Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ten years after

It was quite a time for me even before the planes hit. In the middle of June my then wife told me she was a lesbian. Even though I was able to get help from a minister and my therapist, I kept it entirely within myself to protect her privacy. As such I really didn't get the help or advice I needed. I was floundering, looking for answers that weren't there, instead of planning how to take care of myself and our children, who were then 7 and 4. Later, after the planes hit, my therapist remarked that my wife and I were like terrorists, carrying around this information that would have such an impact, like bombs we were going to detonate.

The news should not have come as a surprise to me. In our bedroom, a few days before, I noticed in the closet a book with the subtitle "coming out later in life." The following Friday night, after our friends departed and the kids had gone to bed, she said "I have to talk to you," and fear quickened me. She said something to the effect of I love you, you're a wonderful husband and father, and I gasped and I felt my heart racing and as if it was rising into my throat. "I think I'm a lesbian," she said. The upshot of it was while she and my daughter went away for several days it was up to me to think of what I wanted to do. I had been fearful that she was leaving right then or asking me to leave. Anything but immediate action, that's what disturbed me most. It didn't occur to me to ask, why is this my problem? The prospect of making any decision overwhelmed me, but wasn't it more fear that was driving me, dread at the prospect of insecurity, thinking I couldn't afford divorce or imaging how a breakup could be facilitated. We had just bought a house with another couple who lived upstairs. Not too many months before, with a job, housing payments, child care, I thought to myself, I'm so leveraged I couldn't even kill myself. Now it seemed even more complicated.

In the ensuing summer days I went to work, took my to son to daycare, picked him up, rode home with him on the bus, drove around, had incomplete conversations with acquaintances and strangers, wondered about my own sexuality ( the Ox-Cart Man or the man on the Goodwill box seemed to have benign smiles and I flirted with a guy in the supermarket,) but for the most part did nothing. "Is it weird having me around," I asked my wife. "It's weird having me around," she answered. Early in August she asked me to sleep on the couch and so every night I would and try to wake up before the kids so I could fold up the convertible, but my daughter caught me at it, and she was not fooled.

Gradually I told my immediate family, my brother when he came to visit from France. He questioned why my wife was adopting such a rigid definition of her sexuality. Telling my parents, however, is one of the most painful memories I have. Looking back, I made the mistake of trying to smooth things over rather than letting them, especially my father, feel their grief. Perhaps because I have so much trouble sitting with my own discomfort.

Later in the month, I learned that the research institution I worked for was going to be absorbed by a large university, with an uncertain future for all. No one would say anything. There was a vague notice from the president in each person's mailbox. A group of professors from the university would visit on September 11 to visit the labs and evaluate the scientists, and your librarian was the last on the docket.

We had an ice cream party with our neighbors at our house. They invited all their friends, I didn't invite anyone. There was pretense, but I had been keeping it up all summer, what was another afternoon as the sun shone and the peaches ripened. September came and school started, bright cool sunny days. On a certain Tuesday I dropped my son off at day care as usual, and headed in to work. Soon a woman who worked with me told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center, and I thought it was maybe pilot error. Not long after that she came back to tell me that another plane crashed and that these were acts of terrorism. I tried to find information from CNN or some other web site but nothing would load on my computer. I had a half-assed radio and turned to any station I could find and heard Peter Jennings talking to some official about what had happened and how it represented a failure of intelligence. Later a television was placed in the lunchroom as we ate our customary Tuesday lunch, with our guests from the university. Someone's flight had been cancelled. My colleague who brought me the news was concerned about her brother, a New York City policeman. An older scientist was desperately trying to reach his son who lived in New York, whereabouts unknown. Our guests from the university sat at different tables, I remember one nervously looking around at the television. The show went on, however, and it wasn't until around six that the trio came to the library and I talked to them but I imagine they had their fill by then. Eventually I made it home to see my father dropping off my daughter. He remarked on the similarities with Pearl Harbor, which he would remember, and his last words as he walked off were "sad day."

Ironically, the day before had been our thirteenth wedding anniversary. I bought my wife roses. I don't know why. Maybe I wasn't able to let go. Several weeks later I moved out, renting a couple of rooms from a taxi driver not too far from my house. The first night I slept there I felt a sense of peace and relief. Much of my subsequent activity was driven by fear and avoidance, nevertheless.

(And Sarah (who is also called Chris, not the result of a Road to Damascus experience to my knowledge,) was not finished. Another story for another day.)

So the marriage ending, the turmoil around work, and the trauma of the national situation I think of as a triple whammy. Personal trauma, institutional trauma, and then, above and beyond, national trauma.

Eerie days followed. Sadness. People more distant. Trash cans removed from the streets and subways. Flags flying, whipping from cars and trucks driving past. Groups of people, especially kids holding candles at night. The troubling sight of the photos of the suspected hijackers, one by one, in the newspaper. Events in subsequent years I do not remember so well, but those days I recall vividly.

And today, a clear blue sky like that Tuesday ten years ago, occasional hum of helicopters and sudden roar of fighter jets, I try to exercise a little imagination and think of what this day is for others in the world, particularly those who lost someone, a parent, a child, a friend, and waking up every subsequent day with loss and grief that doesn't go away.

I recommend Pema Teeter's moving ongoing story series reflecting on the month of days leading up to September 11, 2001.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Namaste "is a common spoken greeting or salutation from the Indian subcontinent." Certainly I never heard it until associating it with yoga practice. The most common explanation I've encountered is "I acknowledge the spirit in you which is in me," though there are probably many variations. Wikipedia goes on to provide interesting etymology. Namas, Sanskrit for bow, adoration, and te, the dative of you (second person singular. I have forgotten most of the grammar I've learned at one time or another.)

Even last night, as I walked from my car with my hands full, an Indian couple passed by, dressed in traditional clothing. They were singing. I can't remember what it sounded like, the elderly man's voice was rather resonant. They stopped singing as they passed and I stood aside to let them go by. Then they both gave the Namaste sign, bowing with cupped hands. I was too lazy to put down my encumbrances, so I nodded curtly. But there it was, they had acknowledged what is in all of us.

Then this morning in the car, I couldn't tell you what I was thinking about, maybe my neglected yoga and meditation practices, but I may have been thinking of anagrams, can't imagine why. And the word Namaste came into my thought. And I suddenly realized: my last name, Eastman, is an anagram of Namaste.


(Maybe I'll sign all my correspondence Namaste and see if anyone catches on.)

Namaste: I acknowledge the spirit in both of us.