(9 of 11)
Hilary, who had always lived for school, could not wait for it to be over. She was counting on the fact that she could be anonymous among her summer friends, who lived elsewhere during the year and would not have heard about her dad. During the final week of the school year, the town of Avon gathered for its 22nd annual buffet dinner to reward young athletes. The affair holds little suspense--all the players get a certificate in every sport in which they compete--but Hilary was nonetheless excited and asked Ginny if she could wear a smudge of her glittery pink lip gloss. Sanderson, who also coaches Hilary's basketball team, took the stage and nervously riffled through a stack of note cards. He started off by talking about Lisa Beamer and the crash of Flight 93. Then he said, "Those passengers taught us all something about victory... And this season, you girls have taught me something about victory. You never moaned or groaned or complained, and by continuing to fight on the court, you helped us all forget a little about what happened to this nation on Sept. 11."
Shortly afterward, Hilary told me she had resigned herself to a certain kind of grim fame: "I've heard about people having their 15 minutes. I think I've had a little more than 10, and I'm done with it. But I don't think it will stop. Maybe someday when I get older, get a job and move away from Avon, maybe at that point I won't be that different from anyone else."
Ginny steeled herself for the summer. Now that her numbness had lifted, she could finally focus on the mounds of paperwork that needed her attention. The deadline to apply for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, a topic she does not discuss with Hilary, was weighing on her. But there was a flip side to emerging from her fog: she actually had to think and feel. The summer had always been her favorite part of the year. It was when she and George had met and fallen in love. And during July and August, they inhabited what Ginny calls an "expandable house," the weekend destination for every last cousin or friend seeking refuge from the sweltering city. Hilary would expect the same this year. Could they possibly be up to it?
On the first official day of summer, Ginny was hooking up the sprinkler system in her garden when she nearly tripped over the family's younger cat, Timothy, who had collapsed in a lifeless heap. Hilary was not around, so Ginny slid him into the cat carrier and sped off to the animal hospital. After rounds of tests, the vet could not say what precisely was wrong, only that the problem looked terminal. On the theory that "if [Hilary] couldn't control her dad's death, here was one she could," Ginny left the decision making in her daughter's hands. A five-night vigil at the hospital ensued. Hilary sat for hours patiently brushing Timothy and offering him tiny morsels of cat food on her finger. Finally the vet told her that the animal was not getting any better. Hilary thought for an hour and said that Timothy should be put to sleep.
"Do you want his body back?" asked the vet.
"I don't think so," said Hilary.
"What about his ashes?"
"No, I just want this all over."
Hilary said she would like to say goodbye. Fifteen minutes later, she emerged sobbing so hard she couldn't breathe. "It's unfair," she said that night for the first time since Sept. 11. "Why did this happen to me?"