A Small Story

When we went to pick up our oldest daughter from school, she was crying. This is not a common thing, but it’s not entirely uncommon either. I’d say it happens maybe once or twice a school year. Someone was mean to her. She forgot a key assignment. She got into a little trouble with a teacher. Mostly, really, it’s because someone was mean to her.

“What’s wrong, Elizabeth?” we asked.

“I’ll tell you in the car,” she said.

Again … not common, but not entirely uncommon. One time, a friend ignored her. Another time, two friends ignored her. It’s not something she can talk about outside the car. We came up with the code phrase for it. “Girl drama?” I would ask. “Girl drama,” she would confirm. She’s always been the sensitive one, that Elizabeth. It is what makes her intensely caring of others. It is also what makes her cry sometimes.

“Was someone mean to you?” we asked her. She looked up with a blank look.

“No,” she said. This is what she always says. The first answer is always, “No.” The second is usually, “I don’t want to talk about it.” The third, maybe, if it’s a good day, begins to scratch at the truth.

“Are you sure?” we asked.

“No,” she said. “Everybody was nice to me. It has nothing to do with that.”

OK, so it has to do with school. “Did you have a test today?”

“No,” she said again, and then she said this: “It’s just so sad!” And for the first time it occurred to us that she was not crying for any of the usual reasons.

“What’s sad?” we asked, but she was now sobbing softly. We had to wait for her to work through it. And then finally she said this: “The flight attendant.”

“What flight attendant?”

‘We heard a recording of the flight attendant,” Elizabeth said. “We heard the call she made. She said,

I’ll be home soon.’ And then she died. They all died.” And she started to sob again, only now we realized that this was something different, something that we had not expected.

Elizabeth was 12 days old when 9/11 happened. She was in her crib, sleeping soundly, when the first plane hit the building. I was holding her when the second plane hit. She was 12 days old, our first child, and we watched the smoke float from the towers, and then we watched them crumble, and we called friends just to hear their voices and nothing at all made much sense. Elizabeth was 12 days old. We were all so much younger. We simply could not see her grown up.

Elizabeth is 12 years old now.