Friday, September 10, 2021

Never forget.

 This photograph was taken by my friend, the wonderful painter, Robert Carioscia. 

I met Robert during an artist residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in the mid-1990's.  I will always be grateful to Robert for taking the photo of me at his artist loft in Little Italy back in late summer 2001.  

Earlier in the day, I had tea with a friend at the Plaza Hotel's Palm Court.  It was an ironic gesture.  We were both starving artist/writers and really couldn't afford the Plaza, but nonetheless, we could splurge on overpriced tea and cookies.  We were celebrating some writerly success--either for my friend or for me.  I can't remember now.  It was all about the Plaza, the tea, and pretty summer dresses.

Mostly, I remember that beautiful afternoon light.  There was something fleeting and poignant in that light.  The sky was a brilliant blue, but the days were already growing shorter.  As I walked through the Village, south along Broadway and crossed Canal Street, I had the distinct sense that something was ending.  Not just summer, but something else.  I arrived at Grand Street and took the rickety warehouse elevator up to Robert's studio.  He greeted me and then because this was "the golden hour"--that time of day that artists love--when the light is magical--Robert got out his camera and asked me to stand by the window facing south, so that the Twin Towers could be in the background, just over my shoulder.  You can see the Twin Towers in the distance, a pair of pale ghosts, standing tall, unaware of what lies before them.

I have another memory of the Towers.  In the seventies, my then boyfriend and I celebrated my 25th birthday at the top of the World Trade Center.  We rode up the elevator to the top floor.  Our ears popped.  and we laughed, even though it this lightening quick ascent into the skies seemed dangerous and risky, full of hubris.  Yes, hubris, because neither one of could afford to be in such a glamorous place as The Windows on the World.  We were both the quintessential starving artists--he was an actor and I am a writer.  But, money seemed like the kind of thing one shouldn't worry about when you're young and free and the world was our oyster!  

I have always believed in making the grand gesture.  Yes, I'm the kind of gal who will have tea at the Plaza and champagne at The Windows on the World.  Oh, and later while temping for Salomon Brothers, I made another grand gesture.  I brought a faux black alligator briefcase in one of the bright new shops under the ground at The World Trade Center.  I still have it.  

I'm glad I'm the kind of girl who takes these ridiculous leaps, who does the thing she cannot really afford.  I'm glad, I like to pretend and dream, because well, the World Trade Center (the one I knew) is gone.

One week after the terror attack, I took the train from New Haven to New York City to teach a creative writing class at NYU.  Grand Central Station was somber.  Early morning sunlight streamed across the draped American flags.  Military in green camouflage with serious expressions flanked he great hallway,  huge guns at the ready.  The walls near the exit filled with photographs of ordinary looking people--men in suits and ties, women in white blouses, messengers in caps, along with messages that read  "missing" or "have you seen me?"

When I emerged at the Astor Street subway station, there was still smoke in the air.  The streets were filled with drifts of ash.  I asked a stranger in front of the Starbucks, "what is that smell?"  And she looked at me, her eyes dazed and she said in the flat voice of someone in shock, "the dead."  And then we both looked down at the ash in the gutters and on the sidewalk and we saw what was painfully obvious.

My NYU class spent the first two hours telling stories about where they were when the towers came down.  I will never forget how one young woman described being late for her temporary office job and she was procrastinating going in.  She didn't like her job and so she spent the morning of September 11th, 2001, sitting on a bench, drinking coffee and contemplating her future.  

And then, suddenly, there was the sound of planes from above and a crash and a boom and her world was changed forever. 

It's been twenty years now and the memories still feel as ragged as piece of broken glass and yet as smoothed over as a pebble on the sea shore.  All the memories have been tossed into some kind of washing machine and mixed up--the alligator briefcase and the ashes, the champagne at Windows of the World get tossed together with the girl from NYU and what will become of her her, and for me--the knowledge that I would marry that actor boyfriend and that we would have a daughter together and eventually divorce.

Would I have committed myself to the young man and married him and become a mother if it had not been for the champagne?  Was the kernel of motherhood and the kernel of 9/11 all a part of that seed of the future?  Sometimes it feels as if it's impossible to separate the tragedy from the unexpected gifts.  

Dear readers--my assignment for you is to embrace the moment.  Splurge on the overpriced cookies.  Go someplace beautiful (the kind of place tourists go) and I don't care how cliché this might seem--I want you to take a photograph of yourself as proof that you were there.  And there.  And here too.  

Drink a glass of champagne on Saturday night and make a toast to this fleeting-never-to-be-repeated again moment in time.  And I'll be doing the same.

With love,

Jamie