whisper the same loving words to them as they drift off to sleep.
“Please stay in your bed . . . all night . . . unless there’s an emergency.”
Over the years, emergencies have consisted of spiders, stomach bugs, and terrible nightmares.
Emergencies have also consisted of feet coming out from under the covers and brothers snoring in a nearby bed.
My oldest son is the most creative. He has arrived at the side of my bed on countless nights. Standing. Staring. Waiting. When I open my eyes with a start to see him there, he leans in and whispers:
Mommy, I almost had a nightmare.
What do you mean almost?
Well, I felt like I was going to have a nightmare, but then I didn’t.
Honey, go to sleep.
What do you mean you can’t?
I can’t because I’m afraid I’m going to have a nightmare.
I doze. He continues standing there, relentless. He begins anew.
Mommy, I almost had a nightmare.
Mommy, I MISS you.
Ok, ok. I'll come tuck you in again.
He pounces into my arms, proud and victorious. And I know, before you say it, that you blame me. That you think I give in too easily and that is why they show up at my bedside so often with pretend emergencies.
But have mercy on me; I am vulnerable at 2 a.m. My defenses are asleep even though I am not. (I have always been intrigued by those to-the-rescue nanny reality shows where the British nanny helps parents get their children to sleep for the night, investing 1, 2, up to 3 hours in getting them down, and then leaves the parents to their own devices for the rest of the night. But wait, I always ask the unresponsive television screen, what about when they get back up in the middle of the night? And you’re half asleep? And thus willing to agree to anything? What then?)
It seems to have started the night I brought my firstborn home. I remember vividly two things from that night.
First, I recall that I was terrified to fall asleep, certain that I was keeping him alive simply by staring at him. Second, I recall that I couldn’t have slept if I tried.
My son wanted me; he clung to me. He didn’t want to sleep. Not at night anyway. And he wailed every time I tried to put him down. Every time I thought about putting him down. At the hospital, the doctor had warned me to allow my newborn to cry a bit, to avoid nursing continually.
My doctor, however, did not come home with me that night.
So, that first night at home, after nursing my son continually from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., I remember turning to my husband (on the first and last time he ever stayed up with me through the night) and saying, very solemnly: “I think people die from a lack of sleep.”
I wish I’d known about Siegel’s theory back then; I wouldn’t have worried so much. Siegel propounds that animals do not need sleep to survive, they simply use it to adapt. Siegel points out the extreme example of the brown bat who sleeps 20 hours a day because its prey – moths and mosquitoes – are only up at dusk. Thus, Siegel explains, the brown bat sleeps when it does to conserve energy, which in turn enables it to be a more skilled hunter during the few hours necessary to catch its prey.
Ah, and there it is. My children get up at night because they believe it is the best time to stalk their vulnerable prey. Their prey being ME.
And it’s my fault of course, to the extent it’s anyone’s FAULT. In the beginning, after that first night, I settled into the nighttime feedings. Enjoyed them even. Truth is, I relished being with my babies at night. The quiet time spent rocking in the nursery was all ours. No one else called my name or my house at that hour. No one expected me to do laundry or to cook at 2 a.m. The grocery stores and post office were closed. Even my blackberry was strangely silent at that hour. Sleep eluded me but peace did not. Those early nights of sleeplessness were strangely satisfying.
As our household increased from a family of three to four, and eventually, five, the daytime became more chaotic, and thus, the nighttime became even more important to me and my babies.
Now that I have no more nursing babies, and a more flexible work schedule, you would think we’d all have more time together during the day. That it would be enough. And we do have a lot of time together. Our days are filled with laughs and tears and sibling fights and mediations and negotiations and sports practices and homework and car rides and errands and laundry. And I’m not complaining, but it is loud and busy.
But at night, well, that is when we really slow down. And as Jerome Siegel has finally explained, that is when my children lie in wait. Then, they seek me out, one by one, for their time alone with me.
My children do sleep, after all. All three children go to bed promptly, easily, one by one, from 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. I tuck them in. I kiss them. I whisper, please, please, let’s sleep all night tonight, guys.
My children do sleep. It’s just that, as Siegel theorizes, they choose their times wisely. They conserve their energy. They stay out of the way until there is reason to wake. And in the night they emerge like nocturnal predators.
And I admit, I’m happy to be found.
Of course, sometimes, I just want to sleep.
P.S. Want to know why I'm reprinting old blog posts all these years later? Check out "Do you believe in Time Travel?"
I already know what you will think.
When I tell you I was not afraid, you will think I am lying.
But I wasn’t.
And I’m not.
I was actually thinking to myself: “When I later tell the story about the day we – my family and I – willingly climbed into a car that was driven by an unknown, armed man, everyone will assume I have lost my marbles.”
See? That’s how you know I wasn’t afraid. In that moment, I was already thinking about telling the story afterward. I knew we’d make it.
I just wasn’t sure if you’d believe me.
While I am thinking about how I will later tell this story, we are on the side of a road in a small town halfway between Punta Cana and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. We have pulled over as far as we can on this narrow stretch to let a drug enforcement truck pull ahead of us on the winding dirt road. At least half a dozen men with machine guns at the ready, sit perched on the side of the truck as it swerves past us. I try not to make eye contact with any of them; I stare instead at the facades of the small homes not far from our car. Not far from the machine guns.
My three drowsy kids – ages 5 and under – have been sleeping most of the way but now they stare bleary-eyed at the pastel-colored buildings whose porches are decorated with rows of hanging meats. My three-year-old son mumbles “pretty” and I nod my head in agreement as I rub his head. “Shhh, I whisper. It’s ok.”
And I feel it is, somehow.
Because back home in New York, things have not been ok.
Most recently, my well-intentioned efforts to juggle being a full-time mother and full-time lawyer have left me gasping for breath. Ostensibly, we are here to spend our first week of my year-long sabbatical from corporate law on a well-needed family vacation.
But that’s not why we’re here. RIGHT HERE. It is so much more specific than that.
And if my husband has connected the dots, he does not say so, although in my own mind, it all seems so obvious.
He doesn’t ask why I have brought us here. Not when I make the reservations. Not when we get into the rented car at the airport. Not when the driver claims he is off-duty “policia” as he unassumingly stows his firearm in the glove box. Not when we pull over on our way to the Punta Cana resort to let a heavily armed drug enforcement truck pass us on this small, foreign road.
I take in all of the sights and sounds and I feel at peace, armed driver, machine guns, and all. I look around at the countryside – equal parts beautiful and hard. I close my eyes, and I think to myself:
I did not survive a plane crash eight years ago to die here or now.
I was at home in Belle Harbor, New York, on November 12, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 587 crashed on the corner where I lived.
That morning, after my husband left for work, I woke to the sound of a low-flying plane. After a few moments of listening to the too-close jet engine, I got out of bed and headed to the window. I don’t know what I was looking for, but here’s what I saw: a dark cylindrical object plummeting from the sky a few blocks away – the falling engine of a plane that was gradually breaking apart only moments after lifting off from New York City’s Kennedy Airport.
After a few moments of screeching and darkness (the plane cast an enormous shadow as it passed directly over my head), Flight 587 crashed across the street from where I was standing. At the moment of impact, I remember instinctively ducking – hands thrown over my head – as if I could somehow avoid being crushed by the plane in this position.
It worked. The plane missed me.
After all was said and done that morning, on the corner of 131st and Newport Avenues, our house was the only one of the four corner houses left standing – completely unscathed – while the crash had killed everyone on board Flight 587, and five of my neighbors on the ground.
Our house became the command center for the recovery operation for Flight 587. It always surprises me that, all these years later, I still feel grateful, proud and guilty relating that fact. November 12, 2001 became the median point of my life — everything else was either before or after this central day.
And I was haunted by the tragedy.
Every morning, I would read over the makeshift memorials the passengers’ families created at the site. Photos and candles and letters and cards dedicated to the victims. I mourned them. I thought about them. I prayed for them. Every day, I carried around the memories of these people I had never known. Would never know. These people travelling to a place I had never been – a place that was home to many of the passengers on board.
Flight 587 had been headed to the Dominican Republic.
When we moved from the crash site nearly a year later, I was still trying to give meaning to my own survival – I focused on my law career but wanted more. I poured myself into motherhood as my children began arriving two years after the crash. Yet, even the needful voices of my three children did little to drown out the ghostly echoes.
Survivors’ guilt prevented me from slowing down for even a moment, as I struggled to deserve my children, my career, and my life. In 2009, exhausted, I took a sabbatical from corporate law, and only then did I realize what must be done.
I booked a flight to the Dominican Republic with my family – to see and honor the homeland of many of the victims of the horrific crash that had been haunting me for eight long years. I hired a driver to navigate through the countryside from Santo Domingo to the resort town of Punta Cana. I wanted to see more than the scrubbed down walls of the tourist resort.
A full circle moment if ever there was one, it would have been impossible and highly ungrateful to be fearful that day. Which is why I knowingly climbed into the car with the armed driver, believing him when he said he was off-duty “policia.”
And why I refused to allow the machine guns and large black garbage bags full of recovered Cartel-related drugs to distract me from the beauty that was all around.
Sitting there on the side of the road, instead of being afraid, I suddenly felt silly for believing myself a “survivor” – and worse, feeling guilty – simply because I had not died when a plane crashed on my street corner eight years earlier.
After the machine guns were finally out of view, our driver resumed his course along the pretty but rough countryside, and my children awakened noisily.
Are we almost there? I’m hungry. Did you remember my blanket? My brother is touching me. I have to pee.
And in the noisy din of that car, I realized with a smile that the ghosts were quiet.
And the silence was beautiful.
Something kind of crazy happened to me last night. My entire website crashed, without warning and inexplicably. I spent hours on the phone with techie wizards working to restore it, and around 2 am, we finally did - BUT not before locating dozens of old blog posts and articles that were previously lost during a website migration a few years back.
The lost pieces suddenly re-appeared along with a long ago abandoned version of my website. You guys, it was as if I HAD TRAVELED BACK IN TIME. The crashed version of the site was a time capsule - a diary of sorts with recorded bits and pieces of my life from 2013-2016 while I was waiting to publish my first 2 novels.
While on the phone with my IT peeps, I was on a race against time to both save my site, and also cut and paste the lost pieces into my hard drive before they would be lost yet again.
It worked. As of this morning, my site has been restored - and the time capsule pieces are no where to be found - OTHER than my hard drive where I ferociously copied them last night. ICYMI - I’ll be sharing these lost snippets (maybe with updates) on my website blog #unfiltered -over the coming weeks and months as I get ready for the release of my 5th novel.
I never thought I’d be happy about a website crash. But I am. I really am. Stay tuned.
P.S. Do you believe in time travel too? If so, I have a book for you ;) ❤️❤️
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.