Friday, September 12, 2014
The 9-11 Effect
There is something I have noticed in relation to both 9-11 and Don's death. I refer to it as "the 9-11 Effect." Remember right after 9-11, how NYC and America, became a totally different place, and people changed overnight from bitter, hurried grumps who didn't have a second to spare to patriotic, beautiful, generous, patient souls? Remember how in the wake of that awful horror, our city came together as one; with the mission of helping one another however we possibly could? Suddenly strangers talked to each other, held doors for one another, gave each other a smile or a hello. There was an instant chemistry and bonding between everyone who lived here; as if every person you saw looked at you with their eyes and said: "I get it. I understand your pain." You saw American flags on the outside of every home, people lit candles in the streets and prayed for humankind, for peace. Everyone put aside their differences and their attitudes and really came together. It was a thing of beauty. And then it was over. After awhile, the newness of the fear of that day went away, and with it, so did the unity. The flags started to come down, doors were slammed in your face once again, and people began to move on with their lives, and NY became moody NY again.
The same thing happened when Don died. Within minutes of hearing about his sudden death, I was overwhelmed by people. People came out of the woodwork for me. People I literally haven't heard from in years, sometimes decades, were offering their support and love to me, reaching out in various different ways. My voice-mail flooded with messages within hours. I think there were 56 messages on that first day. The texts were coming at me like wildfire. I thought maybe I had become famous and just forgot. I couldn't keep up. The first three days and nights after it happened, there were a total of probably 16 people inside our tiny apartment. They came in shifts; sometimes overlapping. They brought food, and fruit baskets, and flowers, and love. My friend Matt was on crutches and hobbled his way from upstate NY just to be there for me. He could barely walk and looked like he was about to topple over, but he was there. My friend Shawn, who I haven't seen in years, buzzed my apartment door at 11:30 pm on the night of Don's death. I was there with my mom, and the second shift of friends had just left, when suddenly, Shawn appears. "I didn't know what to do, so I just came over."
The love and the comfort and the people continued to come days after that service, weeks even. Friends took me to lunch over and over. I had 567 lunches in a two week period. And then , slowly, the lunches diminished. The people went away. The responses to my Facebook status updates weren't as many. And that whole Air Force thing they do at the funeral? Sure, it was beautiful, and they really did love Don, but that was a standard military service. They do it for all their men and women. Later on though, when you try and receive some kind of survivors benefits because your husband served his country and served in WAR-time and was a Flight Crew Chief for almost 9 years - they are suddenly nowhere to be found. Suddenly the President doesn't care quite so much about Don's time in the service; because it wasn't enough time to qualify him for "retirement status". The honor, the pride, the flag ... its all part of the show. Just like people and their patriotism after 9-11. Unless you personally lost someone on that day or were personally affected, you begin to recover from it. You go back to the way you were before. Maybe not totally. Maybe some small part of you changes in some way. Maybe on a day like today, you acknowledge it, because you are supposed to. Because its an "anniversary" and that's what you do. Maybe you go all over social media and post things telling others to "Never Forget" and all that jazz. But anyone who was personally affected by it does not need to be told to never forget. Trust me, they never forget.
And the thing is, I knew in my heart that it would happen like that with Don. I knew it and I felt it, because it happened after 9-11. All that patriotism and love, it was just temporary. It was real for some people, of course, but with others, it disappeared when the tragedy was no longer in their face. Days after losing Don, I remember telling a friend that I wasn't afraid of the right now, because I am surrounded by friends. I couldnt knock people off with a stick at that time, so that is not what scared me. What terrified me was the far away future. I was afraid of what would happen months and years down the road. I knew even back then, that some people would end up completely disappearing from my life, or decide that my new reality was just too uncomfortable for them to live in, even part-time. And that is exactly what has happened. Some people stuck around, others left. It's human nature. It didnt happen to them, so they eventually move on.
Its the 9-11 Effect. When the wound is fresh, ,and the fear and pain are immediate, the people will come. It is only now, three years later, that I am starting to figure out who my real friends will turn out to be, and who will simply fold up their American flag and put it back in the closet.