Monday, September 12, 2016

Run Away Home: an essay on little miracles


Little Miracles
Our story begins with a crisis, as all good stories do.  And like most stories, the crisis occurs on an otherwise ordinary day.

After college I supported myself in New York City by temping.  It offered me the flexibility I wanted without waiting tables or catering.  On this otherwise ordinary day I was scheduled to work at an office downtown, where I would get off the A train at the World Trade Center and wait in line for my visitor’s pass to the World Financial Center.  But instead, something extraordinary happened; I was reassigned.  Instead of being in the lobby of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit, I was in an office five blocks from my apartment.  Little miracles. 

We all gathered in an office and like the rest of the world, we watched the events unfold on the news.  There was a message from my mother waiting on my answering machine.  I could tell form the sound of her voice that she was trying to stay calm.  I called her back and as I was assuring her that I was safe, the towers fell.  I immediately thought of the Hunts.



I started babysitting for the Hunts when I was just 17 and new to the city.  John and Cheryl met in college and both earned degrees in finance before moving to New York.  With John working long hours in investment banking, Cheryl chose to stay home with their son, Wilson.

Wilson and I were buddies.  We read books and had tea parties.  We took walks down to Lincoln Center to throw pennies in the fountain and ate ice cream when we weren’t supposed to.  Sometimes I would pack a lunch and we would walk until we found a construction site, then camp out across the street and picnic while we watched the machines. 

My heart sank as I thought of John who worked at the World FInancial Center.  Hesitantly, I called.  I was shocked when he answered the phone"I left my job three weeks ago," he said.  Little miracles.


The Calm After the Storm

The office sent us home.  I expected chaos on the streets, but instead there was calm.  Everyone was in shock.  I began my walk, watching as the city buses, overcrowded with people desperate to get home, labored their way up and down the avenues.  

I did what all good Southern women do; I made a pot of spaghetti and baked cookies.  I put a call out letting people know that if they couldn’t get home, they were welcome at my apartment.  First Brenda arrived, then Amy, who walked almost 50 blocks to get there.  They took turns calling their parents from my land line. We ate and watched the news on the 13 inch television I got for Christmas when I was 10.  There were rabbit ears and a fuzzy picture, but with some effort we could make out what was going on.



Brenda spent the night, awkwardly wearing my pajama pants that were six inches too short.  The next morning we walked to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt to donate blood, but were turned away.  Friends and families had already covered buildings and bus shelters with the faces of missing people.  The smiles in the photos couldn't hide the reality that they were the faces of death and desperation.  


Run Away Home

When I got home I called the Hunts again, trying desperately not to cry.  They had added Spencer to their family and moved to Westchester.  It was green and peaceful and exactly what I needed.  I took the train from Grand Central and was greeted by two smiling boys and a hugs from John and Cheryl.  

They live in a commuter town populated by bankers and lawyers.  The town felt like it was draped in sadness and anticipation, as they waited to hear reports about husbands and daughters. We played with the boys, shielding them from the news as best we could. In the days and weeks to come there would be cars left unclaimed at the train station to deal with and the steady whine of bagpipes at the churches which were suddenly over-burdened with the grieving. 

The next day we went to lunch on the water.  In the distance you could still see the smoke.  The skyline was forever changed.  But at that moment, I knew I had to go back.  It was time.   

Slowly, the faces of the missing began to disappear.  The smell dissipated.  Train stations reopened.  Buildings were rebuilt.  But I there are memories of that experience I will never forget.  I'll never forget the sound of John's voice when he answered the phone or standing on the steps of their den watching him watch the news.  I'll never forget seeing people walking up 10th Avenue covered in dust and debris or hearing my friends reassure their parents that they were safe.   

Moving On
It was a long time before I was able to go downtown.  It felt like sacred ground.  But one day I decided it was time.  I took the Staten Island Ferry, and as we were crossing the river, I stood on deck and took in New York's fractured skyline.  
The boys are grown up now.  Wilson is in college and Spencer is preparing to graduate from high school.  To their credit, John and Cheryl have given their boys remarkable opportunities, but without creating a sense of entitlement.  The boys have a strong work ethic and good hearts. 
Nothing can really prepare you to be a parent, but the years I spent with the Hunt family gave me an advantage.  They didn’t just teach me about parenting; they also showed me what a happy marriage looks like.  They love their children, but they love their marriage too.  They take the time to nurture their relationship.  The strength of their relationship makes them better parents. 
The Hunts have remained a part of my life even thought the boys are now grown.  We have enjoyed sunny summer days in their backyard watching the boys play with my daughter and visits in the city. There are always Christmas cards and the occasional treat sent from Cheryl.  (If you ever meet her, ask her about the dollhouse.)  
Cheryl and I enjoyed our lunch together at Gitane.  Set off the beaten path in Soho, they offer a French-Moroccan menu.  We talked about the boys and about the men they have become.  Cheryl, who will soon have an empty nest, is trying to decide how she might reinvent herself.  I tried to say thank you, even though there is no one thing to say thank you for.  Cheryl slips me a birthday card across the table.  I don’t open it there because I know it is certain to make me cry.  
I provided care for their boys, but they provided me with so much more:  a family, a balanced meal, free laundry, and a sounding board.  And when I needed to run away – when I needed to feel safe and secure - they gave me a place to run to. 

3 comments:

  1. And you for me, sister. You for me.
    Brenda

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  2. Thank you for sharing this story full of sadness and miracles and the lessons you took from that day and the family you worked for. It's amazing all the lessons we can take away from tragedy...you are blessed.

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  3. Once again, the story of your life resonates in a universal way...and I always learn more about you, my friend. Time for the radio this week? Would Cheryl like to join in the call?

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