Where were you?

I was driving back from dropping one child at the pool and another at dance camp and marveling at a wreck of a car, literally, but still being driven, in the next lane. The door to the passenger seat was bashed in and the part of the car that goes over the wheel was gone. I could smell the driver’s cigarette smoke and hear the music thumping out of her stereo.

I am the only person in town earning more than $12,00 a year who drives with the windows rolled down because I hate air conditioning that much. It was 92 degrees. And then I realized what day it was.

This morning I went from listening to Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 to drinking half a mug of coffee before my 5:45 a.m. step class straight on to my working mommy/chauffeur combo, performed to an iPodded soundtrack of Belle and Sebastian. I had not consumed any news media. We have an internet radio, so we listen live but come to consciousness during what is, in the UK, daytime programming.

In London, with digital radio, we could listen to Radio 7, 50s mysteries, Middlemarch, the work of Andy Hamilton, and sometimes some really horrifying science fiction story. I’d wake up in the middle of the night only to work out that cannibalism had begun aboard the damaged spacecraft. Listening to Radio 7 overnight meant that you had to wake up in time to switch stations before the mind-gnawing theme tune for CBeebies started at six with lots of little children with diverse regional accents saying, HELL-OH, hell-eye, ‘ello! al-oh, until you thought you would go mad.

For a while there was some kind of Scottish educational thing that came on at around three: Year 7 presenting an ethical dilemma involving mobile phones or Year 2 Welsh classes. These were meant to be actual lessons for schools in need of British curricula rather than intended for our entertainment. The program/mes would ask lots of questions with pauses. It was very, very hard to fall back to sleep with all of the learning.

When you listen to the radio all night a lot more gets in than you might realize. Staring at this woman’s destroyed car, I suddenly realized it was July 7th, anniversary of the London bombings. And as I write this now I realize that I had just listened in some wee hour to an interview with a woman who had quit being an Anglican priest because she could not forgive the bombers who had killed her daughter. She described the way she and her husband had heard about the bombings and were unable to reach their daughter and set off to London.

“You won’t be able to get in,” their other daughter said. “All the roads are closed.”

That threw me. The roads were closed? I must have known at the time. We were following the news pretty closely, but I hadn’t thought of us as being trapped in London, only in our neighborhood, because as scaredy-cat of me as it might have been, I could not bring myself to get on public transport with my daughters the day after. The day yawned ahead of us, with no plans or purpose. I didn’t have to be anywhere and to take the bus or the tube would have been only to prove a point, to show that I wasn’t scared, but it also seemed foolish, an unnecessary risk with children.

We played a game with the camera, that we would shoot an alphabet of the things that we saw. We walked to Regent’s Park, along the canal, C. Postbox. Queen Victoria (on postbox). Aliens (on backpack with snacks). Os for Oslo Court.

We walked to Camden and I was aware of how alone we were, or that I felt. We had passed only a few people and there was a sense of having gone almost too far.

I called a friend, the mother of a boy from my younger daughter’s kindergarten class, and she invited us over. Our husbands were at work, hers at Canary Wharf, 30 minutes by tube, and mine on Grey’s Inn Road, commuting by bike. My husband had biked through Tavistock Square where the bus blew up, 10 minutes beforehand, arriving at work to see the carnage that followed on-screen.

The woman who had been a priest described how they had gone to a hospital and given their daughter’s name as believed to be missing. I was asleep, but I also had the feeling I’d heard this interview or an interview with the same person before. She spoke well of the two family liaison officers who had been assigned to them. She realized her daughter would not be found alive when they stopped calling it a rescue operation, but a recovery. She realized they had found her daughter when she got a phone call to say both liaison officers were on their way over when one of them was supposed to have had the day off.

She went to see her daughter in the morgue even though the police advised against it because she was still her mother and she couldn’t let her daughter be there alone. I don’t remember what happened immediately after in the story. Or if, subsequently, after writing a book about it, examining, processing and reprocessing her grief, this woman ultimately found forgiveness or returned to her faith.

We ate frozen pizza while the kids made a mess and then when the shadows were long, the girls and I made our way home, having survived the day. Husbands returning safely, children safe, while the world continued to contort itself like a late night radio drama you don’t want to hear.


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