I wanted to be a New Yorker long before I knew what that really meant. My daddy subscribed to the magazine, and I read it for the cartoons first, and later the movie reviews, and finally everything between the covers.
My first trip there was for an afternoon, in on the subway, up to the streets, and there is a vague memory of terror at the first looming tall building I saw. I don’t remember anything else from that day except the excessive whiteness of my blond, blue-eyed little brother, dressed in a little white suit, as we rode on the subway.
When my father took me to New York City overnight for the first time, we stayed at the Plaza, saw two plays and a movie, ate breakfast at Rumpelmayer’s and went to the top of the Empire State Building. I was eleven, and I was in heaven.
I went with him again at 15 and 21, the latter trip a college graduation gift. I was there for a job interview, and soon I was living in the city of my dreams.
I met a boy, because although I was 21 and he was 25, I still thought that way. When I told my mother she wrote a letter saying, "There is nothing like being in love in New York City." And although she had spent one night of her honeymoon there, I don’t think she was talking about my father!
I worked in the Scribner Bookstore at 597 Fifth Avenue. It’s a perfume shop now, but the building is a landmark, so the beautiful exterior and the spiral staircases and railings remain. I used to dream of getting married there, walking down the stairs into the center of the store as if the island with the cash registers were an altar.
My time in New York was brief. I married the boy I met in the bookstore, and he went to law school. I continued to read The New Yorker. My father gave it to me for Christmas every year. I once framed a cover for my Richmond Hill, Queens-born in-laws, when a special anniversary fell on a Monday.
Very tall buildings have never felt safe to me. I went to the plaza at the World Trade Center once, with the boy I would marry. It was a Sunday and eerily quiet, except for the wind. I looked up and thought I saw the buildings sway. We didn’t stay long.
Five years ago, the first person I thought of calling was that boy, now grey, no longer my husband. It had just happened, the swaying buildings of long ago were still standing, though burning. He didn’t want to talk about it. I waivered at the doorway to my sunroom, wanting to know what was happening, but not able to settle and watch. I did not want to see them come down.
Of course, seeing it was unavoidable, even for those of us who did not watch it live, did not watch them die in real time.
When my father died, I inherited the end of his subscription to The New Yorker, added on to the gift he had already given. I kept it up for years, but earlier this year I did not renew. How they had piled up! I was back to reading just the cartoons, regarding them with a 9-year-old’s eye.
This was an anniversary that fell on a Monday, and yesterday at a bookstore, The New Yorker caught my eye. A man on a white background, holding a thin pole, appears to be walking an invisible tightrope. Inside the cover is the rest of the picture: the city, with the footprints of two missing buildings, the man high above it all in mid-air.
A day so dreadful calls us to be more sensitive, more appreciative, more connected, more faithful to whatever grounds and inspires us. It seemed we would be that way at first, the country and the world. Many people made changes in their lives. I loved a man, and in the days following, we made the first in a series of decisions that led to our marriage, to his folding into my family, an ingredient making us something very different.
We have grown and deepened as a result of that terrible day. But our country’s leaders manipulated the unity born of grief and terror, and as Americans we have lost what might have been good as surely as I let lapse my subscription to The New Yorker. And some things are not so easy to renew.