Sunday, September 11, 2011

We All Fall Down

The first time I lived in New York City,  I arrived on a sweltering summer afternoon. Through the windows of the taxi I saw a rainbow stretching across the skyline while children shouted and splashed in the spray of open fire hydrants. My friends took me to a concert in Central Park that night, and as we walked home I was giddy with fact that New York would be my city for the next six weeks while I rehearsed a show that would tour middle schools in Wisconsin and Indiana. I lived in New York for another rehearsal period the next year, and then again for the summer of 1984 while I studied at HB Studios.

Counter to prevailing opinion, New Yorkers seemed to me to be friendly and talkative. I loved brushing shoulders with other people on my morning commute to rehearsal. The "bar car" on the Friday afternoon return to Grand Central was certainly far more congenial than being sealed in one's lonely automobile in L. A. I stumbled getting off a bus once in mid-town and and was scooped up and set on my feet by a man who was about to get on. He insisted on waiting for the next bus to be sure I was okay and to give me the name of a good shoe repair because the heel of my shoe had cracked in the mishap. Bus drivers gave me advice on how to get from here to there and how to vary that route if I was going to be coming home late at night by myself.

By February of 1986, I had a new baby. The acting career was finished, and I spent my days in a 450-square-foot apartment in the middle of Los Angeles. New York might have been a better environment  for my daughter and me back then. It would have easier to mix with other mothers and babies, to feel the hum of humans going about their days. Yes, there would have icy sidewalks and snow. But isolation is cold, too.

Five years after the birth of my first daughter, I considered that I might be suffering from some kind of late-onset postpartum insanity when I planned our first big family vacation that didn't revolve around a visit to see family in the Midwest. New York seemed like an off-kilter place to take a two-year-old, a five-year-old, and my mom and her twin sister who were then in their mid-sixties. If it turned to chaos, I'd be the one to blame. I bought theater tickets, made dinner reservations, planned which attractions we'd visit, and in a stroke of mothering genius, made our first stop FAO SWARZ where my daughters were each allowed to choose a new toy. Despite an emergency trip to Woolworth's on our second morning to buy a stroller (a two-year old in L.A. is quite capable of walking to the car), the vacation was a show-stopping hit. We returned nearly every spring for the next sixteen years.

The towers and the Pentagon had already been hit when my cell phone rang the morning of September 11th, 2001. My mother, who was living outside of Washington D.C., called to tell me the news. Instead of driving to the Burbank airport to board a plane to Arizona to see my son's new baby, I sat on my bed, alone, and watched on TV as the towers fell. My younger daughter and my husband were on a school camping trip and unreachable. My older daughter was in boarding school an hour away, and when I called the school office to see if I could speak to her, I was told that the administration was handling all communications to the student body.

I drove to a coffee shop not far from the school and watched another hour or so of coverage on their TV. Then I sat in my car in the coffee shop parking lot, checking the news on the radio every so often to see if L.A. had been hit. If the world was going to end, at least there was a chance of  getting to one of the people I loved.


Ms. Moon said...

Say what you will about Osama bin Laden. He knew what to hit to wound Americans to the core- the Pentagon and a New York City target. NYC is the capitol of the USA, even if not officially. It is the capitol in our hearts and in our minds- it is the very essence of America's spirit.
It worked, too. It surely worked, that insane crashing into the towers. No one was unmoved. No one was unaffected.

Elizabeth said...

That photo is so beautiful and poignant.

Puanani said...

It was in my first days of teaching my first First Grade. I remember being so happy that both of my children were with me at school. And I remember fretting over the children away on their camp out...Xoxo.