*Most of my writings are strung together in a way that hopefully produces laughs.
For obvious reasons, this one was not.
I’m fortunate. I look fondly back on a day that makes most Americans cringe. My daughter Amalia was born on September 11, 2000. That horrid day in U. S. history was her first birthday.
At the time, the lab where I worked screening pap smears was two streets from the Philadelphia Airport and located between a cemetery and a Sunoco refinery. Not only did this place lack picturesque qualities, it was an hour and a half from my home and my baby.
Looking at pap smears eight hours a day requires the ability to entertain one’s self. I did this by listening to a handheld television enclosed inside one of my desk drawers. When Matt Lauer said that a plane hit the World Trade Center, I opened the drawer and watched. After he babbled something about the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, my body headed toward my supervisor’s office.
“Um, Felice…it’s my girl’s birthday and I don’t want be here right now.” She granted my request along with many others. Outside, the house-sized metal drums full of flammable liquid and limestone grave markers reaffirmed my decision to leave. The time riding home was used watching for falling airplanes. Literally.
I was raising Mali in the home I grew up. Being a single mom at that time, my family provided me with loads of help. Home felt safe. Nothing of any significance has ever happened or ever will happen it that town, unless it’s a muskrat zombie apocalypse.
I sat mesmerized on the couch holding my daughter watching those planes hit the buildings again, and again, and again. Then later, I saw those same buildings crumble again, and again, and again, and again for days.
I was determined to not let those damn terrorists take my daughter’s birthday away. I would shelter her from television for years. Her birthday was a no TV day.
My empathy for her situation overflowed. The Challenger blew up on my 13th birthday, and I spent my teenage years and my early adulthood feeling doomed. A black cloud hovered over my head just waiting to infect other people. I was sure of it. And the scope of that tragedy was much smaller. Mali’s half Pakistani heritage made this twice, if not three times as bad. Her biological father was a lukewarm Muslim and her middle name means a guide for Mohammed. Had I known, I would have made it Suzie.
I felt guilty for somehow not having her earlier. I should have done jumping jacks. I experienced guilt every time I recited her birthday to an unknowning soul. Their response was unilaterally, “Oh.” She was up against a struggle in the future.
At least, she would not remember this as it went down, I thought. At least she’s not 7 or ten. Hopefully by the time she would reach 8, the fervor would have dissipated.
Earlier on, I warned her. “Something very bad happened on your birthday. A lot of people died, but we are lucky. For us, something very special happened on this day. You were born!” I was very uneasy about the school cupcake thing, but brought them in anyway. Every year was fine, until she entered the 4th grade.
“I had to give all these crying kids cupcakes and Mrs. B____ said everyone should be sad today. She said I should be sad today. It’s my birthday.”
I explained, “Everyday, people are born. Everyday, people die. Many people were born and that day and are going through the same thing you are.” She didn’t care. She was 8. All she wanted was presents, a cake with candles, and all of her friends smiling and shouting, “Happy Birthday!”
Last year, she begged me to write a note excusing her from the 10 year memorial that her school was having in the auditorium. I refused. I didn’t want her to spend her day dealing with death, but she couldn’t hide forever.
This year, I asked her, “How did you make out in school today?”
“No one believed it was my birthday. Out of all the teachers only Ms. Q____ said Happy Birthday and sounded like she meant it. Mr. F____ really has to learn how to edit videos. His 9/11 video sucked. You could tell he just pasted a bunch of clips together off of Youtube.”
Not the perfect way to celebrate turning 12.
I would do almost anything to change all of this. On September 11, 2001, I sat not being able to imagine what those involved went through. I wouldn’t let myself. Amidst all the mayhem, I was holding her one year after the day her eyes opened and she forever changed my life. She gave me a future. She made me a mother.