I was coming up to my favorite place on the 59th Street Bridge: on the upper roadway, a little more than halfway in. That's where it happens ... Manhattan spreads out like giant open arms, dazzling my eyes with a million twinkly lights. It's just perfection.
Close to midnight, after a hard night's work catering someone else's wedding, reeking of garlic, basil, and champagne vinegar (especially from my boots, where I tend to drip everything), I had forgotten about the 59th Street Bridge moment.
My kitchen is now closer to the Midtown Tunnel, and with traffic what it's been, my drivers always beg to take the tunnel and I always give in, even though it means spending the extra cash on tolls.
But not last night.
I don't know if I've been on the bridge at night since 9/11, but if I was, it must have been like so many moments in my life, lost in the busyness of my mind and my hectic work week.
As a matter of fact, I'm just coming off one of the busier weekends in, like ... um ... forever.
Friday night was the closing bash for the art festival I co-produced. It was pretty involved, between the DJ, performance artists and live art auction. Yours truly was the auctioneer. Yeah, I had stage fright, but it passed quickly. I found myself hamming it up on the microphone, even offering a sensual foot massage with each purchase.
When someone bid on a piece, I would immediately compliment them: "We have an offer of $100 from the very
attractive, well dressed and clearly
sophisticated paddle number 15!"
It was a lot of work (six friggen months to put this baby together!), but the show was a huge success. We wound up coaxing about one thousand people through our doors and that's not easy when the gallery is on 3rd Avenue between 118th Street and 119th Street.
I get nosebleeds at 14th Street! Most of our patrons would not have been surprised if they were asked to show passports at 100th Street.
But they came and they loved us, and 12 of them bought art.
I would have loved to stay in bed the whole weekend. I can always tell when I'm beyond my exhaustion limit, because my knees hurt. My knees were on fire.
But I had a wedding to cater for 160 people, and the client was one of the most difficult, spectacularly annoying grooms I've ever catered for.
Let me just take a moment to illustrate the annoying part. At the beginning of the party, he handed me enough antipasto perhaps to make seven nice plates, and asked us to make 18 plates, one for each table.
We were also given the appropriate amount of (truly inferior) pate for 10 plates and asked to make 17 display plates. Then we discovered that two of the terrines had turned bad.
The joke of the night went something like this; I would hold up a sprig of parsley, and James would say, "Be careful! That's garnish for 78 plates!" Then Neil would chime in, "Are you crazy? That's the entire entrée!"
Well, you get the point.
Anyway, I was annoyed, exhausted and relieved when I finally left my staff to deal with the cutting of the cake and caught a car service home.
Once on the bridge, traffic was light and we moved quickly. I forgot about the obnoxious yuppie groom instantly. The breeze was crisp and delicious. It sliced thru the back windows and seemed to soothe all my troubles away.
Then it appeared: my long-awaited, perfect Manhattan view. How I love this moment. I began to savor it, as I always have. (I've been known to ask others in the car to stop talking.) I let my eyes scan left toward downtown and right toward the Upper East Side. I smiled at the red, white and blue of the Empire State Building.
The city seemed larger than life, impossibly huge, and yet soft and accessible. I felt as if I could reach out and touch the upper windows of the skyscrapers.
Then it hit me.
Just like that ... it hit me.
I'd seen the World Trade Center fall down.
I had awakened one morning, climbed the stairs to my roof and watched the World Trade Center fall down.
I watched the World Trade Center fall down!!!!!!
Is it possible that this is the first time I have truly realized this??
Have I been just going through the motions these many months since 9/11, telling everyone about my experience, but not really telling myself?
Is it like the sudden, impossible death of my mother during a drive back from Florida? I would get little bits of information, every so often, a little more every year until I was finally ready to get the whole story ... if that has yet occurred. Has it?
I saw the World Trade Center ... the fucking World Trade Center ... fall down!!!
It was such a beautiful morning. God, can anyone remember a more beautiful morning? The sky was gorgeous and blue, laced with perfect, sheer clouds. The sun was radiant. This was the kind of morning that forced you to call in sick just to run to the nearest patch of green and lie down.
It was such a pretty, pretty morning.
Bad things never happen on such beautiful days, do they?
Even when we were on the roof -- I and the neighbors and I had frantically dragged up there so that they could verify that I was not dreaming -- even when we were there watching the towers burn, I knew that bad things never happen on such beautiful days.
They will put the fires out. No one will die. It will be okay. They will send helicopters and do whatever they have to do and it will be fine. It will be fine because it's such a glorious morning.
I felt the sun soothing my cheeks and shoulders, and it made me smile nervously. I stared at the towers burning like giant candles, leaking smoky gray into the backdrop of endless blue. Suddenly, little silver squares began to spray out from one of the towers. They caught the sunlight perfectly, like thousands of tiny mirrors and came cascading down. Like a gazillion silver cards, they sprayed out and down, and then suddenly, one of the towers was gone. It was just gone.
I held my breath and felt the pull of millions of other people holding their breath, on this morning, this pretty, pretty morning, and then we exhaled. We exhaled in cries. We exhaled in disbelief. Mostly we exhaled in screams.
To some extent nothing else I saw, heard or felt really registered after that. Not the demise of the second tower, not my days in ground zero feeding the rescue crews, not all the walks on the West Side Highway looking for answers.
"That was the funeral," Nancy
explained to me. "Everything after that was just the funeral."
This really happened.
When I got home, after the my reality trip on the 59th Street Bridge, I felt dizzy. I grabbed my mail on the way up the stairs but didn't sift through it until after I'd taken a bath and breathed for a bit.
There was a package from St. Paul's Church. They had sent me a copy of the magazine printed by Trinity Church and a video of the relief work done by the churches. I am told that I am in this video.
I fell into my old leather chair and sifted through the magazine. It was filled with the kind of photos we've all seen, the 9/11 shots of the buildings being hit by planes or falling down and then all the shots of those first days after.
I came upon a picture of a group of rescue workers lining up for food in ground zero. In the background is a blonde woman in a yellow hard hat working the barbecue. The smoke from the grill makes a haze out of part of her face, but it's clear who she is.
This means, I was there.
The timing of receiving this package 30 minutes after the hugest reality jolt I've probably ever had, seems more than a coincidence.
I'm not a religious woman.
I don't even know if I'm a spiritual person, whatever that means.
But I do think that sometimes, God tells you things when you're ready to hear them.