September 11th, Meagan’s Birthday
After witnessing the tragic disaster of 9/11 first hand and having the ashes of three thousand people rain down on me and my home in New York City, I could not write about the disaster. As I smelled the fire day in and day out for weeks afterward, I could not find a way to be powerful enough, until I met the lovely child in the piece named Meagan some weeks later in Concord Massachusetts. Her idealistic and moral little spirit healed me. I was heading for a writer’s retreat in the Berkshires when I met her with her father near Walden Pond. She gave me hope enough and uplifted my spirits enough to open me again to writing and end my block about the subject of this horrendous event. I have to feel hope, “that thing with feathers that perches on the soul,” in order to write as I write to offer transcendent truth. I have to write through horror and misery and pain toward the light in order to feel that writing is not a futile task. I often portray the sad and repulsive side of life in order to write toward the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Just to tell of misery and corruption gives me no inspiration. I wanted to take the reader through some kind of closure, or transcendent feeling, toward a hope in humanity for the future.
I’d watched the rolling, billowing ball of fire thunder skyward, over and over again in my nightmares, heard the roaring blast as I stood stunned with the pain of lives being lost inside the huge towers. Some leapt to their deaths rather than be sizzled alive. An explosion that big, loud and ugly had never been witnessed by any of us who stood on the roof deck that fateful morning breathing the blast of jet fuel fire and ash of workers lives raining down on us. As the grey United Airlines jet deliberately crashed into the second tall tower on the horizon of the Manhattan skyline, I shouted, “Terrorist attack!” We ran from the roof as the fire thundered up, fearing for our lives. The superintendent of our tall building immediately ordered an evacuation. Minutes later, I stood at the edge of the Brooklyn Heights waterfront watching the tall towers collapse in clouds of grey smoke from the skyline just across the East River. As thousands died in one blasted instant, my daughter was in the hospital for an exploratory surgery, while my husband, ailing with a terminal illness was struggling for his life.
Three weeks later, on a bright autumn day out of a fairy tale, I’d seen my daughter through her surgery and she was okay. I’d dropped my ailing husband to visit with his grandchildren, perhaps for one last time for all we knew, in Salem, Massachusetts. Shaken and distraught, I’d headed for a retreat in the Berkshires, my first time free from nursing my husband in two years. I’d visited the Nathaniel Hawthorne Wayside House in Concord — a home previously owned by Louisa May Alcott’s father, a man of liberal, even progressive principals in his day. Like Hawthorne, an anti-Puritan, Alcott helped abolitionists run an underground railroad. He believed in open-minded education of the young, and decried fanatical ways of rearing children in strict Puritanical obedience. He wanted to allow them to question authority and communicate in a dialog of learning. For his views, he suffered a measure of poverty which his daughter had to endure, as portrayed in her popular novel, Little Women.
“Alcott and Hawthorne represent some of the best of our American heritage,” said our tour guide, “They were decent men, seeking truth, freedom and justice.”
“But their ideas and books are not what Americas export on a large scale these days,” I’d later told the guide who’d given an edifying tour of Wayside along the road to Concord.
“Yup, few are hearing voices of writers like Dickinson of Amherst or Hawthorne and Emerson of Concord compared to Disney cartoons!” he’d quipped back.
“Yeah, and even worse, compared to the numbers out there seeing Hannibal the Cannibal — a monster who tortures and eats people alive, especially sexy women. What can you expect from a country which makes a multi-millionaire of that disgusting sleaze-bag, Howard Stern?” I answered. “The students I teach never heard of Linus Pauling, anti-nuclear physicist, or Jonas Salk, inventor of Polio vaccine. And, I bet no one knows that 260 of America’s top physicists have signed a pledge never to work on ‘Star Wars,’ because its not a defensive but an offensive system meant to dominate outer space and put a nuclear reactor up there by 2003 to power it!”
“Lordy, I didn’t even hear of that myself and I really read the papers. My God! But you ask those kids who Madonna or Michael Jackson is and I bet you get a big response. They know all about their underwear and sex lives, too!”
“For sure!” I laughed with him, but my eyes watered as I walked away from Hawthorne’s house. I could imagine that a fervent believer in Islamic principles would see my country as Satan, given the crappy sensationalism it foisted upon the world, the dirty and deprived sense of human sexuality that it exported everywhere, the plastic, or fake-furred, Disney cartoon animals that never needed to eat or defecate parading in pink and purple cartoons in place of the real and the visceral, in the dreams of the misled young.
“Well, thanks for taking good care of my church!” I waved goodbye to the guide of Hawthorne’s Wayside House as I pulled away. I couldn’t get the images of the rolling billowing explosion, the bodies falling from the towers, out of my head. I felt exhausted and wished I had more of the ignorance which is bliss. Then I, too, could have a good time waving the flag in the passionate surge of American togetherness. “I feel so damned lonely,” I told myself.
Stunned with pity for the dying inside a burning Trade Center tower, I had watched from my roof as the second gray jet buzzed low over my head up the East River, turned suddenly at the Brooklyn Bridge, and smashed tons of exploding fuel into the second tall tower. I hadn’t slept well since witnessing firsthand the “Attack on America,” as CBS billed it. With Hollywood slick red, white and blue graphics and dramatic music, the networks showed that explosion over and over again like a special effects movie, as America was numbed out of its mind with thirst for war. Young men with baseball caps atop their heads were shouting; “Nuke ’em!” with Howard Stern in New York streets while Muslim women and children hid in their homes afraid to go out and shop for food. Some of us marched in mournful peace demonstrations uniting our grief for the victims of the attack and our fear for the future in a hope for a rational reaction. Who did these baseball jocks think “’em” was? I knew “they” were only civilians like those dead in my city, except they were the poorest of earth’s poor. They were orphans crippled by land mines, starving widows living amidst famine and drought in the rubble of Afghanistan laid waste by the U.S. and USSR, who had fought their Cold War — hot as Hell — there over the rich oil reserves of Caspian Sea area. The two warring superpowers had pulled out leaving land mines, starvation, and mass graves everywhere. “They” were the subjects of Taliban dictators who the U.S. military had supplied with weapons and CIA know-how. “You’ve already had your vengeance on the Afghan people,” I wanted to tell the base-ball caps. But it would have taken a small dissertation to explain their own country’s foreign policy, a rare subject in a nation entertaining itself to death on sitcoms, sports, Disneyland dreams and opiates.
With the image of the exploding towers in my head, I lay awake nights listening to the jingoist slogans about liberty and freedom as thousands of American workers festered in lingering fires under tons of debris. My nightmares were full of their faces mixed with the cries of a half-million Iraqi children starved as “collateral damage” by U.S. trade sanctions. I thought of how my country, “land of the free and home of the brave,” had been kicked off of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations; how it had walked out of the World Conference on Racism; how it had voted “No” to reparations for the thousands of sexual slaves tortured by the Japanese military because of fear of having to compensate the heirs of African slaves brutalized here in the building of America. I thought of how the price of one nuclear bomber would build thousands of ghetto schools. I thought of how President George W. Bush had stepped out of the Kyoto Accord on Global Warming. I thought of how Henry Kissinger had been pursued in Paris to be tried at the Hague as a war criminal for his proven part in the assassination of Salvador Allende and sundry other war crimes that had caused the deaths of millions. This I’d read in a lengthy article in Harpers, weeks earlier, carefully documented with Henry Kissinger’s own papers, by Christopher Hitchens.
“The War on Terrorism” was staged through my sleepless days as “Operation Infinite Justice.” Then it was abruptly changed to “Operation Enduring Freedom,” because it was pointed out that only God or Allah could wield “infinite” justice, and such a title insulted the religious. The bombings, already killing civilians and destroying a Red Cross hospital, had begun to conquer “evil” and preserve “freedom.” I could not help knowing that the bombings were meant to acquire control of the trillion dollar oil reserves near the Caspian Sea. Professor Beeman at Brown University — who had spent much time in Afghanistan — spelled that out in an article he’d written for an anthropological website at the university. He explained the plan to build a pipeline through Afghanistan to get the land-blocked oil reserves out through Pakistan to the sea. I knew, too, that bomb building profits of GE, General Dynamics, Bechtell, Honeywell, Rand, Hughes, AT & T, Exxon, I.G. Farben, Standard Oil, Dupont, various multi-national death dealers, were behind the war. I regularly read The Defense Monitor, a newsletter of The Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C., made up of retired, patriotic Navy admirals and former nuclear submarine captains who were worriedly educating Americans on the destructive waste of Pentagon budgets. If you couldn’t believe retired brass about Pentagon waste and the military industrial complex, who could you believe? I thought of “The United Fruit Company,” Pablo Neruda’s poem which I’d translated from the Spanish — a scenario in which workers are cooked in marmalade in hideous sweat shops, and sold to be eaten by Superpower citizens — apathetic in their consumerism.
One night, I dreamed that Allende’s weeping ghost, along with all the Chileans who were tortured or “disappeared” under the despot Pinochet put in power by the CIA, were walking with me like shades amidst the moans of thousands of mothers, husbands, wives and fathers lying under the rubble of the felled giant towers. These were working people from every walk of life and culture snatched from the moments of their lives. They expired calling on cell phones to speak of love. Allende took my hand and led me through the rubble. Then he sailed with me over the giant crater in the Pentagon and showed me a basement room in the CIA, where anthrax was being prepared by a psychotic, right-wing agent in an envelope destined for the office of the Democratic Majority Leader. The idea was to cause a renewed expansion of the CIA and embroil the legislature in another terrorist attack, to make them vote right on a “Patriot’s Bill” that eroded American freedoms, even as jingoists claimed we waged war for liberty. Allende’s ghost accompanied me, like a guide from Dante’s Inferno, to a Red Cross Hospital in Afghanistan where civilians lay under the rubble bleeding. “These Afghan dead are just like my Chilean dead and your American dead,” he said, “all innocent and murdered by the same murderers.” I woke with the taste of petroleum oil burning in my mouth, the smell of the jet oil fumes still permeating my bedroom in the city.
Was I awake and dreaming or asleep and living when I witnessed cheering hordes wave the bloodied red, white and blue over the collapsed hot steel of Rockefeller’s big “edifice complex” as it melted and continued to crumble? The too tall, death-traps designed to implode sprayed human entrails throughout their steel insides. Only the firemen and rescue workers trying to extract dismembered bodies seemed like heroes. I thought of how a huge arsenal of nuclear bombs can never protect an imperialist nation from the rage of box-cutters and plastic penknives. I thought of the targets of the terrorists, not The Statue of Liberty, symbol of freedom, but The Pentagon and The World Trade Center, symbols of military and industrial might. I thought of the huge demonstrations gathering strength among the workers of the world who opposed the famines wrought by The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Coincidentally, those mass demonstrations uniting workers and environmental activists from all over the world had been planned for the very month of September 2001. When The World Trade Center had been attacked, they were cancelled. I knew that bombs were not falling on Afghanistan to protect my freedom, because the bombings were only encouraging more Islamic fundamentalists to join the armies of the Taliban, destabilizing Pakistan, a shaky nuclear power. The sorrow in me grew large and would not let me sleep. Though I’d been an anti-nuclear activist for decades, this was a worry bigger than I could handle.
I could not join the crowds who bought the major network “spin” on the story. Only the mourners with their pitiful candles who lit my city’s nights seemed real to me. I knew who owned CBS and NBC and it’s not the trade unions of our dead workers. President Eisenhower had predicted the demise of my country’s democracy to military technocracy. I knew that Mr. and Mrs. Dick Cheney had recently sat on the board of Lockheed, which, during the anthrax scare, with the legislature in disarray, was quickly awarded a two hundred billion dollar contract to build a new line of jet bombers in the midst of the aftermath and chaos of September 11th. I knew that letters of protest during the anthrax scare would not reach legislatures. I kept sending e-mail to my New York senators calling for an end to the bombing, asking that United Nations troops be sent in to round up the terrorists — according to the Geneva Accords. Though I mourned our dead workers and the disruption of my home, and feared the threat to my loved ones in my international city, I could not comfortably join in the flag-waving in the streets. I felt very alone except for the commiseration I had with a few friends I knew who read a great deal about American foreign policy, too.
It was ordinary New Yorkers like me who died, as the sun swooned and the bright morning turned to a smoky nightmare and ash kept falling over me in the streets. For weeks, I choked on the ash of the budding hopes of these workers turned to dust which coated my face and clothes, and wormed in the wind up my nose. The burning smell was exactly, I imagined, like the dust of bombed and burning Palestinian and Israeli bodies; hot ashes blasted by Timothy McVeigh — blond blue-eyed American of the New Aryan Nation; fires of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; napalm of Vietnam and bombs blasting Cambodians; grenades of Granada and machine-gun smoke of East Timor. Was it also like the fierce fire smell reported by astronauts, both Russian and American, of infinite outer space in which we drifted on our common earth, bound by one bright thirsty sun, ruled by one magnetic moon, as we spun out and around caught in an eternally expanding blast of stars on our dying, ecosystem composed of nearly all water? This was the beginning of the 21st century as our huge war industries continued to kill and bomb each other’s babies, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers in unending bloodbath of misery.
Irony of ironies, after devastating so many poor countries from Vietnam to Nicaragua, Cambodia to Haiti, the Philippines to Vietnam, the USSR and U.S. — arch Cold-War enemies — were now teamed up with each other to profit from the trillion dollar oil and natural gas reserves to be piped from the region of the Caspian Sea. The American share would be sent through broken Afghanistan into America’s huge tankers. I thought of Kissinger, safe in his New York living room, while possibly as many as four thousand workers festered beneath the rubble. He was seen on the network news calling smugly for the deaths of terrorists as if he himself were not among the worst of them.
In my sweaty nightmares, the world was toppling into agony, my lovely daughter and dying husband with it, because people with “ordinary lives” are not vigilant, don’t find time to know their own history when they vote — if their votes count — persuaded by multi-million dollar commercials. My country was no wiser than when Mark Twain and William James admonished Her for murdering Filipinos and Teddy Roosevelt quipped: “The only good Filipino is a dead Filipino!” — an analogous sentiment echoed over and over again in the carnage of Haiti, Korea, South Africa, Vietnam, Granada, Iraq, East Timor, Columbia, Afghanistan.
But, who was Osama bin Laden really? A devil invented by America’s family secret. The president’s dark doppelganger? I read an article by Giancarlo Radice from The Evening Courier of Italy, September 22nd, translated by a professor Kirschenbaum of Brown University, that Osama’s stepbrother, Salem, had been a chief investor in Bush W’s first business venture, a Texas oil company called Arbusto. This was corroborated by The Wall Street Journal. Salem bin Laden, the European press reported, had died in a mysterious plane crash in Texas, just as his father Muhammad bin Laden had in his days dealing in oil and drugs in Texas. Was Osama a devil, double-crossed and sculpted from the spare rib of a world laid to waste by America’s gunboat diplomacy, vastly polluting nuclear arsenal, “full-spectrum dominance,” chilling disregard for non-American lives, barbarous military interventions, support for despotic regimes, and its merciless economic agenda that has munched through the economies of poor countries like a ravenous rat? Its marauding multinationals had, over the air we breathe, the ground we stand on, the water we need to live, the thoughts we think? I thought how odd it was that television was debuting a new dramatic series titled, The Agency, about the CIA, which made its agents into great heroes risking their lives in the defense of America, the very week after the disaster of September 11th.
The twin terrorists, Bush and bin Laden, were blurring into one another in my mind. I realized from my reading, they were becoming interchangeable. Their guns, bombs, money and drugs had been going around international loops for years together. The Stinger missiles that shot at U.S. helicopters were supplied by the CIA. The heroin used by America’s drug addicts, traded for guns, comes from Afghanistan, the fruits of a drug industry encouraged by the CIA. The Bush Administration recently gave the Taliban a 43-million-dollar subsidy for a “war on drugs,” which would buy more profits for guns for multi-national weapons dealers. I knew that my country was the biggest arms dealer in the world, and that Russia came in second on that score and was just as evil. The two Cold-War Superpowers had amassed large arsenals of bio-terrorism, too, during the Cold War. KGB agents and CIA agents had traded all sorts of spying back and forth until no one knew for sure who were the spies and who the counter-spies and that, no doubt, the same sort of intrigue had gone on in Central Asia during the Afghan wars. I was told by a Russian soldier who had fought in them that the military was riddled with heroin-addicted men.
Osama bin Laden, I learned as I read unable to sleep, was an Afghan veteran who fought valiantly in the front lines against the Russians for the U.S. He spent his family fortune subsidizing the veterans of that war, and their widows and orphans. He broke with the Saudi crown of his homeland in an argument over U.S. intrusion into Central Asia’s Holy Lands. Osama — first trained as a business man who switched his studies to Islam — had been the only son of the big bin Laden clan to fight with the Taliban on the American side. He’d become legendary among the Taliban for his generous aid to the deserted veterans of the Afghan wars after the Americans pulled out, leaving the country in ruin and giving nothing to build their promise of freedom from Communism. Osama was a six-foot-seven devote believer who walked like a king of mercy among the veterans’ families of Afghanistan dispensing alms from his family’s fortunes. Many Islamic extremists thought of him as a Christ “turning over the tables of money changers” when he bombed The World Trade Center. He was the only rich son to have fought in the front lines among the starving soldiers. He was a fringe cult-figure of the despotic Taliban who controlled their countrymen and the Afghan women with murderous military powers bestowed upon them by the United States.
The cruelties toward women were unspeakably extreme on the part of the despotic Taliban. Thinking of Afghan widows buried alive in mass graves, and women stoned to death for not wearing their veils or for imagined or real sexual transgressions, added to my nightmares. Osama was also the stepbrother and son of Salem and Muhammad, who once hobnobbed with the oil barons of Texas society before dying in unexplained airplane crashes there — at about the time of the Iran-Contragate scandals. I remembered, too, an article I’d read about Sadaam Hussein seeing his father shot by Westerners before his own eyes when he was a boy of five. I wondered at what psychological aberrations, what private vendettas, had helped to create these two fanatical Frankensteins: Sadaam of Iraq, and Osama of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.
I thought about George Bush, Jr., too. He seemed like a personable, not-to-bright guy, who loved baseball and really would rather not be president — if only being a baseball team manager would have satisfied Dad. He was a typical “frat boy” who had married a librarian. Laura Bush, I read in Newsweek, was a woman who had killed her classmate when she ran a stop sign, ramming his car with hers and breaking his neck. For this old crime committed when she was seventeen, she’d never gone to prison, but served a little community service instead. Had she been a drinker like George W. had been? Had they helped each other to give up alcohol? I knew that he’d been chosen by his father, a former CIA director, and a wealthy political machine to grab the U.S. election in Texas. He came into office just in time to seal the about-to-be-made public Reagan/Bush presidential papers with a presidential order claiming “national security reasons.” He was an ignorant puppet who had never traveled abroad, who self-admittedly didn’t like to read, who was funded by a powerful oil lobby more than any other president had been. The pharmaceutical giants were behind him, too. That I understood from John Loftus of the Holocaust Museum in Florida, a former U.S. Prosecuting Attorney for Nazi war criminals, who was quoted as saying: “The Bush family fortune comes from The Third Reich.” I.G. Farben, the big German financial corporation, had built the Bush and Rockefeller profits during World War II. According to The Encyclopedia Britannica, I.G. Farben financed the building of forty death camps, including Auschwitz. I.G. Farben had morphed into investments in the big pharmaceutical corporations now invested in the Genome project. Those same pharmaceutical giants were scalping our senior citizens for the drugs that keep them alive and scalping AIDS victims with medication prices beyond their pocket books. Giant pharmaceutical firms were destined to profit, too, from the new bio-terror threat sweeping my city and spreading throughout America. Now the military industrial puppet of oil and nuclear barons, George W. Bush, and double-crossed Osama, Frankenstein of the CIA, were faced off in a tragic comedy of “blow-back.” The people of my city were dead and my family threatened, as each borrowed the other’s rhetoric. Each referred to the other as “the head of the snake.” Both invoked God and used the loose currency of good and evil as their terms of reference. Both were engaged in unequivocal war crimes. Both were dangerously armed as they stalked my nightmares, one with the nuclear arsenal of the obscenely powerful, the other with the incandescent, self-destructive power of the utterly hopeless.
On September 29th, I sat alone over a bowl of New England clam chowder at a busy lunch counter in Concord Village — the seat of American transcendentalism. Even after enjoying my tour of the Hawthorne house, Wayside, sorrow and disorientation still pummeled my spirit with a feeling I’d no right to be happy, to enjoy my soup or the sunshine. That sensation combined with a fear I’d never feel safe again in my city, living just five minutes across from Wall Street in Brooklyn, as I had for thirty years. Worse, I’d never feel my daughter was safe working and commuting through the subways, tunnels or over the bridges.
I looked at the map I’d placed on the counter next to my soup to check the route that would take me across the Berkshire mountains from Concord to Greenfield. It looked narrow and winding. I had only a couple of hours to get to my destination before dark. A young man and a blond child had just seated themselves to my right and ordered chowder. The young man looked alert and his young daughter with her long hair seemed well cared for. She smiled up at me. I smiled back.
“Excuse me, do you happen to know about this road across the mountains to Greenfield. Does it take very long to make it to Route 91?”
“About two hours or more. It’s a beautiful road on an autumn day like this,” he replied.
“So, it’s a real highway? Easy driving. Not a lot of lights?”
“Two lanes, a few traffic lights, and you’ll need sunglasses, because the sunset is coming right at you. There’s no better view of the fall foliage right now though.”
“Thanks, I appreciate your advice. I’m from New York City and don’t know these parts well. I was just visiting Hawthorne’s Wayside House.”
“We were visiting Walden Pond,” her father offered. “Nice and peaceful there.”
“You’re from New York City where the attacks happened? Gosh, did you see them?” His daughter’s big blue eyes implored a thorough answer
“Yes, I saw them from my rooftop close by. I live in the tallest building just across from lower Manhattan on the East River.”
“Oh, it must have been terrible to see! Did anybody you know get hurt?” Her father wanted to be sensitive about the point.
“No, but my daughter was having surgery in the midst of the chaos. That was really the harrowing part for me, though she’s okay now. I saw the second grey jet buzz in over my head up the East River, turn at the bridge, and smash into the towers with a big explosion. Debris and ashes rained down on me, but I'm okay.” When I see his daughter looking at me in wonder, I hasten to add: “But most people in the world are good people. There are only a few very bad ones who do things like that. I’m sure you are safe up here in New England.”
“I know everybody in our town. We all know each other and feel safe there and our teacher said that not all Muslims are bad people, only a few who call themselves Muslims and are really just crazy criminals. There are lots of Muslims everywhere in the world, just like us,” she offered with enthusiasm. “One of the kids on our school is Islamic and she seems just like us, too.” Her good cheer was palpable and her vocabulary bright.
“Well, you sound like a very smart girl. How old are you, may I ask?”
“I’m nine. My name is Meagan and I come from Stowe, Vermont.”
“I’m sixty. My name’s Daniela, and I come from New York City. Pleased to meet you, Meagan. I was just enjoying seeing Nathaniel Hawthorne’s house. He was a good man opposed the fanatical ways of Puritans. It sounds like your teacher is giving you a lesson against extreme ideas.”
“I love my teacher. She’s always telling us not to be prejudice. This spring we studied the underground railroad for escaping slaves. We made believe we were running one in our class, and I played a slave. I got to feel how scary it is to hide and worry that you will be caught and put in chains and made to do all the hard, dirty work for other people who have good stuff to eat when you don’t have anything to eat at all. The slave masters got to eat cookies during recess and the slaves had to hide in the cellar and got none. We traded places the next week. The masters had to play slaves and they got nothing. Only Mrs. Stein says it was even much worse because they were actually beaten and starved and couldn’t get to know their mothers or fathers. They couldn’t even have a family name or go to school or anything. Mrs. Stein thinks African-American communities should have re-par-ations to build better libraries and schools.” Meagan’s earnest innocence touched me.
“I’m so glad you’re learning all those things in school. I just learned about the underground railroad at Hawthorne’s Wayside house which was run there by Louisa May Alcott’s father. She wrote Little Women, about some smart American girls like you.”
“Oh, I like that book. My Mom read it with me last summer. Dad, can we go see that house next time we come down here, please?”
“Sure,” her father answered, used to pleasing her. “If you want to.”
“Was it where she lived when she wrote that book?” Meagan asked me.
“Oh, yes, she wrote it right there at Wayside House when her father was having difficulty with money because people didn’t agree with his ideas. He had ideas that children should have recess time and be allowed to ask questions when they learn. Some Puritanical extremists thought that was a terrible idea. You can see the staircase where Louisa played with her sisters. And the room she lived in, mentioned in the book. You can see the desk in the attic where Hawthorne wrote.”
“We have recess everyday and our teacher is always asking us if we have any questions about stuff. We saw Walden Pond. Daddy says Thoreau was a nature writer. He lived there and swam there and planted a garden.”
“Yes, he started the great national park movement with his essay on hiking through the wilderness. He was really good at appreciating nature, but not so good at knowing that women and girls can be just as smart as men and boys. He thought our brains were smaller, but you’re living proof he was wrong.” I smiled at her father and he nodded.
“Do you think Global Warming can be stopped? My Mom says there are lots of people working to stop it around the world. Dad says it won’t come to Stowe, Vermont, to make floods as soon as it will to the coastlines.”
“Yes, there are lots of people working to stop it, and you are safer in Stowe, but, unfortunately, the president we have now isn’t very helpful about that.”
“We have to get a better president who cares about children and their future on earth, Mom says,” Meagan answered with characteristic earnestness.
“We need one who doesn’t drop bombs on civilians, but really weeds out the terrorists with diplomacy and intelligence,” her Dad answered.
“Dad, what’s diplomacy?” Meagan asked.
“A way for nations to talk things over instead of make war.” Her father answered with his daughter with patience.
“That sounds better than war, for sure,” she answered. “You know,” she looked at me sadly, “September 11th was my birthday! Those attacks on America kinda spoiled my party.”
“September 11th was your birthday?” My soup was finished and I had to be on the road.
“September 11th every year is my birthday,” she sighed with irony.
And, I don’t know why my eyes welled up when I told her: “I’m so glad you told me that because every year when September 11th comes around, I’m going to remember that it’s Meagan’s birthday. That will make me happier every year.”
“Thanks,” she said, waving goodbye as I thanked her father again for his travel advice. “Remember your sunglasses!” Meagan called after me.
“I will and I'll never forget that September 11th is your birthday. Never! Wherever you are, wherever I am, I’ll be wishing Meagan a happy birthday on September 11th every year for the rest of my life.”
“Thanks,” she said smiling, and giving a little wave goodbye.
I turned so she couldn’t see the tears beginning to ooze from my tired eyes. I felt a lot better thinking of her as I drove over the Berkshires, wearing my sunglasses, viewing in awe the gorgeous foliage of those New England mountains glowing orange and red in the sunlight.
Bio: Daniela Gioseffi is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose. She won the American Book Award (1990) for Women on War: International Voices for the Nuclear Age, to be reissued by the Feminist Press in 2003; and she won a World Peace Award from the Ploughshares Fund for On Prejudice; A Global Perspective (Anchor/ Doubleday, 1993). She is the recipient of three grant awards in poetry and fiction, two from the New York State Council for the Arts and the other a Pen Syndicated Fiction Award (1990). Her latest book of poetry is Symbiosis (Rattapallax Press, 2001). She has published a novel with Doubleday/Dell and New English Library, and a collection of stories with Avisson Books.