Memoir of a vigil extraordinaire

I haven’t been able to be emotional about the terrorist attacks since Sept. 11. That morning, after being in Baxter and hearing that something had happened, I came home to Bascom, sat in the living room, and watched the TV for the first time all year. In a few short minutes I saw the second tower collapse: that’s when I started crying. I hate crying, especially in public, but I couldn’t help it. I cried. A lot. Tears streamed down my face as I saw all the firefighters walking up the street, dumbstruck.

My heart broke. I felt helpless. I felt like I was watching a movie. They kept showing it. . .silent footage of destruction.

You all saw it. You felt it. If you live in Williamstown, how did it feel? Did you see it as another world, a world on a screen: not real. Did you feel as distant as I did, as disconnected? But my friends work there.

Something died in you. In me.

My next-door neighbor came into the room and I stopped crying. I haven’t cried since. I’ve been too busy.

I’m a hypocrite with good intentions. I emailed my volleyball coach to make sure that we didn’t try to have a normal practice when people might be really upset. She said we were not practicing; we were just going to be together, to talk if we needed, to be a family for each other. I pleaded with my team to take time for themselves that night, to go to the service, the forum, or just talk. Not to worry about work. Some things are more important.

By the next morning I was emailing people on campus who I knew would already be thinking of ways to address this tragedy to coordinate our efforts. Two nights later I was running a meeting with 20 amazing students working through the details of a candlelight vigil. By day I reserved microphones, tried to find a place for the reception, networked and delegated. I missed a practice that week, one that was optional, but realized I was the only one not there. That resulted in an email to my team, the longest and most comprehensive explanation of myself I have ever given. I told them about the way I prioritize, that I respond to feeling helpless by doing something. This is something I can do: a few years of “Take Back the Night” co-coordinating means I know who to call, how to pull it together. Logistics. Filling a need. Letting people feel sad, scared, and angry as a community. Knowing we all need to feel.

Not letting myself feel.

Even when my team attended the vigil held at Amherst after playing a match there on Friday night, I couldn’t feel: I was thinking logistics. Comparing what they did to what I had planned. It wasn’t competitive, it was a way to stay disconnected. It would have been the perfect time to cry, anonymous at Amherst, but I held my teammate’s hand instead, hugged her when she cried. I wanted other people to know it was okay to be upset and I was going to provide a safe, community oriented environment on Sunday at Williams.

Everyone told me that my opening speech on Sunday night sounded fine; that my day-after-a-tournament voice sounded emotional. I thought to myself, “At least I could pretend to show the emotion I buried so deeply.” I understood and comprehended what had happened that Tuesday morning no better or worse than the next person. But I’d stopped thinking about that reality, that fear. I dealt with feeling helpless by doing something: afraid of the paralyzing fear that makes me want to run to my room, lock the door, bawl my eyes out and hate the world for being ugly.

I’m glad the vigil happened. It filled a need, they said. Thank you, they said. I thanked them. I’m glad they were there. That it meant something to you. That you felt like a community. I shouldn’t have stayed on the steps during the open mike, should have stood with the crowd. People could have adjusted the mike on their own, and no one was going to say anything inappropriate. But I wasn’t emotionally there. I wasn’t really in that moment of letting myself feel the healing comfort of group mourning. I had details to attend to; everyone else could take this time, thank you for being there for each other.

I still haven’t cried. I’m hiding in my room. I’m busy. I’ve tried to catch up on work, tried to avoid the news; it will be there tomorrow to read. Tried to protect myself in the purple bubble of safety. I keep saying I’m going to read what’s going on, but haven’t. I’m too busy. Not too busy to repress my own grief while allowing others a night to express theirs, but I can’t offer anything else. I’m scared for us and can’t do anything. I did what I can. Now I only feel helpless, so I hide from it all and make sure that those around me are okay. I’m the opposite of most. Or maybe I’m not. I do but don’t really want to know what’s going on.

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