Identity 911

It occurred to me the other day that I no longer discuss my 9/11 status or mention it to school teachers, dentists, doctors, furnace repair men, little old ladies in the park the way I used to. Sometimes I even forget that I am a widow. These days I am a mom, writer, daughter, sister, friend, soon-to-be teacher (if enough students sign up for the class), but amazingly, widow no longer factors.

But every now and then, the 9/11 monster comes back to bite us.

This week, Olivia was bitten. Her class has been reading the Kite Runner, which ends with the main character being unable to react emotionally when the Twin Towers fall. Perhaps I should have remembered that part of the book, braced her, warned the teacher. But I had forgotten, and I think even if I had remembered, I would have let the chips fall as they would. Olivia is strong enough to handle these things on her own.

The teacher started a discussion about people's personal experiences with 9/11. She had no idea about Olivia's history. Olivia let the discussion continue around her, reluctant to raise her hand, until she finally felt she must. She raised her hand, was ignored, so put it down again, relieved.  But the teacher remembered. Liv told her story. Jaws dropped. In Seattle, the event was not real to people, being so removed by distance. Afterward, one girl told Olivia's friend that she thought Olivia was lying to get attention. Other kids treated her differently the next day, becoming silent when she walked into the room.Which is why she tells no one besides her closest friends, why she was able to spend three years at a small girls school with very few people knowing. By now, I expect her entire high school knows. High schools are like that. But she knows these effects are temporary.

I knew this day would come, when a discussion in class would impact her this way. And of course you can't predict those. Olivia handled it bravely and gracefully. As it turned out, I had made an appointment to meet with this teacher, before this discussion took place, to talk about Olivia, her progress in the class. And so I became the 9/11 widow once more. But it didn't last. Soon we were both smiling, admiring Olivia's ability to weather her past, to rise above her 911 identity, to be who she is without apology. And I was back to being the proud mom.