On one of the prettiest mornings I ever remember -- Tuesday, September 11, 2001 -- I took my 21-month-old boy to a neighborhood bakery to get some muffins for a play-date. We lived in an affluent town with pockets of poverty; our income was at the lower end of the economic scale. My husband, though, was the superintendent of some pretty apartments in a courtyard at the center of the town, and we lived in one, which meant living rather well, even if we weren't swimming in cash. I was due to begin a part-time job that afternoon as an administrative assistant at a museum. A lovely museum, by the shore of a pond crested with swans. The pictures in the museum were sublime, and I was excited.
I had been told that my first task as administrative assistant would be to take the minutes of the monthly board meeting. I'd studied the names of the members, hoping to be able to follow the proceedings and keep track of who said what. Most of the board members were very wealthy. The woman who'd hired me, the director, was stunning: a brilliant, lovely, dark-haired woman who was also profoundly decent, which was what drew me to her as a boss.
My son helped me choose some muffins and we began our walk home. The middle of the town had a broad town common with dogs and families and strolling business folk drinking coffee on their way to and from meetings. There was an enormous oak tree children dig under, and a fountain they run around and spill off of, sometimes painfully, mostly without real harm.
We reached our courtyard, climbed the beautiful, old-fashioned stone stairs, and went inside. Soon our friends came over, a lady with her own little boy, and we set the children up in a comfortable corner with too many toys, while we tried to chat and drink coffee. The day was sweet. I had a job; my child had a friend; the sun was brilliant upon us all.
Then my husband came in and told us about the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. At first I didn't take in what he was saying. We all moved to the television set and began staring at the footage. We said stupid things and did no good for the victims with our inanities, but then we began to realize how much horror could spread how fast, and our friend picked up her child and her child's things and went home, and my husband and I embraced.
I fed my son and put on my work clothes to go to work; leaving him with his father that afternoon was excruciating. What if other planes came and smashed the ground between us? But I went along, on that beautiful day, to that beautiful museum by the pond. On the way I had to stop at the bank. I am not given to weeping, but when I asked the teller to cash a check I began to cry, my throat simply closed up. Suddenly every act seemed, potentially, to be the last time such an act would be carried out; every conversation, perhaps the last conversation. America was under siege; we were no longer immune, nested here between the oceans. We had been called to task: the next phase of history had begun.
I made it to the museum, eyes dried, another cup of coffee in my belly. Several board members were on the front lawn, chatting. One whom I'd meet previously smiled at me and said, "Hello, ready to begin work?"
I opened my mouth to answer but began to weep again. "I'll try," I said. "It's heartbreaking, isn't it?"
"What is heartbreaking?" one of the beautifully dressed men asked.
"The planes. The crashes. Unbelievable."
"I don't understand," he said. "What does it have to do with you?"
"With me?" I asked, confused. "With all of us. Our country."
"I don't understand," he said. "It didn't happen here." His face went sour; he was annoyed to think the new administrative assistant might be unreliable.
The meeting went on, not bravely, but obliviously. I took notes, doubly horrified, as I watched the board members eat themselves royal on the refreshments set out for them, as they made plans for future self-glorification via the little museum by the pond.
Soon I was walking a solitary protest vigil on the town common, as Bush pledged to invade Afghanistan.
My husband objected to my vigils, fearful one of us would lose our jobs, or that some right-wing lunatic would follow me home and attack us. My boss brought me some lovely zucchini bread as I walked round; why have I had so few bosses of her quality? I realized what my weeping had come from: it was not fear for us as a family, o much as prescience, a vision of how completely, stupidly, wrongly, this country would respond to the attacks. I could see the conflagration ahead, the so-called wars, the grotesque waste of life.
That afternoon I took the minutes, something I am good at doing, and do easily, and I watched the wealthy stroll through the garden of their vanity, a garden gated in by money and power. I sat on the garden wall, so to speak, a woman with milk in her breasts thinking of all the blood that would inevitably be spilled upon, and out of, children in the coming months and years. I felt sick with it.
Today is March 28, 2008. My child and I live elsewhere. He is strolling around our rooms right now bashing on a ukulele, singing, Bring them home, bring them home!, an anti-war song he learned last week at a protest occasioned by the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war. I have $29 dollars in my checking account, $11 in my savings account. I owe, Jesus, about $30,000.
The obscenely rich are still dreamily asking, "What does have suffering to do with us?" They pilot their private planes around the slums and anguish of other Americans, look patronizingly upon the dying in other countries, and consolidate their fortunes and their power. They disgust me, and when they come to me, courtesy of the United States government, to take my child into the military wing of their money-making machine, I will tell them: "What does this have to do with us?" and send them away.
mmo : april/may 2008