Part I of a Series
Stories circled my mind since I was a little girl with a diary. At first they were amusing stories about roller-skating on South Bronx streets in the middle of the night, or about the police raid on the Chinese laundry my friend’s father owned. But the stories weren’t cohesive. Writing was something I taught, not something I actually did. I was immersed in a world of college students who were potential writers, yet I did not put pen to paper. Something held me back, and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then on September 11th, 2001, things changed.
During the first class I held after that fateful day, students were anxious to write about their experiences. For the first hour of that three-hour class we wrote in silence, and as I looked around, my students absorbed in their private experiences, I thought about my own feelings on that extraordinary day and what they would think if they knew my story. So I began to write. I put down on paper what I had never been able to write about before, that on September 11th, 1976, exactly twenty-five years to the day, my husband was killed by a terrorist bomb in New York City.
September 11th had been my own private day of mourning, and I wrote about the pain of the now constant reminder of that date. I wrote about the woman who went along with her husband’s scheme to hijack a plane and threaten the world, and the bomb that was left in Grand Central Station that detonated and killed my husband, a member of the NYPD Bomb Squad. The words seemed to flow as I wrote about how unlikely it was that we began to write to each other, the widow and the hijacker, and against all reason, created a bond.
As we went around the room, each person opened up to his or her experience about that most agonizing day. After everyone had read their stories, there was a stillness to the classroom I had never felt before. It was as thought they knew something else was coming and they looked to me and waited. As I began to read my own words I felt the electricity and the incredulous reaction of my students, and it made me realize that this was not just my life, but a truly remarkable story that needed to told.
To show myself I was serious about writing a book, I enrolled in an online writing course. Why, you might ask, when I was a college professor of English? Because I needed discipline. I needed to be surrounded by other writers who could offer considered criticism, as experience had taught me that we can never be our own critic.
After one semester, I hit my stride. Classmates hailed from Australia and Ecuador, a doctor, a poet, published authors, all seeking the same thing: encouragement. Our instructor gave us the tools and we wrote pages of critique for each other, offered ideas that brought stories to life, directions we hadn’t thought of, ways to develop characters more fully. We stayed together through four semesters and then started our own group, and it is these writers to whom I credit my accomplishment, for without their enthusiasm, my stories might still be circling around my head.