The next morning found me alone in the fourth floor hospital waiting room that had become our camping ground. The television was on, as always; I paid no attention. Our sour-pussed floor nurse stepped into the room--and I suddenly saw her face turn to stone.

I turned to see what she was gaping at...and beheld a horrifying picture on the television screen. A voice in my mind said, This can't be real, but I knew, instantly and utterly, that it was. It was an image that I, along with millions of others around the world, would never forget: a jumbo jet flying straight into the center of one of the World Trade Center towers and bursting into flame.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001: the day our world awoke to find itself in a nightmare.

For the next several hours, the place was in a state of controlled hysteria. People walked the corridors of Desert Memorial Hospital looking as dazed as the New York City pedestrians on the TV news. In hushed whispers, people shared news of relatives, friends of friends, acquaintances' colleagues... everyone, it seemed, knew someone who knew someone who may or may not have been in lower Manhattan that morning.

That night was Jen's turn at the hospital. Cindy and I spent the evening at home with David, glued to the television. After a while, David slipped upstairs to put the boys to bed, leaving me alone with Cindy. She came over, sat down next to me on the couch and took my hand in hers.

It didn't matter that it was on the other side of the continent, happening in a city neither of us had ever visited. It felt so horribly personal, as if someone had stolen into my home and robbed me of a piece of my own life. I felt violated, betrayed, helpless. I couldn't separate our family's personal crisis and the nation's bleeding agony on the Atlantic coast.

Most of all, I felt the pain of confusion and bewilderment. What had happened? And why? My world, which had for months seemed so clearly organized around a brightly lit future, suddenly made as little sense to me as the images on the TV screen.

I heard David come quietly to the living room door and stand for a few moments, then pad softly away, leaving us alone. Later, I would cry with him.

 

That week was filled with emotional turbulence. Mom continued to beat incredible odds, stabilizing somewhat after those critical first few days. It was still somewhat touch and go; several times she was very nearly rushed back into ICU. The doctors were still quite conservative about her potential for long-term recovery, but we fervently believed our prayers were being answered.

I was never more grateful for the flexible schedule my new network marketing business allowed: I was able to help keep an eye on Mom, spend time with Dad, talk with the doctors and attend to the whole scene in a way that would have been flatly impossible if I'd still been in my old job.

My birthday passed unnoticed that Friday, or nearly so. I was almost grateful the boys forgot, and relieved that nobody else mentioned it. The only acknowledgement came that night, as I climbed exhausted into bed: I pulled back the covers and found a card on my pillow. From David.

"I never stop being thankful for the day you were born. I love you."

 

Early the next morning, I got a call from Jen at the hospital: Mom had taken a turn for the worse and was back in ICU. Jen's voice was calm, almost dull, and with none of the blind panic it had had a week earlier. By now, we were all somewhat inured to the shock of bad news.

I made a quick cup of coffee (the last decent one of the day, I conceded) and was heading out the door, when something happened that shook me.

Despite all the time I'd spent with her the past few days, Mom and I had not really been able to talk. There was so much I wanted to say. I wanted to understand why she had always seemed so distant. Why did it feel as if we had never really bonded? It doesn't much matter now, I suppose.... I looked up and realized I had completely missed whatever it was David had just said.

"I'm sorry...what?"

"I said," he repeated, "I hope you're able to make peace with your mom."

"Why would you say that?" I snapped back. "You know that's not going to happen!" It's too late for conversations; it's too late for understanding; it's too late...

I realized that tears were streaming down my cheeks. David looked as if I had slapped him and began apologizing all over himself, which made me feel worse. He was only being supportive; the last thing I wanted was to let my confused, toxic feelings spill out all over him. Besides, it wasn't David I was angry at.

Who was I so angry at? Why was my heart aching so? I cried all the way to the hospital.

I hope you're able to make peace with your mom.

Was I really angry at my mother? Could I possibly be that callous? I prayed that I would find peace in my heart and that it would come quickly. I might be losing my mother here and I don't want to feel this way for the rest of my life. David had his thumb directly on my emotional pulse, as usual.

I parked and walked the short, familiar path to the hospital's front entrance. As I reached the building, I stopped and gazed upward. The sky was mottled with a lazy swarm of clouds, a dull gray shot through with highlights of a dirty, sullen yellow. It made me think of the dark cloud of ash that hung over the devastation in lower Manhattan; it made me think of the toxic abdominal cloud whose aftermath still held my mother's life hostage. It made me think of my rat's nest of feelings, which I didn't understand.

I didn't bother to dry my eyes as I entered the building and automatically traced the familiar maze of corridors and elevators to my mother's floor. The duty nurse saw me and nodded. She knew as well as I did, the prognosis today was not a good one.n

 

JULIE ABARZUA is a network marketer. The Journey is her first novel. Available now at
www.networkingtimes.com/catalog