September 11, 2001 changed America. Even after seventeen years, I can’t shake this dreadful feeling in the pit of my stomach.
Every time I hear a plane fly overhead. Or, enter a high-rise building. Or, see a fireman walking past me on the street. Certain images and sounds would transport me back to that fateful day.
In fact, I went nearly seventeen years of not stepping foot on an airplane. Until July of this year.
I was born in New York State, and spent the first 30 years of my life there just five hours north of where the World Trade Center once sat. I had just moved to Raleigh, NC (May 2001) when this horrific day took place.
As the events of 9/11 continued to haunt me, I decided to write a micro-story and then turn it into a microfilm, The Bench. In a way, I did this to try and purge some of these feelings of intense sadness and of the anger over what we all had lost that day. I wrote this from a fireman’s perspective drawing upon a specific story I saw on one of the many 9/11 documentaries.
I then realized I could not remember the name of this fireman.
For the next two days, I hunted online for his name as it’d been several years since I last saw his story.
Finally, I found it in this article: Husband and Wife Survive World Trade Center On 9/11
Someone also took the iconic picture of him sitting on the bench when he couldn’t find his wife anywhere—
Although his story had a happier ending, I wrote my story with the thought of so many others who’d lost their loved ones. And even worst, never to have their remains found.
So, let us never forget the sacrifices of all those who died on that day, and continue their legacies into our future generations.
As I lie in the white bed, in a white room, I close my eyes to try and ignore the sounds of machines that surround me.
A place where golden fields ruled the landscape.
Where my body is constantly caressed by the light Northwest breeze, opening my senses to all that nature has to offer.
A place where peace and calm reign.
This is my earthly heaven.
But, there’s another calling to me from beyond this physical realm.
Just as beautiful and serene.
I’m struggling to accept the finality of leaving this home for another.
Am I so bound to this world which makes it difficult to want to move on?
The blipping sounds of the machinery are beginning to fade…
…until all I hear are the songs of doves.
Those of us who have been in long-term relationships and/or marriages know well the ups and downs that occur. Some are more challenging than others. My marriage to Jay is no different.
Jay comes from a dysfunctional family. His Dad, a Vietnam vet (served in the 101st Airborne) who came back a changed man, became an alcoholic and abuser of his Mom (of which he witnessed several times). They divorced by the time he was six (his younger sister Marcy was a year old); but then became mired in vicious child snatching schemes (before it was ruled illegal) that went on for a few years. His father remarried, and Jay and Marcy went to live with him in another state, and Jay wouldn’t see his mother again for many years.
Jay’s step-mother was a drug-addict (addicted to pain meds) who was physically abusive to his sister, and vindictive towards him (at times she tried to have him arrested for stealing his own stuff). His half-brother, Walter, was born during this time.
By the time I first met him in college, his father and step-mother was in the midst of a nasty divorce. He wanted to help and protect his little brother, Walter, but in the end would lose and never see the kid again for a number of years when the step-mother split with more than half of his father’s earnings.
Right from the start, Jay and I had a connection even though at that time I didn’t quite understand it. He had a girlfriend, Heather and I was dating his best friend, Shaun. But, he and I became close friends. When Heather suddenly broadsided him with vicious lies when he refused to sleep with her, he became depressed and well, lost. I tried to be there for him, but in the end, he left college at the close of our freshman year to join the Navy.
The year was 1990.
I returned for my Sophomore (and final) year at that college for the fall semester. It was either late November or early December, Jay came to the campus to visit his friends. He stopped at my dormitory and we visited for a few minutes. He had on his Naval uniform under a dark gray long coat. I can remember thinking how handsome he looked. At this time, there were rumors circulating of a possible war in the Persian Gulf, and they were anticipating high casualty counts. Knowing this, Jay wanted to see as many people as he could before heading overseas.
I wouldn’t hear from him again for the next eight years.
The training he chose while in the Navy was in the Meteorology and Oceanography field, and he was placed on an aviation crew on board a battleship. Since he also had combat training (was in the Army Reserve prior), once he reached the Gulf, he was assigned to a Marine unit that headed to land (to participate in the land assault called Operation Desert Shield/Sabre) after a period of air assaults. To this day, Jay doesn’t talk in detail about what went on during these days. All I know was that he was with the Marines on Highway 80 (aka Highway of Death), and was responsible for calling in airstrikes on the trapped Iraqis on that road. I also know that he went with the Marines after the airstrikes on a reconnaissance mission, and saw first hand of the carnage he had a hand in creating.
He was only 19. Still just a kid.
Not too long after the end of the Persian Gulf War, Jay was sent to a Naval base on the Philippine Islands. As “luck” would have it, he experienced the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in June 1991. He and along with others participated in the search and rescue efforts, and then in the recovery. From there he went on to Guam, and then to Alaska.
In Alaska he found solace in the rugged landscape of the Aleutian Islands where the base was once located. Now fully entrenched in his military career as a Meteorologist for the aviation crews, he felt he’d found his true calling.
In October 1993, all that changed when his sister, Marcy (at 17 years of age) was involved in a serious single car accident where she sustained major brain injury, and was in a coma near death. For this reason, he left behind his blossoming military career and went home to help his family and to be there for his sister.
Between 1995 and 1999, he came close several times to re-enlisting in the military (Navy and Army), but certain life events always interceded.
In June of 1999, we reunited, and then in September, we were married.
I encouraged him to return to the military; but he felt that I would not be happy living a military life. So, he decided against it.
Marcy survived, but has permanent brain damage, and must live in a group home setting.
I’ve always regretted not pushing him to go back to the military as he has never truly re-acclimated to the civilian life. He was also a different man than I knew when we were freshmen in college.
More serious. Cautious
It’s no wonder though given what he’s gone through.
Also given his family background, he was always considered by certain family members (as well as old high school and college mates) as the “loser” who would never amount to anything.
Instead of allowing this and all the past dark experiences break him, he fought back.
One of the things he did was to go back to the same college where we first met, and finished what he began in 1989. He graduated with double degrees in Psychology and Therapeutic Recreation with a GPA over 3.0 in December 1998.
He worked in the Therapeutic Rec field the first years we were married, but being a relatively young field that no one took seriously, he decided to get out of it. After working odd jobs for a few years, he went in to the Banking industry which he hated (Corporation ideology). From there, he was a middle school teacher teaching all things Science which he absolutely enjoyed in the beginning. Then everything became so bureaucratic where the teachers ended up spending more time working paper works than actual teaching, plus the salary went no where, so he opted to get out.
Jay tried working at a credit union for over one year before being laid off due to the recession.
Enough was enough, he said. He decided to go back to college, and earned another double degree in Bio-pharmaceutical and Environmental Science Technology, and graduated with high honors in 2014.
This guy never ceased to amaze me.
Everything he tried, he’d master it, and then excel. It doesn’t matter how much he struggled, he just never gave up. He’d had this “prove them all wrong” mentality that blows me away. I so admired his spirit, and tenacity, and secretly wished I could be the same way.
I mean, this guy basically came from nothing, and became a someone.
He’s my inspiration to never giving up on myself. The reason why I decided to keep trying no matter what obstacle stands in my way.
So, here we are, living up in North Dakota, on a small farmstead in a rural community full of great people. Jay now working in the USDA, but is getting ready to make a major move to an entirely new direction that excites the heck out of me, in a direction that pulls all his past life, work, college and military experiences together in to one package.
Life works in mysterious ways. Never count yourself out.
She watches as the sun slowly lowered in the purple-hued sky. Another day is done, and she is alone.
Not really by choice. Not directly, anyway.
She blames the booze. She also blames her mother who introduced it to her before she was even in high school. And because of them both, she never saw graduation. Just endless days and months in rehab centers.
All for what?
To end up alone and penniless?
Today she buried her mother. Rather, a woman who gave birth to her. She never really cared for her. Not as much as she cared for those colored bottles that forever littered their home.
Mother died a drunk. That is what she’ll always be known for. Not as a woman who tried to raise a daughter by herself. Not as a woman who nursed sick and premature babies back to health. And certainly not as a woman who became the town’s first female mayor.
No, her life has and will always be linked to the bottle.
For years, she defied her mother. She never wanted to end up like her.
She stood over the wooden casket, deep in the hallowed earth, and allowed the tears to flow. Not for her mother. She was happy that the woman, the thorn in her side, was gone. No, she cried for herself. For her unborn child.
What kind of future will her baby have if her or his mother was a drunk?
Her eyes turn up to the darkening sky. Stars glittering among the dark purple clouds. A soft breeze sweeps over her like a whisper. Closing her eyes, she tilts her head to one side to listen to this whisper as if it has some great secret to share.
With her eyes still closed, she smiles.
She still has something that her mother no longer has…
Another chance of a new beginning.
After Aaron’s death, I pretty much became a hermit, retreating to my tiny, one-bedroom apartment for the next three years. I slowly withdrew from his family as their daily pain in losing a son and a brother was too painful to witness. The only thing I accomplished during this period was graduate with a B.S. in Physical Education which, as I’ve said earlier, I had no intentions of using.
I spent my days watching romance-comedy movies, and cried. I didn’t give up on my running or biking though. I bought a mountain bike and rode that all around the town. Other times I’d ride eight miles to the nearby walking/running trail and ran three miles, and then bike back home. Exercise was pretty much my only outlet.
At least, it was something.
By the end of the three years, I decided that I had enough of being alone. I felt ready to return to the “world.” I’d been living in an apartment complex for the elderly where they accepted me because of my disabilities, charging me only a small percentage of what I received in my monthly social security benefits. But at the age of 27, I felt that I still had enough of my vision remaining to go back to work, and not rely solely on them.
So, I took a big leap of faith and moved out, and into a regular apartment in the nearby city of Ithaca. I got two part-time jobs; one as a clerk at a video rental store, and the other as a fitness trainer at the local YMCA. I struggled financially, but the bills still got paid and I had some food in the pantries. I slowly weaned myself off of social security. I regained my independence as I now was in a place where I could either take a bus or walk to pretty much anyplace I needed.
For the first time in a long time, I felt content. Happiness still eluded me though. I still had the gaping hole in my heart, and my chest would ache so, especially at nights as I lied in my bed. I couldn’t escape the loneliness. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was missing something.
My poem, The Dream, was selected to be included in this month’s anthology with Visual Verse 🙂 Click on the VV’s link to see the image used for this month’s inspiration. Enjoy writing poetry and like to participate? Be sure to sign up for their newsletter to be notified of next month’s image.
I dreamt of my sister last night
as I watched her walk down a road
towards the golden gates
The urge to call out
filled me with an urgency
I couldn’t understand
Like a thief in the night
the illness stole her essence
covering the core in
unending darkness and despair
Before I could say a word
she turned to me with a smile
I’d not seen in years
I swore her body shimmered
like a jewel in the sunlight
her soul for all to see
And she waved
© Carrie Ann Golden 2018
Stop by and check out the other poems especially the one by Susan Richardson, Perfection Has No Sound, which is incredibly (but haunting) beautiful!
Okay, I was partially deaf and going blind. I’d given up on my athletic dreams. I hadn’t written in years so why start now. Life dealt me the bad deal. How could it get worse than this?
The worse was yet to come.
I was declared “legally blind” by Social Security and began to receive disability benefits. I did continue to work towards my P.E. degree even though I really had no intentions of using it.
Then, I met Aaron and fell in love. We were married within a year after our first meeting (through a church’s function). We had so many things in common. We loved rock n’ roll especially the 80’s rock and early 90’s alternative music. We both loved sports. He was a soccer fanatic. He not only played in various local leagues, he also coached boys’ soccer teams in the town we’d lived. His dreams were to not only coach kids, he also wanted to be a teacher. He began college to pursue both.
I like to say I was the good wife. I can’t.
I was manipulative. Verbally abusive to him. Why?
Jealous because he was able to play soccer? Resentful because he took me away from my family to live with his own? Bitter because he knew exactly what he wanted to do, and was able to do them? Envious because he made friends wherever he went and I couldn’t?
Name it, and I felt it. Then, I punished him.
I became the psycho-bitch that mothers would warn theirs sons against. And I hated myself for being that way.
I wanted to change. For him.
But, it was too late.
One cold day in March, Aaron was killed in a car accident. He was on his way to pick up our pastor to take to the hospital because he didn’t want to take the ambulance. I decided not to go at the last-minute. Aaron was going too fast when he lost control of the car, and crashed into a dumpster truck. The truck struck the passenger door, and because he wasn’t wearing a seat belt…well, you get the idea.
The heartache I felt that day was unlike I had ever felt before. It was unbearable. And the guilt…
That night I attempted to take my life by overdosing on certain pills, but something stopped me.
How could I be this selfish? To take my life after what Aaron’s and my family have just gone through with his sudden death? I hated myself for the way I’d treated Aaron, but I could not do this to them.
So, I decided to live with the pain and the guilt.