I ended my last blog saying I needed to get back to "real life". Only I forgot I'd be writing that next blog tonight. The day before September 11. The day when "real life" stopped.
V and I first heard when we got a panicked call from our friend Carol, unable to reach her daughter who worked across from the World Trade Center. She was frantic to somehow get to New York. Within a few hours we learned Carol's daughter was safe, and I thought we had escaped any personal connection to this horrific tragedy. It wasn't until the next day that I found out about Carolyn.
I met Carolyn when Alli was in first grade. Carolyn had identical twin daughters--just like their mom--blonde and beautiful, with hearts of gold. No one could help falling in love with them, including me and Alli. We spent endless hours together--moms and kids enjoying the innocence of childhood.
Carolyn was one of those gorgeous women who wasn't obsessed or aware of how beautiful she was. Although on the inside, she was going through a tough time--divorced, raising three children alone, under the constant stress of being a working mother. She never lost her cool---mentally or physically--even the day she was so distracted in the school carpool line, she accidentally ran her car right into the wall of the school. Carolyn took that in stride, like she took everything else, juggling her responsiblities and still able to laugh about it.
Her top priority and passion was always her kids---but there was pride in her work, too. I remember once visiting her office, when she excitedly pulled me into an editing room to watch the video she was producing for Van Halen. I knew nothing about their music, but the video "Right Now", knocked my socks off, and later won the MTV award as Video of the Year.
In some ways Carolyn was a role model, since I found myself a few years later in the same situation as hers--going through a divorce, trying to manage working while being the kind of mom who always puts your children first. Then Carolyn fell in love, got remarried, and settled into a calmer, happier life. And soon the same thing happened to me---only my remarriage came with a move out of Los Angeles. Once we left, I saw Carolyn only on rare occasions when I came to LA and brought Alli to see the twins. But the girls remained in touch over the years, and the twins were Alli's last connection to the life left behind in Los Angeles.
Just before her senior year of high school, Alli was in LA with her dad, and spent the night at the twins'. Carolyn, warm and fun as ever, reminisced with her daughters and mine, about their shared childhoods, since it was just days before the twins would be leaving for college.
A few days later, Carolyn and her mother flew east with her girls, both enrolling at Rhode Island School of Design. Carolyn was so close to her daughters that she planned to rent an apartment nearby so she could visit as often as she could. Once the girls were settled, Carolyn and her mom headed home. They took an early morning flight out of Boston, the plane that hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.
I found out about Carolyn on September 12. I was distraught---and tried to imagine what I would say to Alli when she came home from school. I remembered other times I'd been forced to deliver bad news to her: Mommy and Daddy are getting divorced; Mommy is getting remarried and we are moving away from your school and home and all your friends--and your Dad; Mommy has breast cancer. How could I possibly tell her Carolyn was dead?
With the resilience of youth, Alli took the news better than I did, and seemed to recover faster. I had not been close to Carolyn for years; but having faced death myself, her death tormented me. I replayed in my head the horror she might have seen or felt in her last few moments, scenes I could not get out of my mind. It didn't seem possible that Carolyn, so alive and vibrant, could disappear, just like that.
It took a long time for me to absorb and comprehend. What was shocking was not just the horrific nature and suddenness of September 11, but this example of the irony and capriciousness of life. I had desperately envied normal mothers like Carolyn--healthy, happy, unscarred, doing the simple things like taking children to college. Meanwhile I was living in fear that I would die, and not experience those simple things; that my children would be left motherless. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye and a cruel twist of fate, it was Carolyn's children who were motherless; and Carolyn who was gone, not me.
Soon after 9/11 I heard about a planned memorial at Ground Zero that would be made of a wall of tiles honoring the victims. I painted a tile for Carolyn, mostly yellow because to me, she represented everything sunny and light. The project never got off the ground, but I took the tile home and kept it. Just to have something that represented Carolyn. Not that I could ever forget her.