9/10/12

In memoriam: eleven years later




What will you tell your children about today? What will you tell your grandchildren about the day New York lost a part of its heart, a part of its soul? 

It is my generations' JFK, MLK, an assassination of huge proportion. We lost lives filled with promise, dreams filled with hope. In those moments on that unbelievable (even now) day heroes were born out of necessity, from the sheer desire to live and to preserve the freedoms of their brothers. It was a day of leadership, a day where the strong led the weak as close to home as they could manage, where souls rather than face Hades accepted their fate and took a literal leap of faith to escape.  That day, the eastern seaboard experienced an unforeseen loss, for in a matter of minutes that seemed impossible to conceive, in a matter of hours where time seemed to vanish into nothingness, our world changed irrevocably. The visually symbolic, 11 became branded as a number and a form forever a part of our memory banks.  

Together as a nation, we wore our grief like black armbands, flags at half-mast; for days and months we recovered from the jarring strike against us on American soil. The Big Apple, the city that never sleeps, lay silent, in mourning. 



So many lives, nearly 3000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, grandfathers, grandmothers, fianc├ęs, fiancees, friends, lovers, enemies--all of whom we would never wish the worst of, who walked into those towers and never came out. All those people lost. There is no other word to explain it; they are lost, lost from their lives, lost from this world without a trace. 1000+ still yet unidentified even now 11 years later. It is inconceivable to me that there are families out there who have had to move on, to bury an empty box, to deal with the insurmountable grief of never knowing, of having closure. 

***

Tomorrow is Tuesday. This will be the 2nd time since its original occurrence (the previous was on the 5th anniversary in 2007) that the 11th falls on a Tuesday. Eleven years later on 9/11, I pray that there is not any significance for anyone seeking vengeance on this day or any day coming. It will be a regular work day for many, a ghostly work day for others--those who survived and lived; those that took a different turn and ended up somewhere else other than where they should have been. It's those small miracles I revel; for some of my friends are among them--and rather mourn their lives, I can celebrate their life. 

***

I was nowhere near the WTC that day; though I was underground in the mall just days before.  And even a few weeks before taking photographs with friends on the photo observatory and its surrounding areas. It was one of my favorite locations in New York City--where you could see the ends of the world, from bridge to ocean, building to tree. I especially enjoyed lying on the marble asphalt just outside the two buildings and staying upward to the sky, the clouds and the sun obscured by the steel gray buildings. There was something mystical about the towers and even now in my minds eye I can see the interior of the observation areas, the displays about the various viewpoints told in 360 degrees. The puffy clouds hanging overhead nearby, almost close enough to touch. 

***

My story, of where I was, is nothing special. It is a series of reactions. An annoyed reaction to my father yelling for me to wake and come quick; a stunned reaction to my relatives in Italy telling me about the towers falling as I watched it live on TV in a 20-second delay; a fast reaction to get as close as I could to help; a helpless reaction when I realized the impossibility of helping anyone other than myself and the people stranded at the subway stop. It is a story of waiting--waiting to hear that anyone and everyone I knew that worked at or near the trade center was safe. It is a story of observation--the silence of the city, where for days there was nary a siren nor a plane in the skies save the Blue Angels and fighter jets surveying our air space; the pent-up racism and rage of long-time neighbors and friends turning on those with Middle Eastern connections; the outpouring of love, the throngs of people who traveled from across the country, from across the world to help us through it all. 

Even to this day, I am amazed  by the warmth and genuine spirit and concern from the strangers of the world, to those affected and afflicted. It is this miracle that has restored my hope, my belief that love will set us free. 

###

9/6/12

Slow burn: scar stories (cont'd)


Flashback to the mid-80s, I think it was 1985 and I was a year or two shy of blowing out sixteen candles. 

My parents and I traveled out to Cali to visit family the summer before I transitioned from a coed public school to an all girls Catholic high school. The typical teenager, I harassed my parents to let me spend time with my cousin Elizabeth rather than trek the Pacific Northwest in a Winnebago with them and my older cousins. So, while they hiked the Muir woods, marveled at the largest Redwood, watched buffalo and bison graze the fields of Yellowstone and visited the sheep ranch of a distant cousin (all of which sounds utterly irresistible and fascinating to me now, 34 years later) I lived a John Hughes dream of idle teenage life in the sleepy suburb of Castro Valley.

At the time Liz lived with her mom, half brother and sister, and stepfather. We spent most of the time with her brother Michael, a French teacher who lived nearby, his roommates, and Liz's friends Aimee, Matt, Kevin and Patrick. We had a wonderful week of summer fun and save a nickname, "Izzy Bee" (for the character of the same name from Days of Our Lives our summer obsession), I almost made it through unscathed. 

That is until one afternoon when we decided that the whole lot of us would visit the local supermarket on a junk food run. In California the legal driving age is 15-1/2, so Liz and her friends already had their licenses, and one of the older boys had a motorcycle license too. I was used to riding as a passenger in a car but as a city girl, riding on a motorcycle was too rebellious not to miss and as it was a novelty, something new I found myself eagerly jumping on the back of Kevin's (or was it Patrick's?) motorcycle excited for the thrill ride. 

We were in the freezer section when I sensed something was not quite right, instead of feeling cool and refreshed from the dry summer heat I found myself shivering and feeling faint. Liz noticed the burn (aka crop circle) first, red and grotesque about 2" in diameter on my right calf. The golden rule of motorcycle riding is to wear long pants to protect your legs--advice I neglected to heed before accepting the ride. It shouldn't be a surprise to anyone really that I burned my leg, after all I'm a mere mortal with no master powers like X-Men villainess, Frenzy who can maintain and control fire while remaining immune to the flames.  

###

Scar Stories


Scars are unplanned tattoos, the spur of the moment result from a bad *&%$ decision. All around the world it's the one thing we share that defines who we are, where we've been, where we are going. From the rites of passage razor scars when you first learned to shave (legs or face) to the branded tissue left over from a nasty burn to the surgery scars that despite the best efforts of the finest plastic surgeons won't disappear, scars, and the stories that come with them are the tried and true fabric of our lives.  

I have a smattering of scars. The oldest is a check mark on my eyebrow, proof that I had chicken pox as a child. The most recent scars were inflicted by my beloved feline, and they pepper my arms and legs, and occasionally my stomach and upper thighs depending on how frisky Tigger gets on any given day. Funny thing about scars, no matter how hard you may try to forget the how and when of a specific scar tissue's origin, it always manages to come back to you, fleetingly conjuring its own personal memory.  

My most noticeable scar is 4" long just below the big toe of my left foot, the remnant of a bunion removal that included a bone setting with titanium steel pins. Once upon a time, I was pulled out of line at the airport for setting off the metal detector--this was pre-9/11 so it was no big deal and hasn't happened since which makes me wonder about the sensitivity (or lack thereof) of machines available today. In addition to my foot, I have six other surgery scars, two on my arms, one on my left hip, the other on the left side of my neck--these resulted from skin cancer consults and tests from an annual skin cancer screening, and the last two are located on my lower abdomen, reminders of a minor femme surgery.

The crescent moon on my right index finger came from the time I accidentally closed a file cabinet drawer on my finger,  the metal lip gouging my skin. This was back in college, I can still see the military gray cabinet with its nickel-plated handles, the manila folders stained with blood. I was stunned by how much blood there was, and I still get light-headed thinking about it. My knees and elbows are scratched up from bike riding spills and the occasional rough and tumble between my body and the concrete streets, mostly from learning to rollerblade. And then there's the cigarette burn on my right forearm--I can remember where and when it happened (at a local pub with friends, one we frequented often) but I don't recall how. Nor can I remember what the burn felt like, the feel of hot ash against my skin. In fact all that comes to mind from that moment is abstract: dancing, eyes focused on my arm, flailing about in a tiny space and laughing without a care in the world. 

###

9/4/12

Teaspoons of love


 One teaspoon of baking soda.

Baking soda, not baking powder. I always get them confused. And how can I not help it? they're both white powdery substances, that sort of taste the same. I'm almost sure that if it weren't for the clever packaging, I would mix them up all the time.  But alas, like many a baker out there I've had to mentally train myself not to do that. 

Baking, it's been a passion of mine since I was a kid. I can't remember the first time my mom introduced me to the wonderful world of creating home baked goods. Some might find that sad but baking has been such an integral part of life, that I find comfort in knowing that the transfer of knowledge was seamless from the very beginning.  Baking is part of our family legacy, and my mom's decision to pass on her love for baking (and her trusty Betty Crocker Basics cookbook with the red gingham cover) forever connects us through space and time. 

As far as I'm concerned, the joy of preparing something from scratch--where the foundational ingredients (i.e., flour & sugar) are the only things found in a box, and presenting the treasure is the ultimate gift for both the giver and recipient. Whether baked for a family or friend, on a special occasion or an average day, nothing else spreads a genuine feeling of friendship and love.  

Mom made pies and cakes, an occasional plate of struffoli at Christmas, but her tried and true specialty were cookies. From oatmeal raisin to almond crescents to frosted sugar cookies on holidays to the staple of our childhood: the Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip. My brother and I would light up at the first sight of that red, black and yellow bag emerging from the local grocer's bag.


I can still remember Mom teaching me, and the lessons of learning the trade one step at a time. It almost always started with that bag of chocolate morsels. Mom would show the bag to me, then turn to the back so we could read the recipe together. I would check the pantry as she read off the ingredients (or maybe it was the other way around), before gathering them on the dinette table. We would pause for a 1/2 hour or so to ensure everything was at room temperature before beginning.  Then Mom would preheat the oven and adjust the racks. Next we would take out the bowls and utensils, and then tie on aprons as to not soil our clothes. 

Dry ingredients first, then wet.  

Mom would spoon the dry ingredients, the flour and the sugar, each into aluminum measuring cups, leveling the tops over their respective canisters with the straight edge of a butter knife. Next, came packing the brown sugar down into the cup with our fingertips--I always loved how the brown sugar would keep its form until it folded into the batter. Then it was time to add the baking soda and powder to the flour in one bowl (no wonder I'm so confused), while pulling out the stainless steel mixing bowl (with D rings on the side for a better grip, a trick I learned once I was a teenager) to beat the butter and sugars by hand--with a wooden spoon no less!--adding in the eggs and vanilla until creamy.  My mom was a stickler about the vanilla and drilled into my baker's mind that only real vanilla extract (imported from Madagascar if you can get it) would do. No artificial anything could be added, I guess you could say she was ahead of the curve on that one. 

I don't have children of my own but any chance I get I share the process with my nieces and nephew. Many a visit has included making one bowl brownies on the stovetop or dropping cookie batter onto baking pans, only to eat them hot and fresh from the oven with a glass of cold milk 15 minutes later. There's nothing quite like the smell of vanilla and sugar wafting from the kitchen and I feel lucky to be able to share this memory with them, especially since my mom isn't here to do it herself.  

Nowadays its hard to find the time to bake and so when the urge strikes I feel compelled to follow through, even it if that means breaking an egg or two as the clock strikes midnight. The wooden spoon has been replaced by a tangerine KitchenAid mixer but the scents transport me all the same, straight to my mom's kitchen circa 1979.