Come From Away

Last night J and I went to the Boston Opera House to see Come From Away, a musical retelling of the story of Gander, Newfoundland, where 38 planes were stranded for nearly a week after the terror attacks of 9/11.

On September 11, 2001, the population of Gander nearly doubled as 7,000 travelers were forced to disembark there after the United States shut down its airspace. Come From Away dramatizes some of these travelers’ stories, and it also portrays the town’s response as locals flooded emergency shelters with supplies and opened their homes to confused and frightened travelers.

Although I knew many travelers were stranded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, I didn’t know the full story of how (and why) planes were diverted to Gander. Initially, passengers on the 38 planes didn’t know why they were landing in Newfoundland: in order to avoid widespread panic, flight crews didn’t divulge the full details of what was happening on the ground in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. As a result, puzzled passengers were literally flying (and landing) blind.

Even after the diverted planes landed in Canada, passengers were prevented from disembarking, as nobody knew if there were additional terrorists on the planes. Flights were diverted to Gander and other remote Canadian airports because authorities feared they were carrying explosives, and isolating the potential danger at remote airports was deemed a safer option than having the planes land in densely populated areas.

Once the tired and disoriented passengers were allowed to deplane, the town of Gander hurried to provide food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities for the “plane people.” An elementary school was transformed into an emergency shelter, the local hockey rink was commandeered to hold and refrigerate bulk shipments of food, and extra televisions, phones, and computers were installed so stranded travelers could watch news coverage and reach out to loved ones back home.

Come From Away did an excellent job dramatizing the hospitality Gander, Newfoundland showed in the aftermath of 9/11 and the impromptu community that arose among locals and their transient guests. Not surprisingly, my favorite character in the musical was an SPCA worker who tended the 19 dogs, cats, and chimpanzees (!) riding as cargo in the stranded planes.

Although Come From Away wasn’t the best, most profound, or funniest musical I’ve ever seen–Hamilton, Fun Home, and The Book of Mormon take those honors, respectively–it was entertaining, sweet, and alternatingly heart-breaking and humorous. From beginning to end, I was captivated by the story of how residents in a remote town opened their doors to strangers in the aftermath of a dark day.

Roxy wants a cookie

In late July, a week or so after Toivo died, J and I adopted a white pitbull named Roxy. (My friends, family, and social media followers have seen plenty of pictures of Roxy, but this is the first time I’ve mentioned her on-blog.)

Roxy's bedroom eyes. #SNELovesPets

If I had my way, I’d spend months, years, or more mourning a pet, but J belongs to the “move on quickly” school of pet bereavement, and I’m coming to see the wisdom of his approach. When you lose a pet, you have a dog-shaped hole in your heart, and although you won’t ever find another dog to perfectly fill that void, you can distract yourself by finding another creature in need of a home.

Roxy nests on laundry day. #SNELovesPets

The goal isn’t to replace the dog you lost: that can’t be done. The goal instead is to drive out the Phantom Dog–the almost hallucinatory sense that the Dog That’s Gone is still there–that arises when you’ve lost a pet. For the first week or so after Toivo died, I habitually looked for her on the bed every time I walked into the bedroom, even though I knew she wasn’t there. When making the bed in the morning, I habitually put Toivo’s chew-bone in the center of the bedspread even though she wasn’t there to chew it, and at night I automatically latched the door to her crate even though there was no one inside.

One of the first things I did after Toivo died was to gather and put away the omnipresent reminders of her presence. I put away the pet steps she used to climb into bed when her hind legs weren’t working, the cone she wore during and after her hospitalization, and the long lead I used when we sat outside on the patio or porch. But I purposefully didn’t dispose of Toivo’s biscuits, treats, or rolls of poop bags, knowing I’d need those things again, eventually. Keeping the accoutrements of daily dog-care close at hand was a way of keeping my heart-door open to whatever dog might choose to wander in, and that’s how Roxy arrived.

Both Djaro and Roxy prefer my side of the bed. 🤔

Now that Roxy has lived with us for a few months, it’s abundantly clear she isn’t Toivo. Physically, Roxy looks nothing like Toivo: when it comes to appearances, a white pitbull is almost the exact opposite of a black Belgian Maliniois. Whereas Toivo was slim and sleek, Roxy is solid and muscular: a sturdy girl. Toivo spun like a top when she got excited, and Roxy bounces straight in the air. Toivo liked to sprawl when she slept, and Roxy likes to curl into what J and I call a pitball.

Roxy says she'll miss me terribly while I'm on campus teaching today, but I'm not so sure. 😊

Roxy now sleeps in the crate that used to be Toivo’s, but whereas Toivo loved to sleep atop a thick, fleecy bed we bought to fit her crate, Roxy will destroy anything with stuffing. Given Roxy’s predilection for hiding under blankets, we’ve learned to line her crate with two repurposed bedspreads: one for her to sleep on, and one for her to burrow beneath.

We still sometimes (often) call Roxy “Toivo” by mistake, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Although Roxy never met Toivo, Roxy wouldn’t be with us now if Toivo hadn’t been with us then. In this way, the two of them will always be linked, like sisters from another mother.

Gone to seed

Last night I had a long and rambling dream about being at a party in an old abandoned building. Throughout the dream, groups of party-goers and I set out to explore the building, which was dilapidated and structurally unsound: at times we had to climb ladders and crawl through windows to move from one floor to another, and we took care to warn one another whenever we found a loose floorboard or (in one instance) open trapdoor.

At one point we stopped our explorations to have a Secret Santa-style gift exchange. I had brought a handful of gifts to contribute to the swap, figuring there might be people who would show up without a gift. When the gifts were distributed, however, there wasn’t anything left for me, and I tried not to act disappointed. After another round of wandering through the house, though, someone gave me a gift they had found: an audiobook narrated by Ellen Degeneres.

After the gift swap, we resumed our wandering, and in one of the rooms I met and briefly talked with Magic Johnson. He had just gotten a new phone, and he wanted to add me to his contacts. Magic wanted me to take a picture of him so I could add it to his contact information, but I told him I had to explore the building and would take his picture later. Through several rounds of wandering in circles through the maze-like building, I saw Magic patiently waiting for me, but when I finally returned to take his picture, he was gone.

Halloween remnant

I start every morning with the same ritual, albeit at different wake-up times. J takes the dogs out and in, and I do a litany of kitchen tasks: load the dishwasher, take out the trash, clean the kitchen litter box, and give our three diabetic cats their breakfast and morning insulin.

Only then does my day splinter into particularity. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I walk the dog and do last minute class prep before leaving to teach at Babson; on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I head straight to Framingham State to teach until dark. Only on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays do I have the luxury of sitting at my desk, drinking a cup of tea, and writing a proper journal entry…unless, of course, I have meetings on campus or get waylaid by other obligations.

In theory, my teaching days include little pockets of time when I can scribble a few hurried lines: in my first year writing classes at Babson, for instance, we start class with five minutes of writing, and I’ve started doing this with my American Short Story students at Framingham State, as well. But I don’t usually have time to type up and blog these random scribbled bits, and my earnest intention to spend at least a few minutes journaling between classes is typically overruled by the demands of class prep and my ever-present paper piles.

Since my busy morning hours are my most predictable hours–after I’ve finished my daily kitchen tasks, who knows where the rest of my day will go–I’ve learned that if I take a few stolen moments to start even an embryonic blog post on my phone while doing morning kitchen tasks, I’m more likely to go back later in the day and finish it. But if I wait to start writing until after I get home from a long teaching day–and when you teach a double-load at two different colleges, all your teaching days are long–it’s immensely difficult to find the energy and inspiration to say anything other than “Today I taught and graded papers, again.”

What I’m learning, in other words, is that if you want to write often, you’d better write early. In the morning, the day is fresh and full of potential. Later in the day, your schedule is likely to careen completely out of your control.

I started writing this post by the light of day this morning…and only now have I gotten around to posting it well after dark.

Gerbera daisies

At Framingham State, I have two potted Gerbera daisies on my desk. I received one from my officemate right after my Dad died, and I received the other from my department chair a few weeks ago, “just because.”

I’m not good with plants–I like both wildflowers and the flowers in other people’s gardens because I don’t have to tend them–but I’ve been careful to water both daisies regularly and have tried to find the precise place on my desk that receives a lot of sun without being too drafty. Even though one of the daisies is done blooming, it’s cheering to walk into my office on even the coldest, grayest day and see something green and growing.

Hillary above radiator

Because she is queen, Hillary has claimed the warmest spot in the house for herself. And on a cold and blustery day like today, with temperatures that feel more like January than mid-November, I can’t say I blame her.

Sunset from second floor women's restroom

Today has been a very long day with a beautiful sunset in the middle of it.