When Rain Hurts by Mary Evelyn Greene

September 12, 2012

September 11, 2012

Maine (Summer 2005)

September 11, 2012.  Our lives march forward, eleven years beyond that crisp, sparkling morning.  A day that for most of us will remain “that” day, that morning whose awaiting horror quickly would shroud the promise of its brilliant blue sky splendor.  In many ways this day belongs to all of us, and we to it.  I saw things that morning that I was never designed to witness.  I still change the radio station or TV channel whenever the media revisits the details.  I can think about what I saw, a few short blocks from the attacks in lower Manhattan, I can see the events in my head as precisely as I see the screen upon which I write, but then I hit a wall.  I wasn’t in the Trade Towers, I wasn’t close to anyone who died.  As merely part of the terrified, disoriented crowd scrambling to escape, I appreciate my good fortune.  But I remember noticing the glass shards swirling overhead, beautiful, like glitter in the sky, as I fought my way toward Pat’s apartment amid shouts warning of bombs in the subway, the courthouse, and countless other landmarks along my route.  I also remember watching a man and woman join hands as they chose to jump from an impossibly high floor of one of the buildings, the woman’s billowing skirts shrouding her face from death’s approach.  My mother had died in a bizarre accident only four months earlier, her injuries sustained on the day I moved from Atlanta to New York.  The events of 9/11 having mixed together like batter into this most intimate loss, my heart lurches, my eyes well, whenever my thoughts wander too far into the territory of those experiences.  And so I turn off the switch.  It’s an experience I store in a cavernous place, a precarious repository, carefully segregated from the rest of my everyday life.  Or so I think.  I realize intellectually that such an exercise is futile, that we can’t just choose to avoid examining our traumatic experiences.  In some ways I was always vulnerable – “you feel too much,” my mother would warn; even minor acts of unkindness can now invite, if I’m not careful, an over-sensitive reaction, as though my lifelong quota for temperance was fulfilled, all at once, on that horrific Tuesday morning.  That day changed me, there’s no doubt.  It shook a part of me that I thought was secure, and it reminds me of our children.  Peter’s problems may be largely organic, they’re caused by physical, measurable brain damage, yet I can’t deny that his response to the world, with all its promise and at times, predation, is colored by his pre-adoption experiences.  Abandoned by a teenage mother, left wallowing with an invalid, wheelchair bound great-grandmother, and then whisked into an orphanage where he was fed, presumably, but not spoken to, held, or ever soothed.  Sophie’s start was not much better; for all we know, it might have been worse.  My brush with profound sorrow dwarfs the trauma suffered by my children, babies whose only way of assimilating their experiences was to weave them seamlessly into the fabric that would clothe and color their every thought, feeling, decision, and reaction.  Separating that chemical fusing of abuse and neglect with infant development is more difficult than untangling a giant ball of yarn from a roomful of kittens.  It may be impossible.  It’s easy to give up on yarn – you just toss it in the garbage.  But children?  No, with children we’re tasked with trying to tease the damage away, using every possible tool in our arsenals to restore hope.  Some days are more successful than others but at least I now appreciate that we’ve found the path.  Peter’s been back-sliding at school the last few weeks, and at home too.  He’s lost many of his dorm privileges and has to go to bed early, which means our nightly bedtime calls also have been curtailed.  I don’t know whether this is deliberate consequence or just a scheduling problem but I worry that cutting off his lifeline to home is only fueling the fire.  He’ll be with us this weekend and I’ll make my own assessment then.  When he’s like this I lose patience – and sometimes hope.  It reminds me that my growing optimism that we’re equipped to have him home 24/7 again may be over-inflated.  But when he’s home this weekend, if he tantrums and slings acrimonious words, I’ll remind myself of who he is, of what he’s endured, and most importantly, from where we’ve come.  Remembering 9/11 will help.  We’ve emerged, all of us, not unscathed or innocent, but with enormous resiliency and on the part of our children, especially, with undeniable bravery.



  1. Your thought and words are so amazing Mary. They speak of your generous hear and spirit, so many of us need to learn from. Thank you for sharing as always.

    Comment by Norine Nakao-Peyton — September 12, 2012 @ 8:51 am | Reply

  2. Mary, your expression of these experiences is so beautiful, so elegant. Thank you for articulating the memories, thoughts and feelings so many have borne.

    Comment by Kathleen — September 12, 2012 @ 8:52 am | Reply

  3. Mary…your insights through ” pure human experience” are profound and should be a lesson to all those who have challenging children AND to the professionals who are treating them….Dr Ron Federici-Neuropsychologist

    Comment by drronaldfederici — September 13, 2012 @ 7:02 am | Reply

  4. I remember where I was. I was a young Sergeant working at the Fort Carson, Colorado, legal office when reports started coming over the radio, which we all thought was a failed attempt at someone being funny (much like the WKRP in Cincinnati episode where the weather man threw turkeys out of a helicopter). As the stories progressed, we ran to the one office that had a television. The entire Post started humming with talk of war on American soil. Phone lines clogged with Soldiers trying desperately to reach loved ones; to tell them their Soldier was not going to be home for dinner if not longer, though we were ordered to not give any details. Our internet services were severed. Razor wire was piled up around units to make sure Soldiers didn’t flee their posts after news correspondents tried to guess what the next terrorist target would be, naming Cheyenne Mountain, which was literally across the road from Fort Carson, as being most likely. Slowly things calmed down in the weeks and months to come, but it was unprecedented, and I will always remember where I was.

    Comment by Bradley St Paul — September 17, 2012 @ 11:54 am | Reply

    • Yup – it was one of those days – and hopefully of the type we’ll never experience again. Thanks for sharing, Brad.

      Comment by whenrainhurts — September 19, 2012 @ 10:43 am | Reply

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