The baby wasn’t due for three weeks, but babies don’t arrive on schedule, or at least, not two hours before a 40th birthday bash. Invites gone out to friends and family. Too late to cancel. While the baby and I snuggled in the hospital, you went home and passed out cigars. A son on your birthday! What a gift! And then, worn out from the latest round of chemotherapy, you bid our guests goodnight and fell into a deep sleep.
Fourteen years later. Our son’s birthday … and yours … the day the planes hit the Twin Towers. I got to the newsroom around 9 o’clock. My editor sat at a desk, eyes glued to the TV screen. We watched in disbelief as a plane flew into the North Tower … and then another plane struck the South Tower. Outside, a spectacularly glorious day mocked the horror just 90 miles north of us … bodies falling from the sky, charred, ashen faces riven with tears. I’m sorry but we won’t be able to celebrate your birthday tonight. As a single mother who earned her living as a reporter, I had to work, of course. I felt sadness, the death of innocence for you, our son. No one to take my place that haunting September, 11. Order pizza, I said. Stay inside with your brother. Ok. I love you.
Life, the way I had expected it, had pretty much ended seven years before, although your sons and I had spun a home of strength and abundance, kindred spirits. Maybe because you took me to places no one else did, I loved you almost from the start. Montreal … Quebec, blue-gray skies above the St. Lawrence. Those first crazy weeks of meeting, arguing, making up, making love, driving back from Canada in a pounding rainstorm. You were so intense, but cute in a manly, vulnerable way. Although we met in April, we knew our fate by September, and you slipped a diamond on my finger. I wasn’t interested in anything after that but you, and—happily—you with me. We loved exploring the countryside, paths winding through sun-dappled woods … Flirtation Walk curving above the Hudson River where you remembered long-lost dreams of glory and honor. We spoke of new dreams, a new life to come. The children we would have. Roads to take. Places to see.
Cooler weather is on the way. I feel it in the morning as I sit at my picnic table, reading, writing, listening to the cicada’s fading summer song. Pale yellow leaves drift to earth. What would you say? What does it mean to survive? Life is short, you say. I learned from grief to write of you, of us. It’s a difficult world. It’s a difficult life. But at least for a time, I forget the tragedy and remember September 11 as the gift of new life on your birthday.