We all have them, days that split our lives into the before and the after.
Some of them we can see coming: wedding days and due dates, graduations and entrance ceremonies. Some of them come swiftly, but with warning: the diagnosis that leads to a farewell before we are ready.
But others come at us so strong and so fast that before we realize it, we are lying on the floor struggling to find the breath that has been viciously knocked from us before we fully realize what has happened, that in an instant, everything has changed.
For me, I can think of three. The moment my roommate told me my boyfriend at the time had been sleeping with another friend and everyone knew except me. 9/11. (I think many of us share this one.) And March 11, 2011.
It was a day a lot like today. A hint of spring was in the air. I had sick kids at home. The afternoon stretched out, long and lazy like a fat tabby cat stretching her spine.
And then the world fell apart.
I didn’t even realize it then, the extent of the damage or the horror of the tsunami. I had my hands full with a sick preschooler, an absent husband, a toddler. But when I say the world fell apart, the actual physical damage isn’t what I mean.
Until that day, I would go places when Me First was at preschool. I mean, of course, that I would go places and not worry. That I was ever able to do that seems utterly irresponsible to me now, go off somewhere with a friend, not even checking various routes to get home, not mentally limiting myself to a distance I could walk if I had to.
There was a time when we would go to the beach, and not mentally note where the nearest high ground was and calculate how long it would take to get there.
There was a time when Me Too didn’t cry and panic when a message came across the TV screen.
And then there is this side of it, there is now.
I always temper what I say about the earthquake with something about how other people suffered so much more, continue to suffer, how we were so lucky. And all of that is true, and I feel it today more keenly than other days. The immensity of the lost whips around my face like a sharp winter wind, sticking to my teeth and stinging my eyes.
Maybe some people make it through their lives without moments that rip them apart unexpectedly. Maybe they are “lucky.” But in the aftermath, in retrospect, these are the moments when we find out what we are made of.
And I am strong as steel.