Three weeks before her third birthday, Miss D. starts seeing monsters. My fierce warrior child, who fears nothing, now cowers in corners and under covers. Monsters usually appear around 3am. I wake with my heart pounding in my throat, hot with the strength of her scream.
“Monsters! Help me Mommy! I scared!”
I fumble for lights, footing and child simultaneously in the night and realize that I’m just as scared as she is.
I was almost in my third trimester with Miss D. when the newspaper was late. This drives my part-German self crazy. I need coffee and the paper to make me human in the morning; without them I am foul. Sourly, I resorted to the television. Mornings suck hard enough without some perky anchor with teeth too good to be true telling you what traffic’s like Out There.
I flicked the screen on just in time to see the second tower of The World Trade Center descend into rubble and smoke.
I thought it was a joke at first, or some weird movie stunt. Everybody did. You just don’t believe things like that can happen, particularly if you’re my age and have missed most of the good tragedies like JFK and World Wars and even Lennon, who I was too little to know.
I spent the rest of September 11 like most Americans did, grotesquely tuned-in. I channel-surfed maniacally, looking for answers or truth or the latest horrible picture, but it was a one-handed quest. The other hand was glued to my swollen belly,and I remember looking down at it and and thinking, “What on Earth have I done?”
My friend Tamar, an Israeli Jew, taught at Hebrew University. Her son, Yarden, was born ten days before Miss D. She has lived in Jerusalem, and then Tel Aviv, and has seen unspeakable things in both.
She watched when a bomb destroyed her favorite cafe; watched when the student union blew up in her workplace–minutes before she arrived at the U. She learned to avoid crowds, buses, open-air marketplaces. She grew accustomed to having her car searched by young men in uniforms.
“It’s sad, so sad, what’s going on in Israel, and yet still, I feel it is my home,” she wrote after yet another bombing near her neighborhood. “It’s part of our life here. We live with it and we go on.”
She is stronger than anyone I know and holds tight to her faith, even when horrible things happen. She sends me pictures during poppy season, her son beaming through an endless kaliedescope of orange.
I have seldom seen her rattled, but not long after Yarden’s first birthday, she wrote: I had to get Yarden a gas mask today. They require every child at the daycare to have one. I haven’t even bought my son a pair of real tennis shoes yet. But he has a gas mask.
She and her family now live in Chicago, and she convinces herself that she feels safe. When I ask her, she says she dreams in orange.
My sister, who used to be beautiful, has cataracts in both eyes. One more blow to either of them and she could be blinded. Her left eye is smaller and hangs lower in its socket, part of the occipital bone poking out at an awkward angle. She’s lost several front teeth and dresses in long sleeves. Her husband has a temper.
We grew up side by side, camped in the backyard, had parents who loved us and spoiled us and told us we had good brains.
The last time she was hospitalized, my father offered to pay for her divorce.
“I know you don’t approve, but I love him,” she said. “Some people just aren’t strong.” She looked out the window. “I’ve never had any luck.”
There’s an old gentleman, a relative of mine, who my mother never lets me be alone in a room with–never has. He’s a God loving Baptist, has gone to church every Sunday for generations, gives hundreds of dollars to charity, is a pinnacle of the community. All the women in the family call him Papa.
When my mother was nine, Papa stuck his hands down her shirt in a dark cinema.
She ran all the way home, hysterical, and told her mother what had happened. My grandmother said, “Oh my goodness, is he still doing that?” and continued frying chicken.
I fumble for lights and words and my quivering daughter at 3am. She’s sweaty and she’s peed herself and she claws at my neck, burrowing her nose into my hair.
“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay, Mommy’s here,” I say, rubbing her back.
“Everything’s okay, Baby. No Monsters here,” I whisper, and choke on the lie.