The US Attorney's office called last week. Were we free on Wednesday? Director Robert Mueller III, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, would be in town. He'd be delighted if we could stop by the Federal Courthouse at noon to say "Hi."
When the Director of the FBI asks you to tea, YES is the only acceptable response. At least, it seemed that way to TBG and me.
So, today, we drove downtown after our morning work-outs. We parked in the lot all the way across the street and walked up to the front door. This trip was a far cry from the first time we'd driven to the venue. Then, TBG was pushing me in a wheelchair. Crossing a street was beyond my capabilities; I was immobile.
Today, we left the car in a shady spot and strolled across the road construction and the uneven pavement and I barely used my hiking pole. TBG, vigilant as always, watched with concern bordering on panic as I traversed the uneven terrain. I walked on, oblivious to his worry. I was amusing myself by remembering how far this seemed a year ago. Today, I was tired but triumphant.
The first time we entered the Federal Courthouse, we ran the gantlet (and yes, I know that you probably think I mean gauntlet but The Grammarist gives me permission to use this Americanization of the word..... besides, a gauntlet is a glove and there were none in sight. There was, however, an ordeal... or gantlet)..... now, where were we?
There was a gaggle of reporters and cameras clustered around the entryway last year. This morning there were none. Our meeting was a private one, not announced to the media or other groupies. This doesn't happen every day.
We went through the metal detectors and my earrings and bracelet were wanded. The last time I met these security officers, I melted down into a little puddle of goo, sobbing in the seat of my wheelchair as the guards asked me to lift up so they could check for explosives or other weaponry. I had been anxious before; that put me over the edge. As the tears streamed down my face, TBG and Mavy and the Victim Services staff were there, with tissues and hugs and reassurances.
As Mavy and I hugged our hellos today, we laughed at how far we've come. I'm strolling the hallways instead of being pushed. So what if I'm limping; I'm here to do it and that's what counts. When we held hands that first time in the courtroom, the future was uncertain, the outcome unknown. Today, the Director of the FBI was coming to town to talk to us about the verdict, and the process which came before. A year had passed and we were almost done. It seemed like yesterday and it seemed like forever.
There's a lot of security when a Director comes to call. There were a few more faces in the room, and the armed ones were standing by the doors. Not that anyone was expecting any trouble, but the Director was coming to town and we were taking no chances. This time, though, it was comforting to see the familiar, stoic, concentrated stares of the two men who've become familiar over the year. Quintessentially FBI in their demeanor, they were no longer fearsome. They were our guys.
Director Mueller came in the back way, and hugged and shook hands and thanked the crowd. I realized why there were so many more people in the room - the boss's boss's boss was in town and it was an event not to be missed. I'd give anything to have missed the opportunity .... to have 1/8/11 be just an ordinary Saturday morning.... to be anywhere else but there..... but, I have to say, given that I am where I am and there's no way out of it..... it was very cool.
I admit it. I'm star-struck. I was just a little bit impressed with myself.... until it was my turn to say hello.
I extended my hand and began to say my name in introduction when I was enveloped in a hug by a man with tears in his eyes. "Suzi, how are you doing? Are you doing well? I think of you often," and that was all I really heard because I couldn't be anywhere but right there, in the moment. There was no I should remember this because I was feeling the feelings and there wasn't anything else.
I've gotten a lot of hugs over the last twenty months; this was one of the top ten.
I'm sure he made the rounds of the rest of the room, shaking hands and meeting the team. There might even have been some more hugs. I know that photographs were taken, because I was focused on the flashes as I tried to put the moment in perspective. The Director of the FBI knew my name, my story.
He sat in the middle of us all and wondered what we wanted to say to him. We complimented the prosecutors and the agents and the helpers and the system and he turned it right back around and complimented us and our town. We sat there, nodding sagely, as he extolled Tucson's virtues to a chorus of that's true...uh-huh...that's right. We have grown stronger and kinder and more connected since that awful morning; it's nice when an out-of-towner notices.
Mary laughed that her 14 year old son is now considering becoming an FBI agent, and Director Mueller replied that he's always recruiting. Were I 40 years younger, I might sign up to work for him.
Before he left, he invited us all to visit the next time we were in Washington, DC. I wonder if Mr. 7 and Mr. 9 might be up for a road trip?