After September 11th. After the Writer’s Workshop. After driving into the rain that comes at you sideways, straight on, reaching its destination despite the massive rock faces that line the highway. After the jackrabbit leaves its safe stand of still-golden aspen and blue spruce and bounds across the open meadow even as a red-tailed hawk circles the twilight sky.
September 12th, 2001 ~
“Look, mom, I’m an airplane!” she squeaks, belly down on her U-shaped swing, tiny four-year-old feet running on the threadbare grass as she approaches it then lifting up as she takes off laughing with unbridled joy. I hear her squeals and I want more than anything for everyone on Earth to know this moment. Her laughter, though, rings out to a silent sky on this late summer afternoon. She twists her swing now, winding around and around and through my tears I glimpse her white-blonde hair twirling against the deep green grass as she lets go, spinning swiftly, freely. Dizzy squeaks of delight intercept my thoughts of peace and grief and together they become a prayer.
October 6th ~
I walk up the 13 stairs of my redwood deck and I see my husband on the couch watching the Texas-OU football game while our four-year-old daughter sits on the floor playing animal doctor with her stuffed husky dog. The one that resembles our real husky, Sasha, whom we buried on a snowy evening last November.
Their backs are to me and I hear my daughter say, “Hey Dad, are the guys in the striped suits there to make sure nobody cheats?” He begins to explain, “Well, sort of-” But then she hears me close the gate. “Mom is home!” she screams, running to the front door, her blue and yellow plastic stethoscope flying from her neck as she jumps up to my open arms and we squeeze each other so tight it almost hurts. Then we squeeze each other some more. As we sit on the couch her Sasha dog tumbles in a black and white spiral to the floor. She picks it up, makes sure the band-aid is still stuck to her fur and hugs me again.
When she gets off of my lap to get her stethoscope, I turn to my husband kissing him first just behind his left ear because I know that gives him goosebumps and his right one does not. He turns off the television and waits for me to tell him about my trip, his face a question. But because I know he loves football about as much as I love writing, I turn the tv. back on and relax back into his arms. “I can wait,” I say. “No, really, I’d rather hear how it went.” “Yeah, mom, tell us,” our daughter says as she grabs the remote to silence the game.
“Well,” I begin, “the first animal I saw was a jackrabbit soaked in the pink light of sunset running out of some golden aspen trees into a meadow. Then I drove through rain that came out of the sky sideways, straight at me! And, there were dogs there that you wouldn’t believe,” I say, noticing her eyes get bigger along with her smile. “One dog, named Bandit, was chestnut red,” I tell them, “and at lunch he jumped through the air and stole a burger out of a guy’s hand without even touching anything but the burger.” We all laugh and she quickly asks, “Can you tell that one again, mom?”
“Wait,” I answer, “because there is another story about a dog who was this tall,” my hand stretched out as high as my hip, “who chased two stray cows out of the yard until they jumped over the fence into their pasture. She was an Irish Wolfhound with long gray hair the color of the ashes in our wood stove.” “There was another Irish Wolfhound, too,” I continue, “that was the color of the television screen when it is turned off. He was very wise and he had three legs instead of four. He had two legs in back and one in front— “Why did he, mom?” she interrupts, “well, he had cancer,” I reply. “Like Sasha?” she asks. “Yeah, a little bit like Sasha,” I say quietly. “Oh,” she whispers.
And I know that these are the stories she will ask me to tell her over and over in the days ahead. Always with new questions pouring out of her: what was on the burger? was it a veggie-burger or a meat burger? did the three-legged dog have a tail? did the other wolf-dog jump over the fence after the cows? and on and on until she connects the lines for herself.
October 7th ~
We used to have this ritual every Sunday morning where we made breakfast together. Whole-wheat oatmeal pancakes, wildberry and real maple syrup, vegetarian sausage, and fresh-squeezed orange juice. They surprise me with it today. It is so delicious it reminds me of the meals I had at the writer’s workshop in the mountains, meals cooked by people with enormous love in their hearts.
It is the middle of the day. I am on the living room floor finishing a collage I began on September 15th. Around me are scissors, cloud-covered poster board, glue sticks, and countless images so full of heart it makes me ache.
I start with the one my daughter picked, the American flag—at half-mast—high above the Rocky Mountains, distant shapes of violet and indigo as the sun begins to rest. My daughter thinks that every flag she sees is a prayer, and a part of me kind of agrees with her.
Now I glue on the close-up black and white of two women holding hands at a makeshift memorial, their tears mingling together as their faces touch side by side.
I am trimming another now, the tiny boy, sandy brown hair cut in a bowl around his face framing his small wire-rimmed glasses. He stands, hands folded under the flag on his Old Navy t-shirt, in the middle of a crowd of Muslims on their knees in a prayer to Allah, his puzzled face contorted in fear and pain.
Above him, I place a small shot of two hands; one black, one white, clasped together in prayer.
Next to that, the human chain wrapped around a mosque at an interfaith ceremony in Denver.
Now, women from Iran, black shawls covering all but their eyes, mourning for us all.
At the bottom I place the throng of people gathered in downtown Chicago at noon on Friday, September 14th, the day of remembrance, the moment of silence.
Finally, the schoolchildren from London, sending their sorrow to us from abroad. Clad in crisp blue and white uniforms, sitting atop their wooden desks, they express condolences with wisdom beyond their years.
In the middle of the collage I place the quote by Lucille Clifton:
Things don’t fall apart. Things hold. Lines connect in thin ways that last and last and lives become generations made out of pictures and words just kept.
It is late. Quiet. My family is asleep. The waning moon is just beginning to rise over the ridge east of our house. I listen to the last thin line of water in the stream as it journeys to a larger body of water somewhere in our world and I write it all down.
After September 11th. Sideways rain. The jackrabbit bounding out of its safe grove of aspen into the meadow at twilight. I connect the lines.