It was the second day of Kindergarten and my son was frantically searching for his favorite tee shirt to wear. It was orange, which he found "funky and un-red,” and he thought his teacher would like the picture on the back. I remember being amused by his determination to find this shirt, and then slightly annoyed. His nine-month old sister was shredding my new Redbook, the phone was ringing, and the cat was making that noise cats make right before they make a mess on the floor. I had better things to do than to search high and low for an "un-red" tee shirt. I sighed dramatically; my way of communicating to him that I was exasperated. He looked sad, but with a sigh of his own he said, "Okay, Mum. I'll wear the red one today."
Relieved, I ran to answer the phone. I knew it would be a friend calling for our daily coffee chat. We talked for ten minutes, about what I don’t really remember, but I was able to clean the cat's mess, rescue my magazine from the baby, clean up the breakfast dishes, and start sorting the laundry while we chatted. I laughed when I saw the orange tee shirt at the bottom of the basket. I'll do the color load first, I thought, and surprise my son with his tee shirt in time for the 11:45 bus.
I paused for a minute to look out the kitchen window. I noticed how how bright and sunny it was that morning. It was a perfect day. Warm sun, crisp air; the kind of weather New Englanders wish for in the thick humidity July and remember fondly in the midst of a February blizzard. I wanted to open windows and let that perfect day in, but the phone rang again. I let it go longer than normal, contemplating just letting it ring, but in the end I answered. It was my husband, calling from work, and I was immediately anxious. He never calls from work before lunch.
“Put on the news," he said with an urgency that frightened me.
I protested, not wanting to disturb the baby who had finally settled down to things less destructive than shredding magazine pages, but he insisted.
On the television I saw the World Trade Center burning. My husband, who didn’t have access to a TV and only knew what the CNN ticker on his computer was telling him, bombarded me with questions. What happened? Are they saying it was a plane? How does a plane crash into a building that tall? Are they sure it was a plane? Question after question, but I couldn't answer. I couldn’t find my voice. I stood in the middle of the family room with the phone in one hand, a basket of laundry in the other, and watched the live coverage. I noticed a fast-moving shadow from the corner of my eye, and before I really knew what was happening, a fireball exploded from the other tower. The laundry hit the floor. The baby started crying.
"I'm coming home," my husband said, and when the phone went silent, it was dropped to the floor with the laundry.
Suddenly nothing was more important to me than washing my son’s tee shirt; not watering flowers or getting the baby dressed or making the beds. Nothing. I didn't bother sorting the rest of the laundry. Only my son’s shirt mattered. I added fabric softener during the rinse. I put it in the dryer as soon as the washer stopped spinning. I got it out of the dryer the instant the timer buzzed so it wouldn't wrinkle. I was triumphant when I handed it to him. When he put it on, I smiled – and then froze.
There, on his left shoulder blade, was King Kong climbing the Empire State Building. On his right shoulder, the Twin Towers. A souvenir from our trip to New York City two months earlier. How could I have forgotten that? How could I possibly send him to school in that shirt now? I felt sick to my stomach when I told him he couldn't wear it after all. I was surprised when he didn't argue with me. He just said, "Okay, Mum. I'll put the red shirt back on. Can I have some yogurt?"
I spent the rest of the morning trying to catch blurbs on the news without letting my Kindergartener see. I was careless while nursing the baby, though, and he saw. He didn't say anything for a minute. When he did speak, I had to strain to hear him.
"Did people die, Mumma?"
"Yeah, buddy. People died."
"Did their families know they loved them?" he asked.
I opened my mouth to answer, yes, of course they knew, but then I stopped and wondered…did they? What if I died today, would my family know I loved them? What if, heaven forbid, somebody in my family died today? Would I wish I’d been a better mother or wife? Would I regret anything I’d said? Would I want desperately to take back an exasperated sigh?
When the bus came for my son he ran to meet it at the bottom of the driveway, ready to face the challenges of Kindergarten. He was wearing an orange tee shirt.