Terrorism and Love
When the first tower fell, so did I. My body went completely limp as I crumpled to the ground in shock and tears. Was this really happening? I knew it was because I heard the loud and eerie boom, when the second plane crashed into the second tower. I could smell the acrid smoke from the burning towers billowing over into Brooklyn. I had to shut the windows in the apartment, the smell was so toxic and foul.
Just 17 days before 9/11 I had experienced one of the happiest days of my life. Right there. At the top. And now it was crumbling to the ground, imploding, as if it had never been the phenomenal skyscraper that it was. One World Trade Center had been the central focus of my life for the previous six months. Planning for my wedding at Windows on the World had consumed me. I was obsessed, perhaps slightly bridezilla-ish, a detail-freak who was over the moon about marrying the man who taught me to love myself. The one detail that never needed a second thought was the location. From the moment I first stepped off the elevator, I knew that I had to be married at Windows on the World. The swank was undeniable. The breathless view from the 107th floor was without par. It was a gift I wanted to give to my family and friends. Many of our out-of-town guests had never been to Windows on the World. Little did I know just how much of a gift it would be. Today, some of those guests have memorabilia from Windows on the World, memorabilia that they will always cherish. And so, as America gears up for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, my husband and I will celebrate our own tenth wedding anniversary.
Watching the place where I had just gotten married come crashing to the ground, from the worst act of terrorism witnessed within our borders, was surreal to say the least. A friend who had been at our wedding came to check on me later in the afternoon of that unforgettable Tuesday. Together, we decided to walk to the promenade in Brooklyn. On the way we passed, what seemed to be, ghosts. People were covered in thick gray ash and soot. Tired and in shock from the day’s events, and from having walked back to Brooklyn from Manhattan. It felt as if we were walking through a movie set. Not real. When we got to the Promenade, there were hundreds of others there yet it was reverently quiet. We watched the unending pages of office paperwork fall down from the sky as if it were snow, white and silent. A man felt the need to climb a flag pole and move the flag to half mast. People clapped at his gesture.
The entire week after 9/11 I laid on the couch and just cried. I had no idea what to do with the multitude of mixed emotions crashing around within me. The stark high of having just come back from my ideal honeymoon juxtaposed with the unimaginable low of watching the place where I was just married burn to the ground – along with the thousands of lives lost and even more lives ripped apart. My brain couldn’t deal with it. Apparently, neither could my heart.
Having 9/11 as the kickoff to your married life is not exactly an optimistic way to start off. After my week of zombie-like depression, I went back to work. Every day was an exercise in questioning why? Why did this happen? Why do people hate so much? And selfishly so, every day was also an exercise in questioning what? What did this mean about my marriage? Was it, too, doomed? My husband and I had dated for four and a half years before we were engaged. I knew almost immediately that he was the man I wanted to marry. (Clearly, it took him a bit longer to reach the same conclusion about me. Oh men.) He was all I wanted. Marriage was supposed to make everything better, it was supposed to make me happy!
Life continued and we started trying to have a baby right away. My biological clock was ticking, for goodness sake – I was 30 by the time we got married! Turns out, it would take modern medicine plus six long, heartbreaking, physically and emotionally grueling years to finally become parents. After my first ectopic pregnancy and the emergency surgery to remove both the pregnancy and the fallopian tube within which it was stuck, I was crushed. Terrorists had just annihilated my wedding venue. How was I supposed to deal with this new, additional devastation? In addition to wanting to be married, all I ever wanted was to be a mom. Having been adopted at the age of three from Korea, I had an internal need that pulsed in me for as long as I could remember. I had to be a mother. I had to carry my own child within my body. I had to know that visceral biological and spiritual connection that I imagined motherhood would hold. The ectopic pregnancy was a cruel joke and I reeled from the pain of it.
Shortly after my first ectopic pregnancy, my husband was laid off from his job in a game of political maneuvering. More bad luck. We continued to try and get pregnant again. I was down a fallopian tube but was told (incorrectly) that my remaining tube was fine and so I should have been able to get pregnant again easy peasy. Easy peasy was not happening so we moved on to using Clomid. (Horror. Awful. Unsolicited advice to anyone struggling with infertility – skip this step. Go straight to IVF. Save yourself the headache and heartache – trust me.)
Somewhere around this time, I went out one night with a group of friends from work. I asked my husband to meet us but he declined. I was 32 by this time and married for two years. Still a newlywed. When I walked into the after work party, I noticed him right away and, I knew, that he noticed me. He was hot, he was young and he was interested. I was feeling like a victim, I was not as young and I liked that he was interested. We hit it off right away. One of my co-workers who attended my wedding asked me what I was doing. Just talking I replied. Hot young thing was 26, he was intelligent and he seemed to have a very exciting life. He was the organizer of the after work party and kept getting me free drinks. We shared a cab home and exchanged business cards.
Infidelity is something that has touched my life intricately. I have seen the destruction it causes firsthand. It is not something I ever thought I would ponder committing myself. Never thought I would struggle with it. Smugly, I thought I was better. Such naivete. He seemed to have it all, this hot young thing, and I wanted what he seemed to have. I fantasized that he could make me happy, this 26 year old.
In the end, I did not cheat on my husband with hot young thing but I did act out of my character. I felt awful about it and I confessed my near-transgression to my husband. You can imagine that he was not happy. It took a while for him to trust me again. But when he did, I started to see that happiness was not something that is found outside of myself. It had to come from within.
After he did trust me again, my husband and I continued trying to have a baby. With each negative pregnancy test, with my second ectopic pregnancy, the many surgeries and through five attempts at IVF, I struggled with feeling sorry for myself. I thought, somehow, that 9/11 had been a negative omen on my marriage. When would all of this bad luck end and when would my happiness begin?
Miraculously, after being ordered on complete bed restriction during my pregnancy and being given a 50% chance that our twins would make it, my son and daughter were born on June 5, 2007. I turned 36 the week after they were born. Our six year battle was over. As anyone who has ever taken care of a newborn knows, it’s not easy. Most people with multiples that I know were completely overwhelmed after their children were born. But instead of being overwhelmed, to me, the birth of my children represented the beginning of the after. Before and after the babies. I see now that I was not ready to be a parent in the “before” time. I was too busy searching for happiness outside of myself. The seed had been planted by my near- transgression with the 26 year old but it took me a few more years to truly understand that I had to create my own happiness. To truly grasp that neither marriage nor babies could make me happy.
On August 25, 2001, up on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center my husband promised to love and to cherish me, he promised to stay with me in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. He didn’t promise to make me happy.
9/11 was not an omen on my marriage. It was a horrendous act that, in the immediate aftermath, brought my beloved city – the country even, together in a way that I could only imagine before. There was a sense of connection, a sense of community, a sense of love. In reaction to this act of terrorism, New York City was buoyed by love.