Q & A: Jennifer Gardner Trulson – Where You Left Me
1. Why did you decide to share your personal story at this time?
I never intended to write a book. My children were four and two-years-old when Doug was killed. I knew one day they would ask about their father, and I didn’t want Doug to be a ghost, his memory faded and diminished by time. I wanted to give my children, to the best of my ability, real-time, detailed recollections of their father. To that end, I frenetically recorded memories, anecdotes, conversations and observations in the weeks and months following 9/11. I threw everything into a storage box and left it in my basement. It was a mess, but at least it would be a personal archive for my kids one day.
Two years ago, I took a friend’s suggestion to organize my jumbled collection into a narrative so the kids would have a real history of their father’s life and the impact of his loss. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. One story turned into two and suddenly I’d written fifty pages. I decided to go forward with turning our story into a book because I wanted to pay tribute to Doug and those who helped my children and me find our footing again. With ten years, there is some perspective, and perhaps others will gain insight into the events that could not be gleaned from news accounts. I also wanted to give back to the community that opened their hearts to the 9/11 families. Accordingly, proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to the Douglas B. Gardner Foundation, which supports quality after-school programs for at-risk children in New York.
2. What is the meaning behind the title of the book?
The title WHERE YOU LEFT ME felt poignant because in many ways I am still standing where Doug left me after kissing me good-bye that last time. I miss him as if it were ten days ago and not ten years. I still feel Doug’s presence and will never be able to reconcile his loss. However, the title is also a hopeful one. I was a happily married mother of two children on the morning of September 11, 2001. Now, ten years later, I am still, improbably, a happily married mother of two beautiful, resilient children.
3. How long did it take to complete your memoir, and how did you manage writing with your family obligations?
It took about a year and a half to write the book. While my children were in school or away at summer camp, I’d devote as many days as possible to writing. I always wrote in the mornings through the early afternoons so that I’d be available when the kids came home from school.
4. You mention in your memoir that you were an English major. Did you ever aspire to write before this book?
I’ve always been a voracious reader, but never thought I had the “stuff” to write a book. I was a lawyer, and the most ambitious thing I’d ever written was a decent legal memorandum. One writes a book when she has something to say. Tragically, my husband’s death gave me that something. Though I’m proud of the memoir, I wish I never had to write it.
5. Are there certain authors or books that you believe have influenced your writing?
For many years this story has churned inside me. I have told and retold pieces of my family’s experience like some modern-day Ancient Mariner from the Coleridge poem. I don’t really think that I was conscious of being influenced by any particular authors because my story was so personal. However, I have always been attracted to authors who can paint a vivid picture with simple, straight-forward prose.
6. Do you plan to continue writing? If so, will it be fiction or non-fiction?
Dorothy Parker once famously said, “I hate writing. I love having written.” After enduring the stark loneliness, frustration and undulating emotions associated with writing my first book, I appreciate the paradox. Still, I would like to write again, but I’m not sure I have another book in me right now. I certainly do not see myself writing fiction, but I think I’d like to explore writing essays, articles or commentary next.
7. Can you tell the blog readers about the mission of the Douglas B. Gardner Foundation and your involvement?
My children and I established the Douglas B. Gardner foundation in 2004 to support quality after school programs for at-risk children. Doug served on the boards of several children’s charities and talked of becoming an “angel” to a select group of motivated organizations that made a real difference in the lives of the kids they touched. I wanted to ensure that Doug would always be that angel; that in his name at-risk children in New York would receive real support and opportunities to achieve success.
I work closely with the organizations we support to create programs that otherwise wouldn’t exist or foster those that continue to have a positive impact on the children who participate.
Over the years the DBG Foundation has created an instructional swim program now in its third year, sponsored several AAU boys’ and girls’ basketball teams through which the kids are mentored and tutored as well as coached, and funded arts and leadership development programs.
8. How has your life changed since the publication of the book, and what has been the reception from readers.
I am deeply touched by the thoughtful comments, posts and emails I’ve received from people across the country who have connected with my story. It’s true that grieving is the great leveler. It doesn’t matter what the circumstance, religion or background, the catastrophic loss of a loved one brings everyone to the same place. I found it heartening to know that no matter what I was feeling – sadness, anger, dark humor, fear – others have felt the same.
9. What do you feel is the universal message of your memoir?
I certainly do not have a monopoly on pain and loss, but I hope that a reader will find a kindred spirit within the pages. Indeed, whether a loved one died on 9/11, on a battlefield or from a long illness, every loss shatters the foundation under those left behind. I would like the book to connect even if the reader has not experienced a loss like mine. Maybe my story will help restore someone’s faith in life’s possibilities, to remind one that, even as life can turn on a dime for the worst, it can also turn again in a positive direction.
Mostly, I would like a reader to know that one doesn’t have to shut the door on the past in order to move forward. We hear all the time that we should find “closure” and “move on.” I don’t think we move on; I think we simply continue to move through a loss like this and learn to live again. I’ve never looked for closure, not only because it doesn’t exist, but because I want Doug’s memory to sting, to remind me that he existed and mattered. It’s the only way I can give him to my children and love my husband, Derek, with the full and open heart he deserves. I have to believe that you can live a fully present life, carry your loss and somehow joy will find you.