Something I wrote the day after.
This really happened.
My sister and I drove up on the New Jersey turnpike from Washington, D.C. The trunk of the car was stuffed with a couple of suitcases packed with my and my daughter’s worldly goods. I was returning, after a five-year hiatus and with a two-year-old in tow, to the city I loved: New York, New York, the only place in the world with the audacity to name itself twice
We were listening to the classical station. The turnpike dips and glides on its way to the city, and the approach has a way of sneaking the skyline up on you. We caught our first, very distant, hazy view of the World Trade Center Towers just as Ravel’s Bolero began on the radio.
Now if you know Ravel’s Bolero, you know that it sort of slithers along at a very consistent tempo. The melody starts on a flute, then the flute gets joined by the winds, and so on and so forth until the whole orchestra joins in and culminates in a stupendous final crescendo. And as we snaked along that road with the music playing, once in a while we’d crest a hill and get a little more city perfectly synchronized to the music’s increasing weight and volume.
At a certain spot when you’re driving on the turnpike, the city suddenly appears. Huge. Glittering. Majestic. A little scary. I knew that. I had been on that road years ago, at night, on a bus from Jersey that gave me my first glimpse of New York. And while I hoped in the back of my head that the music would time out perfectly, that the city would burst into view exactly as Bolero reached its crashing, blaring conclusion, I didn’t think there was any way in hell that that really could happen
Suddenly, it was all there. The skyline peaked gracefully over the Empire State Building, then dipped and glided up in the powerful swoop that led to the top of the twin towers. And I knew then, with the horns heralding away in the background, that despite having been born and raised in California, despite a steamy tenure in Florida and adventures in a dozen other states, I was a New Yorker. That skyline welcomed me back as the prodigal daughter that I was. I’d have to kill the fatted calf myself, but that’s one of the reasons you come to New York in the first place, because you know that there are fatted calves all over the city, and one’s got your name on it.
I’ve since left New York, left in disgrace, defeated by the increasing demands of the city as an ungenerous, unrealistic relative. But I’m still a New Yorker. My co-workers, my family, everyone I know sees New York stamped into my DNA as indelibly as are my yellow-green eyes and my German peasant bones. And even fleeing the city as I did, vowing never to return, I still feel a mix of irrational pride, annoyance, and unconditional love whenever I read about another New Yorker acting in a way that only a real New Yorker would ever attempt, much less understand, or when I see a street corner I know well getting its 15 seconds of fame in a movie. Because if the city’s in your blood, you’re related not just to your fellow New Yorkers but to the landscape itself: the parks, the taxicabs, the pigeons, the architecture.
As I watched those towers go up in flame and then collapse over and over again yesterday, part of me died. Sometimes over the years, I would look up at them as I headed downtown and wonder idly what would happen if a plane hit one; all New Yorkers, believe it or not, thought the same thing at one time or another. Sometimes I questioned if the skyline’s pre-tower symmetry, utterly sacrificed and irretrievable, really deserved the nostalgia that some people professed. But mostly, I looked at the towers and remembered the sight that had welcomed me not once, or even twice, but every time I had been someplace else and was finally coming home. In the back of my head, I knew they would always be there. And while I fully realize that they weren’t people, I know that they weren’t just buildings, either.
The impossible cuts both ways.
This really happened