Almost six years later I can acknowledge that the world, or New York City wasn’t out to drive me insane. Yes, on 10/14/01, my mother fell into her bathtub, lived for fifteen horrible minutes as she cried into her Companion Button that she didn’t want to die, and died anyway. I never felt so alone and alienated as I did for the three years following 9/11 and my mother’s subsequent death.
Alienated and angry I felt myself turning into that most horrid of cliches, the New York crazywoman. She wasn’t me and I did everything in my power to keep myself from falling deeper into the role. Nobody needed to hear about one more death; least of all the death of a woman who had turned 86 four days prior. She didn’t die in the attacks. She wasn’t a young person just beginning a career with young children and a spouse.
I fought with almost everybody who loved or even liked me, and many people who I came across in the daily after-death activities. I wanted my grief acknowledged. I wanted to feel as if I were somebody who counted.
I was never very great at living with men. My three live-together relationships, including one marriage, all dissolved partially by the temper and “me’centricism” I so carefully kept hidden from the larger world. It had become my job to be the easy friend, the friend people went to with their problems. The friend who was always agreeable to vacation and other plans. The friend who would think up plans if nobody else could. It was a job I excelled at.
The schisms had begun to show five years earlier when I got my Masters in Social Work and (then) certification, now licensing. I had to prove to the only person who cared, me, that I could do a grad program in the allotted time frame, excel in school, and my field placement. My last two years of undergrad school should have showed me that, but all that I ever fixated on was the partying. Going to grad school was perhaps the most selfish thing I have ever done. My mother was becoming progressively more blind from Macular Degeneration; more and more frail, and was scared. My mother had always been my bedrock and I was scared. My sister had her daughter on the first day of my second week at school.
Who was I? What identity did I have? In 1991 when I was 40, I went to work for Social Security as an SSI Claims Rep. I planned to transfer from New York to another part of the country as soon as possible, but my father suddenly died. When I came back to training after three days off, I was aked if I wanted to work in the Washington Heights office or a certain part of the Bronx. They needed an answer and they needed it then. I was in the first external (non Social Security employee) Claims Rep training class,in eight years, and I should have asked for a leave of absence. That was the first mistake. The second was leaving my no-longer beloved apartment on East 63rd off Fifth for Riverdale, The Bronx. For the first time I didn’t fit in a building or a neighborhood. My sense of self was buckling under pressure of my own making.
Life lost its sense of fun. It was ordered. In grad school I studied as there was no tomorrow. All my papers were finished and put away a week early. My friends all had problems and I had to prioritize. Didn’t they see that I had a life, and an older mother who was becoming very dependent on my sister and I? As dependent as she was, she refused to move to an assisted living facility or have a part time aide until her last year. Independence is a wonderful quality and should be encouraged. But every person should admit when she needs help.
I tried to be there for her. I tried to live my life. I tried to be there for my friends. Newspaper and magazine articles would write about the average woman who worked, took care of her children, elderly parents, did volunteer work and had an active social life. My head spun with feelings of failure. As I didn’t have children or a husband, I should have been able to do it all. The only tangible evidence I lived at all during those years was my 3.84 cum, outstanding field placement evaluation and 88 on the state certification (now licensing) exam. I didn’t study for it, didn’t take a class, but took the exam as a practice test, finished in 45 minutes out of the allotted four hours, handed in my disc, and not to my surprise found out that I had done well. It was then I decided social work was bogus. No state exam should be this easy. I gave myself no credit for having studied every day, no credit for life experience or being well read.
My sister had a toddler, a house and a husband. I had a rental and an advanced degree with certification. My life seemed meaningless.
Guilt, thy name is Pia. Work at a nursing home, but don’t devote my spare time to being there for my mother. Oh, I spoke to her five times a day, was there for every holiday, birthday, and doctor’s appointments, but I could only handle staying at my mother’s apartment for four hours. My formerly independent mother was needy of me, and I couldn’t accept that.
Focus on finding an affordable coop on the Upper West Side, when I can smell the prices are going to go up, and price me out of the market. Give up Europe and only travel a radius that’s three hours by car from New York so I can get there quickly. It was an easy way of dealing with life. That the radius included both Montauk and Cape May, New Jersey was fortunate. My friends like Wildwood, NJ. I love Montauk. I spent one week with my friends and one week alone.
By the time 9/11 happened I was forced to understand that I was as far from the modern ideal as a woman could be. I am anxious by nature and nurture. The nurturer was becoming increasingly anxious and her anxiety seeped into me so far, I no longer had a true identity.
The next month after the 3:30 AM phone call and making the funeral arrangements with my sister, I wandered Manhattan like a lost soul looking for a home. The board at The Long Island Rail Road, with letters from school kids, and some missing posters made cry as I have never cried before. Crying gives me a migraine. It never helps.
I wandered into Gristide’s and was on line waiting to purchase a few items. I must have touched a woman who was ahead of me. She began to curse, called me retarded, called me other names. Obviously she was unhinged. I couldn’t help it. I calmly but loudly said: bitch, not thirteen hours ago I got a call that my mother fell to her death. That set her off even more. I yelled from the bottom of the escalator. As I went up, I saw store clerks restrain her.
Somebody I considered to be a good friend told me to get over it. Six days had passed, since my Mom’s death. Think of all the young people who died. I had a horrible sense of balance and seemed to be always bumping into people who would yell at me. My best friend, Lucia, spent an afternoon making me see all the people who bumped into me, but I apologized to anyway.
My bank, the one that I have had an account in since I was an infant, would never accept the documentation that I brought them though it was exactly what they had asked for or the website said was needed. My most vivid memory is of six bank officials encircling me, one covered from jacket lapel to jacket hem in American flag pins. My high priced estate attorney had just hung up on them. They were asking me for the impossible, and I wasn’t the person I would become and could sweet talk my way around it.
I was an angry bitchy New Yorker surrounded by people in shock. People who could be even bitchier than I was. It’s true. Nice things often happen to nice people and I wasn’t very nice. I was too guilty to be nice. If only….I shouldn’t have gone to the movies that last night, but gone to North Shores Towers and spent the night with my mother. Then she wouldn’t have fallen and we would have celebrated her birthday as we were supposed to. I wasn’t born to my mother yet I felt the umbilical cord fall apart.
In August 04, I began a blog. That November I discovered that people read blogs. Blogging saved me and changed me. I could tell and retell my story to different people and from different perspectives. For the first time I realized intelligent people don’t only live in the NorthEast Corridor, South Florida and California.
To be a successful blogger, I couldn’t always be a bitter blogger. I taught myself not to feel that all encompassing anxiety. I’m still obsessive, still prone to drama, but I have an audience, and get over whatever almost as soon as I put it on paper or talk it out.
Bloggers embraced me as no real life community did. Bloggers became the people I turned to when I needed empathy. I gave them well written posts in return. The person I was becoming on paper was the improved pre-90’s me. Once more I find myself at the center of groups of people in real life. I excelled at that in my late teen through SSI training when I was 40. This time it’s different. This time I fell to the abyss and picked myself up. I’m forced to acknowledge that it was me who did it, with the help of so many bloggers. This time it will be until death or a horrible medical condition. If the later happens I won’t be ashamed to ask for help