(This blog tells my family's story. To see more, click "blog" at the top of this webpage.)
Beth’s second year of high school would hold different challenges than the first. When she started her sophomore year, sixteen months after her injury, I could get through the days without crying in front of anyone, a victory of sorts.
“My small group of really close friends in high school helped me in many ways,” Beth said, “including breaking my leg spasms and carrying my book bag. By the second year I had those things under control, but a friend continued to sit by me in class only because it was more fun that way.”
I took a short cut through the school cafeteria on September 11th at lunchtime and paused by a strange crowd of silent students in front of the television screen. It took only a moment to get my first glimpse of unthinkable tragedy. I rushed to the locker room, relieved to find Beth and Maria waiting for me.
Hugged close and safe, for the moment.
I grieved with the nation, overwhelmed by the scale of the losses and the faces of children who would never grow up. My worst-case scenarios amplified after 9/11. Terrorism took on a life of its own in my mind, growing and mutating into an on-going and imminent threat. I tried to tap down the fear by storing bottled water in the basement and packing an emergency duffle bag. I wrote phone numbers and a meeting place on a small rectangle of paper, copied and laminated for each member of my immediate family to carry in their wallet.
An article that I read caused me more worry, about the terrible knowledge that nuclear weapons had already been used in the past, and might be used again. My heightened fears grouped nuclear weapons with terrorism and a deadly virus. Toxic chemical spills were a high risk in Ohio with the heavy truck traffic. And a personal, selfish anxiety about any number of alarming events that could restrict prescription drugs; I was acutely aware of my addictions with antidepressants and pain medicine (not opiods, thankfully). Who would I be without the prescriptions? How would I help Beth?
The very worst part of my anxiety was feeling helpless—powerless, useless—to protect my family. My counseling sessions after 9/11 were more emotional. My psychologist patiently explained to me that widespread catastrophe would be highly unlikely, as though that would comfort me. The tragedy of 9/11 had been unlikely. Our car accident and Beth's injury had been unlikely, too.
I really (really) wanted to be optimistic, and picked up books at the library with positive messages. I wished that getting rid of anxiety could be as simple as just choosing not to worry. Just choosing to have hope.
When Beth asked to go to the YMCA a few times a month, I read books on the pool deck while she moved on her back with her arms waving slowly underwater. I no longer needed to watch continually for her head dipping too long under the water.
When I drove to Green Springs after school for physical therapy, Laraine encouraged her to keep swimming. Though technically, she was floating. I joined Beth in the water one Sunday at her request. She wanted to try the backstroke. The effort to rotate her arms out of the water caused her to sink. I splashed my face to hide my tears as I lifted her up.
We had no way of knowing that the backstroke would be her fastest swim stroke.
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