March 11, 2002
Channel-Hopping


At 9 p.m., I point the remote control at the TV and firmly press the OFF button. 

"You weren't planning to watch the 911 special, were you?" I ask David, almost as an afterthought.

"Well yes, actually," he says. "I was going to watch it. But I'll defer to you."

I'd made up my mind, days ago, that I'm simply not ready to watch a six-month anniversary retrospective about the terrorist attacks. I'll admit it: I'm a coward. I am afraid of all the dark and dangerous emotions it might dislodge. Emotions that threatened to undo me six months ago. Emotions that can still undo me, if I'm not careful. Emotions that at the very least could make it impossible to get out of bed tomorrow morning, and at their very worst could send me dive-bombing into the nearest box of cheap chablis.

"Let's split the difference and watch 'The X-Files,' " I say, and we turn the TV back on, with the sound on low, and settle into bed to relax and unwind and begin the sweet comfortable descent into sleep.

At that moment the phone rings. 

I leap out of bed and run to the kitchen to answer it. It's Daughter #2 again, sounding agitated and garbled, calling from the home of an undisclosed 'friend' ("Don't ask me, dude," she says to me. "I can't tell you.").  She is requesting that I wire her a sizeable chunk of cash, right now, so she can get her personal belongings out of storage. I say no, I'm not going to send her any money, but if she gives me the name and phone number of the storage facility, I will call them in the morning and pay her overdue storage bill by credit card. 

She hangs up on me. 

This necessitates a quick call to the ex-husband, alerting him to the fact that D#2 is 1.) on the prowl for money, and 2.) probably going to require some help dealing with the storage people. He promises to pay her bill and help her move her stuff on Monday, but only if she calls and asks him to. 

Another long-distance call, this time to D#2's voicemail service, where I leave her a message to get in touch with her father. I love you very much, I say, but I'm too far away to help you with this one. Your dad is the person to call.

By the time I get back to the bedroom, feeling heavy-hearted, The X-Files have devolved into the usual incomprehensible blather and nonsense. David has abandoned TV entirely and escaped into a library book.

I hand him the remote and say, "Let's watch your show."

We've missed the first twenty minutes  --  we tune in just as the first airplane is slamming into the tower: an eerie parallel to the way we saw it the morning it happened  --  but after only a few minutes I'm glad I changed my mind. The program turns out to be a bazillion times more uplifting than I'd expected it to be. We lay in bed, side by side, and hold hands as we watch. It is less a grim retelling of fact -- another heartbreaking body-count -- than a celebration of human spirit and survival. The dark emotions resurface, of course  ...  grief, fear, hopelessness, murderous rage, a sort of vague overall What's the use? feeling  ...  but the negative feelings are balanced by reminders of what is good and true and worthwhile about people.

It is exactly what I needed.

It's a fine line I walk, these days, between looking toward the future and feeling like there might not BE a future. Even on my best days I am aware of the fact that there is a lightheartedness  --  an underlying joy of spirit  --  that is gone from my life forever, as a direct result of 911. In this, I doubt that I am much different than anybody else. Most days, for me, it's a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Staying focused on the task at hand. Trying to make things better for my children. Finding my happiness in dribs and drabs, here and there. I don't consciously set out to ignore the bad stuff. But on the other hand, I don't go out of my way to dwell on it, either. Some people might call that 'avoidance.' I call it 'sanity management.'

Still ... every once in a while I do need to force-feed myself a big stinky dose of reality, as unpalatable and as unpleasant as it may be to swallow. It keeps me human. It keeps me connected to the rest of the world. It reminds me that -- as much as I may enjoy believing otherwise -- it actually isn't all about *me.*

And it allows me to confront those dark emotions ... instead of always changing the channel.



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