Years gone by

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I think about 9-11, in some capacity, every day. I still dream about it, but certainly not to the extent that I did those first several months after the fact. That day and the day my friend Laura died nine months later are the two most acutely traumatic experiences of my life. Though the pain and shock are diminished and the sadness muted, neither is ever terribly far from my thoughts.

I remember details of both days in stark relief; I could piece together the events of 9-11 very accurately, as all of my senses were on high alert then and in the weeks and months that followed. The day Laura died was different—the shock phase of that grief process cycled quickly into profound heartache, and though I recall who was around me, the details are foggy. But as to that clear September day the autumn before (technically late-summer … why must I be so damn literal that I can’t let the poetry of “the autumn before” stand without an editorial note?), I recall what I ate, who I spoke with by phone and in-person, tones of voice, snippets of conversation, and so on.

I wasn’t sure I was going to write an anniversary post this year, but it’s become one of the few rituals since I began this blog in 2013. So here we are. I wasn’t sure I was going to write because at this point I don’t know what to say. I don’t think anyone wants to hear my version of the sequence of events, or my experiences on that day, because everybody has their 9-11 story. Sure, I was here, so that puts me closer than some, but it really doesn’t matter; we were all here.

With the exception of a relatively tiny handful of people on this earth, 9-11 succeeded in bringing people together across the planet and regardless of race, religion, socio-economic factors, education levels, stations in life, and any of the myriad ways that we divide ourselves. That is the collateral beauty* of that horrible day.

*This phrase, which I recently encountered, is apparently the name of a 2016 film of dubious merit. I like it, though, and am keeping it.

On a macro- global- historical- political- level there is much to be learned from 9-11. On a micro-level, there is this: we actually really, truly only have THIS MINUTE. The old “I could get hit by a bus” maxim has been upgraded to “I could get hit by a plane,” but the point is the same … this is all we have. We can not count on “some day.” There is no “I will get it together once _____” or “I just need ____ before I ____.” That is bullshit. That is not being kind to the you who is here today. What an existential shame it would be to deny today’s you her/his full potential because you were waiting for tomorrow’s you to show up.

I could go on and on and on and on about the importance of living life now and loving yourself always and being in the moment and believing and learning and caring but I am so tired of having to convince so many of the people in my life to live their lives that I am going to give myself the rest of the night off. I’ll be back to it soon enough.

May whomever is in charge of these things bless those we lost on 9-11 and those who remain.

Love yourselves. You know you deserve it.

 

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It’s been a long time without you, my friend

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Somebody asked me what I usually do on 9-11, and while I don’t really have any rituals, writing here has become a tradition of sorts. It helps me. It’s therapeutic and it’s important.

I believe that 9-11 enters my mind in some way most days—certainly more often than not. And while the visceral memories fade during the year, on the anniversary they return.

I remember so vividly that I could re-enact my experiences on that day in stunning detail. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what I was doing, who I spoke with, what I saw, what I ate. I can picture myself in my little apartment on Charles Street, blowdrying my hair and watching the news. I’d turned it on just after the first plane hit. I remember the anchorman’s tone when the second one came, when we could no longer pretend it was an accident.

I remember the phone calls, first to my mom and then to my ex. Nothing registered – at least not the loss of life at that moment, nor the implications for the rest of mine. I think on some cellular level we all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that life would be divided into pre- and post- , but I’m not sure most of us could have understood  just how intractable the change would be.

It was a perfect day. It was sunny and crisp and blueskyed, where the night before had seen torrential downpours. The night before we’d attended a benefit party for Women in Need and then darted from awning to awning to have burgers at the Cedar Tavern.

I remember standing on 6th Avenue in a stunned crowd of people watching the towers burn. Wondering, briefly, if I should go back for my camera and deciding not to. Ron, the homeless man I knew in my neighborhood, called out to me as I crossed 10th Street. “Laura! They hit us!” I spoke with him briefly and told him to stay safe, not yet understanding that that was impossible.

I got on the subway and most people knew. Got off in mid-town and learned that the towers had fallen. Loss of life was beginning to register, but certainly not to the extent that it would.

My coworkers, gathered around a live news feed, one in tears because her husband had gone to the buildings for a meeting that morning. He would walk in hours later, stunned and alive.

The rumors about the planes heading to Los Angeles and Chicago, learning about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Phone calls coming in from friends and family all over the country. Emails from people abroad.

Erika and I walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch (tuna salad on toast and potato chips) and from their windows we could see the smoke and chaos consuming lower Manhattan.

Walking, more walking, visiting with my dad, heading west and meeting Michel, then going down to my apartment. We went to Gus’s for dinner that night, ate Greek food because that was our plan and what else could we do? The couple behind us, an older couple, sounded as though they were on a very early date.

We went to a bar after to meet up with friends, including one who had yet to hear from her mother. She would learn, at some point, that her mother had stayed home from her job in one of the towers.

The Missing posters all over my neighborhood, the trickling in of information about so-and-so’s friend or family member who had died. The smell, that acrid smell of death and chemicals that clung to the air for months afterward.

I’m not sure which day I found out about Jonathan, but I think it might have been two days later. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, hadn’t known he’d changed jobs, hadn’t even heard of Cantor Fitzgerald until it was demolished.

That Friday a group of us volunteered at the site, feeding the rescue workers. We wore hard hats and goggles. The piles of steel were still burning. The heat was palpable.

The next day I went up to the country, travelled up with Phil; he had a house not far from my parents’. My dad picked us up and I spent the weekend with them. I remember taking a walk down their road and fearing snipers hiding in the woods. I remember seeing the biggest f-ing caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

How many times did I watch the planes hit and the buildings fall? It was unavoidable and yet I didn’t resent the coverage. I needed to see it, it was part of the process. My process.

The dreams continued for months. Dreams of buildings exploding and airplanes falling from the sky.

I remember the Portraits of Grief. I saved Jonathan’s and one day, months or maybe years later, I reread it, turned it over and saw the Portrait of someone else I’d once known.

In a very weird way, and please hear me out on this, I miss the aftermath of 9-11. I miss the closeness and kindness and we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I miss the burying of hatchets and the overlooking of petty differences. I miss the tacit empathy and comfort we provided one another. The feelings of pride in my city, of gratitude for what we were able to do together. The checking up on one another. The collective therapy.

I don’t miss the flyers that stayed up for far too long, and I don’t miss the smell, and I don’t miss the frantic barking of dogs.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, I’ve started my 9-11 ritual early this year. I will think about Jonathan and I will think about others and I will probably watch some of the reading of the names. I will try to be a very good person tomorrow.

I will wish that we would all be kinder to one another, that we could all have compassion and celebrate our differences, that we would always remember to tell people we love that we love them, and that we would never take another day for granted.

I think I post this every year, too, because I think it’s beautiful, a snippet of a poem by my supremely talented friend:

In the blinking of an eye
Soon everything will change
From a blue September sky
The brimstone falls like rain.
If true Love
Soars the heavens
Pretend and we can fly
Soon everything will change
My love
In the blinking of an eye.

Neil Thomas, September 2001

I may write again tomorrow. Then again, I may not.

 

To my colorblind troubadour

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It’s time now, my friend, to acknowledge the thirteenth anniversary of the day your last words were, allegedly, “Oh fuck!” The rest of the mythology of you after the fact is more than I can put into words in this forum.

So, how do I do it this time, Jon? Tonight I realized that you’ve been dead longer than I knew you. But I think we know one another, still. Your parents met my parents this past weekend, at Drew’s wedding. My mom didn’t give great details except to say that your mother spoke kindly of me. I remember the last formal you ceremony I attended – I think it was 2011 because it was a big(ger) deal (anniversary-wise, than usual). I remember your mom said, as we sent balloons into the sky, that she liked to think of you in Hawaii.

Hawaii has come up as a possible upcoming journey friend-and-family wise.I have a feeling, dear, that perhaps I’ll see you there someday.

In one of the final days of Charles Keating’s life one of the boys asked if he was afraid to die. His answer: “Wherever I was before, I’ll be again.”

I recently went through a bunch of boxes that had been in storage in my dad’s office and I found paraphernalia from the early 90s: your roach clip, a – JUST KIDDING THERE WAS NO ROACH CLIP – a couple of photos of you, your then-business card and two handwritten notes you’d sent me. Jay suggested I send copies to your parents’; the card, sure. The rest is actually far more personal and “us” than I think I ever realized existed.

You were so handsome, so imperfectly perfectly handsome. And you were nice to and tolerant of my early-20s friends who probably tacked Hibiscus Margaritas onto your order of Bud. And you made me feel like a smart, kind, interesting and important person.

I remember going to dinner with you at Etats-Unis, which had newly opened, and we had a really good meal.

I remember ordering sushi at your apartment on 70-somethingth street and having you answer my question about what the exact content of meat is as I choked down some eel.

I don’t know what I “own” of this, babe. I know I was way too young to spend the right time with someone like you when we knew each other. But you had an impact on my life that would exist regardless of where you worked that day.

We didn’t have music – we listened to a lot of music – and, of course, you played music, my favorite instrument, actually. I had so many more things on my 23-year-old-brain than what constituted good music. Things you fulfilled, beautifully. Yours were the conversations for which connections exist.

Damn Jon – I wish you’d met Louie! You guys would have gotten each other. I’m grateful he was born 8 months too late to experience 9-11. We’ve been through an awful lot, all being relative, which I know it isn’t.

Sometimes I think you are around, else how would I remain so protected despite my propensity to forget to remember what to do?

The song that makes me think of you is “Santeria” by Sublime. A few years ago I stayed at Sean and Ivy’s – they’d had a holiday party the night before and when Sean, Jay and Dave played, they set a chair for you, for the celestial bass player. The next morning while walking around the kitchen making coffee Sean was singing that song along to the radio – no other reason than that, but I love it.

I have so much more to say to you, my sweet, but I feel like I need to sign off for now and continue to speak to and about you tomorrow.

I love you, my dear friend, and I know you’re in my life.

With only dreams of you …

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In the night sky is a perfect crescent of a moon and two blue beams reaching up for the stars. On this night 12 years ago it rained hard, so hard that the clear blue skies and perfect feel of the following morning were a delightful surprise. That Monday we went to a fundraiser, then sloshed through the puddles to Cedar Tavern for a late-night burger. When the skies open up in the city the city comes together. In blizzards strangers offer strangers rides. In hurricanes dogs have more options. I’ve never been as grateful for this town as I was in the aftermath of 9-11; twelve years later I sit in Bottino with a glass of wine and watch the people stream in from Fashion Week and gallery openings and hear them get incensed by the tiniest glitches and in my building neighbors ignore one another and feign ignorance as the elevator doors close too soon.  Every [wo]man for [her]himself it’s a dog eat dog world look out for number one blah de blah blah. Oy vey. Tomorrow night twelve years ago we went to Gus’s on Waverly and Waverly, then (no longer) the spiritual vortex of Manhattan, according to Nicholas Christopher. We went despite it all – we needed to eat – we needed companionship – we had no idea what the fuck to do and all around us was kindness and shock and the stages of grief personified and amplified. Then we met friends at the pub up the road and “rallied” around the one who hadn’t yet heard from her mother, who worked in one of the towers. The towers. I visited them once, on a class trip in second grade; they were new to the skyline. I needed my mum to come with – I was (am) terrified of heights – and she did. Two weekends ago twelve years ago we hosted a surprise 30th for a friend – Yankees/Red Sox then El Parador then plans to go to Windows on the World diverted at the last moment. At the last moment. My lost former love’s last words, “Oh fuck!” from the 96th floor – he was on a conference call and this was reported to his then-wife. Sweet you you’re forever in my heart.

So much more to write – so many Fashionistas and Galleristas in my lines of vision and hearing. I knew this walking in here, but I needed to be around people tonight.

Live, love, laugh.

And, in the spirit of all three, please follow this beautiful project.

Every moment of the year …

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Happy Bastille Day, mesdames et messieurs. In honor of the holiday I am sipping a glass of Austrian wine having just seen an extremely American movie much of which was shot, I’ve just read, in Wales. I do, however, love Paris when it drizzles and sizzles and everything in between, and I hope to visit much more of the country than I have thus far. Paris can be unfriendly and prohibitively expensive, but like most places, with a little bit of research one can experience the magic without facing these two sobering realities.

A friend who reads these words was not aware that the vast majority of my post titles are song lyrics, so just to clarify, the vast majority of my post titles are song lyrics. Not all, but most.

Today was a good Sunday. Healthy and productive and New Yorkish and fun. Reveling in the here and now.

I’ve reconnected with someone I don’t believe I’ve seen since we were in fourth grade and it’s been lovely (a word I overuse but use only when applicable). She is a successful writer and gave me feedback on my own writing that is inspiring me to get back into my novel-in-progress. I will. I will. We each have a specific memory of our time in fourth grade – actually, I’ve just realized that I have two of her – the second, C, being your birthday party, where we played Pin the Tail on the (non-battery-operated or digital or politically correct) Donkey. I can picture the wall where said donkey awaited our blindfolded attacks. I pinned the tail (with scotch tape) onto your brother’s gray sweatshirt. I’m almost certain it was gray. Funny what we recall.

Watching the Tour de France so I guess I am walking the walk on this holiday. Have a wonderful week, tout le monde. I’ll be in touch.

Across these purple fields

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When I reached the corner of 41st and Madison today, I saw a woman sitting in the street; she’d just been hit by a car, it seemed. She had her back to me and an umbrella over her head – it’s pouring rain in New York – so I couldn’t really see what she looked like. Her legs were crossed strangely and she was just sitting there, while strangers gathered around, talking to her and directing traffic. I was on a phone call and outside my destination, so I couldn’t really avoid the scene; it was incredibly upsetting. The vulnerability on display, the kindness of strangers – sometimes I feel too emotional for this world. Soon a firetruck arrived, followed by an ambulance, and after what seemed an exceedingly long time, they took her away. 

What made this especially strange was that I was already planning to write about what happened to me exactly two years ago today. 

In the winter of 2011 I fractured a tiny bone in my wrist – my scaphoid. I didn’t realize it for six weeks, six weeks during which I banged out a draft of a screenplay and downward dogged on a regular basis – something I doubt I’ll ever be able to do again. I wound up in a cast for a year – a series of casts, actually, as I had three surgeries on my wrist during that time. 

On June 7 I had my first (and, as it turned out, last) day of a class in midtown. I had an afternoon appointment with my wrist surgeon and in between I ate lunch in Bryant Park. It was the first hot day of the season – incredibly hot, and humid. I had enough time to walk to my appointment, so I began to head uptown after lunch. On the corner of 52nd and 5th I started to feel lightheaded. The subway was across the street and I decided to take it, but by divine intervention I didn’t make it. Instead, lights started flashing in my eyes and I realized something was not right at all. The last thing I recall is turning around, seeing a store and heading toward it to sit in the air conditioning. 

I came to surrounded by people I didn’t know; one person was behind me holding my head, someone was offering me water, someone else said, “You’re okay – you fainted but the ambulance is on its way.” I told them I had to get to my appointment and tried to get up, but they wouldn’t let me. I looked over at my purse and saw a puddle of what looked like Kool-Aid; when I asked what it was the person holding my head said, “We spilled something – don’t worry about it.”

This is hard to write.

This is what happened, I found out a few days later: some of the shop’s employees came back from lunch and found me standing in the doorway to the office, which was next door. Apparently I grabbed one of them by the arm and told him I didn’t feel well, and he told me to come in and sit down. He put his key in the door and I fell backwards through it. They stared at me for a second and blood started to pool around me. One of the guys who worked there was certified in CPR; he’s the one who was behind me with the compress on my head. I was out for a little over four minutes and it took the ambulance 15 to arrive. 

I remember the rest. The paramedics strapped me into the thing-they-strap-you-into and lifted me in. I asked them if I was going to die. They asked me all my pertinent info and compared it to my driver’s license. They asked me the date, the name of the President, and his predecessor; I made some sort of political joke because I was desperate to prove to the universe that I was okay and going to make it. 

My parents were flying back from France that night, so wouldn’t find out about this until the morning. My then-boyfriend came down to the hospital, though it was a while before he could see me. 

Once it was established that I was stable, I spent hours on a gurney in the hallway of Bellevue being hip checked by whomever passed by. At one point they wheeled me outside of an x ray room; a patient they were examining inside the room went into cardiac arrest and died. I heard them yell “Code Blue!” and a dozen people rushed past me into the room. I heard him flatline. 

Because it was a head injury, I spent the night in a room that had 24-hour supervision. My roommates were three men: one was a prisoner, handcuffed to his bed, with an attending cop stationed outside; one was a grandfatherly Latino on oxygen who kept asking for cigarettes and giving me sympathetic looks – he was very protective of me; the third was Mr. Singh, a Sikh who was yelling obscenities in Hindi all night long. He and I were separated by a curtain and the nurses kept shouting things like, “Mr. Singh, put your pants back on!” “Mr. Singh – that is NOT a bathroom!” I was on a Valium drip – Gawd I love those – and they kept upping the dose because having Mr. Singh as a roommate is not conducive to rest. 

One of the doctors who saw me was a young, cocky resident who was chomping on gum and trying to get me to confess to a drug habit that I did not have. 

The upshot of all this – a concussion and several staples in my head. The cut itself was fairly shallow. I had serious short term memory loss in the weeks that followed; as it turns out, the part of the brain that I injured is the part associated with communication and language. I forgot words. I forgot close friends’ names. I forgot who visited me and when. I couldn’t walk down the street by myself for many weeks. 

I sent this note around at the end of July:

Individual thank you calls forthcoming, but collective profound appreciation to all of my friends and family who’ve been so lovely and supportive in the aftermath of my accident. Feeling so much better in every way – and you were all absolutely wonderful during my time of many needs. Special thank you to Claudia , Mo and KJ for accompanying me to doctors’ appointments and acting as my short-term memory/balance when I had neither, and to Angel, Alyssa, Di, Erika, Sean, Suzanne, Vanessa, Christina, Linda, Tommy, Rachel, Cheech, Sherrie, Paul, and the folks I’m inevitably forgetting for visiting. Thank you always to Tara and Lisa for listening so well and so patiently.

I have the best friends in the universe. Truly. xoL

Wow. I’m glad I got this out. I really, really hope that the woman I saw today is okay, and that she has the guardian angels on her side that I did that day and still do. 

Tomorrow may rain

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…so I’ll follow the sun.

The summer of 1994 was the first one I spent living full time in Manhattan … and I hated it. I had been unceremoniously dumped by a boy I’d fallen in love with on first sight – on a train from DC to New York. We’d started talking as the train pulled into Penn Station and met later that night at a restaurant in Soho – Boom – I think it might actually still be there. We “dated” long distance for several months and had just come back from a vacation in Sedona, where his mother lived. She owned a bead shop and had befriended a group of Hopi Indians, with whom we spent part of the week. Sedona was beautiful; this relationship was not. And it ended shortly after we returned to the east coast. That summer I had a share in the Hamptons with two of my then equally miserable girlfriends and a group of people with whom we had very little in common. I lived on East 86th Street with a roommate and worked in ad sales for a now defunct women’s magazine. Suffice it to say, I had not yet found myself, and I was miserable. 

Nineteen years later, humidity notwithstanding, I love this town in the summer. Restaurant reservations are easy to come by. Warm weather makes me happy. Ish. Montauk is still pristine in parts and as I make my own hours I can escape the city during the week when the beaches are less crowded. In theory I can – I haven’t been there or to Fire Island in a couple of years, but maybe I’ll change that this year. The beach where I spent much of last summer did not fare well in the hurricane, so I’ll need to find a new one. I love the ocean, though it overwhelms and terrifies me; seeing the movie “Open Water” did nothing to assuage my fears. Neither did attempting to learn to swim in the Pacific last year. 

My nephew and niece have both asked me, separately, “Titi, why do you always look like you’re about to laugh and cry at the same time?” (Titi is short for Tia, which is Spanish for aunt; my Italian-Russian-Chinese-German nephew and niece speak Spanish.) I do often look like I’m about to laugh and cry at the same time, which can cause confusion. I need a more relaxed resting face — I’m expressive, I suppose. There’ve been a couple of instances when women have walked into public restrooms while I’m washing my hands and said things like, “Sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you!” Once, while watching a friend play music in a bar, I turned around to see what was going on behind me and a frat boy type kicked my chair and said, “What was that look for?!” to which I protested, “It’s just my face!”

I’d be a terrible poker player. 

Lately people have been lamenting that this year is “flying by”. I don’t like thinking this way, because time moves at the same pace it always has, and the alternative to accepting this is much less appealing. My birthday comes at the very end of the year, and so I’ve had to stop putting so much stock in New Year’s/birthday resolutions. My family has always acknowledged Chinese New Year, which buys me at least another month. 

This time around my year began on April 1, which is when my mom and I took our trip to Budapest and Paris. April 1 was when I began to extricate myself from my most recent and least healthy relationship. I haven’t seen or spoken with that gentleman since then, and this is an absolute blessing (thanks again, sweet friend, for helping me through that; I would have made it through regardless, but you were so incredibly helpful and comforting through it all and for this, and more, I will always, always appreciate you). I am so much better now than I was on March 31. Despite however emotionally chaotic I might look and seem at times, the serenity I now feel is like nothing I’ve experienced before. A few weeks ago I ran into someone I hadn’t seen since my birthday, and he commented later that I seem completely different now, calmer and stronger. And that my eyes sparkle again. And yesterday at the office someone commented on my “positive aura” – not sure what that means exactly, but I like the sound of it. 

I’m figuring out, finally, how to stay in the moment. This has never been easy for me; like so many of us, I get caught up in regretting the past and worrying about the future. But now is all we have, and as Vanessa and I discussed, the better able we are to appreciate the present, the better equipped we’ll be when the present is difficult. Right now things are good. So I’m raising my (not proverbial) glass to NOW. 

Cheers.