An ordinary morning was made unforgettable. The memories are animated View-Master images.
The whistling scream and impact of the planes, setting off dozens of echoing car alarms. The crowd's outcries, then sickening quiet as the cloud darkened the day, roiling against our windows. The realization that the people were still out there, now fighting for every breath.
The rumbling tower collapses that you could feel in your sternum, our floor and light fixtures rocking, cracks forming around door frames. Electricity knocked out, gas cut off, cell phone signal jammed.
The jittery neighbor and her hysterical nanny. The little boy's toy left on our living room floor when they bolted out at the news that her husband had been accounted for. The mayor, right here on our block, at the fire station next door, Ladder 1, Engine 7. Our extraordinary babysitter who had come to break some news, but carried it with her as she walked out into the aftermath.
The clinking heavy machinery rolling in. The bullhorn telling us to go. People in hazmat suits, telling me to walk miles in that cloud with my little girl. Our (my) stubborn vigil overnight, my tiger's eye rosary beads and him awake, alongside but with space between us.
The next day driving up & out. Passing Canal Street, the crowd at the barricades staring at our car as if we had come from the moon. In a way, we had. Eventually pulling over and weeping at the first available rest stop on Route 80.
Afterward: Back to the city in a week's time. He had to be there, had work to do, couldn't stay away. And I had to be with him. We were pioneer refugees in our own neighborhood. Crossing checkpoints, flashing ID just to get home.
He lived at the computer screen, phone attached to his head; chasing an immediate solution to things that would take much longer to fix, and never be the same anyway.
I located the open stores and banks. Observed debris but didn't linger over it. There was no such thing as small talk on the sidewalk anymore, not when you're pausing alongside a pile that contained bits of plane, building, people. Cleaning the patio and roof; tucking away mementos. I have office stationery from the South Tower that landed in my wisteria boxes.
It was November before the phone line was restored. And sometimes on rainy days, the stench was still present the following Spring, I swear. When the second baby came, we walked to the playground in Chinatown. Tribeca was still rebuilding.
It had been an adequate and pretty Tuesday morning. Of course he had been up & out well before me. He avoided mornings at home. The second pregnancy was going well. Finishing my first trimester, I had minimal nausea and my sense of smell was freakishly acute.
En route to Battery Park, I turned the stroller around at 8:30 because my toddler was peevish over a smudge of pollen from the deli flowers that had besmirched her white tights. Playing on the patio would be good enough this morning. Maybe Battery Park would be an afternoon destination, instead. We blew soap bubbles.
Then, the first impact. "What wassAT?" She looked up with super-alert curiosity; fear came later, when the adults demonstrated it. I had called my mother first. Then him. Is it telling that I did it in that order? Perhaps as telling as the fact that she picked up, as she always does. I got his voicemail.
The dirty little secret about babies -- that they can stress as much as bless a marriage -- has been out for a while now. Sadly, the same is too often true about other major life-altering events, ones that should strengthen our bonds.
On September 11, 2001 my Former & I had been on unsteady ground long before the earth shook. We had recently moved into a loft in Tribeca that had been a labor of love for me, a hated financial burden for him.
We were spared, in the obvious ways, on that day. But were further eroded in others.
He was on the sidewalk, but at a "safe" distance to watch the planes go in. I was at home and engaged in an internal battle. All of the men, and other young(er) women, even moms, took to the streets, kids in tow, to witness. The fighter in me, a transplanted New Yorker of nearly 20 years, wanted to do something. To go there, to help, somehow. To be a part of what he was experiencing outside.
His was the primarily visual experience, mine the auditory and olfactory. But my Preggie Sense (It's like Spidey Sense but less cerebral) told me to stay inside, fill pots with water, cook the most expensive thing in the freezer, pack a bag.
What I didn't see, I heard unfolding just outside my windows, and saw imprinted on the faces of the people who came in my door. His business partner -- salt of the earth, a throwback, a classic man's man -- quietly breaking down. Himself, my brainy-sweet husband, in dull shock, his mind maneuvering an unnavigable new reality.
This is not to say that I was heroic or brilliant. God no. I was so damn scared. But I remember feeling calm and determined too. It's not to say that he & I were at odds over what to do, or when, or how. But nor did we cling to one another and have a heart-melding epiphany.
It's more about what we did not do. We did not become something great together, in the face of adversity. We got by, that's all. There was just an undeniable separateness in how we experienced that day.
Later on, in more obvious ways, we were pitted against one another over the war in Iraq, the loft, the kids, his family, my aspirations, our schedule, money. But that was years afterward.
Many people lost loved ones. We were the lucky ones. In the ten years since the attack, we lost our home, our fathers, our fortune, our marriage. But we have two wonderful little girls, and the wisdom of knowing that there are things far worse than divorce.