This hard date is hitting harder this year, perhaps because this is the first time since 2001 that it has fallen again on a Tuesday. I thought I would post an excerpt from my essay "Elements" that deals with that terrible time.
Four weeks before Stella is born, I am on the sixth floor of the B Building at the Fashion Institute of Technology on 27th Street in New York City. My nine a.m. composition students point out the south-facing windows: the World Trade Center, one of the towers billowing smoke. In the hallway, a colleague says a plane crashed into the building—we picture a small craft. We go to our classroom, convinced it’s nothing, a crazy accident, easily taken care of. We feel something like relief—numbness?—and are almost laughing. It isn’t until hours later, after the towers have dropped from the sky, that I see the flames on seemingly endless TV footage at a Manhattan friend’s apartment. When I finally make it home to Queens, it is nearly sunset and the smoke and haze color the southwestern sky.
When Stella arrives on a brilliant Columbus Day, a more private disaster is revealed: she has Down syndrome, which was suspected but not confirmed by prenatal testing. Worse, she has a congenital heart defect—a hole in the membrane between the chambers—a common result of the genetic abnormality Trisomy 21. For months we wait and watch, take her to the Dr. Friedman, the pediatric cardiologist, give Stella medication, hold our breath. Finally, in late spring, the doctor gives us the news: the time is now. To avoid damage to her lungs from pulmonary hypertension, our daughter must undergo open heart surgery to repair the defect.
The heart is a braid of membranes, veins and tissue—a muscle and an organ. My heart has a hole it in, as surely as hers does. Hers can heal. Can mine?