The Purple of Life

She told me to hold on to the purple in my life.

My Photo
Location: Chicago, United States

I'm a 37-year-old editor and city dweller, wife and mother, moderately liberal and radically optimistic. I would fill my perfect day with a cup of coffee and the Op Ed section, a flea market and the playground, a run along Lake Michigan, a walk through the neighborhood with my son and my greyhound, a Cuban dinner and a bottle of red with my husband, and an evening flight to some European city. I wouldn't be picky about which one.

September 27, 2006

The freshness of the wound

Perhaps it wasn’t the smartest idea to watch United 93 so soon before we fly to Europe. But that didn’t cross my mind when I saw it on the Blockbuster shelf last week. I remembered that John had wanted to see it, and that the New Yorker had given it a great review. So I rented it, along with The Squid and the Whale (an excellent movie, by the way).

We watched United 93 last night, and I truly can’t remember ever being as riveted by and entwined in a film. Which is amazing, considering the story is one we all know by heart. The traffic controllers who are shocked to see one of the World Trade Center buildings on fire that morning—brace yourselves, we want to tell them, you haven’t seen anything yet. The passengers on United Flight #93, as brave and resourceful as they are, aren’t going to triumph in the end—although of course, many more people may have died if that plane didn’t go down in a Pennsylvania field. I suppose that’s a sort of triumph.

I thought the film was masterfully done—subtly terrifying, plain and stark, no one actor really standing out, the people on the screen seeming so amazingly ordinary. That was part of the terror, for me—the ordinariness of the people on that flight. They were eminently recognizable. It almost felt like a documentary. I watched it with tears in my eyes and my hand over my mouth, my stomach actually hurting at times, feeling vaguely guilty, somehow—like a voyeur.

Five years have gone by so quickly. Five years ago John and I had been married for almost three months. We sat in our one-bedroom apartment in an old Victorian house in Grand Rapids and watched CNN for three days straight, eyes glued to the television, the skies eerily empty outside our windows. We kept waiting for people to be saved from the wreckage. At work, I visited the Cantor Fitzgerald website, scrolled down the names and photos of the dead. I cried. It seemed so big, the magnitude so difficult to understand. All those people. All those people.

Strange, then, last night, to be standing in my condo in Chicago holding a DVD case, reading the description of a movie dramatizing a piece of that day. How long and how short a five-year span can seem.

I’ve written before about how naïve I can be, how “glass-half-full” I am, how I could have written Anne Frank’s words: “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” It always feels like a slap to the face when I’m reminded that this isn’t true. I found myself fascinated by the four hijackers in the film, especially the leader, a young man who looked Westernized, intelligent, soft-spoken, appealing. To sit in the waiting area, surrounded by unknown people he intended to kill. To sit on the plane, knowing what was about to happen. To threaten. To stab. All (or mostly) in the name of religion—religion, something I believe in, something I also hold dear. One of the most compelling moments in the film shows a passenger praying the Our Father, then cuts to this hijacker murmuring a prayer to Allah. Both calling on the God of Abraham, both equally sincere.

I’ve flown many times since September 2001—to New Hampshire and New York, to Philadelphia, Key West, Washington DC, the British Virgin Islands. Paris. And I will fly again, this time to Barcelona. Life has continued and will continue. I’m not sure that I really have a point to this journal entry; I just wanted to write about this. As one reviewer put it, “In the years since 9/11, much of what happened that day has become ingrained in our culture. We have absorbed it. United 93 picks the scab and brings back the freshness of the wound.”


September 7, 2006

Whatever comes next

On Saturday morning I woke up before 10 a.m. I ate a bowl of Raisin Nut Bran cereal and drank a mug of coffee while reading the Letters to the Editor in the Tribune. John left to play football with some friends. I made the bed, put on a pair of cropped cargo pants and a green shirt and my flat espadrille slip-ons from H&M, the ones with the black sequins (note: they are better-looking than they sound here). I brushed my teeth and combed my hair, smeared on some tinted moisturizer, applied mascara and reddish lipstick. Grabbed a purse and the iPod (that day: Death Cab for Cutie, the Garden State soundtrack, Coldplay, Lucy Kaplansky), petted the dog, and left to catch a southbound bus. I disembarked in Lakeview, walked into a medical center, and had blood drawn that will reveal whether I’m a carrier of the cystic fibrosis gene and whether I’m immune to rubella. Because if you happen to catch rubella (are the chances of this high?) when you’re pregnant, the fetus could go deaf.

To the few people who know about my little weekend jaunt (these people do not include my mother, who recently sighed to me, “The tree in our front yard is the perfect size for a swing… I can just picture our grandchildren out there, can’t you?”), I’ve explained that John’s biological clock is ticking. And it’s true; it is. He’s ready. As he puts it, we’re not getting any younger. The silvery hairs sprouting from my right temple attest to that, although at 30 I don’t feel the least bit old, not really. But anyway, he’s ready, and on some days, or at certain times on certain days, I am, too.

The blood test was a big mental hurdle for me. My doctor wrote the requisition slip for the test last January, when I went in for my annual exam, and it’s been sitting in my desk drawer since then. Sometimes I’d idly think of going to get it done. John would ask every once in awhile—“Hey, have you had that test yet?”—and I’d assure him that he’d be the first to know when I did. One of these times, he added helpfully, “It’s not really a big deal… it’s not like going off the pill, or anything. Just a blood test.”

About a month ago, John and I had a Big Talk, and we decided to think more seriously about trying to conceive this year. I cannot possibly explain how this made me feel: scared and excited and terrified and in love and overwhelmed. Bitter, because I’m female and therefore will be more greatly affected by parenthood than my husband, whether I like it or not. Frustrated, because I wish I had a damn crystal ball that could show me what will happen to my job and my health and my marriage and my life, if we do this thing.

I think we will do this thing. After all, I placed my arm on the padded bar and let a friendly technician tie a rubber tube around my bicep. He took my blood and it hardly hurt at all. And I thought about the shoe-shopping I was going to do next, and decided to stop at Jamba Juice on the way. And I thought about how this was the first time I was making a (very small) sacrifice in the name of parenthood, and how I was offering up a (very small) part of my body for a child I can barely begin to dream of. It was a strange realization, a strange moment of clarity.

So yes, I think we will do this thing, or attempt to, anyway. But first, first, we are taking a trip, an idea we’ve been toying with for the past few months: a trip to Spain. Two of my great-grandparents are from Spain, I have a decent grip on the language, and the country’s been on both my list and John’s for awhile. We’re going to spend twelve days there, hanging out in Barcelona, then renting a car to explore the seaside villages along the Costa Brava, the mountains of the Pyrenees, and the old glamour of San Sebastian. I am planning like a fiend, amassing notes and photocopies and recommendations, caught up in the goosebumpy thrill of imagining tiny medieval villages and beautiful, unknown cities and endless cups of wine. First, the trip. Then, whatever comes next.