Friday, September 9, 2011

I Remember...

You would think that after 10 years, my emotions would not still be so raw when I think back to that time.  But for me, and for my little man, that time is bound by work, motherhood, jet lag, boxes, exhaustion, and yes, pure, raw emotion. 

I stepped off the plane having not yet made the biggest decision I would make in my life. Five of the most beautiful little baby boys had left their mark on my life but one in particular had stolen my heart.  But he had been diagnosed with Hep C and I just did not know if I could be the mom he needed. So I put that thought aside and I rushed home to a house full of boxes and several rooms left to pack. No time to sort, sift, toss – just throw into more boxes. Friends arrived early a day later and loaded the truck, followed by unloading again one town over.  After the long flight from Russia and staying up all of the previous night to finish packing, all I could do was sleep through the next day.  Fortunately I had labeled the box with toilet paper and the clothes were scattered on the bed.  That meant I could make it through at least a couple of days before tackling the boxes for real.

It was Tuesday.  Away from work for about two weeks, I was not looking forward to the backlog awaiting me – but in I went. We had a new CIO and I had a new Senior Director and my job was to make sure my internal customers in Communications were introduced and set up to form a good working relationship.  The conference room on the 18th floor in a non-descript brown brick building in Roslyn was directly across the street from the USA Today building and a block from the building I normally worked in.  Feeling successful as I watched the new connections forming – and then, uncharacteristic on such a sunny day, we heard this incredible thunder.  It caused each of us to pause, just for a second, before the chatter continued. And then it came again and this time the building shook, ever so slightly.  We looked out the bank of windows spanning the room and could see just the tiniest bit of smoke. The sound was coming from the direction of the Pentagon. 

Before we could even ponder what we were seeing and hearing, every cell phone in the room began to ring as co-workers started calling, pulling us back to the work we were hired and trained to do.  One friend ran outside, looking for the quickest way to get back into DC. I rushed to my office down the street, where several friends were already glued to the TV.  My boss was new so I had to fill him in on what our job would entail should the requests start to pour in.  But they didn’t pour yet, not for my team, not for a few hours – instead there was urgent calling of co-workers and family members to make sure the ones we loved were fine. I told everyone to go home with the caveat that we would likely all need to dial in and work from there as the night progressed.  And then I spent the next three plus hours trying to make it a couple of miles to my house of boxes, all the while trying to call my mom and dad to let them know I was ok.

The rest of that night is pretty much a blur.  I still did not unpack – but I also did not could not watch TV.  For the next three days, I worked around the clock, going home only long enough to sleep a couple of hours, shower, change and drive back to our office in Falls Church.  It was intense, emotional and exhausting.  The work came in faster than we could develop, the money poured in almost faster than we could catch it, and the blood donations dripped in faster than we could use it.  I was managing my team, soothing my internal customers, and training my new management on what it meant to be in IT at the Red Cross during a disaster.  In between meetings with Microsoft and Yahoo! and brainstorming with engineering and operations teams, I would think of that little Buddha still living in Russia.  Calls to doctors in NY and emails to doctors in Russia were fit into tiny moments between developing new applications and building up additional infrastructure to handle the onslaught of public donations of money and blood.  I literally did not have time to breathe.  Daycare said they could handle the potential diagnosis without any problem, the NY doc said the reality of Hep C after 12 mos was only 7%, and the Russian doc said he thought the baby was really quite healthy.  While all of the information was good, none of it really mattered because my heart had already made the decision that my head didn’t have time to make.
Orphanage #1, Nizhny Tagil, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia

It was Friday.  I called the adoption agency to let them know that they should submit the paperwork stating that Buddha was my son.  We were meant to be together as mother and son and then I waited for the call back letting me know that the Dept of Education in Russia accepted my application, starting the process to bring my boy home.  The rest of the day was spent in a conference room, monitoring systems and building new ones.  Finally, early Friday evening, my phone rang and I got the news I needed to hear.  And that was it – I was done. I continued working until around 11pm and then I left the meeting.  My boss running behind me as I walked out of the building, I explained that I had to go.  The whole world had changed.  People were scared and scarred. Everything just came crashing down, literally, and I couldn’t stop crying. My joy in becoming a mom was being drowned in the pain of Tuesday and all the days that followed and I needed some time to take care of me.

In my house, I rummaged through boxes and found a bathing suit and some shorts.  Climbing through the piles, I found a suitcase and in the kitchen I found the tequila.  I threw it all in the car and I headed to the beach. For the next three days, I still did not watch TV and I did not work.  For three days, I lounged in a hot tub, margarita in hand, and I talked and laughed with friends, and I slept, slept, and slept some more.  I plowed through the emotions and let my friends take care of me.  I cried.  And I finally rejoiced. Despite all the evil in the world, no one could take from me the fact that I was on my way to becoming a mom.  To the most beautiful Buddha-bellied, Russian born, curly brown haired, brown eyed, eight month old baby boy.

This week, my beautiful, brown haired, brown eyed ten year old boy was asked to write about that day using the prompt “Where I Was”.  It was great to share with him the work I accomplished during that time, the people we were able to help, the pride and healing that came from being an integral part of what was good during those awful days.  It was also hard to talk through why he was in an orphanage in Russia and not here with me like he thought. As with most things, he quickly got bored, or thinking about not being with me caused his anxiety to emerge, and little man moved on to happier things, like playing Wii.

I have worked on many disasters since that time.  But that one, that one, has always been the hardest to talk about, to remember, to re-live.  I still cannot watch footage of the horrors that occurred that day.  The emotions are still raw and still a mix of my own personal joy and a deep profound sorrow.  I remember… 
Home, Virginia, USA

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