I do not remember her name, but she is the first person I knew who died.
My best friend Katie and I talked to her on the bus sometimes about things kids talked about in the 80s: G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, and Garbage Pail Kids. She was in Kindergarten; we were in third grade. I remember her with unruly dark hair and a small blue bow, but this is probably more imagination than anything.
Christmas break was a week away when my mom told me about the fire. “It was the house on the corner near the covered bridge,” she said. “The little girl died. I think she went to your school—did you know her?”
Later we drove slowly by the charred remains of the house. The Christmas tree had caught fire, like so many cautionary tales come true. Though they told me she died of smoke inhalation, they also said she had been on the couch next to the tree. Even then I was a realist. I tried not to imagine her screams.
Katie and I talked on the phone , I think, but we did not cry out loud. Not the way we had after seeing Ghost in the theater. I remember the conversation being short and sort of hollow. So many things unsaid. We went back to school the next day and no one knew about those unspoken words, the hollowed out places in my heart.
Every year in September, there are so many unspoken words and hollowed out places. Other than a few words on the blog about this day, I do not speak of it. You might see me and not know that I am thinking of Alysia. Of all the dead, really. I am thinking about loss on this day, always, mourning quietly as I do the things I do every other day. You could be behind me in traffic or in front of me in line to buy coffee and not know.
You won’t know how I feel unworthy of mourning Alysia since we fell out of touch. Because I cast her off in middle school the way so many girls do, treating friendship like clothes in a dressing room. On and off, on and off. I am not in the pictures of her posted on Facebook by her real friends, the ones who went to her wedding and know her daughter’s name. I may not have those memories, but I still mourn her loss.
The thing I hope we can all remember on this day is that we don’t know about each other’s quiet mourning. You don’t know where your boss sat when she heard the news. You don’t know whom the cashier at the grocery store lost that day. You don’t know how your waiter is affected by the words “September 11th.”
So I ask that maybe we all treat each other with a little extra grace today. Many of us are mourning, but not all of us will say it. We cannot fully know the losses carried by those around us even if we do say the words out loud.
Let us be gentle and be kind. Let us be patient. Let us be united in the understanding that we all lost something that day, and even maybe someONE. Whether out loud or quietly, we mourn this day as a nation. You may not hear the words or see the hollow places, but know they are all around you.
Be generous with your love today.