in 2001, the not-so-famous day before you-know-what, I was a tired and disgruntled assistant director of a social justice nonprofit project en route to Atlanta for a 2 pm meeting with some hotel folks at the Emory University Conference Center. I was doing a short one-day trip to run reconnaissance in planning a winter retreat for the folks that we funded. For the trip I only packed one-pair of everything casual and wore a suit on the flight in, went from the airport to MARTA rail to a cab to the meeting and then to my hotel in Buckhead.
I was in the middle of five weeks of insomnia caused by my neurotic worker-bee self, my idiotic and paranoid boss at the time, and by my family in Mount Vernon. I had learned about a month before that my seventeen-year-old and youngest brother Eri had knocked up his girlfriend back in April or May. She was due to make my high-school-dropout-of-a-sibling a father — and my mother a grandmother for the first time — in January. My mother was going nuts over this reality, and wasn’t exactly pleased with me for having turned off the money faucet for her and my siblings at 616. My then boss had run me into the ground with travel and projects all during the spring and summer months, with my only real break my honeymoon with my wife in Seattle in May.
The honeymoon might as well have been five years ago on September 10th. I was mentally preparing myself for my next move. I wanted to quit my job. But I also knew I needed to get my family off my back. So I also decided to do a family intervention, to confront my mother and siblings about all that was wrong with our lives and with our family. I wasn’t sure about doing this, about possibly and permanently damaging my recently strained mother-son relationship.
Yet I was tired, T-I-R-E-D of the demoralizing weekly telephone calls where my mother would say “Tired” with a sigh that seemed to have come from a dying zebra whenever I asked her how she was. I was tired of pouring money into a bottomless pit of laziness, not on my mother’s part. Of my younger siblings, one was a college dropout after graduating with honors from Mount Vernon High School — this after having been labeled mentally retarded in kindergarten. Two — including my youngest brother — were high school dropouts. Eri had spent two and a half years in ninth grade. And my only sister Sarai was an eighteen-year-old little girl, having been completely infantilized by my mother. My older brother Darren still wallowed in his miseries, the result of a kid being placed in a school for the mentally retarded for fourteen years after teaching himself how to read at the age of three.
Then I woke up the next morning around 8 am, went downstairs to the hotel restaurant, came up to my room just before 9 am and turned on the Today Show. I saw the one tower on fire, heard the cries and assumptions about terrorists and thought it typical media hype. Then I saw the second building get hit. I was in so much shock that while watching I continued to pack my bag — not that I had much to pack — as if my noon-time flight was actually going anywhere. After catching the MARTA train downtown and hearing that all flights had been grounded — except for the Saudi royal family and the bin Laden family (okay, I didn’t find that one out for a few days) — it finally hit me that my nation, my world was under attack. As soon as I got back to my hotel in Buckhead and re-checked into my room, I called my wife and my older brother Darren. My wife had just gotten home from her job, four blocks from the U.S. Capitol. She also had an adventure getting back from her office that morning. Darren was a mail courier who delivered almost every day to the World Trade Center and the Twin Towers. I didn’t hear from him for four days because the telephone lines were so jammed.
I was stuck in Atlanta for three days. I couldn’t so much as rent a car or take an Amtrak because of the attack and the immediate impact of grounding the airplanes. I ended up getting back to the DC area by Greyhound, a most unpleasant sixteen-hour experience. I was on a bus with White guys who wanted to beat up a South Asian man because he “attacked our country.” There was this constant sense of senseless coming out of the mouths of the passengers all trip long about “kicking some ass” and “nuking them.” And then I woke up in time to see the damage done to the Pentagon by the third airplane attack as we crossed the Potomac into Washington. I was mad, but not just at the terrorists. I was pissed because I knew that our acquiescence to our government’s ridiculously one-sided foreign policies with regard to the Middle East had contributed to this ridiculously vicious response.
As an obvious consequence for me, I didn’t do my family intervention for several months. My insomnia continued for another six months, complicated with images of my first home, the New York City area, seared in my mind’s eye. But when I did do the intervention, I’d had nearly half a year to think about what to say, time to allow my anger and rage to be channeled into suggestions for my younger siblings to live. My relationship with my mother hasn’t been the same. It was really nonexistent for a couple of years, but it has gotten better. Eri’s since finished his GED, learned how to drive. Unfortunately, he also joined up with Uncle Sam as a Army reservist and is serving in Iraq. My other brother Maurice is almost finished with his associate’s degree, and my sister moved to Alabama with friends in order to live her life.
These events influenced my decision to write Boy At The Window sooner instead of later. I realized that later may in fact be too late, that if I waited too long I would be cheating myself of the opportunity to help others, to influence the hearts and minds of those who’d been abused by life or family or friends in some way or another. These events also helped me to understand that victory and defeat in our lives aren’t absolute. They can’t be. For if each of us are true to ourselves and to the lives we choose to live as fully as we can, we have to be prepared for success and for challenges, and ready to accept that those closest to us may or may not be ready to turn their own lives around, even with your help.