The loss that lingers in our shattered reality

September 11, 2011 

'What a mess!" I groan as I attack the wisteria invading the hedge along my back yard. Wrapping a vine twice around my gloved hand, I look up and tug as hard as I can. The bushes bend and sway, but the tangled mass won't budge. Sweat trickles into my eyes, and I draw the back of my hand across my forehead. The gesture creates a muddy paste that will seep into my eyes if I'm not careful. I reach overhead and heave as hard as I can, hanging my weight on the woody runners.

For a few seconds, I swing like a human pendulum suspended above my terraced backyard. Then: thud. I'm on the ground, covered in a weave of vines, looking up at bright blue sky.

How I wish my husband Mike was here to help me.

A nearby church chimes a medley of hymns from its bell tower, and my throat tightens at the sound of "Jesus Loves Me." The sweet lyrics remind me of simpler times, when the world seemed to be an orderly place:

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but he is strong.

At the thought of a less chaotic world, I squeeze my eyes shut and swallow hard. It's not only nostalgia for childhood that I'm feeling. I'm missing the simpler times of only a decade ago.

Sept. 11, 2001. I'm twitching with anticipation in the kitchen, eager to open the oven door. I've baked my very first cake from scratch - a chocolate buttermilk cake with chocolate sour cream frosting. The big occasion is Mike's 40th birthday. The cake is a surprise that I'll drop off for him to share with his co-workers at lunch. Rising earlier than usual, I started sifting flour the minute Mike left for work. News radio plays softly in the dining room while I bake.

I'm impatient and open the oven door several times to peek. The rich chocolate aroma wafts throughout the house, warming the rooms. It's a beautiful, bright blue September morning, and my heart is full as I open the back door to let in a breeze. Our dog, Mary, rolls onto her back to take advantage of the cool air and to plead for a belly rub.

Such a peaceful and pleasant day, except for that radio announcer nattering on, positively ruining a lovely morning. I can't hear what he's saying, but he sounds intense. I flounce into the dining room to change the station. In less time than it takes to raise my finger to the radio dial, the world changes. Planes. World Trade Center. Pentagon. "Let's roll."

Mike's birthday cake blackens in the oven.

Much has changed since that terrible day 10 years ago. The U.S. is at war and has lost more than 5,000 men and women. In the microcosm of my family, we watched our beloved Mike get diagnosed, wither and die from Lou Gehrig's disease. I became a widow before the age of 40, and lost the opportunity to grow old with my soul mate and have children of my own.

I'm not sure how I'll spend Sept. 11, 2011. Since that would have been Mike's 50th birthday, I'll certainly mourn my personal loss as well as the broader context of the day. Rather than raging against unfairness or cruelty, however, I intend to focus on positives: the heroes who risked their lives at ground zero; the blood banks overflowing with donations, as Americans rushed to help the only way we knew how; the brave servicemen and women who sacrifice daily to protect us.

And I'll think of my redheaded Texan. The kind and generous person he was, and the type of person I want to be.

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