Identity 911

It occurred to me the other day that I no longer discuss my 9/11 status or mention it to school teachers, dentists, doctors, furnace repair men, little old ladies in the park the way I used to. Sometimes I even forget that I am a widow. These days I am a mom, writer, daughter, sister, friend, soon-to-be teacher (if enough students sign up for the class), but amazingly, widow no longer factors.

But every now and then, the 9/11 monster comes back to bite us.

This week, Olivia was bitten. Her class has been reading the Kite Runner, which ends with the main character being unable to react emotionally when the Twin Towers fall. Perhaps I should have remembered that part of the book, braced her, warned the teacher. But I had forgotten, and I think even if I had remembered, I would have let the chips fall as they would. Olivia is strong enough to handle these things on her own.

The teacher started a discussion about people’s personal experiences with 9/11. She had no idea about Olivia’s history. Olivia let the discussion continue around her, reluctant to raise her hand, until she finally felt she must. She raised her hand, was ignored, so put it down again, relieved.  But the teacher remembered. Liv told her story. Jaws dropped. In Seattle, the event was not real to people, being so removed by distance. Afterward, one girl told Olivia’s friend that she thought Olivia was lying to get attention. Other kids treated her differently the next day, becoming silent when she walked into the room.Which is why she tells no one besides her closest friends, why she was able to spend three years at a small girls school with very few people knowing. By now, I expect her entire high school knows. High schools are like that. But she knows these effects are temporary.

I knew this day would come, when a discussion in class would impact her this way. And of course you can’t predict those. Olivia handled it bravely and gracefully. As it turned out, I had made an appointment to meet with this teacher, before this discussion took place, to talk about Olivia, her progress in the class. And so I became the 9/11 widow once more. But it didn’t last. Soon we were both smiling, admiring Olivia’s ability to weather her past, to rise above her 911 identity, to be who she is without apology. And I was back to being the proud mom.

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  1. annie December 20, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    It's not something that comes up often after a while, being widowed or losing a parent at a young age, and I think that we who have do work it into conversations a lot in the beginning and then less and less over time because we don't feel the need to at a certain point. It stops defining us as you pointed out.

    Olivia handled the situation admirably.

  2. Suddenwidow December 20, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing Olivia's experience and your reality. As someone just beginning this new life (I'm now at 9 months), it's hard to imagine a time when widowhood won't define me and my children won't always be defined as the boys whose Dad died. At this early stage, not being defined by by husband's death makes me a little blue because that will mean we are further away from when he was here.

    Your experiences and insights are so valuable for me and I thank you for sharing them. Yours was the first book I read after my husband died and I appreciate how you continue to help with your blog.

    Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  3. Abigail December 20, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Annie, thanks for your comment. Its funny how its taken me this long to realize that I am no longer defined my the widow thing. Its a nice feeling. Olivia is a trooper, always.

    And Suddenwidow (Debbie), I am so glad that my book and blog are helping you to see a little further down the road. Being where you are now is so, so hard. I know how much I longed to have some light at the end of the tunnel. I will be thinking of you and your family this Christmas, your first.

  4. Cathy December 21, 2009 at 3:25 am

    I got a text from my son's teacher's aide at school last week, "Cathy, they are watching a video on airplanes and the likely-hood of crashing from cellphone use..just to let you know he wants to stay and watch it"
    First of all, why do they text me these days..? what happened to a good old note in the agenda at the end of the day? but that is besides the point. I don't know how my son processed watching planes crash, as that is how his father and grandfather died 2 years ago. I wonder if it affected me and his aide more than him? I keep forgetting to talk to him about this incident, I don't know how to bring it up. He is so excited about Christmas, and guess what… so am I! I recently was filling out some immigration forms for my very new, one week old marriage, and I checked the "widow" box. (online form) and then checked the married box. It wouldn't let me be both. I identified with the widow more than married – but had to cross over to the new chapter, new book I was writing on my life.
    The 9/11 (in your case) and plane crash (in my case) monster will continue to pop up and try to scare us won't it? Well I want to spray that monster with some water like we used to do with monsters under the bed when the kids were little.
    Debbie, I feel the same way about Abby's book and blog. It was the first I read and could actually process. Abby's experience showed me there could be a way. Plus I'm a secret writer one day will come out of the writing closet.
    Merry Christmas!

  5. Boo December 22, 2009 at 7:34 am

    You must be so proud of Olivia. She sounds like a beautiful person and you should be proud of yourself for raising someone so gracious – after I read this post, I sat still for the longest time just thinking about it.

    As SuddenWidow said, I cannot imagine a time when I will forget I am a widow because right now it consumes me! So, thank you for giving me a glimmer of hope.

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