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Notes From the Small Pond: ‘I’m scared’

September 11.

I got married on that day in 1988. A month earlier, the dude from Canada beat Carl Lewis in the hundred, then got busted and lost his medal but Carl didn’t get one anyway and wouldn’t’ve accepted it if it’d been offered.

“Mr. Lewis, we’re proud to offer you this gold medal because the guy that beat you was on steroids, so even though he was faster than you, you really won. Congratulations.”

No thanks.

A month after that race, I got married. So did my wife.

We worked our tails off. We had kids. Raised them, or so we thought. We pulsed through jobs and school and iterative elevations in job status.

Next thing you know, we were doing OK. Who’da’thunk?

Then it was 2001. September 11. “Happy Anniversary, honey. I love you.”

I bought coffee and the guy selling it was white as a sheet, watching over my shoulder as the second plane exploded through the tower, me not even knowing about the first.

“Gotta be some kind of accident,” I remember saying.

“I wish,” the coffee guy said. And then, “Two ain’t no accident.”

“Right.” The short-lived dumb-joy of denial.

My wife called.

“Can you believe what’s happening?”

“I guess we have to.”

“But can you believe it?”

“I can believe it.”

“You can?”

“I can believe it.”

“I’m scared.”

“Don’t be scared.”

“I’m scared.”

“Don’t be scared.”

Sometimes scared is appropriate. And when you feel it, do something. Scared is a green light. Go.

“But I don’t wanna spend the rest of my life hiding and cowering and thinking buildings are gonna blow up!”

“Me neither.”

That night, at 3 a.m., our phones rang like a riot. Nokia flip phones. On the other end were Arabic voices. Terrified. Victimized by the hijacking of their belief system, 10 times worse than the way we’d been by Koresh. And however many priests you wanna count. Truth as far away as some imaginary heaven. Angels on clouds playing harps. Crying. Or snickering.

“Honey, I’m scared…what’s gonna happen?”

“Don’t be scared. And I don’t know.”

“That’s why I’m scared.”

“Well, just cuz we don’t know what’s gonna happen, doesn’t mean we have to be scared.”

“But I still am.”

“Well, don’t be.”

“But I still am, dammit and don’t condescend to me. I’m scared. OK? I’m scared. Our whole country just got attacked and untold thousands of people — just like us — are dead. So I’m scared and upset and I don’t need a goddam pep talk.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“I’m so scared.”

“You’re not alone.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Yes, it does.”

“No it doesn’t. I’m the boss of how I feel.”

“It does matter, though….Happy anniversary.”

“Eff You.”

“I know. I love you.”

“I love you.”