Punching the Clock, in Lithub and Gettysburg Review

Shortly after the attacks of 9/11, my first book, a novel called Safe in Heaven Dead, was accepted for publication. I was living on the south shore of Long Island then, with my wife and young children. The lump in Kim’s breast had not yet been diagnosed. We thought it was probably nothing, that lump, because nothing bad had happened to us, but then the doctor called with some news. “A little cancer,” he called it.

The horror of the terrorist attack, the joy of the book acceptance, the fear associated with the cancer diagnosis all occurred within a few weeks of each other, creating a tangle of emotion then and in my memory now, but the events themselves—9/11, the book, Kim’s cancer—were unrelated, except that they happened to me and my family at a particular time in a particular place. One did not cause another. They were not explicitly related, as they would have been in a novel. And they were certainly not unbelievable, since they were happening to us, though in a novel they might have been, since too much causality, too much plot, will stretch a reader’s credulity.

We weren’t the readers of our lives though, and we weren’t the authors of our lives, not really. We were blundering through our lives, unaware for the most part of the time that would define them, our beginnings and ends, though recently we were thinking more about ends. Our children were little, three and five, and what I mostly remember from that time is trying to hold on, to protect them, to protect everyone. And failing.

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