Category Archives: loving M.

thoughts on september 11 and trauma

** trigger warning:  this post is mostly talking about sept. 11, some dark dream content & trauma.  I don’t know if it rises to the level of triggering, but just in case**

Lo the long months of summer are over.  I haven’t written here for a long, long time.  And now, instead of updating you on my life, I am going to write a somewhat long meditation on the events of September 11, 2001, which will a) reveal a lot of personal history and b) bring a lot of google searchers to my blog.  Whatever.  I am not too concerned with anonymity here any more.  I’ve been looking at the NYT special report on Sept. 11 and it’s bringing up a lot of memories of that time in my life.

So.  July 2001.  M and I moved to CA, fresh out of undergrad, thinking we were going to break free of the ties that bound us (to our uncomfortable families, mostly, but we didn’t put it quite that way at the time) and start on our shiny new adult lives.  We had been joking about how people ‘settled…like sediment in a bottle’ and scoffed at their bourgeois aspirations of kids and houses and stable jobs.  Neither of us wanted that, at least I knew I didn’t want it at all.  I was watching high school friends & acquaintances make choices that seemed to emulate our parents’ lives, but I was certain that youth was for other things, like seeing the world & raising hell.

We just up and left Boston, to the dismay of family & what few friends & coworkers we had.  We traveled out west & found an apartment, got some jobs.  But once in CA, we didn’t do so well.  We got there & immediately faced some classic struggles:  our new bank put a two-week hold on a five figure cashier’s check that was our combined life savings (as a result, we bounced our first rent check), our rental agent tried to renege on the pet allowance (non negotiable, we had just driven our two beloved kitties from Boston to Berkeley by rental car), M’s new job was mind-numbingly boring, and my new coworkers decided I was a ‘stuck up east-coaster’ and shunned me.

By the time September rolled around, we were deep into a profound funk.  We didn’t have a car, so we started to look into buying one.  Neither of us realized how minimal the public transportation was in the Bay Area — in order to visit someone we knew in Napa, we either had to go into San Francisco & take a 2-hour bus, or ride the BART to the end of the line & get picked up & driven for another hour.  We were isolated.  Eventually all we ever did was cook massive dinners & drink copious amounts of beer or wine while eating them.

In the midst of this, I was planning a stressful visit from my mother.  The night of Sept. 10, I stood at the stove cooking eggplant parmesan, one of my specialties, in preparation for her arrival the next day.  I finished frying the eggplant & assembling the dish with a massive headache — I felt so unwell I sat on the bathroom floor for an hour, crying because my head hurt so bad & convinced I was going to throw up from headache-induced nausea.  I couldn’t figure out why I felt so terrible — was it the smoke from the frying?  Anticipatory stress from my mother’s visit?  The beets I had for dinner the night before?

So perhaps it’s not surprising that to me, the events of September 11 felt like a terrible blow to an already wounded body.  We woke up that morning to a phone call from M’s mother, telling us that something bad had happened & we should check the news.  She said she knew my mother was flying that day & was she okay.  I turned on the television (back when we had one) to see the first tower crumple.  I called my mother, who picked up the phone.  She was fine, they cancelled her flight, she was going to stay in town with my father at his place of work.  I watched the second tower crumple with M at my side.  I said, ‘oh…they’re showing it fall again.’  and she said ‘no.  that’s the other one.’  I think my mouth opened with shock.

Then we pulled ourselves together & went to work, only to find the city of San Francisco in total chaos.  After arriving at work to realize that nothing was going to get done that day, we walked toward each other from our offices & met up in what felt like an apocalyptic war zone.  We took the BART home amidst armed police & bomb-sniffing dogs.

***

My mother was lucky.  She had booked her flight through a travel agent (old school!) and had been given the option of two different flights to CA from Boston.  One was routed through Newark, flight 93 that crashed in PA.  The other was routed through Chicago.  She chose Chicago, and lived.

Needless to say I freaked out.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was 23, and my mother had just almost died.   My world was upside down.  No one around me seemed to care about me (remember the shunning?) and my family was worlds away, reachable only by rental car or amtrak.  I can see very clearly now that this was the beginning of the end of us living in CA.  After that our eyes were only focused on the east coast.

We had decided we would move back to the east coast within a year sometime either right before or right after the attacks.  Neither of us could stomach the vaunted easy living of the Bay Area.  We couldn’t figure out how to connect to the queer scene.  We had terrible awful jobs.  We were planning an agonizing trip back home over the holidays, a trip that involved two weeks and $2000 worth of Amtrak tickets.  I finally broke down & suggested we just move back permanently as soon as my winter break began, in the first week of December.  We hired more movers, they came & took our stuff, & we drove across the country for the second time in six months in a rented pickup truck.  Everywhere we looked we saw american flags.

***

The effects of Sept. 11 on my life were not only geographic.  Since my third year of college, I had been having terrible nightmares; ones that involved lots of scary bugs & rats infesting things.  But after Sept. 11 these dreams intensified.  One in particular was incredibly vivid & terrifying.  I entered a public bathroom, very dark & filled with creepy crawlies.  At the end of the hall, the first stall in a long bank of them had its door partly open.   It swung further open as I approached & seated on the toilet was a fully clothed man, staring at me.  He looked like a corpse, though he was still a little bit alive, and in that moment it came to me that he was filled with ground glass, that he was bleeding to death inside because he had swallowed it.  The image is still burned into my brain.  Versions of that dream haunted me for months afterward.

I wish I had known about trauma back then.  How it works, where it comes from, the effects it can have on lives.  I wish I had known that there were words to talk about it, that it was a whole field of study.  That dream was triggered by September 11, no question.  But it was really about my father, and the incredibly problematic relationship I had with him (details of which I will not go into here).

***

We moved back to Boston briefly, just long enough to get married & discover that the job market was less than hopping in Massachusetts.  Then we moved to Manhattan.

This might seem surprising, given everything that’s gone before in this narrative.  Sept. 11 scared me out of CA and back home to Boston.  Why on earth did we then move to the epicenter of doom?  Not even Brooklyn, but Manhattan?  But it didn’t seem like a big deal to me.  We joked about NY being safer than ever — what are the chances of two such catastrophes striking in a row?  But what I didn’t say, couldn’t yet say, was that the trauma of Sept. 11 was not the first horrible, life-changing, completely random & awful thing that happened in my life.  I already knew about trauma, already knew that horrible things happen to good people for no reason, & all we can do is survive & move forward.  I doubted that Manhattan was more dangerous than Berkeley or Boston because I knew that random senseless tragedy happens everywhere.  In a sense I was already in the place that many people got to after those events.  This is not meant to minimize the trauma & horror that people felt because of those events — I have often grappled with a sense of alienation about them, precisely because it all seemed so logical and inevitable to me.

This is not to say that moving to Manhattan was good for me.  Living in NY took its toll.  I was prepared for the huge attacks, the inevitable crises, but I wasn’t prepared for the day-to-day interpersonal disdain of NY.  The countless rude comments, the doors swung shut in my face, dozens of baby strollers rolled across my toes, the lack of ability to make friends and form intimate relationships with my peers — all of these things were an incredible drain on my sense of self.  I found myself becoming meaner, less caring, less tolerant of other people.  But when the blackout of 2003 rolled around, I was cool as a cucumber.  Our apartment was in an old tenement building on the first floor, so we had running water & our gas stove worked.  I cooked lighting the stove with a match & heated water for a bath, congratulating myself on my survival skills.

***

I don’t think that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 really changed my life that much.  We would have left CA regardless, I’m almost sure.  We would probably have moved to NYC.  At that time I worked in theatre and I doubt that I would have been satisfied before trying out the bright lights of Broadway.  Needless to say I found them sorely lacking, & changed careers so I could feel a sense of doing good in the world.  Just like all the other people my age that the Economist writes about.

Of all the things I regret about Sept. 11, 2001, the thing I have the most horror about is the US response to the attacks.  We have lost so much — I believe what we’ve lost as a country far outstrips whatever those people who flew those planes into those buildings imagined we would.  We lost our collective way.  Who remember the gorgeous summer of 2001?  The weather was beautiful.  We were worried about shark attacks.  Jobs were everywhere, for everyone.  I miss that time.  It wasn’t an innocent time — but it was a productive time.  Sept. 11 was supposed to bring us together, but it didn’t.  The gap between rich and poor has widened considerably since then.  Young people go into tremendous debt & graduate to no prospect of gainful employment.  Our credit rating slipped as a nation so badly that other superpowers no longer want to invest in our currency.

I know we will survive this, just like we survive everything.  But I wish that we could go back & do it over.  Tonight, I made eggplant parmesan for dinner as a sort of commemoration.  But also because eggplants and tomatoes are in season right now.  I will probably always make eggplant parmesan at this time of year, because it makes sense.  Over the past 10 years, I have made a lot of progress thinking through & recovering from the trauma in my life.  It’s an ongoing process, as different parts of my life come into better focus.  Time passes and I achieve distance from the hard stuff.  I hope that we as a society & culture start recovering from the trauma of Sept. 11 soon.

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the month of march

March is a big deal month in my household.  M and I celebrate two anniversaries in March — the relationship anniversary and the wedding anniversary.  17 years and 9 years respectively.  I was at work yesterday and one of my coworkers came in all excited because she got engaged the night before, and it was one of those strange moments where I felt really old and really queer and really out of the mainstream.  They went around the group and told their engagement stories, and I thought I wouldn’t join in until the last minute when the coworker I’m closest to jumped into the lull at the end of the story and said ‘FG…it’s your turn!’

So I told my story, and felt even older.  ‘back in the day before debit cards, M went to the bank & took out a lot of cash, then she went to the jewelry store & said she wanted to buy a diamond ring for a friend…because this was back in the day when people just weren’t that out…then we got on a plane & went to Paris and she proposed on her knee in the mud in the Jardin du Luxembourg…’  Yeah.  January 5, 2000.  Back when this group was still in grade school.  Sometimes life feels a little surreal.

So M and I will figure out some way to celebrate appropriately this month.  It makes it all the more meaningful that last year at this time we were basically not speaking to each other.   Honestly though if it’s not one thing it’s another.  The relationship realm feels much more stable to me right now, but I’m struggling with some really intense personal stuff that feels like it’s sometimes winning.  There are times when I feel like there’s no amount of support that could even begin to keep me on my feet.  Part of me wants to say that it’s the weather, the winter, the transition to working full time — but deep down I know it’s more to do with the ghosts that are haunting me than anything environmental.

In happier and more exciting news, we signed up for a farm share.  It feels like a really significant investment in the future.  It’s a statement of intent in a way — we plan to be here this summer and maybe always.  We plan to be together sharing food.  We are investing in our local community — the farm is literally right down the street, an outpost of urban farming.  We are deepening our roots in this place.  We are also signing up for WAY MORE VEGETABLES than we will easily be able to eat.  Stay tuned for hilarious late summer posts about how to deal with the deluge.

I think that’s it for now.

xo FG

summertime

you’ll all be glad to know i am feeling much better.  mono laid me low but i’m on the up and up now…

and summer is rocketing by me!  i am happy to report that this summer, although plagued with almost everything except locusts, has also contained many summery moments, such as swimming in the ocean, eating amazing heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market, growing my own tomatoes…and just yesterday, M. rowed me around jamaica pond in a row boat.  i wrote this haiku in honor of the occasion:

‘rowing in a boat

on a pond called jamaica

i love you a lot’

isn’t that lovely?  and i didn’t even get very sunburned.  (that would have more to do with the thick gooey layer of sunblock i applied than any sort of luck, forethought, or proper attire, i would like to point out.)

it’s amazing how many fun things there are to do out in the world if you just get up off your ass and do them.  the pond incident occurred because M. and i were sitting by the pond eating lunch and she had a thought process that went something like this:

‘rowing on the pond looks like so much fun, and i would so like to do it right now, but it’s probably complicated and a hassle and i’ve never done it before from this boathouse so i don’t know what to expect and i don’t know how much it costs and probably FG wouldn’t want to anyway.’

in spite of these barriers she did bring it up and i had no objections, so we went and did it.  right then.  in the past, we would have been stymied by thought processes like that, and as a consequence we have only rowed around in a rented rowboat once before, in central park when we lived in new york in 2003.

so i encourage you, if there’s something fun you want to do, but you feel like the barriers are insurmountable, just do it anyway.  take the first step and i bet it will be a lot easier than you think.

i’ve also been seeing my friends a lot and hanging out at the ice cream parlor (mono makes you hungry — i sucked down an extra-thick chocolate malted frappe in 10 minutes the other day, which is an obscene amount of ice cream) and having lots of femme time.  i’m in the midst of looking for a job, and when i see postings for things in other cities i move right past them.  i’m really happy here in boston and have no need to leave.

i know greg is on a cruise right now, but what about the rest of you?  what summer things are you doing, or want to do but haven’t gotten it together to actually do yet?

dread disease

i have been stricken down in my prime by a case of mono, which i caught from my esteemed spouse when she had it over our respective graduations.  i am suffering with a sore throat, incredibly swollen glands, bouts of intense nausea, lack of appetite, fever, and general aches and pains.

the one bright spot in all of this is that said spouse feels guilty and has spirited me away to her house where she can look after me.  she is right now out getting boca burgers & all the fixins because i said i wanted cheeseburgers for dinner.  really, if i had to be sick this is the best possible outcome.

i’ve been ill for five days, with no turning point as yet…so wish me luck.  after having the chicken pox a few years ago, i had really thought my encounters with illnesses too young for me were over, but that was not meant to be.

so if you were wondering where i was, fear not.  i’ll be back in force in a few more days i hope.  in the meantime, hi everyone!

xo FG

uhhh……..hi.

i have a long, long story to tell.  and i know you have all day.  hell, you have all week, right?  so i’ll be telling it in pieces.  some of them will be passworded, but you already knew that.

i moved, as you can see from the post below this one, which will shortly be removed.  now, i’m moving back.

i have missed this space.  for some reason, the new one never really felt like me.  for a lot of reasons, but one major one:  i moved away from this space when my relationship fell apart.  and i’m moving back in because my relationship…is on the mend.

ok, don’t freak out!  and don’t get too excited!  it’s a cautious, slow-burn kind of mending.  one of two adults who have taken some time to really, really try to get to know not only ourselves but each other in a new way.

but i’m really happy.

the other thing that happened (oh happy day) is i graduated from my graduate program.  it was a bit like pulling hen’s teeth, or herding cats, or what have you…but i’m done, my gpa was stellar, and i’m off to a new activist-y life full of amazing people, drama, poverty, and love.

you know what?  it’s good just to see my old categories.  ‘joy’.  ‘life’.  ‘crikey the family’.  i don’t know how many of you still have this blog in your readers, a ghostly reminder of an old friend who jumped ship.  maybe some of you followed me and are irritated (or excited!) to see me return here.  and some of you maybe are here for the first time, you have no idea of my blogging history or who i really am.  because the other space never felt like me.

so here we are!  i hope you will welcome me back.  it’s good to be back.  i’m happier than i’ve been in a long, long time.  i haven’t been this happy since april of 2008, which was the last time my life seemed really hopeful and positive.  it’s been a hard road, and it’s been amazing to share it with you.

ok, enough mushy stuff.  the password is the same as it was over on the other space, email me if you want it.  you know the drill.

xoxo FG