11 September, 2006

five years on

Five years ago, of course, was that terrible day. It feels so odd to be away from New York on the anniversary, almost like I abandoned it. So I thought I would think a little bit about where we were then, and then maybe it would be easier to think about where we are now.

When I took Avery to school this morning, it was hard to look at the girl with almost two numbers in her age and remember the little nearly-five-year-old, small enough to carry, going to school on the second day of kindergarten, when the unthinkable happened. It was only years later that she told me, "I was the last one in the big red door," meaning the door in the school yard at PS 234, minutes before the first plane hit the building just four blocks away. I asked her yesterday what she remembered of that day, and there is very little. Which is so good. My mother suggested that of course it will always be something that happened to her, something she will always be part of. But thank goodness she wasn't nearly ten on that day, when we tried so hard to make her not part of it.

It was such a famously crispy blue-sky day of course, and I suppose the time might come some day in the future when there can be a crispy blue-sky September morning that doesn't feel terribly wrong. And a tiny, tiny part of every school dropoff remains rooted in that morning, when leaving her at school was followed almost instantly by such fear and indecision, haste and worry. But the other side of that coin is how glad I am at every school pickup that it's all gone fine, there she is, all's well. And I'm not sure I would have been smart enough to feel that way without that day, so perhaps it's a silver lining of sorts.

John is there today, probably just waking up in his tacky hotel room in midtown, shortly to walk over to Times Square and start his work day. It is the first anniversary that we haven't been together, and the first I have spent outside New York. I remember spending the first anniversary at my new art gallery, on a street that was cordoned off for months after September 11, 2001, with so many visitors coming in to be glad the gallery was there, glad the street was open, that the children were back in their school on the corner that had been closed until February. That's what Avery remembers. "It was awful having to move schools." But she remembers that in much the same way that she remembers the hated "corporate flat" where we stayed here in London for the first few weeks. A place not of our choosing, filled with temporary things, knowing you didn't belong. And how good to get to a place where you did belong, and could put down roots.

I remember that the school's website, otherwise completely upbeat, positive, forward-looking even in the dark days of not knowing where we would relocate to, had one photograph that seemed to acknowledge what had happened to us: a picture of the school calendar, hanging slightly askew in the principal's office, with yellow smiley faces marking off the days of September, and stopping abruptly at September 10. I wonder who posted that picture? It seemed to me to represent all that had been lost.

Five years on, in another time zone, another apartment, another school, even with four completely new cats! In a strange way it's odd to have feline companions that weren't with us in those dark days, but only a totally crazy person like me would think of something like that. I thought this morning that Dorrie would come to clean today, not dear Carmen who I met at the police barrier at Canal Street on whatever day after September 11th, sad and devoted. When I cleaned out Avery's closet this spring, finally purging it of years of outgrown clothes, I found the little skirt she was wearing that day, a little orange two-layered skirt with pink gauzy flowers sewn to it. I remember I put it on her the next day, too, thinking in some dogged, crazy way that then it wouldn't be "what she was wearing on that day." Of course it stayed "what she was wearing on that day" forever after that, no matter how many times she put it on.

Tonight friends will come for dinner, since it seemed as if we should be with other New Yorkers. And then tomorrow won't be the anniversary of anything, which will be good. I have to remember how fortunate we are that no one we knew died, that we're together. How much worse it could have been, and was for so many people. My sincere plan is to become a bigger person for whom it isn't always all about me. To all of you in New York, we're thinking about you.

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