A REFLECTION AFTER 9-11 . . .
9-11 has passed by
again and, as most everyone else, I remember and I am sad to think of all the
lives that were lost that day. I think also of the military personnel and
civilians who died in the Afghani and Iraqi wars that followed. Fortunately
many men and women who bravely fought in those wars have come home but not
without myriad wounds. The pain and injuries go beyond what some might imagine.
Every time I watch a reunion of families, particularly of a child with a parent,
I am choked with emotion, and I know why. I understand that overwhelming sense
of loss, so intense and powerful it is hard to articulate. Children are
powerless in the face of such circumstances, and it is for that reason I cry,
and for that reason I have written about my own experience. It was a long time
ago, but I recall it as though it were yesterday.
For a ten-year-old girl, way back
in 1958, life should have been filled with dolls, ballet, books, first bras, and
the beginning dreams of boys. In my life, however, age ten presented me with my
first experience of loss. It was the time that my dad said good-bye for
eighteen months and more.
I knew he was leaving. I had heard
the whispers and watched my mother’s intermittent tears, but I kept my distance
from emotions I didn’t understand and was yet to endure. When I learned of his
leaving, I became aloof. I watched. I listened, but I stifled my feelings. I
can remember even scoffing at my mother when she cried. It somehow seemed so
weak. Not until the morning of my dad’s departure did I allow myself to feel,
and when I did, the sensation caught me by surprise and I was submerged in a
sadness that has never fully disappeared.
As surely as it must, the day of
his leaving arrived. My dad was going to Cambodia, Vietnam, places whose names
I did not know then. I remember waking to a cool dawn. I heard the shuffle of
bare feet in the hallway, the flush of a toilet, the running of water, and the
familiar kitchen noises as my mom prepared breakfast. I lay in bed listening
and breathing ever so lightly. In the stillness of my room, I begrudgingly
allowed the early morning sounds to slip into my world. I finally pulled myself
from bed and stood on the cold, hardwood floor of my bedroom preparing a
cursory good-bye. I simply did not comprehend how incredibly ill prepared
inwardly I was to let my dad go. I could not have imagined earlier the feeling
I was soon to encounter.
At ten years old, I could be
defiant. I could shield myself from emotion. I was strong, I knew. Even as I
stared that morning into the dreary gray around me, I was certain I would not
cry even though, as the minutes passed in my cold, shadowy room tightness was
beginning to grow in my throat and chest. I stepped from the chilly floor onto
a softly matted throw rug and reached for the light switch. Instant, yellow
brightness brought details from the shadows. Everything became clear, including
my pale blue eyes still weak with sleep. I stared at my reflection in the
oversized mirror. My red curls were tousled in disarray. My pink, baby doll
pajamas were wrinkled. One slightly sunburned and freckled shoulder protruded
above the ruffled sleeve. I looked at the blue walls and the orderly, flowered
wallpaper reflected behind my bed. I suddenly hated it.
A quick scurry of hasty movements
and the soft scrape of a chair against the kitchen linoleum alerted me to the
moment I had been avoiding. I grabbed my terrycloth robe and threw it on
hurriedly. I opened the bedroom door and there in the hallway, attired smartly
in his dress blues, was my father. He reached for me abruptly without a word
and as if on cue, I began to cry. I held to him tightly, my arms clutched
around his neck; my cries were mute against his chest. I could feel tears
coating my face and my father’s pale, blue shirt became moist against my cheek.
I don’t remember anything else except my crying as I awkwardly gripped him. My
body was tight as though to gain strength from its rigidity. Finally my
father’s arms moved from around me but I could not let him go.
“I have to go now,” he said. I
could hear the quivering voice above me.
“No!” I cried, and looked with fear
into his blue eyes. They too were wet. He hugged me once again and I sobbed
I don’t recall how long we stood in
the hallway with my mother and brother helplessly watching. It must have been
several minutes. Without realizing how or when though, I found myself standing
suddenly alone in the semi-dark hallway outside my bedroom door. I turned slowly
into my room, fell into the wrinkled covers and cried some more. I don’t know
how much time passed before I got up that day, but when I did, I looked
sickeningly around my room and I knew it had to change. I spent the day
scraping wallpaper from my wall and as I watched the ordered flowers drop in
wet curls as I scraped and pulled, I cried.
When my mother, time after time, told
the story about that day she simply said she had never seen anyone so obsessed
with anything. Nor had she seen so many tears.
“You scraped and cried. You scraped
and cried all day long,” she told me over the years.
I remember that. The next day, I
painted my room lavender. I realize now it was a necessary change for me, one
that I could control, one that could not hurt me as the greater change, the
loss of my father had.
When my dad came home after
eighteen months he was there very briefly before he was sent away again, this
time for a year. That parting was tearless. When I was thirteen he was home to
stay, but I had changed by then. Thirteen had brought boys, lipstick, and
cheerleading yells. I was no longer Daddy’s little girl. I would never again be
his little girl, for I would never let him in to hurt me again.
Now, years later, I look back at my
dad differently. The bitterness is gone. He is no longer the ogre who left me
crying in the hallway. He is my dad, and although I may never give him the
chance to hug me again as he did when I was ten, I do love him. Age ten began
years of pain, but the feelings of abandonment have been resolved. I still
think of a potential hug in a hallway somewhere, but when I do, it brings an
incredible feeling of panic. I’m afraid it would let loose the sorrow and
another flow of tears. And there’s no wallpaper to come down.
|My dad and me in 2010. He's 102 now, in 2013.|