Written Sept. 2001 for The Writers Studio
Rediscovered and edited Fall, 2017
Now (2017) | Then (2001) | Even Earlier
September 11 Memorial, DUMBO, 9.10.17.
Where were you on 9.11.01? We lived about a mile north of the World Trade Center. Still do.
What details do you remember? Having found this journal on my computer, I now recall much more than I did.
No one in our family died. No one we knew died. But we were wounded in other ways. It's probably why Jack has occasional asthma, and absolutely why, in the years that followed, I went from being an ardent believer to a born-again, superstitious, atheist
Monday, September 10, 2001
Today is my first day back at a full-time job in nearly ten years. Make that a full-time paying job. One where you get to go to the bathroom alone, don’t have to be a good tickler, and—ostensibly—aren’t called upon within your first year or so to nourish others in the office by nursing them.
Downtown with the boys, when they were little. And a little fidgety.
Stephen and I have been married for 14 years. We have two sons: Lucas is 9 ½; Jack, 5 ½. The four of us Killcoynes (and our cat) live in a 650-square-foot one-bedroom at the top of a five-story walkup just south of Washington Square Park. A few months ago, when one of Jack’s friends left after a playdate—it was her first time over—he said: “Something tells me our home is not beautiful.” Well, it is filled to the brim with books. Lucas is a voracious reader. He finished all of Narnia in second grade. Jack likes to read and hear many a book, as well. Over and over again. And play chess.
Outdoors, they play baseball and soccer at Pier 40 on the Hudson.
Believing in the importance of raising the boys myself, I stayed home to do just that, working as a Writer/Producer at WNET/PBS up until three days before giving birth to Lucas. (And labor lasted about that long.) This decision well nigh emptied the Killcoyne coffers. But we certainly had ourselves some fun. And learned a ton.
Lucas and classmates come with me on a mission to find any traces of Seneca Village in Central Park.
Lucas Locutions ↓
Jack Gems ↑
Paintings I made for their 2001 birthdays:
I did take on various freelance jobs, and in 1999, when a historical fiction chapter book I wrote was published, walla, I entered the world of children’s publishing. Silver Moon Press (SMP), owned and operated by David Katz, took The Lost Village of Central Park from my laptop into a ton of schools and libraries.
Now it’s two years after that book’s publication. I’m still doing author visits, but the writing is on the wall, not in my checkbook: we need dough. So last month, as Jack was gearing up for kindergarten, I called David to ask if he knew of any full-time openings in the field. He replied, “How about being Managing Editor here?” Whoa. Talk about a pleasant surprise.
So this is my first day there. With me, we are three. The other member of the team is Karin Lillebo, a delightful, multi-talented woman from Norway. Says she: “I was born on the wrong side of the fjord.” Not to jinx anything, but I like it here. It's more like a publishing apartment than a publishing house. Which feels like home. Oh, and one other thing: Steve's office is down the hall.
It feels so right to be working regularly again, but still there for the boys. I love that I'm doing something creative and important: teaching kids about history. Focused on historical fiction, SMP opens up America's past through stories. I have two super-talented friends I want to have write books for us: Eve Creary, one of my high school buddies; and Jackie Glasthal, whom I met in class here, at The Writers Studio.
Silver Moon, on Fifth Avenue and 20th Street, is only a twenty-minute walk from our home—as well as from the nearby elementary school that both Lucas and Jack attend. I figure I can easily drop them off when school begins and pick them up when it ends. For them, it’ll probably seem as though I’m not working at all. P.S. 3 (aka “The Hippie School”), is on Hudson Street in the West Village. The bright red doors opened this past Thursday. Both Jack’s kindergarten and Lucas’s fourth-grade class face south: the near-century-old wide, mullioned windows framing the World Trade Center.
I drop off each son in his respective classroom—Jack with Shakira and Lucas with Themi—skip down the steps, greet Patty the crossing guard, walk east on Christopher, and head up Fifth to my new life.
I want to decorate my work space a little bit, with photos of the boys. I miss them.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001
Repeating yesterday’s drop-off, I head for work. Walking up Fifth, I can't help but notice cabbies and other drivers pulling over to the curb, doors open, listening to the radio. They're looking south. So are pedestrians. Bicyclists. Something is wrong. The sky is loud.
I turn. I see the towers in flames. I find out later that Steve saw the second plane hit.
My first thoughts seeing the WTC burning: WTF? Someone made a huge mistake, flying a prop plane into a tower? But, wait. There are two towers. Two planes. Later, when the news spread that it was terrorism, most likely from Islamic extremists, I thought: Oh, no. I so pity Muslim Americans. They are going to suffer greatly at the hands of angry Americans who will spill their rage onto the nearest scapegoat. And then pity the Jews, because somewhere down the pike we’ll catch it for getting America involved in Middle East in the first place. Finally, I think about housing. I'm guessing there’ll be a mass exodus, and apartments will become more affordable. That’s a New Yorker for you: always looking for the real-estate angle. Shameful.
Steve and I dash down to P.S. 3 to pick up the kids. Everyone is confused and frightened, communicating more with nods and shrugs than words. We go home. I'm scared but feign strength. We mostly keep the TV off. We listen to some radio. We try calling relatives and friends to tell them we're okay, but have trouble making long-distance calls. I am able to call friends who work down there, friends I fear had died. They're all safe.
I should sit with the kids and Steve, comforting them and relishing in their company. Instead, I do the dishes, vacuum, and put away clothes. What am I thinking? So that when the next attack comes the place will be neat? Kind of like the always-wear-clean-underwear-in-case-of-an-accident thing?
Friends call, pulling us out of our bunker mentality. We meet up with them at a nearby playground. Smoke hovers, sirens wail, and jets roar past. Afterwards, I go to the supermarket to buy canned food, bottled water, snacks, dinner, and cat food. It reminds me of growing up in Florida. Before the hurricanes hit, my folks would buy such things and then all of us would go to the bowling alley. But as a kid, that was exciting, and as a natural disaster, when it was over, it was over. (Or so I thought in 2001. Now, in the wake of Sandy, Katrina, Harvey, Irma, and the forest fires out west, there doesn’t seem to be an "over.")
I sense that this attack will be the beginning of a new, unknown way of living—one that could go on for quite a long time. To me, the attack doesn't equal a loss of innocence, but rather the piercing of a thin bubble we thought was a shield. A line has been crossed. After the supermarket, I go to Washington Square Liquors and buy booze. A lot.
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
I wake up feeling guilty to be in a bed with sheets, not in a bed of rubble. We go to another playground to be with other friends. Steve, who spent much of yesterday asleep on the couch, seems better today.
I like our neighborhood car-free. I like the eye contact, the smiles. Heavier smoke drifts up our way this afternoon. There are no more dust masks. Our Internet service shuts down.
Thursday, September 13, 2001
Everything is off-kilter. I hope we don't attack Afghanistan. From what I’ve seen at Washington Square Park and Union Square, I’m not alone in this viewpoint. It's not going to make anyone here feel better if we go and blast innocent civilians over there.
Brilliant cover on "The New Yorker,"
"What So Proudly We Hailed" by Carter Goodrich, comes out a few weeks later.
I am overwhelmed by an almost bizarre, intense love for humanity: racking sorrow for the victims and pity for the perpetrators, as their lives must surely have been viciously hopeless to lead them to this act. I love everyone. This is not like me. Yesterday or the day before, when I was feeling this surge of love most powerfully, I remembered a motorcyclist I'd seen months earlier, standing by the side of his bike with his girlfriend on some highway near the city. In large lettering, the back of his t-shirt read:
If You Can Read This
The Bitch Fell Off
The subdued yet ever-present cynical New Yorker in me wonders, “Oh, Christ. Does this mean I have to love him now, too?”
It's Lucas’s first day at Hebrew school, and it seems to have gone well. When Jack and I pick him up, we all go to the rock wall at Coles Gym. Kentucky Pete has been, you know, showing us the ropes, since last spring. I try neither to read into nor to project my feelings about climbing up and then descending from a wall.
Sunday, September 16, 2001
It’s Jack’s turn to start Hebrew school. And soccer. The DUSC (Downtown United Soccer Club) season has begun. The pitch sits atop a parking garage at Pier 40 on the Hudson. Directly south is the skyline where the towers used to be. Unless we leave the city—which we’re considering doing—there is no escape in our everyday lives.
The Village Temple was my first experience in belonging to a synagogue. Though I did go to Hebrew school for a few months in fourth grade, it was just that—a school—not a place to which we belonged. The cool thing is I learned how to read the language.
After moving several more times (often in the middle of a school year), we landed in Mt. Kisco, the part zoned for Chappaqua schools. I figured I was one of maybe five or six Jews at Greeley. Turns out, as I had missed the bar and bat mitzvah scene, I simply wasn't in with the Jew Crew. (That's what Jack dubbed his middle-school friends.) Anyhow, feeling that I had to become the "Shell Answer Man" for Judaism, I self-educated by reading a few verses of the Hebrew Bible [and the sequel] every night... and speaking to God in the backyard the next day. Took me four years. Over the course of that time, I became a freaking religious zealot. In tenth grade, my zeal was completely sealed—and my ire set afire—when I learned about The Holocaust.*
*"The sequel" is my snarky comeback for folks calling the Hebrew Bible the Old Testament.
News flash: the New Testament ain't exactly new anymore.
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Turns out I was right about the Muslims and dead wrong about the real estate.
It's the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. The Village Temple, too small for the High Holy Days, holds these services at Cooper Union, in the same auditorium where President Abraham Lincoln—the best—delivered his famous anti-slavery speech.
"Whatever you are, be a good one," is on a magnet on our front door.
Jack's favorite Lincoln quote: "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet."
The boys and I walk up to Astor Place, go through security (which feels weird, but I get it), and then downstairs to find some seats. The service is entirely upbeat. Lots of kids sit up front near the rabbi, but Lucas and Jack stay with me. When the rabbi asks the crowd what makes us happy, Jack breaks into tears.
Thursday, September 20, 2001
I dream that a battered, zeppelin-sized Soviet plane is hovering in the sky over lower Manhattan. Like baby ducks following in its wake come 60 or so large, gas-filled, hazily opalescent balls. From the ground they look to be about as big as the “o” your fingers make in an OK sign. Each ball has a small brown crescent shape in the lower third, affixed like beards. The balls take up positions all over Manhattan, and we New Yorkers come out of our homes into the street, looking up, waiting for the gas to leak.
Saturday, September 22, 2001
We had spent this past August in a small house on a pond in Southold, on the north fork of Long Island. When we came home a couple of weeks ago, Jack stood in our vestibule, looked up, and said, “Oh, no. Stairs.”
Street level at our place, September 2017. Tucker and Clementine are in their cat carriers.
Part of what made this August so enjoyable—truly joy-filled—was the book I read, left behind by the previous tenant: Naked, by David Sedaris. Sedaris is a regular contributor to one of my favorite radio shows, This American Life. The book is a series of autobiographical entries told with great humor and humanity. At times I found it so darned funny I would have to curtail my bedtime reading so as to not wake Steve. Thinking about the book now, it seems irrelevant—part of a more innocent, extinct world: one replete with things such as stacks of NYTs waiting to be read, playing chess, and doing needlepoint. Because as the buildings came down, another structure inside me went up,. This wall made whatever preceded that day obsolete, having been conceived without knowledge of this spectacular tragedy.
Of course, that’s ridiculous. Reactionary. Shakespeare came before. Chess came before.
Then I heard Sedaris’s essay on This American Life last week. It was perfect. There was indeed great sadness over what had happened, but Sedaris didn’t abandon his sardonic, wry, complaining self to become a newly minted American patriot. Instead, he wove the threads of new grief with his old amusing complaints: for instance, rejecting much of the media’s sentimentalism of what was already plenty distressing sans packaging.
That’s what I have to do. Pick up threads of life from before, weaving them in with a new sensibility. Balancing that grief with new joys that will certainly be coming.
Monday, September 24, 2001
Okay. The aforementioned stacks of The New York Times? They are becoming ridiculous. They are probably borne of irrational optimism, one leading me to believe that I will, at some point, sit down to read them. Even without a disaster, I have to face up to the fact that by mid-September, holding onto The Week in Review from May is hard to justify,.
Tuesday, September 25, 2001
I go to hear Laura Bush speak at Madison Square Garden. About 6,000 or so other folks who also volunteer in the NYC public schools are there, too. It is brave of her to come. I have my own trepidations about going, as well. We stand , hands on our hearts, and say The Pledge of Allegiance. I can’t remember the last time I recited it, but I sure wasn’t crying. Afterward, I take the A train down to Fulton Street to finally see close up what has happened to my city. The smell, which intermittently fills our apartment, is intense here. The twisted remains are like snapped bones jutting wrongly from a broken leg. Like ruins of some advanced civilization that met a horrific end.
I don’t think we should aim to build that high again. In medieval France, there was a great cathedral competition, with towns pitted against one another to erect the highest, grandest structure. The race was put to rest once one cathedral under construction aimed too high and came crashing down.
I think I’d like to see some artists or engineers figure out how to have two red lines in the sky mark where the towers had reached. It might help those of us for whom the WTC was a vision in the distance. It won’t do much for those who had worked there.
After school, I take the boys to the Children’s Aid Society: Lucas has acting class, Jack, chess. Following that, I drop them off at home to be with Steve and I walk to The Writers Studio, for class. Along the way, I do something I’ve never done before: buy Winston cigarettes. I smoke two as I walk west on Bleecker Street.
Wednesday, September 26, 2001
Tonight my mother tells me this story about two families living in the suburbs of New Jersey—one Jewish, one Arab.
(Many Americans, my family among them, sometimes conflated Arabs with Muslims.)
Through their young children, the two families came to be good friends. Monday, September 10th, the Arab guy asked the Jewish guy to take off from work the next day to go fishing with him. The Jewish guy said he couldn’t. The Arab persisted, but to no avail. Ultimately, the Jew did go to work at his office the next morning, on the 24th floor of Tower One. When, after the plane struck, as he was running down the stairs with the others, he gasped in horror. He knew. He was trying to warn me. The Jew stopped where he was, took out his cell phone, and called the police. They met him at the base of the building, and drove him back to his home. They went next door. The house had been cleared out, completely empty.
Now, my mother has been known to doll up a story. But I think this one came pre-dressed. The Jew called the police? Wasn’t the WTC filled with police? They drove him home? If this story was made up, who did it, and why? Also, who put together a fake list of people on the website listing survivors? Who called in bomb scares? What's with this Anthrax, which began last week? And on a much smaller scale but closer to home, why didn’t my friend in California call to see how we were? Or my family in Florida? Actually, it’s almost a relief to have such petty thoughts.
Thursday, September 27, 2001
It’s Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. There’s no school today or tomorrow, and consequently I’m not going to work. I always fast on Yom Kippur; I’ve been doing so for as long as I can recall, even before I became religious.
I go to temple with the boys. Jack doesn't cry, but he's hot and listless. I take his temperature back home: he has a fever of 103°.
Lucas seems to be handling the attack well; it’s Jack who’s having a hard time. P.S.3 now houses several of the schools that were evacuated. Jack wants them to stay; he’s afraid of what will happen to them if they go back downtown.
Friday, September 28, 2001
Jack is a bit better but still warm.
I have reached the point where a cloud is just a cloud, not a plume of smoke. I no longer act like an extra in The Gods Must be Crazy, staring up in fear and awe when an airplane passes overhead. That's not true of helicopters.
Now we have our own problems, directly overhead. Whether or not it was exacerbated by tremors downtown, the ceiling over much of our apartment is sagging and cracking. We have to be out of the apartment for at least four days while workers investigate, and hopefully, repair the damage. The landlords, who own the Born Again /Army Navy store downstairs—a curious concatenation—have suggested on more than one occasion that we consider moving: “We rented this apartment to two people, not four.” That, I guess, is part of the beauty of being born again: unlike an actual birth, it doesn’t create the need for one more place at the table. (Full, ahem, revelation: my own dad [the first one], became a Born-Again Christian. He was also a warlock and could make it rain, but such stories are for another day.)
So. The very roof over our heads is crumbling. I don’t know what other sign we’re waiting for. This city is the only home we’ve known as adults, Steve has his own firm, and I have a new job that I adore. But maybe it’s time to consider moving. We checked out houses in Maine on the Internet today.
I never took Jack to the top of the Twin Towers, though he had repeatedly asked me to. Lucas had been there, on account of a school project he'd done with a friend. Jack wanted to see the view Lucas had described. At first, right after the attack, I couldn’t get this thought out of my head, feeling incredibly guilty that I had put off his request until it was too late. I finally let myself off the hook by rationalizing that it was better he didn't have the visual in his mind; that he couldn't recall the view from those tall windows. It's like my relief that Jack doesn't have the firefighter fixation Lucas did at his age. Starting when he was about four years old, Lucas used to drag me to the local firehouses at least a couple of times a month, especially Ladder 5, Engine 24, on Sixth Avenue, just south of Houston. That was years ago. I don’t remember any of the firefighters as individuals, but rather as a group of really good guys. It would have been all the harder for us if Jack had kept up this tradition; if the firefighters who had died were our friends.
Actually, the boys and I did go to the World Trade Center this past summer, on August 1, but only to the courtyard area. One of my brothers, Adam, came, too. We didn’t go as sightseers, but rather to hear one of our favorite bands, Luna, who were playing a free concert.
During between-song banter, the bass player, Justin Harwood, looked up at the towers, pondering aloud, “What if these came down?” We all looked up—they were so very tall from directly below. Oddly, I had been wondering a similar thing only moments before, specifically: what holds these buildings up? Like, when you see a plane in the sky and cannot fathom how something that heavy ever gets off the ground.
Harwood smiled at us, shook his head, and said, “Nah. They’re not going anywhere.”
Saturday, September 29, 2001
Lucas and Jack attend a friend’s birthday bowling party today. Jackson is Lucas’s age, but his folks like Jack, too, and Jackson is fine with Jack tagging along. Jackson’s parents, who live nearby, offer to take our boys there and back, as the bowling alley is at the Port Authority. I'm still sufficiently skittish after the attack (plus the ensuing bomb threats
still sufficiently skittish after the attack (plus the throughout the city), so I bring the kids to Jackson’s party and stay there. If this transportation hub is to blow up, I'm going, with it.
The birthday party is amazing. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a group of kids have so much fun. There is such joy, excellent team spirit, and none of the meanness or poutiness of competition. In that peculiarly odd yet familiar environment, the kids flourish. They are so happy to be allowed to have fun.
Sunday, September 30, 2001
I look down my street and see emptiness. My eyes struggle to remember how high to look.
Friday, October 5, 2001
We start the long drive up to Maine, for the Autumnal Feast. The Feast is an annual Columbus Day event that Jeff Fleming, one of our best friends, hosts in the barn at his beautiful home in West Baldwin.