Why I came to Canada
I got off the bus at West Broadway and Houston. The World Trade Center was about twenty blocks south. I stood at the corner and could make out flames licking the top of the the first tower. Nearby, a group of tourists snapped pictures.
I couldn't grasp the magnitude of the event yet. I was sure the fire department was already taking care of it. I went to get a cup of coffee a few blocks away on Thompson Street.
The metal gate was pulled down to show the store was closed. The tall, young owner sat in front of the store on a bench. People who lived on Thompson filled the street. A woman said the plane had flown so low over Thompson they thought it would crash into their apartment.
When I got home none of the phones were working. I turned on the TV to the BBC. They said the Pentagon had just been hit by a plane. Then I thought of Eli, at his third day of kindergarten. I went back out to try to catch the bus back down to his school.
By this time, the second plane had hit and people were pouring down West Broadway (my street), fleeing. Most were calm, but every so often someone would walk by weeping.
I stood at the bus stop with a group of about five women and we tried to figure out if buses were still running. Word had gotten around that all subways had been cancelled and that the bridges were closed.
Suddenly, there was screaming and I ran back to the corner just in time to see World Trade Center collapse and disappear. The vanishing of it was too much for my mind to comprehend. Many people were screaming. The women were getting panicked. One woman was trying to get her kid at a school on thirtieth street. She had no money. I looked in my wallet and discovered that I had only one five dollar bill.
We flagged a taxi down and he took me to Eli's school as the other woman begged the taxi driver, weeping, to please take her to the school, but she had no money to pay him. I don't know what happened after he dropped me off. At Eli's school all was innocent and calm, heartbreakingly innocent. The principal told me I could go ahead and get Eli out. I peered in the classroom and saw the children singing “the eensy beensy spider”.
Eli didn't want to leave. "Mommy, why!?"
It broke my heart to tell him. I tried to make it as simple as possible. Back out on Houston Street, there was now a river of people pouring away from downtown. Everyone was trying to figure out how to get home. There were more people weeping. I passed a woman on the pay phone shouting at her mother who worked at a nearby building to the WTC, "Mom, get out of there now."
Every few feet I passed a group of people sharing stories about what they'd seen. Some had seen the airplanes hit. Or the buildings fall. Or people falling from the hole the airplane created, tumbling out of the building. There were lines at ATMS, but none of them were working. Still mostly people were amazingly composed.
We got to Mott Street and Eli was feeling tired and I wanted to get off Houston Street so we turned onto Mott. We passed my friend Heather's house and I thought maybe she would be home. I thought maybe her phones would be working and I could call my husband, who was at work at the San Remo apartments uptown. Amazingly, she was home. I went up to her place.
Her son and daughter go to PS 234, which is five blocks from the World Trade Center. Her nine year old son, David, said, Linda, I saw a man jump. He was falling down out of the building and I shouldn't have looked but I did look, do you think he died?
Heather told me of running down to get the children, of David's three classmates whose parents worked in the World Trade Center and how they were crying hysterically watching the building burn, so the teacher closed the shades so they couldn't watch. As Heather and the kids hurried down West Broadway away from the school, the buildings collapsed and they were followed by the cloud of smoke and debris. We took the kids up to the roof where they had a sandbox and jungle gym. We heard the aftershock explosions. Eli was afraid a plane was going to hit the roof, so we went back down. I finally got through to my husband, but at this point, there was a profound disconnect between uptown and downtown and it hadn't sunk in. When I finally reached him, he was in shock, and denial.
Heather's husband had decided to take them out of town to their house in the Catskills, and as I was five months pregnant, they insisted I come, too. I didn't know what to do: go back home, where the phones didn't work? Wait for my husband to get home and decide what to do? Heather was insistent that I needed to get out of town and sent me home to pack, keeping Eli with them. I almost cried leaving Eli, but moved on through the uncertainty and went home to pack. Once home I thought, "This is nuts." I'd wait til my husband got home. Then I heard jets roaring outside the window ( I later learned they were US fighter jets) and not knowing whose jets they were, and now ready for a next attack, gathered only essentials. I threw a bunch of stuff in a suitcase, grabbed a photo album and my computer and hurried to our meeting point, a park where the kids always played. There, Heather's husband waited with their SUV.
We weren't sure we'd be able to get out. We left Manhattan over a two lane bridge in the Bronx. A little known exit, the only way out.
All the way to Walton, Heather's son, David, talked nervously about the guy who'd jumped and what did we think had happened to him. Meanwhile, Max, a prominent art dealer, was telling me that the economy was now going to collapse and his business was finished.
Finally, we pulled into the driveway. There were many tantrums and meltdowns before the end of the day. Still, within an hour of being in nature, the kids began to relax a little. Everyone went to take a walk and I was finally able to rest.
But I couldn't rest. Before I knew it, I was sobbing, and images of the plane hitting the building went through my mind, over and over, even though I hadn't actually seen this, either on TV of in real life. By now, however, I'd heard so many first hand accounts of people who had seen it that my mind had absorbed the image, as if I'd seen it, too.
Eli asked me to sing him a song that night at bedtime about the World Trade Center and I made up a song about how it had always been there and we had always looked at it, but today it was gone, and wasn't it amazing that on the same day he'd found caterpillars and frogs and the sky had been so blue.
And that's how I came to Canada, to Cortes Island, where we'd been spending summers. We rented a house by the ocean. I'd step out on the bluff, tilt my head back and gulp in clean, clear air---so fresh, after breathing the toxic cloud the terrorist attack left hanging over downtown. I was grateful and relieved.
I gave birth to my son, Lev, surrounded by family and friends, in a Kitsilano condominium.
He was born perfectly healthy, a miracle, given how much poisonous chemical drenched air I breathed the month I remained in Manhattan following the event. My loft was fifteen blocks away from Ground Zero, in an artist's cooperative on West Broadway. West Broadway ended at the buildings which are no more.
For me, the new life has replaced the life I had when the buildings still stood. I appreciate Canadian society every day. As an American, I see so much worth protecting here from the vast tracts of boreal rain forest in the north to the good policies that offer health care to every Canadian. I feel lucky to be here every day.
Nonetheless, in the years after walking away from my life in Soho, I sometimes wondered if I had done the right thing.
Then I'd recall the day, when standing with a group of mothers outside my son's school only a few weeks after the disaster, we watched our small boys go inside and we imagined them exiting the nearby high school eighteen years later as young graduates. As young men. We wondered what the world would be like then.
And I decided to move to Canada.
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