Hide and Seek

May 5, 2013

Today before church began I watched in fascination as Rahul performed an ancient, healing ritual with a little boy in our congregation. It’s called Hide and Seek. This little boy is 1/3 Rahul’s age and size and was over the moon to run all over the auditorium chasing him, counting to 20 and peeking under chairs to find my gigantic pre-teen curled up in a ball or stretched out on the floor under the seats. He would take turns hiding, too, as Rahul pretended not to be able to find him and called his name until he would pop out of hiding, exploding in giggles. I was supposed to be rehearsing some music, but I was barely able to to contain my tears or wrench my eyes away from the game.

Rahul has been with me for 5 years now. And when he first came, he was frightened and angry and independent. He was not used to being hugged or held, so in order to get him acclimated to loving touch, I had to invent games where he could enjoy human contact without sensory overload. I used to grab him by one hand and one foot and gently swing him around in circles (he would giggle uncontrollably), or hold him under his arms from behind and swing his legs back and forth like a bell (while saying “ding-dong, ding-dong”). But by far, his favorite “gotcha” game was Hide and Seek. I would always be the “Seeker” and he would always hide. I would count to 20 and go off in search of him and he would always make it back “home”, where I would snatch him up and swing him around and tickle him, and he would laugh so hard he would fall over. We would literally play that game for hours.

You don’t have to be much of an armchair psychologist to see the deeper meaning behind the game. Over and over we would play out the act of Rahul being lost and me finding him. Over time, he began to indoctrinate anyone who meant something to him into this game. I remember our friends, The Thompsons, coming over in Rahul’s early days, and all 6 of us playing Hide and Seek in my one-bedroom apartment over and over. And once, when my dear friend Libby and her then-fiancé Bruce came to watch Rahul for the day, they reported that they had played some version of Hide and Seek the entire day. At one point Libby couldn’t find Rahul until she opened my closet and looked up–he had crawled up the walls, Spiderman-style, and was hovering over her head. One of my favorite memories is hearing my Dad count loudly to 20 over and over again, in full view of all my nosey neighbors in our front yard as he and my Mom played marathon sessions of Hide and Seek with Rahul.

It’s been a year or so since I remember him playing Hide and Seek, so that’s why I was surprised to see him playing it this morning. What struck me most today was that I could see he wasn’t playing it for his own therapy anymore. My ginormous man-child doesn’t need games anymore to get a hug. He just says, “Give me some sugar” with his arms outstretched and he’s got a big bear-hug from me. He asks for foot rubs, or head rubs almost every night. He snuggles with the dog, carries little friends on his shoulders, curls up with me on the couch to watch tv. No, today he was patiently allowing another child to enter his sacred ritual. Sharing his gift. Coming full circle.

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Buzz

January 14, 2013

Today is my Dad’s birthday.  There are millions of things I love about him!  Here are a few:

When I was about 5 years old my best friend Kyle told me about a monster that had appeared in his room from under his bed one night. He said as he lay in bed a big hand had reached up from under the bed and grabbed him!  I suggested that maybe it had only been a dream, but he insisted it was the absolute truth and scared me out of my wits.  That night when I went to bed I told my Dad how scared I was that there was a monster under my bed that was going to reach up and grab me. He soothed me and told me Kyle had just had a nightmare.  Once I was calm he turned out the lights and left the room.  A few moments later I heard my Mom scolding my Dad from the hallway, “Buuuuuzzz??” At the same time I saw a huge hand reaching toward me from under my bed!  I screamed, but instantly I knew it was my Father who had crawled back into my room and under my bed to reach his hand up to scare me!  Now, another child might have been scarred for life.  But I honestly don’t think I lost a moment’s sleep over being scared again in my life–ever.

When my first love went off to college I was still in high school.  After coming home from delivering him to the start of his sophomore year, I was heartbroken and trying to hold it together through dinner.  We used to have rather formal dinners at our house.  Dining room, candles, wine, interesting music, etc.  At one point I excused myself and went out to the kitchen under the pretense of getting something.  Instead, I stood in the corner and quietly sobbed with my face in my hands.  A moment later I felt big, strong arms surrounding me–my dad had sensed that I was upset and had followed me from the table to give me a hug.  I love that I didn’t have to speak my troubles or make a scene, he just knew what I needed in that moment.

When I was preparing to adopt Rahul my Dad announced he wanted to come with me to India and I was thrilled!  It was a pretty emotional experience (to say the least) and there is no one who steadies me like him.  Besides that, Rahul instantly fell in love with him.

India178BuzzRahulSleeping2

Need I say more?

Happy Birthday Buzz!

Purple Sky

January 12, 2013

The other night I was having trouble sleeping.  Now, normally, I sleep very soundly.  My life only accords me a few hours to sleep, so I try to make the most of it!  But I swear I’m starting “the change”, because the other night I felt like it was 90 degrees in my room and I just couldn’t cool off.  So I rolled around, changed my clothes, kicked the cat off the bed.  Nothing worked.  And as I lay there trying to cool down and fall back asleep I began to fret.  I’m not normally a worrier, but there’s something about lying alone in the dark to get one feeling anxious about all of life’s troubles.  My mind searched around for something else to think about, but I couldn’t seem to let go of troubling lines of thought.

How am I going to pay my bills?  Is my dog going to feel better? (He’s been sick.)  How am I going to send Rahul to college?  What will I do when my parents get too old to care for themselves?  Who will care for me when I’m old? 

You know the progression of anxiety.

Then a strange thought popped in my head: purple.  I saw in my mind the most vivid purple.  It was so gorgeous that I forgot about my questions for a moment.  It was an abstract thought, but it was an arresting color and I contemplated whether I had ever seen it in nature, or just material things.  I thought about the sky and and the beautiful, startling colors contained in it at times and I puzzled over whether I had ever seen that purple in the sky before.  I was sure I hadn’t.  And as I drifted back off to sleep I longed to see that purple in the sky…

A short while later my alarm was gonging and it was time to get up.  I rolled out of bed and took my dog outside for his walk.  My brain was foggy and sluggish as I led him east along our street.  He stopped to sniff something and I turned my head to stretch.  And the western sky was completely purple.  I immediately remembered my earlier thoughts and was stunned.  It was exactly the color I had pictured in my head and it wasn’t just a sliver of purple, it was the entire sky!  I stood frozen on the sidewalk staring into the sky.  And before my eyes it changed to grey.  As the sun was rising the colors were refracting differently and the purple was gone.

He made it purple for me! I thought.  God put color in the sky at the exact moment I was going to see it to show me He would take care of all the answers to my anxious questions.  To show me He loved me and He saw me. 

I know it sounds arrogant–God colored the entire sky purple just for me!!–but I do believe it.  I think He does it for all of us, all the time, whether we notice it or acknowledge or recognize it.  David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.” (Psalm 19:1-2)

I’m just one, tiny insignificant person and I am mostly invisible to the people around me.  But to know that my Maker sees me is what I need to get through today.

Rahul Walking

October 1, 2012

I wrote and published this piece several years ago, but its one of my favorites so I thought it bore repeating…

As I stepped out into the cold April night I was aware that my son was not wearing any shoes.  When he turned back and saw me following him, he took off running down the poorly lit street.  My heart had already been pounding, now it felt like there was enough electricity pumping through my veins to launch a rocket.  I don’t know how this is going to end, I kept thinking.  I had only moved into this neighborhood two months earlier and did not know all the shadows and driveways and if Rahul ran off the street I would never be able to find him.  I caught up to him quickly and he slumped his shoulders when he realized I was going to follow him wherever he went tonight.  Tears streamed down his cheeks, but he stared straight ahead, determined to out-walk me, if nothing else.  Neighbors passed by us, but didn’t notice that he had no shoes on, or that he was breaking down.  I whistled a tune so he would think I was calm and in control.  When we reached the first intersection he started to dart across the street, not understanding the traffic lights or the “don’t walk” signal.  I grabbed him and pointed to the oncoming traffic to show him that I didn’t want to stop him from walking, just from getting hit by a car.  He pulled out of my grip, enraged that I was trying to hold him back, and charged ahead as cars drove toward him.  I jumped between him and the cars and held my hands up to stop them as we crossed the street together.  I prayed that they would see me and stop.  I hadn’t stopped praying since his tantrum had begun.

Rahul had only just come home with me from India a week or so earlier.  He was angry and irritated and uncomfortable most of the time since we had met, and a few times he had erupted in such rage that he would try to run away from me.  He would start by putting his shoes on, the ones he had worn home from the orphanage, then he would carefully remove anything I had given him—a watch, a shirt—and try to leave my NYC apartment.  He was trying to run back to India.  Back to his house—his orphanage.  Away from me.  I stopped him the first few times.  A few days earlier he had gotten so angry at my stopping him from leaving that he lashed out at me to the point where I feared I couldn’t control him.  He was small for his age, but he was still a 7-year-old boy, and a strong one at that.  I have never claimed to be very strong myself, physically at least.  He spent several hours kicking, scratching, screaming and biting me, until finally he passed out on the floor in a heap.  I fell into a heap myself that day, in tears, scared by what I had taken on.  Unsure how to handle his emotion.  But after that incident I decided that the next time he tried to leave I wouldn’t stop him, I would just go with him.  I would be his shadow as he discovered that India is too far away to walk to.  So that night, when he started walking out the door, I stood aside and let him go.  As he struggled with the locks he got so angry that he threw his shoes across the floor.  I looked in his eyes and said, Wow, you are angry!  Then I unlocked the door and opened it.

Once we made it safely across the intersection I could see Rahul’s eyes scanning the edges of the street lighted area for somewhere to dash to.  We walked another two blocks, then turned north.  We were no longer walking on the sidewalk or the road, but balancing on a small curb.  I prayed that there was no broken glass to cut his feet.  And I prayed that this night would end well.  We walked a few more blocks and Rahul turned right, crossing an overpass over the Henry Hudson Parkway.  Where is he going? I thought. Then he made one more turn, down the entrance ramp.  My heart raced as I realized his plan was to walk onto the highway.  Did he think it led back to India?  My brain was spinning as I followed alongside him.  I knew if he made it to the bottom of the ramp I would have to physically restrain him and I wasn’t sure I could do it.  My God, what would that look like to people driving by?   Then, just as we reached the bottom, he stopped and turned around.   I took a deep breath.  Did this mean he was done?  As we reached the top of the ramp and turned back over the overpass, without looking at me, he whispered, “House.”  It was one of the few English words he knew and at that moment it was the most beautiful word I had ever heard.  I said, “OK.”  I could see that he didn’t know how to get home and his little body was shivering.  I said, “ Can I carry you?”  I wasn’t sure I could carry him very far, but I couldn’t let him walk anymore.  He stopped dead in his tracks and lifted up his arms.  I drew him up into my arms and tried to help him mold around my body.  Having not been held much in his life, he was awkward in this position, with his neck stiff and his limbs just hanging limp.  I placed my lips to his ear and said, “Rahul, I love you.  I am not going to hurt you.” It was the first time I had told him that I loved him, and until this moment, I wasn’t even sure that I did.

The rest of that night was happy and there have been so many happy times since then.  That night I began to trust my maternal instinct, which has guided me more surely than any advice or instruction.  That wasn’t the last time Rahul ran away from me and it certainly wasn’t the worst night we have shared since he has been home with me the past two and a half years.  But that night was the beginning of our very special relationship.

Rahul circa April 2008 in his favorite outfit!

Leading up to Rahul’s adoption I prepared a lot.  I read books, I shopped for supplies, I found doctors, dentists, Hindi translation services, I even moved to a new neighborhood with a better school.  One thing that I was completely unprepared for, though, was summer.  Rahul came home with me in April 2008 and I immediately put him in school.  But it wasn’t until there were only a few days left of school that I came up with any type of plan for what he was going to do during summer vacation while I was at work!  Not surprisingly, that summer was a bit of a mess.  And in fact, it took me a couple of years before I came up with the perfect combination of activities to fill his time without killing me financially and over-scheduling his vacation.  But, seriously, this summer (our fifth together) was by far the best!

Last winter Rahul began asking me if there were places where one could dig for gems, fossils, minerals, etc. so I turned to my good friend Google for some ideas.  The first thing I found was this amazing dinosaur dig in South Dakota that seemed perfect (http://www.paleoadventures.com) .  Then I realized that South Dakota was a great place to dig for other treasures like gold and gems, so I built a vacation around traveling there.  Then I learned that Rahul’s best friend Justin, who moved to Japan last year, was coming to NYC to visit for several weeks over the summer.  So Justin’s mom and I coordinated our schedules so that Justin arrived just as we were returning from our South Dakota trip.  We arranged for him to stay with us for a week and for the boys to travel together to my parents’ house of Lake Ontario for a week.  My parents are retired and live in an amazing place and they are unbelievably generous, so each summer they watch Rahul for a few weeks at their place while I come back to NYC to work and catch up on a year’s worth of missed sleep and social activity.  So when Justin returned to Japan, Rahul stayed at the lake and fished, swam, and had all kinds of adventures with his grandparents for a few weeks.  And our very last activity of the summer was to visit one of our favorite places on Labor Day weekend:  Libby’s Beach (which is actually the Jersey Shore, but my bff Libby’s family lives there…)!

Enjoy…

SUMMER VACATION VIDEO *Click Here*

Mother’s Day

May 6, 2012

I remember the first Mother’s Day card I received.  I was in India adopting my son and my bff Libby was with me, and she had brought a card all the way there so she could give it to me on the day I met my son for the first time.  She wanted to be the first to wish me Happy Mother’s Day!  I had been so completely focused on preparing everything in my life for Rahul and making sure I had everything he would need that I hadn’t really thought about how my own role in life was changing.  I remember thinking, Oh yeah! I’m a mother now!

 

As someone who came reluctantly into motherhood I had to wrestle with feelings of fear and distain toward joining “the mommy club”.  I hadn’t dreamed of becoming a mother my whole life–in fact, I hadn’t dreamed of it at all.  I remember once, on an ill-fated date, being asked how many children I wanted to have.  Zero, I said.  My date looked at me in absolute horror.  He literally stood up and paced and nearly left (good riddance) until another friend talked him down.  And you may be surprised, but I’ve received many similar reactions throughout my life when I have said I didn’t think I wanted children.

 

It wasn’t until about two years before Rahul came home with me that I began to have stirrings that I was supposed to be doing something more with my life.  A friend who had a similar lack of desire for children (and had been taken to a psychiatrist by her mother-in-law who thought she was a lesbian because she didn’t want any children–seriously, has she MET any lesbians?) had experienced a life-changing yearning when she held her nephew in her arms for the first time and was now expecting a child with her husband (a second marriage–the first one dumped her because of the “no kids” thing).  She advised me to seriously reconsider my ideas about motherhood.  And I did.  I thought about it seriously for the first time, but could not wrap my mind around becoming a single mom.  Then a few months later I experienced a big heartbreak and in the pits of my despair I realized I was yearning for something more than what that relationship could have given me.  I was yearning to be meaningful to someone.  To create family.  To use the blessings my life was overflowing with to help someone else.  Adoption.  The idea gelled completely in my mind and I knew it was my life’s purpose.  And a few weeks later I was filling out adoption papers!

 

So when I found myself facing my first Mother’s Day I thought it might be fun!  A day to celebrate me!  Well, my first Mother’s Day was so completely horrible that I literally wore sunglasses all day because I was crying and didn’t want Rahul to see.  People called me all day long to wish me well, which should have been encouraging, except that Rahul was miserable and unstable and totally hated me.  Every time I got a new “Happy Mother’s Day” phone message I wanted to throw the phone across the room.  It wasn’t a day much different from any other in those first few months, except that I had people congratulating me all day.  And to me that created a chasm between myself and everyone else.  I was prepared for Rahul’s difficult transition. It was incredibly hard, but I didn’t have expectations that it would be easy.  I think it was hard for most of my friends and family to understand how painful and traumatic it was for Rahul.  Most people pictured a much happier situation than it was in reality.  But  I wasn’t crying that day because Rahul was making me sad.  I was crying because I felt like no one understood what I needed that day.  Not well wishes and congratulations.  I needed a hug, comfort, a visit, support.  I realized that day that being a single mom to a child with special needs was incredibly lonely.

 

Subsequent Mother’s Days have gotten increasingly better.  Rahul is happier each year and he has expressed so much gratitude and love to me on Mother’s Day and every day that I don’t feel like there is anything I need from a special holiday.  And being a mother is my favorite thing in the world.  It is the most amazing experience and I’ve never regretted it once.  But I still feel a familiar tug each year on my heart at the beginning of May.  A reminder of the chasm that I still feel exists between myself and so many others.  Do people really see me?  Do they understand how treacherous my motherhood journey has been?   Do they realize how different my life is from theirs?  My side of that chasm is much more crowded now–with people who have held my arms up and remembered me and taken care of me.  Friends who have loved me and listened to me and supported me.  Friends who have had similarly crazy journeys through motherhood.  Family who have laid down their lives so Rahul and I could make it through the past four years.  It takes a village to raise a child.  And it takes a village to keep mom standing.

 

Women Who Throw Phones

January 31, 2012

I’m starting a club.  It’s kind of like the First Wives Club.  But its called Women Who Throw Phones and you can only join if you have done at least 5 of the following:

  1. Thrown your cell phone across the room, picked it up and thrown it again
  2. Spoken to your children in an “exorcist voice” and later felt ashamed
  3. Cried so hard you’ve thrown up
  4. Experienced an actual hallucination from lack of sleep
  5. Missed your child so much when they are with a caregiver you spent all your “me time” crying
  6. Walked the dog, taken the children to school, done all the household chores and worked a full day–all with a fever of 102 or higher
  7. Caught your child’s vomit in your hands while driving
  8. Wanted to scratch out the eyes of any number of women who post this on Facebook: “Hubby is taking me for a much needed getaway this weekend. Beach and spa, here we come!!!!!!!”
  9. Been at a loss for words when a friend says, “I don’t know know how you do it!  My husband went away for the weekend and I had to do everything myself!”
  10. Have built shelves, haggled with a mechanic, taught your son how to pee in the toilet, and received Father’s Day cards.

One time I went to a parenting class at my church.  And as I sat there hearing advice that did not apply at all to single parent families or children with special needs I began to realize that I didn’t belong there.  I needed to be able to talk with people who had problems bigger than Little Johnny Is Not Obeying His Parents or How To Carve Out More Time To Have Family Dinners Together.  The subject of children’s anger came up and as people shared anxiously about the (relatively mild) scenarios they were dealing with I thought, “My God. I don’t think you would last one day with my child.”

 

One day my best friend Libby and I were at the beach with Rahul.  He had just come through a particularly bad patch, and I spent the day telling her all the latest.  It was pretty “life or death” and she is one of the few people on the planet who knows some of the most excruciating details.  As we left the beach we passed a family bargaining with their toddler to let go of their beach towel because she was dragging it on the ground.  Something like, “Betty, if you let go of Mommy’s towel you can hold the sand pail!  Come on Betty, let go!  Betty, do you want an ice cream?  I’ll buy you one if you stop dragging the towel!”  Libby and I rolled our eyes at each other I said, “I look at families like that and wonder how long they would last with my child.”  She laughed and created a quick shorthand I have used many times since:

LESS THAN”      
“TWO”

 

Less than two minutes.  That’s how long they would last.

 

 

I am in Maine right now with one of my best friends and we are totally serious about starting our club.  She is a widow with 3 young children and helped me create the above list from her own experiences.  Her children are extraordinary–one is in the gifted and talented program, one has special needs and the third is an Indigo Child.  She lost her own father when she was a young girl and is now helping her children navigate the same situation.  She is the most amazing mother.  Another friend who I asked to join our club is a divorced mother of three young children who recently had to sit at a court hearing and hear a judge tell her the upside of her new 50/50 custody agreement (which my friend had spent years fighting to prevent) is that “Mom will finally get some ‘me time’!”  She is working 3 jobs and has to regularly hand her children over to a man who I wouldn’t let in the same state as my child.

 

We need each other.  Every once in a while we need to be able to talk about our lives, say “You know what I mean?” and hear someone say, “Yes.  Actually, I do.”

 

You know what I mean?

 

 

 

Remembering Mr. Doyle

January 10, 2012

I moved to Riverdale (Bronx) about a month before I adopted Rahul.  I had worked here and knew the neighborhood, but the month prior to Rahul’s arrival was chaotic to say the least, so I had no time to meet my neighbors or make friends.

 

When I went to India to get Rahul, my best friend Libby and my Dad came with me.  It was an incredible trip and when it came time to move Rahul out of his orphanage and get him set to travel, he was incredibly distraught.  Several thousand blog posts couldn’t accurately describe his anguish and my terror.  I was beyond grateful that my Dad and Libby were there to help me.  It was at the very least, a three person job to soothe Rahul and get him on the plane in a happy state of mind.

 

Rahul loved my Dad right off the bat.  He felt comfortable with him and trusted him, so I asked my Dad to stick around my place for a few extra days after the rest of the family (visiting to welcome Rahul) left.  When he finally packed up his bags to go, I snuck him out the door with vague directions to the train station (my mom had taken the car).  We didn’t want Rahul to notice he had left –which, of course, was a terrible idea.  I distracted Rahul and my Dad went out the door to fend for himself.  He asked the first person he saw how to get to the train station (I think I had given him the number for a taxi service–what a terrible daughter I am!!!!).  Thankfully, the first person he saw was someone who was to become one of the most cherished neighbors I have ever had.  He introduced himself as Mr. Doyle and that is who he has always been to me, despite his many attempts to get me to call him Dennis.  When my Dad asked him for directions, Mr. Doyle offered to drive him to the train. Now, in other cities, this may be a typical act of neighborly assistance, but in New York City–in the BRONX–not so much.  My Dad was certainly blown away by this act of kindness, and he got a chance to tell me all about it a half hour later when I called him crying because Rahul was freaking out at his absence.  I made my poor Dad get in a taxi and come all the way back to my place for a few more days.  Those were some rough days. Thanks Buzz:)

 

Mr. Doyle quickly became a trusted friend and neighbor to me.  I have always described him as a displaced beach bum, although he never lived on the beach.  He wore shorts until the weather dipped below zero, was incredibly laid back and always seemed like he might be just a little bit drunk.  He was one of those people who miraculously appeared to me whenever I was in need.  When I was shoveling the snow off my car, he was there to lend me a hand.  When I was late to pick up Rahul from school he happened to be driving by me and drove me to PS 24 in half the time it would have taken me to walk.  He had jumper cables at the ready when my car’s battery petered out, and in fact, several days after charging up my Jeep, he knocked on my door to tell me he had just bought me a new battery and put it in my car for me!!  When a tire was low, he’d knock on my door.  When my radiator fluid was running low, he would appear, then disappear to “borrow” someone’s bottle of radiator fluid from our garage, then reappear and replenish my supply.

 

I am not an easy person to take care of.  I have been on my own since I was 17 and am incredibly independent.  Mr. Doyle knew this about me and I always felt he respected me for it, but at the same time, he was always looking out for me.  He was often at the door of the building to open it when I had my arms full.  I remember taking my dog out for a walk one day when Rahul was particularly struggling, running into Mr. Doyle and just crying and telling him my woes.  Once, I came home to find that my lock had broken and needed to be replaced. I called a locksmith and settled in the lobby to wait for him.  Lo and behold Mr. Doyle walked in the door and waited with me for the hour or so it took for the locksmith to come.  On Christmas there would always be an S&S Cheesecake hanging on my door with a card signed “Mr. Doyle”.

 

I loved talking with Mr. Doyle–I called him the Mayor of Riverdale.  He knew everybody’s story.  Riverdale had seemed like a bland place until Mr. Doyle started telling me stories about some of the people here.  I could name anyone in the neighborhood and he could tell me something about them.  He was good-natured–all stories were told with a wink and a smile.  His way of letting anything roll off his back helped me to let go of some frustrations I had with people.

 

And for all his knowledge of other people, he was a very private person.  I never exactly knew what he did for a living, although I asked him outright several times.  I invited him to every gathering I ever had at my house and he never came.  I knew that he loved going to the races.  He loved riding his bike all over creation.  Nothing could make me happier than when he would quote Bible verses to me verbatum.  He would pop them out at the least likely times, and despite the fact that he meant them in jest, they were actually very meaningful to me.

 

The last time I spent time with Mr. Doyle was when I was in my mad race to get to Disney this past August (see blog post on the subject).  I went to him when I needed a ride to the dog kennel to drop Baby off.  I knocked on his door, asked him for help, and his reply was, “What time do you you need me?”  Of course he was there for me, and drove us through the Hurricane Irene flooding to get Baby to the kennel.  I told him about my crazy plight over the weekend and he just laughed and quoted some Bible verse and sent me on my way.

 

Unbeknownst to me, a few days later he was diagnosed with an illness that took his life on December 16th.  Our whole building reeled at the news.  What he was to me, he also was to everyone else.  He was a neighbor who didn’t just live in proximity to you–he also became a part of your life.  He will always be a huge part of my story.  A reminder that good, loving people still do exist.  That everyone has a story.  That its better to let trouble roll off your back.  That there are needs all around, every day, and by meeting them, you can change someone’s life.

 

 

How Fragile We Are

September 11, 2011

Everyone has a 9/11 story.  Here’s mine…

 

On September 10, 2001 my grandmother died.  Of course, this was a big loss for my family, especially my father.  We were rallying in Ohio, where she had died, on September 12 for her funeral.  This was going to be a little tricky for me, because I was starting school at Aveda (cosmetology school) on September 11th.  I decided I would attend school the first day and then drive out to Ohio that evening.  I rented a car and reserved a hotel room, but when I called my parents to tell them, they hated my plan.  They really wanted me to fly out there, because they thought the drive would be too difficult for me.  I was offended that they felt I was incapable of driving from NYC to Ohio, and although my parents and I never fight, I couldn’t let it go. We had it out.  Several phone calls later they informed me that I was flying and that they had already bought my ticket.  I was so angry that I hung up on them.  Then I called the airline and spent several hours negotiating a “bereavement” fare, so at least they would not have had to spend hundreds of dollars for a flight I didn’t need to take.  I went to bed incredibly bitter.

 

When I woke up on September 11th my first thought was of the fight with my parents and my stomach churned.  I was still nauseous with anger when I got on the subway to head downtown to school.  Luckily, when I got to the 1 train I ran into my friends, Alake and Suzy, also boarding the train.  Alake’s birthday had been the day before (9/10) and Suzy’s birthday was September 11!   So they were both in a very celebratory mood (Suzy was covered in glitter) and they cheered me up.  I had a long ride to school–from Washington Heights to Soho, and when I got to my stop (Varrick Street) it was about 8:50am.  As I came up onto the street I immediately noticed crowds of people lining Seventh Avenue and looking up and down the street.  I was beginning to wonder if this was what people did every morning in Soho when a caravan of firetrucks came roaring down the avenue.  Everyone on the street cheered and as I looked down Seventh to see where they were heading I saw giant flames leaping out of an enormous gash in the World Trade Center’s North Tower.  It was about a mile directly ahead of me.  I was alarmed, but nothing in me thought it was anything more than an accidental fire.  When I got to our classroom, news started coming in about a plane having hit the tower, and within 30 minutes a hysterical Aveda staff member came to the room telling us that both towers had been hit by terrorists and we all needed to leave the building so we could call our parents. (Many of the students were only just out of high school.)  I left the building, shaking, and called my parents.  I got through pretty quickly to my dad who was beside himself.  He told me the Pentagon had also been hit and I immediately had the idea that whoever was behind the attacks was not done with NYC yet and there would be more to come.  We were supposed to go back to class once we made our calls, but just when we got back the South Tower collapsed, and the staff told us to get to safety.  They suggested we team up and all head somewhere together.  I just wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible and my thought was,” I do not want to die with these strangers.”  I had the idea that there would be more attacks on landmarks around NYC and mentally made a map of them in my head.  My plan was to walk uptown, taking a route that would avoid as many of them as possible.  I felt that if I could reach 72nd Street and Riverside Avenue I would live.  I couldn’t think of any significant landmarks further uptown than that.

 

As I walked quickly north I noticed that it was eerily quiet.  Many people were just silently transfixed on the remaining tower.  Most cell phones weren’t working anymore and people were very patiently and orderly lined up to use pay phones.  The only sound came from news reports playing out of car radios–the cars parked on the street and surrounded by listeners.  I headed up 6th Avenue from Spring Street to 8th Street and the whole way I was very aware that the drama was playing out directly behind me, but I didn’t want to turn around and look.  I never once looked back at the towers that day.  I knew thousands of people were dying a mile behind me I didn’t want to see.  At 8th Street I cut west across Greenwich Avenue and realized right away that my view of the tower was now blocked, even if had wanted to look.  I started to panic and felt incredibly alone, as everyone had deserted the side streets for the better view the avenues afforded.  And as I walked toward Seventh Avenue I repeated over and over, “I’m ready, I’m ready…”  I thought I was about to die and it comforted me to know I was ready to meet my Maker.  Then as I looked ahead of me the crowds of people on Seventh Avenue began to scream and run north.  The second tower had just fallen.  I couldn’t see what they were running from, though, and I thought there had been a new attack right ahead of me.  My heart stopped and I quickly turned east to backtrack to Sixth Avenue and saw the same scene of people screaming and running there, too.  I felt trapped and terrified.  I looked down at the ground and my legs began to give out.  Everything slowed down and I knew I was about to pass out.  I wanted to just sit down right there and have it all be over, but just as I was lowering myself toward the ground, something in me turned back on and I knew I needed to just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking.

 

When I got to the avenue I walked a few more blocks north and along with everyone else, was in a complete daze.  Then I heard someone calling my name, and a car pulled up next to me.  In the driver’s seat was a friend and I just walked over his car and got in.  He hadn’t invited me to ride with him and was actually en route to pick his mom up from work and get her to safety, but I told him I was riding with him as far as he was willing to take me.  I don’t remember talking to him at all, but when we got to 34th Street he told me he needed to drop me off.  I got out and headed west–away from the Empire State building–and started zig-zagging uptown, avoiding the Lincoln Tunnel, Port Authority, Times Square, Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center.  I began to notice that already, everywhere I looked, there were American flags.  There was a feeling on the street of being very united with everyone else.

 

My only focus was to reach 72nd Street and Riverside Drive, and once I did I began to feel that I would live through the day.  I still had about 80 blocks left to walk in order to make it home, and just a few hours later I was walking in my door.  The next few days are a blur.  I knocked on doors all over my apartment building to see if everyone was OK and hosted a prayer night that many neighbors came to.  Two of my best friends married each other September 15th, and I know we had parties for them throughout the week.  (I can remember looking out the window at their rehearsal dinner and seeing the fighter planes circling the city.)  My parents came in for the wedding and I remember my mom choking up as she held me, telling me she was never going to tell me what to do ever again.  The nightmare she had been envisioning that week was “What if Renee’s flight, that we insisted she take, had been one of the hijacked ones?”.  And my 30th birthday was September 16th.  I think I spent most of it in bed.  As the days, then weeks went by, I began to find life’s rhythm again.  Of course, September 11th changed me forever.

 

What I think about most from that day was that moment where I almost gave way to terror and sunk to the ground on Greenwich Avenue.  Coincidentally, my church now meets on that block and I walk that same stretch every Sunday.  I went there today and sat down with a friend and prayed.  I thanked God for giving me the last ten years.  So many blessings have come to me in the past decade, especially the blessing of being Rahul’s mom.  That same sinking/I’m-not-going-to-survive-this feeling has come to me a few times in the journey of loving and helping him, and that same “something” has clicked on inside me each time.  Urging me to keep walking.  To survive.

 

How Fragile We Are VIDEO *click here*

Let me start by saying, I never had any intention of going to Disney.  Ever.  I’m just not a “Disney Person” if you know what I mean.  But then last Thanksgiving, as my niece and nephew were talking about their trips to Disney with Rahul I saw the look in his eyes.  He wanted to go.  He would never say so, but I could tell.  My mom saw it too.  She looked at me sternly and said, “You know you have to take him.” And so I began concocting a plan.

 

By Christmas I had enlisted my cousin Kathy to come also, with her daughter Gabby.  We could share a room and cut down expenses and the kids could ride all the roller coasters together!  I am severely motion sensitive, as is Kathy, but our kids are daredevils.   And I have enough friends who LOVE Disney to know I wouldn’t have to plan anything.  I would just do what they did!  My sister and brother-in-law had taken their kids 2 years in a row during the last week of August and had found Disney to be low on crowds and less expensive.  Its off-peak since kids in the South are back to school by then.  So Kathy and I settled on traveling down there the same week and staying only 4 days (for my sanity).

 

 

The cost of the whole package was a lot less than I thought it would be, but it was still a stretch for me. Between paying for Rahul’s day camp at the beginning of summer and Disney at the end of it, I worked my butt off all year.  I finally paid for the last piece of the trip about a week before we left, leaving just enough money for us to spend on vacation.

 

Then Hurricane Irene loomed.  We had tickets to fly out of NYC the Monday morning after it was supposed to hit (on Saturday and Sunday).  Saturday I had to drive up to the Catskills to pick up Rahul from sleep-away camp.  My Jeep has been breaking down all summer and I have been stranded more than once.  Honestly, I think it has spent more time with the mechanic than with me lately.  I plan on trading it in for a new, RELIABLE car, but just haven’t had the time between repairs to make it happen.  So I was just hoping it would keep running until I got Rahul back from camp.

 

(Oh. Sidestory that brings context to this whole tale: The week before Rahul’s camp I drove out to my parents’ house where he had been spending the first three weeks of August.  Its a 7 hour drive and when I was just past the halfway point in the drive the traffic slowed to a stop and black smoke drifted into the air ahead of me: a tractor trailer had caught fire and the section of the thruway I happened to be on was a parking lot for three hours while they put it out.

 

These are the kinds of things that frequently happen to me, especially when it comes to traveling.  Seriously, if I had been 15 minutes ahead or behind myself I would have avoided it completely.  But, of course, there I am peeing in a cup in my back seat while the contents of the Family Dollar truck burn to a crisp.)

 

 

So as Rahul and I were winding our way down the Catskills in the rain that Saturday before Irene, my main concern was making it home without incident.  We did, but as soon as I walked in the door I got a call from JetBlue informing me that our flight was cancelled.  My heart stopped and I settled in at the phone for what I knew would be a long call.  To their credit, the “on hold” music at JetBlue was “The Tide is High” by Blondie. They had a whole playlist of hurricane/flood related music, and believe me, I heard it all.  I spent six hours on the phone with various airlines, trying to find SOME way out of town.  The whole time, though, I saw our vacation slipping away.  My final game plan was to book a flight out of Rochester (6 hours away, but in the opposite direction from the path of Irene) departing Monday evening.  Rahul, Baby Fish Mouth (my dog) and I would drive up to Albany Monday morning and meet my parents (coming from the Rochester area) at my sister’s place.  I’d leave my Jeep there and drive to Rochester with my parents.  They would drop Rahul and I at the airport and take BFM back to their place for a few weeks.  (I’m a fiercely independent person, but I couldn’t be nearly so without the help of my family.)  I booked the flight out of Rochester on a Delta plane and got an Amtrak ticket to Albany for the Saturday we’d be back from Disney so I could pick up my car and drive it back home.  Rahul and I would arrive in Orlando one day late, but it would be better than nothing.  With that plan firmly in place, Rahul and I went to bed Saturday night and slept through the hurricane’s arrival.  In the 22 years that I have been going to my church it has never been cancelled before.  We had 26 inches of snow fall one Saturday night and the city was virtually shut down the following Sunday.  We still had church.  But for Hurricane Irene we cancelled our service.  So I slept until 9am–probably the latest I’ve slept in years.

 

 

I spent Sunday packing and when Monday morning arrived Rahul, Baby and I  got ready to set out.  I pulled up whatever traffic information I could, because I knew there was flooding.  The hurricane had hit, but had not impacted NYC as much as expected.  A lot of roads were closed and on our way out the door I learned that the NY State Thruway was shut down on both sides of Albany.  I called my sister and my parents, eventually deciding to bypass Albany altogether and head directly to Rochester across NJ and PA through Binghamton, NY.  I could not get reliable information about the condition of Route 80, but it seemed to be open, so I headed out, hoping I’d manage to get to Rochester at some point before 6pm.  We got about halfway across NJ and the traffic was bad, but the highway was open so we were feeling pretty good.  We stopped for gas and I pulled the car over to the side of the parking area so I could use the restroom.  And when I got back in to the car to leave, it didn’t start.

 

 

My heart sank.  Because of all the other trouble I’ve had with my car lately, I knew this would be a major repair, and because of all the flooding, I knew it would be hours before a tow truck would be able to get us to a mechanic.  There was nothing we could do, but sit and wait.

 

 

Three hours later, a tow truck came and took us down the road to the mechanic.  Everyone who looked at our car that day had been dealing so exclusively with flood-related issues that they didn’t beleive me when I told them my car had not been sitting in water.  One mechanic pulled me over to the side and threatened me, saying “You’ve got to be honest with me.  What really happened to your car?”  Somehow, I convinced him I wasn’t lying, and they went to work diagnosing my Jeep.  As Rahul and I sat there waiting I looked ahead of me at the gas pumps and started laughing.  We were supposed to be boarding a Delta plane right around that time…

Technically, God DID get me to Delta.  Then I asked to use the restroom.  The attendant gave me the key and I started laughing again.

NOT the Disney I had imagined.

 

 

Anyway, a while later they informed me that my car would need a part that they didn’t have in stock and wouldn’t be able to get until the following day.  I had heard them manually start my car once or twice so I proposed instead of trying to find a place to stay overnight with my kid and my dog in the middle of rural NJ during a major flood, that they manually start the car and let me drive it back to the Bronx.  They agreed to do that, warning me not to stall out (I drive a stick) and teaching me how to hot wire my car if I had to start it in an emergency.  Rahul and I held our breath all the way home, but we made it safe and sound.  I had been holding it together remarkably well all day, even as I was promising Rahul that I would take him to Disney someday and thinking about all the money I had worked so hard for going to waste.  But when I called my parents to tell them we made it home I lost it.  I didn’t have any food in the house and had no money left to buy any for the week, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around how depressing our week was going to be, while Kathy and Gabby were having fun in sun without us.  I needed to get back on the phone with JetBlue to process my refund (thinking that was some money that might get us through the week) and when I spoke to the reservationist I cautiously asked if they had added any flights that we might be able to get on.  And yes they had.  And yes, they had seats.  My first instinct was to just let it go.  I was exhausted and didn’t want to set myself up for disappointment, but then she offered to change our returning flight for free so we could stay one day later.  That would give us the 4 day/4 night vacation we had booked and would only mean adding one more night to the hotel reservation.  I had JetBlue on one phone and AAA Travel on the other and was speaking to both at the same time (“JetBlue, how many seats are on that flight?” “AAA, does Disney have any rooms for Friday night?” The JetBlue lady thought it was adorable.  The AAA lady wanted to stab my eyes out with her pencil.)  Miraculously, it worked out.  We got one more night at the hotel and got the last 2 seats on both flights with JetBlue.  And Delta and Amtrak both refunded our money!

 

 

So, again we went to bed in the hopes of making it to Disney the next day.  Early Tuesday morning I got my mechanic to tow The Green Nightmare to the garage.  Then I got the kennel to let us bring Baby in (they had been flooded in the day before).  Then I got my neighbor to drive Baby and I to the kennel.  Then Rahul and I grabbed our bags and started out to the airport.  I had no money for a cab, and obviously no car to drive us there, so we took the subway.  Which meant we had to take the bus from Riverdale to Inwood, then catch the A train, literally, from one end of the city to the other.  It took a little over 2 hours.  Strangely, and admirably, Rahul was a perfect angel through this whole ordeal.  We even decided we would take the A train to JFK airport from now on!

 

 

Well, from there the story gets much happier.  The plane took off.  We were on it.  It went to Orlando.  And somehow, despite every element seeming to be against us ever arriving at Disney, we made it there.

 

 

And it was magical.