Not OK

Less than half an hour into the tragedy, and the picture was becoming startingly clear:  there was no other explanation than the one that seemed obvious but nonsensical:  that two planes had been purposely hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.    The drone of Matt, Katie and their cadre of eyewitnesses and correspondents continued on as I got Melinda her breakfast, changed her and dressed her and tried to interest her in her favorite toys.  The same crazy pictures filled the screen, already becoming less bizarre with the familiarity of them:  the two towers, the black smoke filling the blue sky, the orange of flames sometimes coming into focus.

It felt similar to me to the coverage of the Columbine shooting two years prior, or to the Oklahoma City bombing before that. A horrible, horrible tragedy, but something very far removed from me and my experience.  I’d sat on my sofa two years ago watching as those poor children were evacuated from their school; I’d just moved from Michigan to Oklahoma that year, and so I was home during the day to see the coverage.  The coverage started to stall into discussions with so called experts who used to work for the government and a rehashing of the events ad nauseum that were still less than an hour old.  I found myself able to tear myself away from the television to do the dishes, to do a quick email check (no word yet about Marni) and to try and put some sense of normalcy into the this crazy day.

And then suddenly, just as had happened nearly an hour prior, the voices on the television changed.  Jim Miklaszewski, their Pentagon correspondent, called in to the programming talking of an explosion, a blast, and his voice had that shaky quality of someone who is in shock.  Katie Couric advised him to “be careful” as he offered to find out what he could about what had just happened at the Pentagon.  In less than a minute, pictures came across the screen of smoke filling the air above the military complex.

I ran to the phone and called R at work.  He answered on the second ring.  “Are you watching?” he asked.  Of course he already knew the answer; I hardly ever called him during the day at work because I knew how busy he was.

“Yes,” I choked into the phone.

“We’re in lockdown here.  I can’t leave.”  His voice was firm, but worried.

“What?  Why?”  I could hear the hysteria in my voice.

“We manufacture military equipment here.  No one knows what is happening, but if there are attacks happening against the US military, we could be a target.”

“Oh,” I said in a far away voice.  I could feel deep, deep panic rising in my chest.

“Don’t worry.  It’s just a precaution, there isn’t any indication that anything will happen here.”

“There wasn’t any indication that anything would happen anywhere today.”   I tried to remind myself to breathe.  I had to stay calm.  My hand went to my belly and unconsciously started to pat it.

“True,” R agreed, his voice trying for practicality.

“What should I do?” I wondered aloud, not really expecting an answer.

“Are the schools closing early or anything?”

“I haven’t heard anything.  Do you think I should just go get Zach?”  I thought of my son, who I’d sent off to school just three hours ago.  When the world was safe.  In that land that we would always think of as Before.

“Honestly, no.  The best thing for him to do is to be at school where they are trying to keep everything low key and routine.  If he comes home now, he’ll just watch the coverage all day with you and freak out like you are right now.”

“You can’t tell me you’re not freaked out by all of this,” I chided.

“Of course I am, but I’m just telling you that probably the best and safest place for him to be right now is at school.  Just stay home, play with the girlie and try to take it easy.  You can’t let yourself get too upset right now.”

I sighed, glancing over at the TV.  The level of panic in the voices of the correspondents was palpable.   “The FAA has banned all takeoffs at all airports across America,” said Tom Brokaw.  This was no longer just in New York, or just in DC. This was here, this was everywhere.

“I hear you,” I answered, trying to modulate my voice.

“I’ll be near the phone all day, and I’ll leave as soon as I can,” R tried to reassure me.

“OK,” I whispered as I hung up the phone.

It was not OK.

It Is Personal

My head was spinning as I heard eyewitnesses recount impossible to believe details of what they were seeing and hearing that September morning. Matt and Katie speculated about what might be happening in the towers. I stood in front of the TV, unable to move. The sun was shining outside here in the suburbs of Cincinnati; looking out my window the grass was green and everything seemed quiet and serene. I blinked several times, trying to reconcile the images and the banter on the television. It just didn’t make any sense.  The words “World Trade Center, New York City” filled the screen below the smoke and the towers and the chaos.

Suddenly, I flashed back to the tape cassette sent to me several years ago by Marni, the woman from New York who we had talked of going to the Columbus show with just this morning in my email box.  The return address on the envelope had been from her place of employment, a financial brokerage firm.

2 World Trade Center.  Holy shit.

I ran to the phone and dialed my friend Elizabeth.  Normally I spoke to her several times a day anyway, so it wasn’t unusual for me to call.  In fact, I called her so often that I knew when she didn’t answer her home phone that she was likely taking her son to preschool at the Jewish Community Center in her area of Cleveland.  She knew Marni better than me, having talked to her on the phone and met for dinner a few times when she happened to be in town.  I’d only met Marni once, last summer in Columbus.  She was quiet, and nice; smart and funny.  Elizabeth would know how to get in touch with Marni to make sure she was OK.

“Elizabeth, oh my God.  Can you believe it?”

“What, what did one of the psychos do now?”  It was clear from her tone and response she had no idea what I was talking about.  In the hours to come, you would learn how much people knew about the day’s events just by their tone of voice.

“Haven’t you heard?  Are you near a TV?”  I asked her, stunned that she didn’t know that the world was upside down.  How could anyone not know?

“No, I had to get my son ready and I’m just staying here for the hour in the lobby.  What’s going on?”

“A plane hit the World Trade Center about twenty minutes ago, and just now another one hit the other tower.”

I heard her sharp intake of air on the other end of her cell phone.  “You’re joking.”

“Does that sound like something I’d even make up?  Do you know which tower Marni works in?”  I was praying every prayer I could think of that somehow, she’d been in the second tower.  That way, she would have seen what was going on in the first one, and had plenty of time to start descending the stairs before the next plane struck.  I didn’t know Marni well, but knowing someone at all involved in the incredible scene playing out before my eyes made it urgent, personal, and even more frightening than it might have already been otherwise.

“Wait, does she work in the Trade Center?  Are you sure?”

“Yes, she sent me a tape the year I lived in Oklahoma of some of Rick’s radio stuff from when he performed on Broadway that year.  She sent it from work.  It was 2 World Trade, but I don’t know if that is the building with the antenna or not.  The antenna building was hit first; I hope she wasn’t in that one.  Do you have her number?”

“I do,” Elizabeth responded.  “But it’s at home.  I can’t leave here until J is done with his class.  By the time I got home I’d just have to turn right around and come back.  I’ll call her as soon as I get back home.  I’m sure she’s fine.”

“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully, staring at the TV.  “You’re not looking at what I’m looking at.  I’m having a hard time believing that there isn’t going to be a lot of casualties from this thing.  Wait till you see what they are showing on the TV; it’s absolutely insane.”

I could hear Melinda stirring upstairs; it was time to go get her up and ready for the day.  She would want to watch Dora and Baby Einstein and play in her pool on our back porch.  I said goodbye to Elizabeth, who promised to call me back as soon as she had an update and went to get my daughter out of her crib.

It was going to be a long day, I thought, as I headed up the stairs.  I had no idea.

Tuesday Morning

It was a warm Tuesday in early September, 2001.

Z was off to school, having started seventh grade a few weeks ago.  I got up with him in the mornings, mostly just to see him off to school; by now he made his own breakfast and packed his own lunches.  I enjoyed these quiet mornings with him, often before R and Melinda were up themselves.  We talked about what was coming up in school that day, that week.  He was playing trombone now in the school band, playing soccer on the weekends and busy with several clubs after school.

I was in the “good” part of my pregnancy.  I now knew that I was carrying another boy, and that I was due in late January.  I was relieved to be past the tiredness and the nausea and able to keep up with my toddler, my twelve year old, and the insanity I discovered every time I opened up my laptop.

I had eaten my breakfast after dispatching Z off to the bus, sent R on his way to work and turned on the Today show on my way to my desk to see what new and exciting dramas had erupted overnight in “Rick World”.   There was buzz going around about Ticketmaster listing a November tour date in Columbus, Ohio.   Normally I would have information posted to my website before things hit Ticketmaster, so I immediately started sending queries to Vivian, who would in turn ask Rick’s management to verify the listing for us.  While I was waiting for an answer, emails from several of my local fan friends popped up, all talking about us traveling to the show together.  One of the group was from New York City, but she thought maybe she could swing the date around some work related things in the area.

Behind me, on the television, I heard an urgency in the normally casual sounds of Matt Lauer and Katie Couric’s late morning banter.  I glanced at the clock; 8:51 am.  Melinda usually woke around 9 in the morning, she would be up soon.  I looked back to my emails and continued typing out a response to one of the questions regarding upcoming tour dates.

“We have a breaking news story,” Katie Couric said behind me from the television.  “Apparently a plane has just crashed into the World Trade Center.  ” I stopped typing for a moment and looked over my shoulder at the TV.   There they were, the two towers I remembered well from my trip to New York several years ago.  One of them had a black gash near the top of it; smoke was billowing out into the wind.

I got up from my desk and walked closer to the television.

Confusion colored the eyewitness account from a bystander looking at the burning building.  As Matt and Katie peppered her with questions trying to learn more about the story unfolding before them, different camera angles captured the scene.  No one knew what had happened; was it a small plane that had hit the building?  Did a bomb explode on one of the floors near the top of the Tower?   As she continued to describe what she could see, smell and hear, the camera edged in closer.  Flames were now easily visible on my television screen.

“Oh my God,” I whispered in disbelief as I watched the scene unfold.

“The World Trade Center is one of the busiest office buildings here in New York with hundreds, if not thousands, of workers…” trailed off Katie.  Her colleagues started naming the companies, people they knew, who had offices in the World Trade Center.

But now Matt was saying that it was likely a “small, commuter plane” that had hit the buildings.  That sounded not so serious, despite the images flashing all over the screen.  I returned to my computer and sent out a few emails, asking if anyone had any more information about what was going on.  With my back to the television screen, I started talking myself out of the horror that seemed obvious when I was looking at the screen; started telling myself the things the eyewitness said had to be wrong.  I busied myself trying to tackle a few more things because I was sure that any minute, any second now, that my daughter would be waking.

Suddenly I heard a woman cry, “Oh, another one just hit!” from the TV.

I looked over my shoulder again at the coverage, and watched in horror as a huge fireball emerged from the second tower of the World Trade Center.

Distracted

“Oh, crap,” I said to myself as I looked at the clock in the corner of the computer screen.

I was late.  One of the women I’d met at Gymboree this spring and summer had invited Melinda and I over to swim at her community pool.  We’d had a few playdates at her house and my own, plus a third woman who lived right in between the two of us.  The three of us were a study in differing socioeconomics:  AnneMarie lived in a golf course community and her husband was an executive at Mercedes Benz; Diana’s husband was a local contractor who had an up and coming home improvement business; we were somewhere in between with R securely balancing on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder.

I’d showered during Melinda’s nap and had planned on blow drying my hair and getting all of our things together before she woke, but I’d made the mistake of pulling my mail on the computer in between.  No less than twenty messages popped up just in the short time I’d been in the shower; that always meant something big had happened in Rick Springfield world.

Sure enough, several fans had posted to our mailing list that Rick had fallen during the previous night’s show in Vegas. It had been serious enough that he’d been taken to the hospital afterwards.  Speculation abounded about the seriousness of the injury, how the everyone had always been surprised that Rick had performed all of his own stunts during the show, would an injury mean him cancelling the smattering of tour dates he’d booked for his off weeks coming up.  I hoped that wasn’t the case; one of them was nearby enough that I’d been planning to go.

Half an hour had passed while I quickly made phone calls, sent frantic emails and finally confirmed the news that Rick had broken his wrist, and therefore would have to cancel some shows and performances while the injury healed.  I plopped Melinda down in front of a Baby Einstein tape while I quickly typed up the news bit to place on both websites and then sent the confirmation that I’d done so to Vivian, who ran the fan club, and Elizabeth, who ran our mailing list.  I was just reading their replies back and forth when I noticed the time.  It was already noon, and I was supposed to be at AnneMarie’s by now.

“Hey,” I said into the phone, all apologies.  “I’m so sorry I’m late.  I am just leaving now, if that’s OK, unless you are on too tight a time frame for us to be this late.  I am so, so sorry.  I had to take care of something,” I paused here, never being sure that my friends in the Real World would understand the crazy hours and things I did for the people in Rick Springfield World.  “I had to take care of something and it took so much longer than I thought.  But if you’ll still have us, we’ll be right over.”  I glanced over at Melinda in front of our TV, happily tossing about her toys in time to the music.  She loved pools.  I felt a pang of guilt that my silliness online was keeping her from it.  I noticed how pale she was, despite it being mid summer.  We both were pretty white.  It was because we spent many, many days just like this; her in front of the TV and me in front of the computer.  Not good, I scolded myself silently.

“No problem,” said AnneMarie back into the phone.  “We were dragging a little this morning ourselves.  We’ll see you in a bit,” she reassured me.

I hung up the phone and ran to gather our pool things.  As I walked out the door I realized I’d never dried my hair or put on my makeup; a glance in the rearview confirmed that I looked like I had just rolled out of bed and into the car.

“Remind me, Melinda, to go underwater as soon as possible once we get there.”

“Mama wawa,” she responded from her car seat.

New Job

“I am sure they’ll take you,” Annette had told me last spring.  “You have an even better background than I do for this sort of thing.”

She was referring to the classes she taught at Miami University; not the big campus half an hour north of where we lived, but the local satellite campus in a town called Hamilton.  A few times a year she taught a computer camp for teenagers; I’d come and visited her during one session last spring.  She had been teaching the students the basics of Microsoft Word, but doing so in fun ways that would interest the kids.  She made candy bar wrappers, gift bags, stationery and the like.

It was right up my alley.  I was looking for something part time to do, and obviously teaching was perfect fit.  I had told her that I would love to teach a basic web design class in the same structured format, the five day a week camp format that she taught.  Annette thought it was a great idea, and suggested I bring a class format outline and my resume with me when I visited her.  Sure enough, she had invited the Director to come and meet me.

It took less than a minute for the Director of Continuing Education to offer me a position in their Summer Camp program.

I was rather shocked at how easy it had all been.  Since I would be teaching at a University, I didn’t have to do anything to renew my teaching certificate, even though I was teaching children.  Even if I had been teaching adults, I later found out, I wouldn’t need any teaching certification.  This was amazing to me.  I had thought all along that standards for university teaching would have been even higher than K-12 instructors, but this was not the case.  All it took for me to get contract work at the university was one person in an office that thought I was qualified to do the work.

I was even more floored to get a phone call a week prior to my class from the Office of Continuing Education.  They wanted me to submit all of my teaching materials ahead of time so that they would be copied for me in time for my class.  “Wait,” I’d stammered into the phone.  “You do all the copying for me?”

“Well of course we do,” the secretary responded.   “We’ll have your class list ready for you that day.  It looks like you’ll have a full house.”

My heart skipped a beat, a little.  “How many is full?” I asked.  I’d taught computers at the middle school, once, on my prep period.  That class had 27 students, and I remember that at times it felt a little like a “Whack a Mole” game, running from machine to machine to help the students.

“Fifteen is a full class,” the secretary told me.  “You’re a hot ticket.”

I laughed.  “Fifteen is a full class?”  Wow.  They do all of my copying and cap my classes at fifteen.

“I could get used to this kind of teaching,” I told her as I hung up the phone.

Never Apologize

“Well?”  I asked, impatiently.

It all felt like deja vu, but drawn out in slow motion.  I’d called the doctor from California, but of course I was in a new practice that I’d visited all but one time; and even then, I hadn’t seen a doctor, just a nurse practitioner.  They gave me the standard line about how there was nothing to be done but to wait and see, and so I spent the rest of our California vacation at a heightened state of anxiety, all the while keeping my worries a secret from the extended family surrounding us.

When we returned home to Ohio, my doctor’s office sent me to the local hospital to have my blood drawn.  This mystified me. By now I was eight weeks pregnant, and a heartbeat should be easily seen on an ultrasound.  I was sure my good looking doctor from Oklahoma would have run one on me right then and there, but not my new “Women’s Health” conglomerate.  I had to go for two blood draws to see if my HCG levels were rising appropriately.  I complained to R about the whole idea of HMO health care and how this seemed like an ill advised cost cutting move; any anxiety I now felt was at an escalated pitch and likely not doing a thing for my possibly in jeopardy pregnancy.

When the lab finally returned my results, I read them in disbelief.  They showed that my HCG was not doubling quickly as I had heard it should.  My doctor’s office seemed unable to return my phone calls and when they finally did, a nurse explained in a rushed phone message that they were not concerned with the lab results but I should just “take it easy” for the next little while to be safe.

I sat on my staircase yelling into the phone receiver at R, since the nurses were unresponsive and unwilling to listen.  “Maybe you should talk to another doctor, see what they say about the results,” he advised.  “Some of the women here at work like the OB at the same practice at our pediatrician.  Maybe call over there, explain your situation and see what they have to say.”

Which is how less than 24 hours later I found myself on an ultrasound table at Good Samaritan Hospital.

The OB in our pediatrician’s practice called me back within an hour of me leaving my message.  He patiently listened to my history, my experience so far, my symptoms and my lab results.  “Well, if you were my patient, I would have you in for an ultrasound immediately.”

“Is there any way that could be arranged?” I had asked, amazed at his response.

So R and I met the next day at the hospital in the city, waiting the breathless minutes between the tech starting up the machine and the delivery of news.  It felt so eerily similar to our experience two and a half years ago that I had to force myself to open my eyes and look at the doctor by the bedside; my doctor hadn’t been there then.  I had to remind myself that I’d lived through this once and I could again, if I had to.  I had to tell myself that whatever was meant to be, would be.

None of it stopped the tears from coming, unbidden, as my doctor watched the monitor as the tech performed the test.  Just like then, I could see it:  arms, legs, a clearly formed human inside me.  I was just shy of ten weeks by now.  I had no idea whether or not I was looking at a picture of life or death.

“There,” said the doctor, pointing to the screen as the tech held still.  There was the unmistakable blinking of a tiny heart on the screen.  “That’s the heartbeat.”

I let out the breath I didn’t even know I was holding.  “Are you sure?” I asked.

He nodded as the tech continued measuring and moving the wand over my stomach.  “Everything looks just as it should be for this point in your pregnancy.   The measurements are to the day.   You have nothing to worry about.”

R squeezed my hand.

“Thank you so much,” I said.  “I guess I came to you totally overreacting,” I apologized, feeling a little silly.

“Not at all,” said Dr. B.  “Your history and symptoms absolutely warranted this test.  I don’t know what the other doctor’s office was thinking, but they were one hundred percent wrong to not bring you in for a scan right away.    You did the right thing.  Never apologize for advocating for yourself, or your child.”

And with that sage advice, he shook our hands and left the room.

Not Again

Los Angeles.

I had always thought that perhaps going to Los Angeles as like a pilgrimage on the wavelength of a trip to Mecca.  Except in my case I wouldn’t be praying to Allah, I would be looking to have my holy moment at the shrine of Rick Springfield.  I could make a whole day out of going to important sites from Rick Springfield’s history, perhaps culminating in a meeting with the man himself.  These days that last part was certainly in the realm of possible, and of course I would never dream of telling Rick about the geekiness that I would have thought of doing beforehand (although he did find it endearing when I confessed in an email sent to him on his birthday last year that I had always made him a birthday cake in late August as a kid).

But my star studded dreams of fandom were not in play on this trip to Los Angeles this year.  We were staying in Santa Monica to attend R’s cousin’s wedding.

R had seventeen first cousins, but we lived near only a few.  They ranged in age both years above and below his mid thirties. Fifteen of them were from his father’s side of the family; his father was a Croatian immigrant who had five siblings and a mother who didn’t speak any English.  R’s mother was a different story.  She had just one sibling, a sister, and her parents were good old Southern stock.  His mother had grown up in Washington DC, but her upbringing had been peppered with the Louisville, Kentucky background of her mother.  R had only two first cousins on his maternal side.

One of those cousins, Carey, had been married several years ago.  I’d actually been pregnant during her beautiful, upstate New York wedding, but didn’t know yet.  This time it was her brother, Peter, getting married, in a snazzy Los Angeles affair. I was newly pregnant for this wedding as well, which led to lots of jokes about how we were very glad there was no third brother or sister.

Everything so far had been lovely; a gorgeous rehearsal dinner outside with heat lamps keeping us all toasty warm; a babysitter to keep Melinda busy while we went to the church service; a lovely walk around the Santa Monica area the day after with a visit with my uncle and aunt, who had driven up from their home half way to San Diego.  We entertained them in our lovely art deco room at our hotel, and everything just seemed right in the world.  We could afford to fly to Los Angeles, we could celebrate a happy family moment, our children were well behaved and well liked.  Other than my constant tiredness and nausea, I felt a certain “this is the life I was meant to live” peace.

Except.

The tell tale stains that kept showing up every time I went to the bathroom.  The ones that looked like brown, old blood.  The ones that looked exactly like the ones I remembered from two years ago.   The ones that preceded my doctor informing me that my baby was dead in my womb.

Suddenly, I couldn’t wait to leave the warm, dry beaches of SoCal and find someone, anyone, to put some cold gel on my belly and tell me everything would be OK.

%d bloggers like this: