adventures in ADHD baking, chapter 716: muffin problems

I’ve had it in my head for at least a week now that I wanted to make some muffins. Specific muffins: they’re pumpkin muffins with spices and nuts and dried cranberries and maple syrup in them and they’re delicious. They’re the kind of thing that I’ve made so many times that I eventually got sick of having to bring the recipe up on my phone and almost dropping my phone in the bowl of muffin batter while trying to read and measure at the same time, so I scribbled the recipe down on a scrap of paper and now it lives on the side of my fridge.

This morning was perhaps not the best morning to embark on my muffin-baking fantasy, in retrospect. Last night was rough. I was up and down several times in the night, as was my husband, with our various respective bathroom-related issues. My FitBit practically asked me if I was OK this morning when I brought up my sleep data…or lack there-of. Suffice to say, I have not been firing on all cylinders today.

But those muffins. Those sweet, sweet pumpkin nuggets of joy with the walnuts and the cranberries. I had been thinking about them for days. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer. Because if there’s one thing I DEFINITELY want to do when I’m tragically overtired, it’s eat baked goods. I mean, I want to eat baked goods 24/7, basically, let’s be honest. But my decision-making barometer goes especially askew when there’s a lack of sleep and sugar involved.

Once I saw my husband off to work and got the dishwasher going, I had roughly 35 minutes to get the muffins going before I had to log into work and start pretending to give a shit about non-muffin subjects. No problem, plenty of time. I measured my drys in one bowl, my wets in the other, then I combined the two. Mix mix mix, taste to make sure it wasn’t poison, and bingo! Ready to bake! I got out my trusty scoop and started portioning muffin batter into the wells of the pan. Everything was going splendidly…

…until I got to the end of the batter after 11 muffins rather than 12.

Hmmm, I thought. That’s not right. This recipe definitely makes 12 muffins. It always has! And I didn’t even do extra rigorous poison-tests this time like I tend to do with cookie dough, so it’s not even like I could blame myself for having eaten too much of the uncooked batter (yes, I know, raw flour and raw egg, clearly I don’t value my life. If I get salmonella I won’t come crying to you, I promise). I stood there looking back and forth between the scraped-clean bowl and the empty muffin cup for what probably would have felt like an embarassingly long time had I been operating on enough sleep to feel shame. Or anything other than muffin-lust.

I grabbed the recipe and started going down the list, mentally checking things off:

Pumpkin? Yes.

Brown sugar? Yes.

Oatmeal? Yes.

Maple syrup? Two eggs? Flour? Baking soda? Salt? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

100 grams of oil.

Uhhh…

100 grams…of…oil.

I looked at the measuring cup I had been using. Dry as a bone. Definitely hadn’t held oil since the last time it was washed.

Well, balls. That was a no on the oil, then.

I looked at the portioned-out batter again. It looked fine. It had definitely seemed slightly thicker than usual even before I realized I was a muffin-cup short, but it certainly wasn’t thick enough to make me think something was very out of whack. LIKE THAT I HAD FORGOTTEN THE OIL, FOR INSTANCE. I poked at it. I tested for poison again. It was a good batch. The spices were really nice, it wasn’t overly sweet. I REALLY wanted these muffins to happen. And I REALLY didn’t want to try to scoop batter out of 11 portioned out muffin cups so that I could mix oil in and then portion them all out again.

I checked the time. 8:55. I needed to punch in by 9. With a lack of time as my final justification for not fixing my mistake, I muttered a resigned “YOLO, I guess” and slid the pan into the waiting oven.

20 minutes later I came back to survey the damage. The muffins certainly smelled nice and they didn’t look too shabby either, aside from not having puffed up much. I tested them with a toothpick and they seemed done so I pulled them out to cool a bit while I made a cup of coffee.

Finally I couldn’t stand it anymore and I tore into one. The muffin wrapper was…reluctant to come off. That’s putting it nicely. Probably close to a third of the muffin hung on to the paper like cement. The part that did come off was basically fine, though. The texture was a little weird but the flavors were good and the muffins were certainly edible. I stood there picking stuck crumbs off the muffin paper like some kind of kitchen gargoyle after I finished the main event, so that should be a testament to the flavor. Or at least my level of commitment to muffin consumption. And possibly my addiction to carbs in general.

So, in summation, I would offer you these points:

– you can totally bake muffins without oil in them. Would I recommend it? No. But will they be at least vaguely edible if you skip the oil? Probably.

– maybe double-check your ingredient list BEFORE you portion out your muffin batter, if you don’t want to live life on the bleeding edge of culinary experimentation like some of us.

– weird muffins are better than no muffins. I think this is probably a good metaphor for some kind of deep life observation or something, but I’m too fucking tired to go there right now.

They could have been way worse.

buckets. plural.

One thing nobody mentioned when I was talking to various people ahead of buying my first house a few years ago was buckets. Plural.

“Make sure you buy a step-ladder”, they said.

“You’re going to need a roof rake for the winter”, they said.

Extension cords, a shop-vac, those disposable drain-zippers that pull disgusting squirrel-sized clumps of hair out of your bathroom sink drains…all things that were suggested to flesh out the basic tool kit I had been maintaining for the nearly two decades since I had moved out of my parents’ house. And all of these things have come in very useful in the last almost three years, for sure.

But what happens when you have to open a drain pipe to replace a P-trap and the sink is full of gross water that hasn’t drained in days and is full of gods only know what? How do you store water for flushing the toilet during a big storm where the power will surely be going out? How do you tansport sand and salt for your inevitably icy driveway in the winter time?

Buckets. You need them.

And I…did not have any. We were making due with large mixing bowls, empty plastic totes left over from moving, reusing gallon water jugs…you get the picture. It’s not like we’re in a constant state of needing to contain fluids around here, by the way…but you know. Stuff happens. And it wasn’t that I was resistant to buckets or the buying there-of in any way. It was mostly just that buckets were never front of mind whenever we went to the hardware store, so they never ended up getting purchased.

Fast forward to last week. Back to back ice storms (thanks, climate change) turned our driveway into a slush-fest, which then froze over into an icy death trap. We had been storing some driveway sand in one of the aforementioned plastic totes, but those totes are big and sand is heavy. Plus we only have a small car, so while getting an empty tote into the trunk and out to the town sand pile is no big deal, removing said tote half-full of heavy, wet sand from the small car’s trunk upon returning home is a full-on struggle bus situation with much back-tweaking potential. Which is all a really long-winded way of saying that our driveway was icy as fuck, we needed some sand, and we had no reasonably good way of transporting said sand.

“Maybe we should get a bucket,” was my contribution to the sand-acquistion logistical discussion we had after using up the last of last year’s sand to try and get the car unstuck for the third time last week (which didn’t end up working, by the way).

Once we were able to get out of the driveway again, thanks to an entreprenuerial snowplow driver with a sander on his truck, we made our way to the local hardware store in search of a bucket.

Turns out the store had more sizes and types of buckets than we were expecting (which was one. I was expecting 5-gallon buckets and nothing else, given that this is not a big box store. Shows how much I know), so we ended up getting buckets…plural. We got two 5-gallon buckets and a 1-gallon bucket, the idea being that the big buckets were for sand transport and the little one was for sand dispersal. We went and got sand the next day, made the driveway much less treacherous, and felt pretty accomplished afterward.

And middle-aged. Because what screams “middle aged home owner” more than purchasing multiple buckets for the conveyance of driveway sand? Not much, for me. I’ve bought cars, furniture, appliances, insurance, even this actual house…and none of that made me feel quite as adulty as spending a Saturday morning buying buckets.

Plural.

box of hair

We have a squirrel problem.

Thankfully it’s still a lower-case problem and not a PROBLEM…but still.

And yes, I know, I’m the person who is obsessed with chipmunks, and goes to outlandish lengths to befriend them. Chipmunks are not squirrels. Chipmunks hibernate in the winter. They’re tiny and cute and the holes they dig in my lawn are very small. They don’t inhale entire pounds of sunflower seeds on a daily basis. And, key point to this particular story: they don’t launch themselves bodily up the side of my house, trying to gain purchase on the siding so they can claw their way up to the bird feeder that is attached to my office window. 

Did you know that a chunky grey squirrel traveling at a high velocity can hit a wall hard enough to knock things off the interior windowsill of the affected wall? It’s true. I’ve seen it with my own eyes multiple times the past few weeks. 

The squirrels are also stressing Keppo the fuck out. Between the thumping on the wall, the scratching noises of them trying to climb the siding, and the chittering tirades when the red squirrels show up to invade what is apparently historically grey squirrel territory, there has been SO much barking. Patrols of the perimeter, which necessitate me being on the end of a leash because it’s not safe to let him out on his own, have also increased dramatically. Today we had to go out every 90 minutes all morning, for instance. I enjoy the walks but it’s really doing a number on what was my frankly already dismal rate of work productivity. 

All of this is what led up to me desperately Googling “how to repel squirrels” the other afternoon. The top three ideas that kept coming up were:

1. Spray predator urine in the area you want the squirrels to stay out of. If you’re a country person or grew up around hunters, you probably know that bottles of synthetic fox and coyote pee are readily available in most stores that sell hunting gear. Some hunters use it to mask the human scent on their clothes before going out into the woods. Initially this seemed like the best and most effective option for my squirrel issue but then I realized that:

  • we already have foxes and coyotes all over the place here and I really don’t want to pique their interest, thus bringing them closer to the house that my small defenseless dog lives in, 
  • the main spot that the squirrels hang out is under the bird feeder attached to my office window so that means I’d be spraying a canine-piss-scented substance directly under a window that I open multiple times a day, and 
  • the smell would probably drive Keppo almost as bonkers as the actual squirrels have been doing. 

2. Put up an owl decoy. This appealed to me simply because I like owls. I also got very excited at the prospect of neighboring owls possibly coming by to check out the decoy. Then I read that if you go the decoy route, you have to move it regularly because otherwise the squirrels will figure out its fake and then never respect the decoy OR you ever again. Which…that seems reasonable, honestly. What did NOT seem reasonable was the price of owl decoys though, so we were on to option number 3, which was…

3. Spread human and dog hair around the area you want to keep the squirrels out of. The idea is that they don’t like / are scared of the smells of humans and dogs so scattering hair around will keep them away. Since this was the cheapest, easiest, and most readily actionable of the top three ideas, I figured I’d give it a try. 

Mark brushed Keppo on Friday evening and collected all the hair in a little cardboard box. We put the box out in the mud room so that, should it get knocked over, it wouldn’t go all over the house. That turned out to be fairly smart because literally the next morning I was out in the mudroom putting a bag of trash out and what did I do? Knocked over the box of hair. Side note: this is how we learned that Keppo will attempt to eat clods of his own hair once they are detached from his body. My special, special boy. 

On Sunday morning I cut Mark’s hair and while that doesn’t result in a lot of clippings anymore (sorry dear), we figured what the heck, we’ll throw those in the Box of Hair as well. I also cleaned out a couple of my hair brushes, and I shed almost as badly as Keppo does, so by the time it was all said and done we had a pretty good stash going. 

This morning when I took Keppo out for our first patrol, I also took the Box of Hair. I carefully sprinkled it all around under the bird feeder and my office window. Keppo only tried to eat one chunk before he found some bird seed hulls that were even more illicit and therefore became his sole focus. We got everything set and then did our circuit of the house and returned back inside. Once back in my office, I opened the window a little bit and looked straight down just to make sure our placement was good. Perfect…a nice even coating of…hair. A hair barrier, if you will. A…hhhhhbarrier? Hair-ier? Wait no, that’s something different. But you get my drift. Pleased with my ingenuity, I sat down to get to work. 

All of ten minutes later I hear the characteristic scrabble-clunk-scrabblescrabble-crash of a fat-ass grey squirrel launching itself up the exterior wall. By the time I got up to go look out the window, a second had joined it. A red squirrel came barreling around the corner shortly thereafter. 

Not one of them gave a sweet blithering fuck about the hair barrier. They didn’t even slow down to sniff at it. I might as well have just scuffed my feet around the leaves a little as far as they were concerned. It was right back to business as usual for them and lack of ability to get any business done for me. 

So I guess it’s time to invest in an owl decoy and see how that goes. 

This is not a drive-through, sir.

places I have not found dopamine today


It’s grey and rainy and my back hurts and I need a shower and I have some Adult Problems with Only Expensive and/or Scary Solutions, so my brain has been looking for a dopamine fix even harder than usual today. ADHD does, after all, generally come with a built-in sidekick of dopamine deficiency. For me that deficiency gets kicked into high gear when I feel like I’m struggling with something or feel uncomfortable in some way. I have been both struggling AND uncomfortable lately, so that explains a lot.

Here are some places I haven’t managed to find any dopamine today:

– in my coffee cup (neither tea nor coffee)
– in half a chocolate bar
– in a bowl of cereal
– in a burrito
– in a handful of trail mix
– in Medieval Dynasty (a video game I’ve been playing lately)
– on social media (which is weird bc social media is basically engineered to reward people with dopamine pellets but it’s not working on me at the moment)
– in work (that’s one of the things stressing me out so no surprise there)
– in conversations with real human beings (although I’ve been talking to my non-preferred humans (ie: coworkers) rather than actual friends so that’s probably the issue)

I think movement is going to be my best bet for getting some kind of go-juice into my brain today, but it’s hard to muster up much enthusiasm for that when my body hurts. The idea of hurting myself even further via exercise gone wrong also makes me very anxious, which further saps the juice reserves.

What I really need is to just suck it up, break the seal, and do some of the Adult Things so that they’re not hanging over my head anymore. It sounds so simple to someone without ADHD, I know…but trust me, breaking that seal is a real challenge sometimes.

I found this turkey feather on a dog walk earlier. Now if I could just find a new muffler for a 2012 Honda Civic sitting on the side of the road, we’d be in business.

ditch lily aspirations

In New England, we have these orange daylilies that are pretty ubiquitous in the summer. They pop up all kinds of places: yards, abandoned lots, fields…and they’re especially common growing in ditches along the sides of back roads. A lot of people actually call them ‘ditch lilies’ for exactly that reason.

My neighbor hates ditch lilies. He has several flower gardens around his house that he tends meticulously, and one of his spring rituals is to find and dig up any ditch lilies that have somehow found their way into his beds. They grow via bulbs, but sometimes they don’t all come up at the same time, so it often takes years of successive diggings to get them all out. The last three springs since we moved here, I’ve watched him ferret out any burgeoning patches of ditch lilies and carefully dig all around them. He pops the whole clod of soil out, (presumably so to not further spread the lily bulbs), loads them into his wheelbarrow, wheels them down to where our driveways merge together, and dumps them down over the bank toward the brook.

The thing about ditch lilies is, they can grow just about anywhere. They need barely any dirt, they don’t need a ton of direct light, they’re pretty drought-resistant. There also happens to be a really nice layer of mulch in the form of wood chips from last year’s fallen tree that was cut down, chipped, and the chips dumped along that bank. So this year, right at the juncture of his driveway and ours, we now have a big cheerful new stand of ditch lilies from all the clods of bulbs he’s been dumping over that bank for the last few years.

I do kind of wonder if he glares at them every time he comes down his driveway, or if he’s fine with them as long as they’re not in his flower beds. Either way, I appreciate the symbolism: something discarded and unloved thrown into challenging circumstances takes root, rises up, and flourishes, waving its bright orange flowers at its oppressor on a daily basis, as if to say “you can’t keep me down, fucker”.

We could all use some help in the resilience department these days. May you find the ability to root where you’re thrown, rise up again, and tilt your face to the sun with a smile while knowing those fuckers can’t keep you down.

I’m a writer, Jim, not a photographer. But you get the gist.

cannot unsee

Me this morning, cutting strawberries: You ever notice how strawberries really look like human tongues?

Mark: What? No.

Me: They do! Look! (holds out strawberry)

Mark, shaking head, moving in the other direction: No. No, I don’t want to see. Once you see you cannot unsee.

Me: I know, right? But seriously, look…it looks just like a very red human tongue. (wiggles berry)

Mark, still refusing to look: Noooo! I don’t want to think about it! (shields his eyes as he leaves the kitchen)

I don’t know what he’s got against delicious disembodied tongues, frankly.

I’m sure that yellowing at the tip would not be a good sign if this was actually a tongue but since it’s not we can all just laugh about it and not spend any time obsessing about our actual tongues in the mirror today, right? Right.

stupid human tricks

Sometimes it seems like my life is just a series of things I do to amuse myself that end up backfiring and causing me extra work or costing me more money.

Case in point: today’s vegetable peeler incident.

I have Fridays off for a while – I won’t bore you with why (it involves needing to use up a bunch of vacation time at work because I can’t roll it over). Just know for the sake of this story that for the last six-ish Fridays I have been largely home alone, with only the dog for supervision. Which, being an only child, a latch-key kid, and a social pariah for most of the 90’s, you’d think I’d be used to functioning under those conditions.

It’s not that I can’t function when I’m home alone, so much as that I have a harder time filtering the near-constant stream of questionable ideas that my brain produces. Especially the ones that I think are funny. This isn’t even a case of ‘doing it for the ‘Gram’ or making TikToks or whatever…this is literally me just indulging the stupid shit that pops into my head because I know no one is around to judge me for it (not that my husband would judge me for most of the stuff I do…not out loud, anyway. He IS British, after all).

Today I was making a batch of soup ahead for tonight’s dinner. I had my dance mix going and was grooving along to Jamiroquai (I know that guy is problematic – I assuage my guilt by reminding myself that he’s probably only getting like half a penny from Spotify whenever I listen to one of his tracks. And yes, I know Spotify is problematic, too. I assuage THAT guilt by reminding myself that I get to pay the student rate rather than the full monthly subscription rate because I take one measly college course per semester. Also, good luck finding someone / something that ISN’T problematic these days, mmkay?), as I peeled some carrots. I peel the carrots over the garbage can because I hate cleaning up carrot peels off the counter, but my garbage can is also across the room from the counter where I chop stuff and there’s no flat surface around the garbage to put anything down on, so I was taking one carrot at a time over to the garbage can to peel it, then bringing it back to the counter and grabbing the next one.

That makes it sound like my kitchen is huge. My whole house is like 1100 square feet. The kitchen is like three paces across, max.

Anyway.

So, carrot peeling got tedious very quickly. As I finished the last carrot and was half-dancing back to the counter, the song I was jamming to reached a funky breakdown part. Carrot in one hand, vegetable peeler in the other, I did a little twirl, then flipped the vegetable peeler up in the air with every intention of catching it.

Now, it’s worth noting here that I’m actually pretty good at doing this. Flipping things up in the air and catching them, I mean. It’s a random stupid human trick that I’ve been doing for as long as I can remember, with basically anything that has a handle. I’ve done it with screwdrivers, hammers, paint brushes, all manner of kitchen utensils, pans, a curling iron twice (once it was on…had to up the stakes, apparently. While home alone. I am very stupid)…you get the picture. There is literally nothing else physical that I’m good at, so I’ve really honed this one craft, trust me. As a result, I almost always catch whatever I flip.

I’m sure you can see where this is going.

The vegetable peeler flipped end over end, almost up to the ceiling. I reached out with perfect timing, right on the apex beat of the song’s crescendo…and missed the handle by a hair’s breadth. I watched the bastarding thing hit the floor and, in seemingly slow motion, the blade popped out of the handle and skittered directly under the stove. I got down on the floor to try and fish it out with a wooden spoon, but the thing was so far in that I couldn’t even see it. It is officially lost to the Beneath.

So now I have to shop for a new vegetable peeler. I’ve had that one probably ten years. Have there been exciting new innovations in vegetable peeling technology in the last decade? I’m guess I’m about to find out.

Rest In Peels, Peely. You were a real one. Carrots won’t be the same without you.

annoying realities of being an adult with ADHD, #457

Some days I can’t read.

Like…technically I can…but there are days where anything more than two or three sentences in one go turn to smoke somewhere between my eyeballs and whatever half-rotten corner of my brain is responsible for word comprehension.

Part of it is definitely interest-based: I can read what I’m writing right now, I could pick up the novel I’ve been reading and be perfectly fine getting sucked into that for an hour. But I have this 11-page instruction manual that I’m supposed to be reading (and understanding) right now and it’s just not happening. It’s not even that my brain is making a specific choice in that regard, either. I’m not sitting here saying “I’ll read this but I won’t read that”. Rather, what happens is that I go in with every intention of reading the thing I’m supposed to be reading and my brain is like “hey, here’s something else we definitely need to do RIGHT NOW”, and that just keeps happening until it’s 4pm and all of a sudden I’ve done everything except the one thing I really needed to get done in my workday.

Urgency is a big thing for a lot of people with ADHD. Many of us joke about leaving important things until the absolute last minute as a strategy for success and that tends to sound kind of unhinged to neurotypicals but the thing is…it works. It SUCKS, don’t get me wrong. I definitely don’t enjoy sitting here knowing that I have six hours to do a thing and then waiting five and a half hours before I start it, but I’m so much more likely to get the thing done if I start it with half an hour left before the deadline than if I start it hours ahead. My brain literally needs that pressure, that sense of dread, to function some days. It sounds masochistic, I know. Trust me, most people with ADHD wish we didn’t operate this way as it causes us a lot of stress and aggravation…but sometimes you have to do the best with the maladaptive coping mechanisms you have, and some days putting things off until the last minute is the way that happens.

I sat down at my desk this morning with literally two things on my to-do list: deal with emails, and read this 11-page instruction manual with enough understanding that I could then put it to use in the software it’s for. The emails part was easy because it’s quick snippets of stuff with definite answers, and I get a nice little dopamine hit from each one that I deal with. But since I’ve finished emails, I’ve done the following, all in the interest of not reading aforementioned instruction manual:

  • clipped the dog’s toenails
  • made a snack
  • made tea
  • spent an unmentionable amount of time on Instagram (my dopamine peddler of choice)
  • downloaded a video editing app I don’t need and will probably never use
  • spent 20 minutes practicing German (another way I try to feed the dopamine beast)
  • had two fully unnecessary chats with coworkers
  • did some stretches
  • did a circuit of planks, push-ups, and various other upper body exercises with a resistance band (which, to be fair, the physical movement did at least settle me enough so that I could sit down and write this, so…winning?)
  • writing this blog post, which originally started out as an Instagram stories post but for once in my life I realized maybe writing on the blog rather than just word-vomiting on IG would be good practice for, you know, writing…which is a thing I claim to want to do more of

And probably other stuff that I don’t even realize, because that’s how ADHD works. See the shiny, chase the shiny, go back to the thing you were meant to be doing three hours later with sticks in your hair, missing one sock, a strange taste in your mouth, and the inability to think of sea anemones without shuddering in fear.

All because my brain decided it can’t read today.

But, soft! What fuckery through yonder window breaks? It is the west, and oh fuck me, who cares.

long weekends (a hypotenuse)

I have a theory about long weekends. I developed it just now while standing by the microwave waiting for my burrito to cook. I guess technically it’s not actually a theory but rather a hypothesis. Also, full disclosure, I DID just have to Google ‘scientific method steps’ to come up with the word hypothesis because I knew it started with ‘hyp’ but all my trash brain could come up with to fill in the rest of that blank was ‘hypotenuse’, for like the full 60 seconds that I was able to devote to trying to remember that word. Also I definitely just Googled ‘hypotenuse’ to make sure I spelled it correctly. My brain may be trash but I still have standards.

Anyway.

So, my hypotenuse is this:

Long weekends that involve a Friday off are FAR SUPERIOR to ones that involve a Monday off.

Think about it. What’s better, a normal week that converts to weekend a day early, or a weird week that doesn’t start when it should so you spend the whole week slightly out of whack? A week where the routine is already basically set and you just have to adjust to get stuff done one day earlier, or a week where you can’t wrap your brain around what fucking day it is because everything that SHOULD have gone on YESTERDAY is happening TODAY along with all the TODAY stuff and it’s all just very confusing?

Mondays get so much hate, but Tuesdays are already worse than Mondays to begin with, and then a long weekend like the one we just had essentially converts Tuesday to Monday, and that seems like too much shittery to pile into one workday. As much as I dislike Tuesdays, I don’t want them to have to bear that burden.

So that’s my hypoalgesia. My hippodrome. My hypotenuse. Now I’m off to try and figure out what work I can get away with putting off until later in the week when my brain finally catches up to my body in time and I know what day it is again.

Me bailing on today

20 years

Twenty years ago on September 11th, I was just getting settled at my desk at work after returning from the trip of a lifetime. I had just spent two weeks exploring jungle caves and Mayan ruins in Belize, and wasn’t quite sure how I was going to re-adjust to my tech support gig after being out in The Actual World for basically the first time as an adult.

As I was signing into my email, my phone rang.

“Are you watching the news?” Becky sounded slightly breathless.

“No, I just got to work, why? What’s going on?”

“Bring up a news site. Something is happening. A plane just hit a skyscraper in New York.”

I pulled up a site and saw a picture of a plane hitting a building, with a little blurb about breaking news, but the internet was a much different place in 2001 and it was actually fairly hard to find much as it was happening. Becky was home and had the news on so she was relaying information to me as it was reported. We watched the second plane hit in as close to real time as was possible at that point.

A couple minutes later, someone down the hall from my office yelled that everyone needed to come watch the news. They had a TV set up and CNN or something was on. It was a small office, only a handful of us. We stood around, fixated on the set, still not understanding what was going on. Cell phones started ringing, then office phones. People wandered off to take calls and then came back, sometimes with wet eyes, sometimes with pale faces.

Our little office in Vermont was a long, long way from Manhattan, but some of my coworkers had family down in that general area, and we were all booked to go to a trade show in the city at the end of October. I had just flown in to JFK on my way home from Belize two days before. The friend I had been travelling with was still there, spending time with other friends for a few days before his flight back to London. They were staying just a few blocks from the towers. We had walked by them one night on our way to dinner before we left for Belize.

Nobody in the office really knew what to do with themselves. Someone said that the local Catholic church was doing mass shortly and several of us decided to go. I don’t think a single one of us was Catholic, but it was more about being with other people and trying to wrap our heads around what was going on.

Mass was surreal. I had never been to a Catholic church before and had zero understanding of what to say or do. I mostly just sat and cried on and off as waves of emotion washed over me. Everyone else was doing basically the same thing, although most of them knew when they should be kneeling, at least. When it was over, my coworkers and I wandered back to the office in a daze. We were greeted with the news that two more planes had been hijacked – one crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside and the other hit the Pentagon.

I don’t remember if we got sent home, if we just left, or if I stayed the whole day. I think I probably went home early. I was still living with my folks at that point. My dad would have been at work still, and I think my mom was still working nights then, so she would have been asleep I guess. I honestly don’t remember a thing about that afternoon or evening at all. It’s just gone. All I remember is being very worried about my friend in the city and not being able to get through to his cell…which was understandable, of course. I know I eventually did get an email from him a day or two later and he said they were all fine, aside from some breathing issues from all the dust in the air, and of course some mental trauma.

After the attack, I remember weeks and weeks of almost every channel we had showing the footage of the planes hitting the towers over and over again. They did finally stop showing the clips where you could see people jumping / falling out of the windows, so that was a small relief, but still. Looking away felt like dishonoring those people in some way, I think…so we just kept watching and watching. Trying to see where it all went wrong, maybe. But it’s pretty hard to learn from mistakes when a country can’t admit that it actually made any.

We did end up going to the trade show at the end of October. My mom was worried. She kept asking what if it happened again while I was there? All I could do was shrug and, with a wisdom well beyond what my 21 years should have afforded me (and which I since have seem to lost the vast majority of), say “life has to go on”.

The venue and our hotel were a good three miles or so from the footprint of the towers. One night as we were getting into the elevator to head back up to our rooms, a guy in a hard hat and orange vest waved at us to hold the door for him. He was maybe 25 feet further down the lobby and walking very slowly. When he got closer, we saw that he was absolutely caked with dust and dirt. When he got into the elevator he apologized for making us wait.

“I would have walked faster but I’m kind of beat,” he said half-jokingly.

“Are you working down there? Where…it happened?” one of my coworkers asked.

He nodded, keeping his eyes trained studiously on the ground. My coworker silently put out his hand toward the dusty guy, who reached out and shook it with a quiet “thanks”. It was a long, quiet ride up to the 20th floor where my group were staying. When we got off the elevator, we turned back to wish the guy good luck but he was leaning back against the wall of the elevator, eyes closed, chin tipped like he had nodded off. We didn’t disturb him.

I hate what the anniversary of 9/11 has become. I hate that it has been co-opted by the ‘Murica crowd with their These Colors Don’t Run t-shirts and their Terrorist Hunting Permit bumper stickers and their racism. I hate that they refuse to learn history, to understand context, to grasp nuance. I hate that they can’t see that this cycle will continue to play out over and over again because this country keeps making the same mistakes, keeps voting for the same wrong-headed politicians pushing the same wrong-headed ideas. I hate that we can’t seem to find a way to honor the lives of all the people that died in the attacks and the aftermath without turning it into some kind of garish, jingoistic, self-masturbatory political spectacle. Those were real people, with real families, real lives. They deserve better than some bullshit parade full of rednecks waving Don’t Tread On Me flags. They deserve better than a country that continues to vehemently deny it bears any responsibility in the way the world is crumbling around us.

But life has to go on.