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dimanche 11 septembre 2011


I know everyone's done a "where I was" post for this day, but I'm still going to do mine too.

You see, for totally personal reasons, 11 September 2001 had been marked down as a potentially "bad day" in my diary for weeks before it happened. No, I'm not psychic. But when I woke up that morning, I had a knot of fear and anxiety in my stomach, my heart was racing and felt like it would fly out of my body at any moment, and I couldn't concentrate on anything.

On 13 July 2000, my first daughter was stillborn. I had been exactly 145 days pregnant. I'm not going to go into THAT story again, as it's already been written and isn't appropriate for today.

When I found out I was pregnant again, in 2001, I knew that the baby had been conceived on 19 April, the day my then partner flew back (oh, the irony!) from NYC, where he'd been on a short work contract. Naturally, my second pregnancy was fraught with stress and fear and panic. I was terrified of having to go through the same pain and loss a second time, scared that if I did, I wouldn't make it out the other side and would most likely implode.

Equally naturally, I calculated when I would be 145 days pregnant, and set my first goal for the day after.

You've guessed it. I was exactly 145 days pregnant on 11 September 2001.

A colleague and friend in Lyon phoned me at about 3 pm (French time) that day. He said little on the phone, telling me just to put the TV on because something terrible was happening.

When I turned the TV on, the images showed the first plane and the voiceover was speculating as to how and why... Just as the second plane hit.

I sat glued to the TV all afternoon, all evening. Tears flowed, friends joined D and I to watch the coverage, there was fear in the air, and the night felt electric. Everyone was shocked and anxious, everyone was conscious that things had changed.

That night, I started having contractions. After all the stress and anxiety of the day, the contractions may have been inevitable. But for me, I was instantly thrown back to "my" 11 September, and I freaked out. D called the emergency doctor who said I had to go to the city's main hospital. I cried and wailed, unable to bear the thought of returning to that place, that place I'd hated so. D was pretty wonderful that night, explaining how traumatic that would be for me, and eventually a place was found in a maternity clinic, much nearer to our home and where both my daughters would eventually be born.

The contractions were monitored all night, I was given a drip of something to stop them, the midwives were on the phone to my adorable gynaecologist on and off constantly. They all told me that many women had gone into labour that night. Unsurprisingly, that didn't calm me down in the slightest. Gradually, the contractions started to ease off. The danger had been averted.

As I lay in that hospital bed, praying with all my might that my baby hang in there, and grow, and be all right, the images on the TV in my room showed the horror of what was happening in NYC and DC and Pennsylvania. My personal woes seemed quite pathetic in comparison, even if they were all-consuming.

I shared a room with a woman who gave birth to her little Ruben on 12 September, and she was so happy to have had a long labour, so glad he hadn't been born on "that" day. We discussed the events going on around us, putting our events somewhat into perspective, yet still wholly focused on our own lives.

The head ultrasound guy, who knew my "history" and that my doctor had booked me in for a week's stay to calm me down and reassure me, made me so angry when he said he didn't like England or the English (though he claimed to love the Scottish) because of their arrogance and bad cuisine and lack of elegance and poor sense of humour. I was upset enough because of my own circumstances, but still managed to tell him what I thought of his blatant racism, misplaced at any time, but especially at a time when racism abounded, when conflicts were being concocted, when we should all have been trying to show tolerance and understanding, compassion for our fellow man.

That second pregnancy ended well. My sweet girl, C, was born on 27 December, 4 weeks early, painfully small, hypoglycaemic and ailing. She's now just started 5th grade and is a tall, slim, willowy blond with mischievous blue eyes. She's smart and funny and loving and creative and beautiful beyond my wildest dreams. "My" 11 September ended well.

I'll never forget that day. I had been dreading it, dreading another disaster for me, but was saved. So many others were not as lucky. I didn't really know anyone who died, though there were people who did that I'd known by sight when I was a student. It was one of the most terrifying days I've ever lived through, and the haunting images of the people on the roof of the WTC, or jumping from the windows, or in the streets, will live with me forever.

The sun rose on 12 September and the world was a different place. My world was far from serene, but there was a sense of "it's going to be OK" for me, mixed in with so much fear for the world at large. A few days later, a chemical factory in Toulouse exploded, killing many and sparking further panic. It was as if the whole world had gone crazy.

And still, my sweet girl grew, safe inside me.

I was lucky that day. I was lucky that year.


I'll never forget that day.

vendredi 2 septembre 2011

No longer MIA

The much-feared (by me) 9-week school summer holiday is almost over. The girls start back on Monday morning, C in her last year of primary (5th grade), L in her second year (2nd grade). I think we're all ready for it.

It's not that it's been a terrible summer. Not at all, in fact. August was pretty cool, even. The first 3 weeks of July were the toughest, by a long way, but seem such a long time ago now that I can barely even remember how miserable they felt (and "miserable" might be a bit of an exaggeration, too, to be honest).

So no, I haven't hated the summer at all. But the girls are bickering more and more, and they definitely need a stricter routine. Plus they're desperate to see their friends.

For me, September will be a hectic month. I have to go to see a solicitor on Tuesday with D to talk about buying him out with regard to this flat. I'm dreading it. We've already had a bit of a tiff, in fact - he contacted "his" solicitor (actually the one we used together to buy the place) and told me she would contact "mine" to make sure she could be there. Then D of course informed me (just a few days ago) that a) he never said that (his standard retort) and b) I would have to invite "my" solicitor myself. And of course, at such short notice, she's not free. I'm furious, and can't help but feel that's not a good start to the negotiations.

Teaching will also be starting up again, which means meetings and preparing stuff and actually getting out of the house from time to time. Which will make a change, I must say.

And my dad's been here since 24 August, which is both nice (I do like to see him, honestly) and driving me batshit insane. I suspect he and I are too alike in character - impatient, intolerant (of slowness, inefficiency, for example) and prone to flashes of anger - for us to get along for any considerable length of time. And the fact that his deafness is now a real handicap doesn't help. Luckily, he's spending 2 of his 3 weeks here down at the beach (this week with the girls all the time and me every other night, next week on his own).

Of course, contradictory, pessimistic little flower that I am, the end of the summer also gives me a bout of the blues. I HATE winter, really, really hate it, and it's already September so winter isn't far away... OK, I know, it can stay pretty mild here till mid-December, but it can also be wretched (by south of France standards, admittedly) by the end of October... I do enjoy the heat and the sun and the freedom of summer: no multi-layering of clothes, no struggling to keep warm.

Looking back on the last 9 weeks, I'm struck by how fast it's actually gone, and yet how slow too. 1 July feels like an eternity ago. Even seeing my friend J - only one month ago - seems distant. And Italy. Ah, delightful Italy... It's hard to imagine that that delight even happened at all... maybe it was just a dream?

So there you have it. The summer is over (as far as holiday is concerned), I've actually been "back at work" for 3 weeks already (I only took 2 weeks off) and all the back-to-school stuff is ready for Monday morning.

I have to admit to being pretty excited about the new school year too - can't wait to catch up with friends, see which class my girls will be in, with which teacher, which kids. I just hope it's a good one.