Since school began last week, I have spent some time each day looking through old photographs to find pictures of my father-in-law. Part of this is because his memorial is coming up, and part of it is simply because it helps me to feel closer to him. I’ve always loved photos, wasting roll after roll of film to take “artsy” pictures in the days before digital photography was invented, creating my own scrapbooks before I’d even heard of Creative Memories, and saving nearly every photo I’ve ever taken or been given.
Which means that locating photos of anything specific is a daunting task, indeed. There are boxes of actual prints, boxes with film negatives, scrapbooks and photobooks, dozens of floppy disks bearing helpfully descriptive labels like “Snow” (which can only be viewed on a laptop that is at least fifteen years old, is missing three of its keys, and whose “A” button no longer functions), folder after folder of digital photos on external hard drives, and troves of photos I’ve uploaded to a minimum of six sites online. I recognize that this sounds absurd, but going through old pictures is exhausting, man.
The discoveries, however, have made the search process worthwhile. Nick with his permed hair (I’m not even kidding); the rodeo we attended in Colorado; the cross-country trip my brother and I made when I graduated from college; the one of me with Harry Connick Jr. (I believe I sent it out to friends and relatives that year for Thanksgiving, with the caption “I’m thankful for this…”) – and, of course, many photos of Bill.
I remembered a lot of them, but some were true gifts – ones that I didn’t even know I’d taken, that were likely glossed over because they weren’t “good” pictures. While I’ve forever loved taking photos, it’s only now, finding these, that I’m coming to truly be grateful for the bazillions of pictures I’ve stored up, because each one – even the ones where no one’s smiling at the camera, where something’s blurry, which might even have been taken by accident – perfectly captures him just as he was, and gives me a brief glimpse into a long-forgotten memory, and that makes my heart so very happy.
It was while going through these tomes of photos that I came across another collection of pictures that I didn’t remember taking, this time of a visit Nick and I had made to the Statue of Liberty in March of 2000. Except they weren’t just of Lady Liberty, but of the vista surrounding her… including this:
It took my breath away, quite literally.
At the time, Nick was completing several months of training in NYC, and I visited him once or twice from our apartment in Denver; we must have made the journey to Liberty Island during one of those trips, although I don’t remember doing so.
I do remember where we were a year-and-a-half later, on the day that life changed. Our new apartment was less than thirty miles outside of Manhattan, and I remember the blue of the sky; the silence of the trains; the roars of the fighter jets; the whirls of the helicopter blades; the “All Circuits Are Busy” recording as we frantically called our many friends and relatives both in the city (to see if they were okay; miraculously, they were) and across the country (to let them know that we were okay).
I remember, in the days and weeks that followed, walking through the dust and ash that covered so much of Manhattan, extending a great deal farther from Ground Zero than I had thought possible. I remember the smells, though I wish I could forget them. I remember the posters of the missing, hung from every available telephone pole or fence post. I remember the view from one of our best friend’s Battery Park-facing windows, and how horrifically empty it now was.
I remember reading the New York Times’s “Portraits of Grief” – every single one – feeling, somehow, that the very least I could do was learn a little bit about the lives of those 2500 (plus) who were killed, wanting to get to know them individually, rather than just lumping them together as so many, anonymous victims.
And I was struck by how often the biography mentioned something along the lines of, “The last words s/he said to me that morning were ‘I love you.’” Or, heartbreakingly, “I forgot to say ‘I love you’ that morning.” It seems like such a little thing, but since that time, I have made a point of (trying to) never – ever – leaving Nick, the girls, or my family and friends without telling them that I love them. No matter how brief the conversation, even if it’s just an “xo” at the end of an email, no matter how angry or frustrated I am, I tell them that I love them. Because, well, you just never know. Plus, a little extra love is always a good thing.
(Ironically, the only other trip I remember taking to the Statue of Liberty was with Bill [and his wife, Mary] in the winter of 2002 or 2003. To my dismay, I don’t have photos of that visit, but I remember that it was bitterly cold… and that we were happy.)
So much changed on that Tuesday morning twelve years ago, far beyond the new rules for air travel and the ever-present “If you see something, say something!” signs that are all around Manhattan. Yes, of course, I will never forget. But I will also remember – the sights, the sounds, the smells – but more than that, how we all, however briefly, came together, supported one another, and held fast to hope.
And how very much we loved.
More than anything, I am still remembering that love today, and always.