Nine Eleven. Two Thousand and One.
It's one of those days you remember, like the day JFK was assassinated, or the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. You know exactly where you were and what you were doing.
In 1963, was in Mrs. Warner's classroom ant P.S. 144 in Forest Hills, New York, when someone came in to tell the teacher that Kennedy had been shot. I was too young to grasp what it meant, but I remember we turned on the classroom TV. And when I got home, my mom was watching a portable TV in the dining room, and crying. The TV was on all week. If you knew my family, you'd know how exceptional that was.
I was at work, in 1986, in Houston, Texas when my admin came in to tell me that her sister had called and said, the space shuttle blew up. It was almost as hard to grasp what had just happened, as we watched that soon to be familiar video of the blast replayed, those two plumes from the solid rocket boosters spiraling away from the massive detonation.
I was at work in 2001 too, when a friend instant messaged me to say that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. In my mind, I pictured a small private plane hitting the North Tower, not a 757. I'm not sure it is possible, even now, twelve years later, to completely grasp the horrors of that day as they unfolded. We can absorb the facts as we know them, but how can anyone claim to comprehend that which is so despicably unfathomable?
I was in my own private hell that day, the hell I'd been living in since August 2, the day my relationship with Marty went down in smoke and ash. That day, September 11, may have been (or become) the nadir of my despair, because on that day I would have traded places with someone in the WTC who wanted a life.
If something so terrible could happen in the world and Marty not come to me, then it was undeniably over. Not that I had been denying it, but somehow this cosmic tragedy drove home the magnitude of the gulf between us.
Hope is a funny thing though. You can douse it with kerosene and light it afire, you can clobber the bejesus out of it with a baseball bat, but like Bill Murray's character in Groundhog Day, it resurrects itself, it finds that crack in the sidewalk and germinates again to seek the sunlight.
On September 14, Marty wrote an open letter to a long distribution list of people and included me (but no one named Mary, I looked). He knew some of the people who were in the WTC and were unaccounted for. I was so moved by what he said.
Perhaps whoever did this despicable act has their own set of sad stories - senseless deaths of friends or family, lingering anger fanned into murderous flames... Anger breeds anger, death breeds death. Pray for them all, and pray that we break this vicious cycle.It was a sentiment I had also been trying to express, but it was not generally well received. Most people wanted retribution. I replied.
Your letter brought me to tears - but something brings me to tears on a hourly basis since Tuesday morning.My feelings haven't changed. On this day, September 11, 2013, may we be granted peace.
New York City is the city of my birth. I attended high school on Lexington Avenue and 46th Street. I was married in the World Trade Center. But sentimentality pales in the face of this monstrous, incomprehensible horror and the sorrow-laden aftermath.
I am so stirred by your beautiful words. You get it. It is as Gandhi said, human kind has to get out of violence only through nonviolence. Counter-hatred only increases the surface as well as the depth of hatred. Hatred can be overcome only by love. And it is as Francis Bacon said, "in taking revenge, a man is but even with his enemy."
As moved as I am by the stories of people bonding together and showing solidarity and wanting to give in whatever ways they can, I'm profoundly saddened by the vitriolic rage against the spiritually ill perpetrators, the blind passion for retribution and the prospect of more bloodshed, of war.
I have never believed in an eye for an eye. People say we can't lie down and play dead. I don't know what is right.
Maybe, like Hemingway, I need to make a separate peace. Like the old spiritual, I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, I ain't gonna study war no more.
I've fast-forwarded a bit.
2001. I'm trying to remember how I felt when Marty told me he was grieving for Mary, the aloof, unavailable Mary, she who kept him at a distance and had him questioning what he really meant to her.
Flustered? Perturbed? Anxious? Angry? Sad?
So much for passion without baggage. He'd just dumped an elephant-sized steamship trunk right smack in the middle of our love affair.
But mostly what I remember feeling was compassion. I told him, it's understandable that you're homesick, it hasn't been that long, moving away across the country is a huge thing.
I know I didn't see it as the end of us. He loved me, right?
And he continued to tell me that, every day, in email, in phone calls, in person.
For another month.
I'll summarize the highlights. Here are some of the things he wrote.
You said it before: It will only get better and better. And it’s already sublime!!Notice there are no more effusive epistles about dawns and Venus shining down on us, and bridges and unfinished business, no more rambling, hyperbolic purple prose. I commented about that and evoked some weak effort.
Yes, I am hopelessly in love with you, Liz
Love your notes - love you.... xxxooo.... Marty
I’m so in love with you.... :-)
Sure is nice doing e-mails with you! And thanks again for a beautiful evening at the Woodlands... what a wonderful, warm memory!! xxxooo
All my love... M
Mmmmmmmm...... Love you, too, Sweetheart.... xxxxxxxooooooooo
(Did I mention that I love you??)
You are, of course, as fair to me as a sunny, warm day on the water with a steady 15-knot breeze. Our sails are voluptuously full and sparkling against a cobalt sky as we glance up to check their shape, the boat is stepping along nicely, the sun is warm on our backs, and we are at least a thousand miles from the nearest care.... Come sail with me!
I love you, too, darling.... thanks! xxxxoooo.... M
Oh, Liz.... I love your gentle spirit and how tender you are with my heart. I have this warm, wonderful feeling when I think of you waking me before you left last night. You made me feel so loved and cared for, so peaceful....
I do love you so, my Lizzy.... I can’t wait to see you later! xxxoooo.... Your Marty
Hey there.... Love you, darling.... can’t wait to see you!
I love it when you call me angel, darling! xxooo
Hey, lover.... I love you, too.... xxxxoooo
Hello, Angel..... (Do I get to call you that, too? It sounds sweeter when you say it to me....)
The great classics touch my heart almost the way you do - tenderly, soothing, moving me to the depths of my soul that don’t often see the light of day. Or night. Moonlight. Moonlight would be sufficient - silver light over peaceful fields of hay and hedgerows of maple and scrub oak, with a soft, cool breeze. A night that caresses my skin like my sweet, new lover.....We continued to go out, with friends, on dates, and we continued to make time for intimacy. I stayed over at his place when I could, a bit of a challenge with my 13- and 17-year-old children.
I need a retreat.... I need you, my loving Liz..... Passionately, Your Marty
Mmmmmmy my, how you mmmmmmmelt mmmmmmme....... xxxooo
I’m still basking, too - looking back at last night makes me a little misty. It was a beautiful evening.
Talk to you later, my angel.... xxxxooooo.... Your lover Marty
It was the tail end of July when the sky started caving.
Marty didn't have much interest in sports but I had gotten baseball tickets and we were meeting some of my friends at the ballpark. My kids were away for the weekend.
He came to my house to pick me up. I didn't immediately sense anything wrong. I asked him if I should bring a bag and plan to go home with him from the game.
He said, I need space. Those three dreaded words that sound the death knell of a relationship
He had gotten, in the afternoon mail, a package from Mary. It contained cards, letters that they'd sent each other, photos of them together. Other mementos, ticket stubs, whatever.
Could it be a gesture of closure for her, I asked. My heart punching blood through my veins. Maybe she had met someone else?
He explained. After they had quarreled in the past, he would send her a box of letters, tapes of music they'd listened to together, pictures, to remind her how great things had been. (Sublime even?) And she would come back.
Now she was sending him the same message.
Teary-eyed, he told me, I can't get her out of my heart, I can't bear to think about her with another man.
So we didn't go to the ballgame. He fell asleep on my sofa (extreme emotion is exhausting) and I sat outside on my back deck, feeling heartsick and scared and defeated and resigned and hopeful, a melange of contradictions.
After a while he woke up. He hadn't eaten, so I made some dinner. Ravioli, pasta sauce, maybe a salad. We ate, he hungrily, me swallowing past a constriction in my throat. We listened to music. We sang along to James Taylor, for fuck's sake.
I didn't cry.
He said it was a nice evening after all. About 10 p.m. he left and I went to bed and slept for 12 hours.
He called me once on Sunday, said we'd talk later. I called him late Sunday, when he hadn't called back. I asked if we were over. He said, no, we're not over, we're hurting, but we're not over. And he said, I do love you.
But how in holy hell can you love one woman when you can't get another woman out of your heart?
It seems you can't. It was the last time he said those words to me.
And it all felt so familiar. Like it was inevitable, like the euphoric happiness and joy were inescapably bound to end up in the most excruciating and profound anguish.
Like there was no other way the story, with me in a starring role, could possibly have ended.
"If I needed you, would you come to me
Would you come to me for to ease my pain
If you needed me, I would come to you
I would swim the sea for to ease your pain
Well the night's forlorn and the morning's born
And the morning's born with the lights of love
And you'll miss sunrise if you close your eyes
And that would break my heart in two
If I needed you, would you come to me
Would you come to me for to ease my pain
If you needed me, I would come to you
I would swim the sea for to ease your pain."
(Townes Van Zandt)