Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Other Twins

As everyone knows, ten years ago today, my city, my country, and the world changed irrevocably; all were diminished forever.

This is one of those touchstone moments, that everyone who was alive and old enough to be cognizant knows exactly where they were, who they were with, what they were doing at the exact moment that they heard the news of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, the towers falling.

Some didn't have to "hear the news" as they were close enough to see, hear, feel the event itself. My friend Peter was working in the towers, his life saved by a forward thinking manager who told his people to get out and go home, in spite of what the building management people were telling him.

I do not know a single New Yorker who did not know someone who lost someone that day, there being way less than six degree of separation here.

I myself, in spite of living in the city, was kept in a bubble, unaware of what had gone down for a good hour afterward. At exactly 8:45 AM, I had arrived for a breakfast date, and entering the Barking Dog Diner, greeted my friend who had taken a cozy dark booth on the inside -- there being two basic choices in seating: cave or greenhouse.

I say I was meeting a friend, but strangely enough, she was someone I was actually meeting for the first time. In 2001 I was just dipping my toes in the water of an online life, and that morning I was meeting my first internet friend IRL. We had connected at a fertility website, back when "interacting" online meant posting notes on a message board site and waiting hours (and sometimes days) for a reply.

My friend had just completed a successful IVF cycle at the same center where I was planning to undergo one, if my September IUI failed (it did - the twins are IVF). She was in town for her first ultrasound, and I was rushing to find out her news. She lived upstate, near Albany, but had traveled down to NYC to do her fertility treatment because of the sterling reputation of the center we were at (Weil-Cornell, for the curious).

Deeply nauseated, she had been worried it might be twins, was hoping she was carrying a singleton. When I arrived she was glowing, happy to have witnessed that miraculous thing: her (single) baby's heart-beat in grainy black and white on the ultrasound monitor.

Unaware of all that was going on in the world around us, cocooned in the glow of long awaited happiness finally unfurled, we talked and dreamed of our futures as mommies. I looked to her and hoped I was seeing shadows of my future.

Finally, it was time for us to leave; for her to head back to Penn Station and catch the Amtrak back North to her husband (who sadly could not come with her this day) and for me to head to work, conveniently right across from Penn station. We were going to catch a cab together.

While she made her way to the bathroom, I went up front to pay and was annoyed to find the cashier/hostess had abandoned her station, was furiously pacing and smoking (?!?) on the sidewalk outside. When I stepped out to find her, she was jumpy as a cat, apologized profusely and added tensely: "It's just I'm so upset by what's going on, I had to have a cig."

I must have stared at her blankly because her look softened. We spoke over each other; me: "What do you mean, what's going on?" and her: "Oh, honey, you don't know, do you?"

She then proceeded to tell me that two planes had hit the Twin Towers, and they were aflame. She pointed me southward to witness the plumes of smoke rising, ominously black in the brilliant blue sky.

Just then a cab stopped smack in the middle of the intersection of York Avenue and 77th Street. The driver rolled down his window and cried out to the world: "The towers are falling, the towers are falling!"

I paid our breakfast bill in a blur, came back to our booth to find my friend and break the news to her. It seemed surreal, impossible. Could that really have happened while we sat and ate breakfast so calmly, so unaware, in this selfsame city, just a few miles to the south?

We were both in a daze, needing to contact husbands and head west. I had it in my head to still go in to work, she thought there was a chance she could catch a train, desperately wanting to be heading out, home.

Miraculously while we were both calling and getting busy signal after busy signal, cell towers vastly overloaded, my cell phone rang. My husband had gotten through. He disabused us of the notion of heading toward Penn Station, told my friend they had already sealed off the city to rail traffic, told me I was in no circumstances going anywhere but home. And my friend, obviously was coming with me.

New, barely knowing each other outside the details of our ovulation cycles, we were abruptly bonded by strange circumstance. Sitting in our living room together, numbly watching events unfold on the TV, we barely spoke, just witnessed.

Luckily my friend had an aunt who resided in the city, and in my neighborhood no less. Contact was eventually made, my friend departed, and my husband and I found ourselves alone, together, un-moored except for each other.

Ahead lay days of nervous baby steps back out into the world; lay our trip to my niece's September 15th wedding in Maryland, making jokes along the way about traveling from one target zone to another; lay contemplating and then going through with our final, ultimately successful attempt to become pregnant, made ever more poignant in this, our post-9/11 world.

But that evening there was only us, walking slowly down Riverside Drive, hand in hand, gazing southwards at the haze of smoke hanging over the smoldering pits where just that morning buildings had stood.

They were not beautiful, those Twin Towers, products of 1970's minimalist uber-functional architecture; but they were ours, and somehow majestic in their dominance of the New York City Skyline.

Ten years is both a short and long time. The entirety of our sons' lives. But also the blink of an eye. Especially for the many who lost loved ones that day, whose time-dulled grief is made knife sharp again each year, as September 11th rolls around.

I cried that day for the shattering -- of lives, of innocence, of an easy sense of all being right with the world that can never return again.

I cried again this morning, remembering; and with the small sadness that my sons will never know that little uplift of the heart that came when flying back to New York from distant shores, of spotting the Twins, those beckoning towers, welcoming you, and knowing you are finally home.

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