I was nine months pregnant with my oldest son when the Towers fell. I remember sitting in our hotbox of a tiny apartment watching people leaping from windows, the buildings blazing and clutching my belly. I thought to myself the world is ending. There I was about to bring new life into a world rife with suffering. There is death everywhere I look I thought. What kind of a world are we giving our children? Well, the world did not end, although nothing would ever be the same after the bombing of the World Trade Center. So many of us felt betrayed. Our own government had failed to keep us safe. Some of us believed in conspiracy theories that world leaders including our own were complicit behind closed doors. There was a great and sweeping national loss of trust. People were questioning what it actually meant to be an American and if we truly were the nation we claimed to be. Some of us waved our flags higher and with a greater sense of purpose. Some of us tossed them aside in disgust. I myself just cried. For the lives lost, for the loved ones left behind. For the great, gaping hole that used to be the American dream destroyed by violence and greed.
We must ask ourselves what was America was actually built on? Violence and greed? Ask any native person and they will say yes. Slavery? Exploitation of the poor? Ask someone from a poor family or family with slave ancestry and they’ll say absolutely. Is America any different than any other world power? Is there a great nation that has not fought to exist through war? In this struggle to claim superiority one need only turn back the clock slowly over the history of man in the world and see that inherent propensity towards violence. I think of the Flinstones cartoon in which Fred Flinstone would just knock Wilma over the head with a club and drag her into the house when he felt inclined. The laugh track would then play. That’s easily the best description of the American way and really human nature on the planet that I can think of. If you won’t give me what’s mine I’ll just use force. We are learning now that some things can’t be had by force. Some things only come with time…some never come no matter how much we want them to.
Two and a half weeks after the towers fell I had my son. He was beautiful, a warm golden tan with huge brown eyes and a serious look far too old for him. We named him Jaden, it was the only name his father and I could agree on. Jaden means “Jehovah has heard” or “God has heard” in Hebrew. But that’s not why I chose that name. I chose it because I love jade, the precious stone from Asia. Jade with its multitude of colors and the swirl of beliefs it carries with it. He was indeed precious and I had not known love of such a magnitude until he came.
It was so hot the summer of his first year I could barely breathe. We lived in Vancouver, Washington, just across the bridge from Portland, Oregon. Our apartment was on the top floor of the building and there was no air conditioning. Just a fan and an open window. One day the temperature neared 100 degrees and he was so hot I had to do something. So I put him in a little plastic drawer full of water and bath toys and put it in the living room with the fan going. He absolutely loved it. Unlike his brother who would come two years later, Jaden LOVED the water. He was always happiest when he was splashing. It’s funny because of my two boys he is most like me and that is just one more way. I love water also and once in, I never want back out. Jaden also inherited my anxiety, the best cure for which has always been and still is a hot bath with candles. There is something so divine about water, the way it slips over your skin washing away the world’s ugliness. I need something to wash it away. We all do.
We had moved back to Alaska by the time Jaden was two years old. His love of water didn’t change with the change in location. I would set up the sprinkler and he’d run back and forth through it, a bubble of joy in yellow shorts. I had not had his little brother yet, so for him life was simple and complete. One of his passions was and still is musicals, he just loved them. He would ask to “sit on the warm” meaning I would sit with him over the vent in the floor of the trailer and wrap a blanket around us making a little tent. Then we’d watch whatever movie he wanted, usually it was Singin’ in the Rain which was his favorite. He would just watch it contentedly, really watch it at that young age. He would sit and watch it whether I was there or not, but he loved the company. As I said he was a beautiful, happy, contented little boy.
In those days, those minutes, those hours I had no idea that Jaden would become horribly depressed as a teenager. I had no idea that he would one day think his life was not worth living and would run away from his father’s house in Oregon, then swallow his pills in a desperate cry for help. I had not even an inkling he had inherited the same gene for mental illness that has plagued our family in a long gruesome line. You can’t look at a toddler and know his future, who or what he will become. That is part of the game of life. There are some things that as a mother you cannot prepare yourself for. That was one of them. I don’t remember most of what I thought other than that it was somehow my fault. I do remember the sound of his voice, thick and broken. I remember Nicole like a general directing all of us who were moving in slow motion from grief and shock. I remember Nick’s arms as my only refuge. I remember thanking God he was still with us. What I most remember however, was not that day or the days that followed, but the day that he finally came home. I remember seeing him walking through the security gate and running towards him. I remember throwing my arms around him, the tears falling out of my eyes and running over my cheeks onto his shirt. I remember he was so tall, as tall as his stepfather and he had sideburns. I just kept holding him and crying and would not let him go. In my mind I saw that little boy splashing in our tiny apartment, watching his musicals and running back and forth through the sprinkler. I tried to reconcile him with the young man I saw before me. I knew I couldn’t just hit him over the head with a club and drag him into the house to protect him from all of the horrors of the world around us. That as hard as it was for me to let go, I had to let him become a man and make his own way. As long as he knows he’s loved I thought. I was finally ready to speak having just hugged him for what must have seemed like an eternity but to me was the blink of an eye. “Do you know how much I love you?” I asked him, through my tears.
“Yeah. I love you too mom.” He smiled at me in that way that only sons can smile at their mothers. There are some moments you just wish could last forever. That was one of them and there would be many more to come.
Thank you Jaden for growing up so close to the captain’s chair. One day when you steer your own ship you’ll know how to keep her steady. Hats off to you and oldest children everywhere. I love you more than all the stars in the sky.
Man Versus Time
Aloof the heart of God remains
His eye the mighty wheel of Fate
His children bound by Time’s cruel chains
Where dogs of judgment guard His gate
How still the air of Heaven be
Her vast cathedrals whitely shine
As Angels hover restlessly
Their soundless wings a pure design
Should Virtue’s son or daughter find
The key long sought which fits Earth’s locks
Released, Time’s slaves, their chains behind
Might still the hands of ancient clocks
For as the East arose the Sun,
Each gold and fearless day is won.