Saturday, June 13, 2009


Looking at a friend's pictures of NYC - you feel such crazy longing. Knowing that nothing you can say about New York will be original, you have to say it anyway. You feel compelled.

While there, the wind would whip, and the walk home from the subway seemed prohibitively long and every Single Thing took eight or ten extra steps and you tired of subway rattling and the rats had to be made 'lucky' because there were so damn many of them and you needed something to make them stop being so startling, to make you stop yelping every time one skittered across your path.

Babies' limbs had to be stuffed into so many layers and they fought strollers or they needed them when the strollers were left at home or lost wheels. Small apartments shrank on wet sloppy cold gray days and there were never enough quarters for laundry.

But the harder parts of it, even if - when measured by conventional means: clocks and calendars, watches and sundials - many more minutes were difficult than graced, they aren't so clear now. Because it's magic, is what it is. That city, if you choose it - or if it chooses you - it takes over. Your memory, when you leave, is erased. That big green lady points her flame at you and wipes it clean of the bad stuff.

It is unexpected beauty and promise. When you are there, no view is the same two days in a row, there is nothing mundane or predictable to relax your brain with. Time marches forward and that one year commitment grows to two, and reluctantly wraps up at three.

When you look back, you remember Central Park. And the jaw-dropping discovery of a quiet cobblestone street, or a lush garden where one shouldn't be, or a cabby with a brilliant and informed world view. You remember the silence of a true snow day.

With months upon months of gray days (so you are told) what you recall is green. Lush, warm days in parks: Riverside, Morningside, Central. Always 78 degrees, high clouds. Green.

And you remember, foggily, crowded apartment playrooms with linoleum floors on soggy or cold days and you remember, vividly, Saturdays when you would just Leave and trip into festivals and street fairs and musicians better than anything you would pay to see.

And the darkest day of your life is re-imaged to be interesting, fascinating, and full of en masse love in the aftermath.

You remember a plane, and how you watched it dive into a building at a fighter-plane angle over the Statue of Liberty.

You remember the ground shaking, later, while you stood outside trying to recall what you were supposed to do in an Emergency. Trying to remember who your emergency floor coordinator was, and recognizing how insane the question. Registering, then, that a rumbling ground is Not Good.

But you remember that where you were, no one ran. That it was quiet. That, there, 7 or so blocks north, there was no debris - that 'surreal' was the only word that came to you. That then, walking further away, there right close to the Chelsea Pier, you paused with Mike-the-coworker and watched one building fall.

And you had no words. And you kept walking and walking and the sky stayed blue and the temperature settled in at 78 degrees and the clouds were still fluffy, and Riverside Park was never greener. And you saw that one guy, covered in ash, on the curb, by the pier, holding his face in his hands, his briefcase by his side, crying harder than you had ever seen a man cry.

And you remember vendors, with iced tea and water - free. And you remember park workers with their trucks' radios on, stationed throughout the park, so you could hear news. You remember hearing snippets of other crashes, other planes, and you tried to wrap your head around the notion - are we being attacked?

And you watched another tower crumble, and you tried to make sense of what you were seeing as the dust started to settle and there was - in seconds - nothing there.

And you remember talking to Mike-the-coworker and saying, "what are we supposed to feel?" And while still walking, you were already remembering - with the gut-wrenching realization that 30 minutes before the first tower fell, the competent, confident, beautiful fire fighters in over-packed trucks streamed one after another south down Westside Highway, toward certain death.

And you remember returning to home, and the two 18-month olds that were running circles around the 600 sf apartment squealing. And the nanny, and the best neighbor friend, and the Big One, all watching the 17-inch TV, waiting for the piece of the puzzle that would make it Make Sense.

And you remember vigils. And wanting to cry. For days and days and seemingly days trying to access any emotion at all until you had to turn off the TV. Had to listen to silence. Had to dryclean the smells out of your jackets you wore to work, where the air quality was tainted - where smoke billowed for weeks in your sight line. Where no matter which subway stop you took, you were hit by that smell. And you sought those vigils, you looked for the place and time and people that would let you, make you, cry.

And you remember peace. And kindness.

And you were growing another baby that day. And she was born. And she weighed 9 pounds 11 ounces.

And when on the generous 4-month maternity leave that took you right up to the one-year anniversary of 9-11, people knew your son's name when he entered their stores, and gave him doughnuts and candy. Ladies on buses and in stores that would bless the baby girl in multiple languages, trying always to connect - to humanize - to welcome.

You recall the humanity.

The humanity of New York. The humanity that was not homogenized or pasteurized or normalized. That spoke all those languages and wore all those clothes and sang all those songs in subways on streets in alleys in groups or alone. That talked to each other, or called out to you.

You remember how quickly fear and horror and sadness evolved into chest-bursting pride and solidarity. And the guilty feeling that, for all of its tragedy, you would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world that day, and after.

It is magic. And you miss it. And you are so grateful for the crazy convergence of time and space and age and willingness and ability and fandango that enabled you to live there in that tiny apartment full of not-so-tiny people. For the friendships sealed by horrible happenings and brilliantly collaborative meals in implausibly small spaces. For peace after tragedy and babies born in impractically complicated places, in irreconcilably complicated times.

For the blue skies, for the green lady, for the few years at the start of the millennium where we were all promise and possibility- and beauty could be anywhere at all. And for David's handful of perfect pictures, posted on Facebook.


  1. This certainly matters. But too long? Nay, not long enough! That is, this post and your time here as well. Still enjoy on and off the shelf your This is New York by EB White.

  2. That was so beautiful, are you due for a trip? My apartment is your apartment!

  3. I almost could not see the words for the tears! How I love whatever it is that you do with words!