Precious Cargo

Oklahoma City National Memorial at night. All lit up. Remembering those who were lost.

The day that the Murrah Building was bombed, I was in Kansas City.

I was staying at either the Hyatt Regency Crown Center or at the Westin Crown Center. They were the same. One was darker than the other, but they were the same. The hotels were linked by a pedestrian bridge that intersected a Hallmark building. Hallmark being a big deal in Kansas City.

You could walk by and watch the artists making Shoebox Cards–the funny cards–through a big window. Sometimes there’d be nobody at the desks. I guess they were on break.

When I went by that window, I was pushing a stroller that was full of a big fat baby Baby Bear. He was my traveling companion that first year of his life. He went from Boston at 10 weeks to Palm Springs at 10 months. There were two trips to Kansas City in between and maybe one after. There were likely six or eight other cities, too.

I took a new job when he was in my belly. I started on April Fools’ Day and he was born in the heat of August. My first foray into business travel with an infant was to Copley Place–I think it was a Marriott. There was some kind of pedestrian walkway there, too. My best mother-in-law ever joined me on that trip. She’d watch the Baby Bear when I was at the conference. I would ply her with the breakfast that I’d walk back from the Au Bon Pain–this was the olden days when their French roast was brewed strong and sweet, they had real cream and their bagels did not insult my New York MIL. We tried room service the first day and it was costly and crappy. Fresh coffee and bagels on the other hand, need I say more?

My assistant was in charge of shipping my breast pump. It was the size and weight of a significant car battery. My company paid the FedEx back and forth. It was cheap for all the work I was doing. Seriously. I carried the stroller on the plane. It came in handy when Grandma pushed him as she strolled downtown Boston.

We met my Bestest in Cambridge. We took the Green Line and transferred at one point to some old trolley car. We carried the stroller up the stairs of the old fashioned car, having to pause once or twice for an outburst of giggles or maybe it was hysterical cackles. This wasn’t the subway she knew in Manhattan and environs. It also bore no resemblance to the D.C. version of train that I knew. My Bestest was happy that we were city people and were up for the misadventure. My favorite part of the evening was strolling among the shops after dinner and finding the red telescope that The Big Guy wanted. MIL asked me if she could buy it for him for Christmas. I still have it.

By the time I arrived in KC, I had done a few solo gigs. My job took me to nice hotels and I’d find a sitter via the concierge. I bet I didn’t tip her well enough–but I also bet I mentally excused myself since I couldn’t expense this big expense. I’d go to sessions, give some presentations and build business during the day. I’d usually skip the socials. I didn’t need a glass of wine. Baby Bear was hungry. And I was mostly exhausted.

Did I tell you what a great traveler he was? People would see me get on the plane with a laptop on one shoulder and a fat baby and bright blue diaper bag on the other. Usually their faces would fall. Especially when they saw me edge toward their seat. The Bear didn’t cry. He didn’t fuss. He’d have his meal and read books with me, except when he was making friends with the person in the seat behind us. My neck muscles elongated like a ballerina’s as I looked over my shoulder at him and his newest friend(s).

The day there was “weather” in Dallas and we were diverted to San Antonio, we sat on the tarmac for three hours. After the first hour, the flight attendants let us all loose. They brought out those little bottles filled with fire water and dug out the remaining cold burritos to keep us happy. Other passengers were shocked that there was a baby on this hell-flight. Frankly, he was having a great time. Better than the ansty adults who entertained themselves by passing him around.

But on that day in April, we were in Kansas City. I didn’t know anything about big federal buildings and the regional fed hubs. That morning, I ordered room service and put on the TV. I didn’t have anyplace to be. I held Baby Bear close to me and sobbed. And sobbed. Downtown Kansas City was uneasy. There are plenty of federal buildings and nobody knew if their would be more attacks.

I put the sweet Bear in his stroller and we walked from one of the hotels, across the link and past the Hallmark artists and through the mall to the other hotel. I don’t know if we started or ended at the W-hotel or the H-hotel. But we went back and forth more than once. We stopped and looked through the glass wall surrounding the bridge. We saw very very wide and very very empty roads below us. I wasn’t scared, but I thought about it. Being scared, that is.

Mostly, though, I thought about those babies who would never grow up. But I couldn’t think about their parents. I still can’t. I don’t know if I could get myself out if I did. My Baby Bear is a young man. I weep for the parents who never got to know their babies as kids and tweens and teens and young adults.

Fuck Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Bastards.

But I can’t end on that thought. No. They aren’t the story.

I will thank the amazing first responders who walked into that horror. To the people of Oklahoma City who were almost all touched by this tragedy, I’m awed by your resilience. And to the families who lost so much, I am so sorry. Those who you loved so well are still remembered.

And a grateful hug to my Baby Bear. I am counting my blessings through a reprise of tears.

Trying to Get It Right

white charger

I was speeding up M-39 one year ago, at this time. I was zipping around cars to try and get to St. John Oakland Hospital.

No that’s not right.

I was creeping along up the Southfield Freeway. My flight was on time to Detroit, and the Sibs knew that I was on my way. I was really wishing that I had taken the noon flight. I got the call around ten in the morning, but it would have been too close. The next flight was 2:30. Gave me a little more time to deal with the logistics of an out of town spouse and two boys home for summer vaycay.

No that’s not right. My dealing with the logistics was: two frantic calls, throwing some clothes in a bag. I specifically packed a jacket. In case I was staying for a funeral.

No, that’s not right. There was no “in case.” At least that’s what my ever-the practical brain knew. Fortunately, the brain was in charge of packing. And the brain was in charge as I was stuck in traffic on the freeway. Between exits 5 and 6, my cell phone rang. And for that split second, the brain lost control of the situation. The heart fumbled for the phone.

The brain grabbed control back and immediately was sorry that the phone was answered. It was the Sibling who had news for me.

No, that’s not right. She didn’t have news, because I already knew. And I asked her not to tell me. I told her I would be there in about 30 minutes. I didn’t need to hear it right this second. I still had time. I wasn’t ready, and it would do me no good to know right now. “It can wait,” I said. I cried as I crawled up the “express”way.

No, that’s not right. My volume was high when I told her I didn’t want to know. She felt I had to know right then. I was so angry. I hung up before she could get it all out. I screamed. Then, I cried. I was stuck in traffic, I was all fucking alone in some strange car, in a city that I hate. I couldn’t pull over. My eyes stung.

I wasn’t so sure where the hospital was. I knew where the other hospital was, but not this one. I drove past it, had to turn around. I went into the lot and parked the car. (I think it was a sliver sedan. A white Charger maybe? Yeah, that was it, the white Charger that failed me.) I went to the desk and asked to see my father.

No, that’s not right. I didn’t know what to ask. I couldn’t see my father in the way you see someone in the hospital. It was more like seeing someone in a morgue. He was dead. So I told the woman at the information desk that I wanted to see my father, and that he was dead, and that he died within the past hour. Where would he–and my family–be?

I went into the ICU and he was there. With my mother and Sib#1. Sib#2 and SpouseOf#2 were in the hall.

No, that’s not right. He wasn’t there. His body was. And I don’t think that he had been there for a few days. So it didn’t really matter that I missed seeing him. Traffic didn’t matter. The noon flight wouldn’t have helped. But what I wanted was that all three of us were with him so he would know that we were all there. All together. All for him. The brain knew that he wouldn’t have known. Then brain went to work tending to the tasks at hand. There was alot to do, and this was all new.

No, that’s not right. The heart kept trying to poke out from the heavy blanket. It did matter.

No, that’s not right. It doesn’t matter.

No, that’s not right. It does.

No….

Remember the Good

Disbelief, shock, sadness, horror, grief mix together in thinking about the murders at Virginia Tech. And the 32 victims who family, friends and strangers mourn, 32 innocents.

The people identified by Va Tech to date are Ross Abdallah Alameddine, Christopher James Bishop, Brian Roy Bluhm, Ryan Christopher Clark, Austin Michelle Cloyd, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, Kevin P. Granata, Matthew Gregory Gwaltney, Caitlin Millar Hammaren, Jeremy Michael Herbstritt, Emily Jane Hilscher, Jarrett Lee Lane, Matthew Joseph La Porte, Henry J. Lee, Liviu Librescu, Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan, Lauren Ashley McCain, Daniel Patrick O’Neil, J. Ortiz-Ortiz, Minal Hiralal Panchal, Daniel Alejandro Perez, Erin Nicole Peterson, Michael Steven Pohle, Jr., Julia Kathleen Pryde, Mary Karen Read, Reema Joseph Samaha, Waleed Mohamed Shaalan, Leslie Geraldine Sherman, Maxine Shelly Turner, and Nicole White.

These are the people that will be remembered by their loved ones. But the rest of us, those who don’t know them, will forget their names. They will become, for most of us, “the victims” or the “people who were shot.”

I don’t know if there is anything that we can do about that. But there is one thing that I have decided to do. I refuse to learn the name of the man who took their lives. I won’t let him become part of my memory. I won’t let him be like murderers before him–people who ruthlessly killed hundreds in Oklahoma City, boys and young men in Chicago, or our brothers and sisters in New York, D.C., and Shanksville Penn., on September 11, 2003. I don’t care if they are “infamous“–they have more of our brain space than they deserve.

I am very angry that NBC–followed rapidly by their disrespectful media siblings–have given the wicked shooter time. I can’t stand that they promoted his pathetic tapes, pictures, ravings. I am not going to be an accomplice to his narcissistic desires for people to know who he is.

I don’t care about him. I don’t care to know about him. I don’t want to aggrandize this shooter. We don’t have to give him what he wanted. Leave him a place in the history books, but just call him the shooter.

The names, the histories, the hopes of the victims are what we need to remember. Google them. Find their Face Books. Learn about them. Leave the shooter in ignominy.

You can leave your condolences here. My thoughts and prayers to the entire and extended Virginia Tech community.

Talk Therapy

I am getting confused over the word anniversary. So I had to look it up to try and figure out why. And it worked.

aniversary

  1. The annually recurring date of a past event, especially one of historical, national, or personal importance: a wedding anniversary; the anniversary of the founding of Rome.
  2. A celebration commemorating such a date.
    American Heritage Dictionary

I usually think of anniversaries in the second definition. The celebration part, especially. So talking about the 5th “anniversary” of the attacks on 9-11 seemed a bit odd.

And talking is alot of what I have found myself and others doing. Maybe this is a D.C./New York thing, but folks that I know have been pouring out what they were doing on that day. Where they were when they heard. Reliving the clutched stomachs of seeing the second tower crumble on live TV. Calls and emails trying to track people down.

In some ways, the memories seem more vivid this year than on past “anniversaries”of this bad day. The parade of others’ memories on TV, radio, Web and print do not cut any less deep. I can be back on September 11, 12, 13, 2001 in less then a second. Fighting back tears and still not understanding it. I don’t know that I ever will.

Why Didn’t They Leave

Blowing out with the remnants of the once and future Hurricane Ernesto, was this week’s “Katrina-fest.” Amid the 20 ga-zillion stories [a Google News search pulls 56,000 Web stories this week. and that doesn’t include radio and TV like the CNN-FOX-MSNBC gaggle] was alot of talk about people who didn’t evacuate. Folks left behind. And some commentators, around the water-cooler for example, blame the people who stayed. That doesn’t seem right, though. Let’s think about why some people stayed.

Well, some people didn’t have a place to go–cost of going someplace, wherewithal. Frankly, I could easily pack up the kids, dog and spouse and head off with a credit card to the Holiday Inn.

Some people didn’t have a way to get there. There were problems with public transportation, no transportation. Again, me and my VISA resolves all such issues.

But here’s an obvious thing that hasn’t gotten much attention. Some people didn’t believe it would actually happen. “It” being the worst case scenario.

“Well,” you say, “some people are just stupid.”

I say, then, most of us are stupid.

How many of you think that you will in a car accident on your way to work tomorrow? As you are fiddling with your coffee in one hand, changing radio stations, shaving, putting on makeup, talking on your phone, reading your Blackberry while you drive?

Here’s another one. How many are actually prepared for a disaster? Have fresh water for 3 days, food stuff, family emergency plan. Time Magazine reports that only 16%–yup like less than 2 houses on my block–are “well prepared” for an emergency. These are post-Katrina numbers.

Who wants to think about bad things? Who wants to take their minds to the place where the unthinkable happens. OF COURSE, we want to keep our families safe. But we can’t stand to imagine the worst case. So we do our personal risk management assessment and figure, it’s highly unlikely to happen to me.

Folks that didn’t leave New Orleans couldn’t believe that the worst would happen. They aren’t stupid. They are just human. It hurts too much to be prepared.