Saturday, July 31, 2010

Living in New York (9/11)

Living in NYC for almost twelve years; we moved up to the Bronx the month after our oldest son was born. Two years later our youngest was on the way.

My labor stopped after I learned of the attack on the Twin Towers. Dorothy had called to check on me; she and her family lived five floors above us. She was like a sister never had. A plane had flown into the World Trade center, she said. It was on the television.

I had been readying my two-year-old for his first day of preschool. I went into his room and held him close. Hearing the metal clang of the gate outside the window, I glanced to see the building super, an elderly gentleman who lived with his family in the adjacent building, walking by. I called out if he had heard the news. He nodded and said in accented English that a second plane had hit the towers.

I turned on the television and stood frozen in front of the screen. I saw the familiar office towers where I had temped on more than one occasion. One time as I looked from the office window I saw nothing but embracing clouds. It was a slightly eerie sensation, knowing that I was almost a quarter mile above the earth.

And there was the time I took my mom up to the observation deck in tower 1. It was her first time visiting NYC; we had taken the ferry back from the Statue of Liberty and now gazed over all of Manhattan. Still another time I had celebrated a soon-to-be-married colleague at Windows of the World. A rapid elevator zipped us up to the top-most floor.

On other occasions friends and I zoomed through the plaza separating the Twin Towers on inline skates. After hours Lower Manhattan was like a ghost town, a perfect time to explore and take in the adrenaline-infused sights.

But on this otherwise perfect September morning, people stood on the street watching others falling from above. I wasn't there but I knew this was only a few miles downriver. My old stomping grounds.

I held my little boy close, averting his eyes from the scene, and quietly wept for the people losing their lives. Here I was about to welcome a new soul into this world. And they were being so cruelly taken from their loved ones. No, we wouldn't be going to school today, I told him.

Dorothy called again to let me know that

The next day was quiet in our neighborhood. At the park with my two-year-old, I noticed the unfamiliar sight of a fighter jet streaming alone above the Hudson River.

When labor returned early Thursday morning in our Bronx apartment, I braced my belly against a giant exercise ball as Laurent applied counter-pressure to back. His gentle yet firm touch matched the strength of each contraction, making it bearable. I focused on my breathing.

A strange burnt smell wafted through the open window. I immediately recognized it for what it was and considered retching. The smoldering remains from a few miles downriver permeated the entire apartment.

As the curfew was lifted that morning from entering Manhattan, our way was blocked by traffic jams on the Henry Hudson Highway. We found a path over the Broadway Bridge, down the Harlem River Drive and over to Roosevelt Hospital. On the way I grasped the hanging door handle at each jolt while trying to listen to whale songs from the stereo. While speaking with my nurse midwife via the phone, I told her I’d changed my mind and to go ahead and have the painkillers ready. Little did I know that the baby and I had already transitioned.

When Laurent delivered me to the hospital after negotiating the sanitation trucks blocking the side street entrances—due to bomb threats—I leaned against Elizabeth and then the railing when the rapidly increasing spasms occurred. Less than an hour from arriving our second son was born. Jonah Kai, he of the other world and of bridges over the Hudson, Meheakentuck, the great river that runs two ways__salty and sweet.

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