Sunday, September 12, 2010
In 2001, I made a very difficult decision. I left teaching at Amboy High School, which I dearly loved, and moved to New York City, which I always knew I loved as well. AHS was a great experience for me. I built a theatre program there and I am so proud of all of "my" graduates - and many of whom I am still in contact with. Yay, Facebook!! But I WAS Amboy High School and Woodhaven in the summer, and I didn't know life other than that, and I knew I was single and was hoping to not be for much longer so I needed to make a break. I turned in my resignation in March 2001 and went to Italy to see my sweet girl Adelaide, a former exchange student. While I was visiting Venice, my sister was on her way home from a Cardinal game and was hit head on by a distracted driver. I got the call in a bathroom in Venice at the end of a gorgeous day, so beautifully sunny I had no idea I was sunburnt until I cried the 17-hour flight home to be by her side in St. Louis for the next month as she struggled for life. She died May 11, 2001. 11s have always had a special place in my heart after that.
Many thought I would return to Amboy, rescind my resignation, and believe me, I thought about it, but in a way I was even more determined to do NYC and I just felt if I didn't go then, I'd never go. Something also told me I needed to go then. I even said on numerous occasions, I don't know why I need to be there now, but I just do.
My last conversation with Kristi was about me leaving and going to NYC. She was very surprised at my decision. "How can you leave those kids who love you so much," she said. She had just begun teaching at St. Teresa in Decatur and was starting her "teacher high." I hadn't lost mine, but I didn't know who I was without it and wanted to see what NYC could do for me. Until the day I left, I was pretty sure I'd chicken out. I had no job to go to, nor did I have a place to live, but I was going and was deterined to figure out how. My former director Mac told me his wisest words (and there are scads of gems to pick from) "Make it or make peace with it." So I left a small town and headed for the Big Apple. In August of 2001.
I had secured housing and a job in one swoop - I would nanny 12-year-olds, cook, launder, tutor and chauffeur. It's a good thing they liked meat and potatoes. The Caginalp family quickly put on weight! I think the dad mentioned he thought about 15 pounds were added by the time I left them.
As for Sept. 11, I had moved to New York about three weeks before. I've always been a person with some sort of inner intuition, not that I knew about Sept. 11, but about a week before, I spent the weekend touring the city, and actually decided to take a tour on the big red, double-decker tour bus. The only tour running at the time I was able to go was the downtown leg - meaning Wall Street, WTC and the Ellis Island area, and I really wasn't that excited about doing that part - I had wanted to go uptown and see more of Central Park and those kinds of areas, I guess. Anyway, I had this feeling that I needed to go downtown then. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I guess now that it was my only chance to have photographed the towers while they were still in the air. So I went (I think it was August 31 - I think I left the date on my digital camera because I hadn't figured it out yet). I took loads of pictures, knowing full well that I was looking the tourist part in the city I now lived in, but I really didn't care. It was a beautiful day, a little overcast and I remember thinking how perfect the sky looked near the towers. They honestly didn't interest me that much, not really concerned with financial areas or world trade either, but they were striking and there was a gorgeous church that if taken at the right angle, looked to be almost as tall as the towers were, although not even close in reality. See picture below. Not mine, but close.
The morning of Sept. 11, I was getting ready - putting on makeup actually and packing my camera bag to head into the city. The kids had made the bus to school so I had some time to myself. I was hoping to make an early train into the city, but I wasn't moving too quickily. Some mornings I'd be ready to go and drop the kids off and then pick up the quickest train into the city to take advantage of every minute. I had stayed up late the night before talking with a former student who was upset that I had left AHS and we had catching up to do. I was tired!
The housekeeper came on Tuesdays and I wanted to get out of her way. She's terrific but I didn't want her to think I was hanging around just to mess up whatever she did. Besides, I liked to give myself photography assignments. I had never taken pictures of the Empire State Building, but had taken pics of the WTC from atop the ESB so it was my day to reverse that. I was going to go to WTC to the Windows on the World and take pics of the ESB from high above. I was running late. And Mom called to make sure I was home. It was 9:02. For some reason, she didn't feel well (probably the 11th since that's the day Kristi died on) and they had stayed home and were watching tv. I wasn't. I didn't hear it though either. She just said - "Come home." My immediate thoughts were that my grandma was in trouble. I said - Why, what's wrong? She said, Your city's on fire. I just froze and she said, turn on the tv. She was right, my city was on fire. And I saw the second plane hit the second tower. I sat there a few minutes watching this "movie" on television and then it hit me, this was happening right outside. So I went outside and then drove for a while, having to get out of the house and away from the tv. And I saw the smoke, and the crying people who were driving around like me, without a way to handle this, and I went home and glued myself to the tv, like everyone else and prayed and cried and answered the phone which never stopped ringing to see if I and the family I was living with were okay. The twins were at school, supposed to go on a field trip to a park or wildlife reserve - something with leaves. They remember more than I. Dad was at work on Park Avenue and Mom was in the Czech Republic on business. I was answering phones from every one of the previous nannies to make sure they were okay.The dad couldn't get out of the city - he wasn't sure how long he'd be locked down - they lived on Long Island (Manhattan is an island - only accessible via train, tunnel, ferry or plane) and they shut incoming and outgoing traffic down. All planes were grounded. And due to people calling for information, the phones were sporatic.
The housekeeper's main language was Portugese and she wasn't understanding much, so she went upstairs and turned on a Spanish speaking channel and got the gist of what was going on. Her broken English was very good, but I guess "terrorist attack" isn't something they translate much.
There are still songs that I hear on the radio that are specific to Sept. 11 for me. The radio stations switched from all music to all talk for several days with people calling in looking for relatives and posters and pictures all over the streets with people crying - the most bizarre thing was NYC being absolutely silent. It was probably silent for at least a month afterward - I kept going into the city, but never downtown - I just couldn't and I didn't want to be in the way, but I felt helpless, like I did when Kristi died, except now there were over 4000 families going through what I had just gone through, and I still couldn't help them. It was so strange to be in New York City and hear nothing in the streets - no taxis, no people talking, no music, nothing - except the silence was almost deafening - until a siren was heard and everyone looked to see where it was and where it was going - something New Yorkers pride themselves on never doing. "You know you're a new yorker if......you never look up at the tall buildings and point." "You know you're a new yorker if....you say 'I'm walkin' here' to a cabbie." "You know you're a new yorker if....you never look toward the sound of a siren." But then, everyone, new yorkers, tourists, cabbies, other officers even, paused time and looked toward the sound of the siren, and it was almost like everyone prayed at the same moment, regardless of religion or creed. It was truly bizarre, inspiring at the same time. There's a play written by a woman who was contacted by a fire dept chief who lost 8 of his men in the attacks to help him write eulogies for their services called "The Guys." In it, she dialogues their conversations mostly as they get to know each other and as she helps him come to grips with the severity of the situation. When she gets upset as he's recounting these 8 different life stories, he comforts her and apologizes to her for getting her involved in the whole mess. "I'm sorry I brought this into your life. You're outside of this," he tells her, sympathetically. She is instantly appauled that he would think that. She tells him, "Outside of this? This is my city too. I may not have lost anyone close to me like you did, but I hurt too. I'm not on the outside of this." I guess when I came back to Illinois and was here for the Sept. 11 "celebrations" every year since, I felt like he did with her. I was surprised to see how many people felt as though they were on the "inside" of it because I felt like they shouldn't feel like that because they were on the "outside" of it, in my opinion. I didn't lose anyone I loved that day, no one I worked with or knew, but it was my city too that was in ruins. Even though I had only lived there for three weeks before it happened, that city has and will continue to be mine since I was little. I have always had a connection to it, and now the world is connected to it as well.
There is greater grief than I suffered, I'm well aware. I am so blessed to have been involved with so many terrific teenagers in their high school careers, to see those 12-year-olds from Long Island now 20!! and juniors in college, to have a family who trusted me with the care of their impressionable kids, to have my own family, even if they didn't understand my decision to leave, love me and pay for me to fly home often, to have returned to Illinois, to returned to teaching, to have found my love, to have two of the most beautiful girls on the planet, and to have such powerful memories - being an extra in "Anger Management" and seeing a "real" movie be made, seeing Letterman in person, and my Rosie, and my Oprah...twice...and to still get to make more memories is the best thing about being late ever.
I kept all the emails I received in the first few days. I even called AHS to let them know I was okay, and they in the office who didn't have access to a TV didn't know what happened, so they just said Hi and hung up. I think they soon figured it out.
I reread my story and the emails every year about this time. Here are some clips:
I'm just watching the news and kind of wondering if you went into the city today, and hoping you didn't anda little scared that you did.
Just thought I'd write you and see what's up. I had planned on writing later today, but I decided now was as good a time as ever. I was
gonna write to tell you that i bought the Harry Potter Trading Card Game Starter Set. It's a lot of fun. Well, I hope to hear from you soon.
I gotta go to class now. Bye. Chadly (aka Shaggy)
Hey Just checking on ya
How are you. Were you anywhere near the bombing deal thing. We got to watch the news almost the whole morning and some of the
afternoon. Play practice started lastnight. I didn't stay long cause i had dance. Some guy came and talked to us about make-up. You know
those make-up kits you got last year, how much were they. The guy suggested we get one of those and his were $10. We were suppose
to have pratice tonight but it got canceled. Well I don't know much else i'm hungry and i have some home work to do.
Hope you're ok
I hope this letter finds you safe from the catastrophic events of the last few hours. Sorry it has taken me so long to write back. I don't
have an excuse so I spare you the BS. I am kind of an asshole like that, but that is what makes me so damn lovable.
Just want to make sure you are okay. I don't know what it feels like to
actually be so close to NY right now...but I know it's sad and scary here.
I don't know exactly what to say except that I really hope I get an email
back from you.
How are you doing today? I'm sure things there a just a wreck. Josh
called last night and was wondering how you were and Matt e-mailed me and
asked if you were ok. I guess Josh talked to John Curcuru and John was no
where near everything but I guess his roommate was down the block when it
happened and I guess he had to run from being hit from debris. How
horrible. How are the kids? Did Ayden go to work today? Is Stephanie going
to be able to come home? I'm sure she's just a frantic mamma not being able
to be with her kids.
Hope things are going ok with you. The blood banks are so full here that
they are giving people numbers and asking them to come back certain days so
I had already planned on going to a drive a week from today so I think I'm
just going to go then.
your little sis
Pi, Things just aint the same here, its cool though, were stickin together,
gotta run, late for rehersal love
It's been 9 years and still I sit in stunned silence when I see the images. I remember the panic, the fear, the want to just hug family and I had chosen to have none close by. I was comfortable in my new home, but it's not the same, and we all shed a lot of tears. There were many, many, too many cars that weren't picked up at the train stations all over the greater Manhattan area. Some of the kids' teachers lost spouses. My "NY family" lost friends, colleagues and clients. It was evidently something I had to be there for, and it still shocks me to the core.