(First posted on 9/11/05)
As we were learning the terrible truth on the morning of September 11, 2001, there was one person I especially wanted to see: my daughter Chloe. She wanted to see me too.
When she came in from school later that afternoon, our sad eyes met. We stayed in that mutual gaze for a few seconds, both of us knowing exactly what the other was thinking.
Living less than a hundred miles from Manhattan, day trips into "the City" are easy to do and always promise an adventure. Earlier in June of that year, Chloe and I had spent one such day together, just the two of us.
On the train ride down that morning, she told me she was really interested in a visit to Ellis Island. She'd been reading about immigrants who came through there. She wanted to know what they once saw, to imagine how they must have felt. Some of them were Bellizzis.
I thumbed through my guide to New York and realized that we weren't going to be able to make it out to Ellis Island that day. I had scheduled a short appointment with a professor at New York University, hoping to set up a plan to read Classical Hebrew there maybe one day a week. It would be expensive, I thought. But on my day off I could enjoy two loves of my life; New York and Old Hebrew. Besides, going through a terrible divorce, I was pretty desperate for something that would help me to feel happy again. No Ellis Island that day, I told Chloe.
I knew she was disappointed. So I promised her that once we'd gotten my meeting out of the way, she could call the shots. I'd be willing to spring for almost any adventure. But it would have to be in Manhattan.
She hadn't imagined an alternative, and wanted to know what I thought would be a fun Plan B. So I started to ask . . .
The Museum of Natural History? Um. No.
(joking) The American Numismatic Society? Lots and lots of ancient coins! Nobody wants to go there except you, Dad.
I bet my teacher, Dr. Oster, would go with me. Then call him.
A few bookstores? (getting irritated) Dad!
Okay, sorry. . . I know! How 'bout the World Trade Center? What can you do there?
I'm not sure, exactly. (looking it up in the guide) But we could go to the top. Says here that they have places to eat. There's a glassed-in observation deck, and you can take an escalator up to the roof.
(looking at the pictures and starting to smile) Okay. Let's do that.
After the train stop and our walk through Grand Central, we took the subway headed south. Having made it to lower Manhattan, we meandered around in Washington Square Park talking. Then it was over to my appointment, which was over soon enough.
As we stepped out of the office building, I wanted to be sure we'd have enough time that afternoon. So I decided to spend the extra money for a cab instead of the subway. Within a few minutes, the driver was dropping us off so close to the buildings that we couldn't see their tops from inside the car.
Looking at the World Trade Center was sort of like looking at the Grand Canyon. You wondered, "Is it bigger or smaller than it seems?" You also wondered, "How was this ever made?" There on the street, most everything was gray, the sunlight blocked by the shadows of the towers. Even the bright signs had a bit of a pall.
Once inside, it wasn't long before we bought our tickets to take the less-than-a-minute elevator ride to the 107th floor. From that point up, most of the WTC's south tower was the observation deck and a level or two with restaurants and exhibits. We walked around the perimeter of the deck, looking in all directions, reading the signs that told us what we were seeing. Soon we were on the escalator, riding up to the roof.
It was incredible. I remember looking up the length of Manhattan and seeing well past the north end of the island, all the way to those towns in New York that lay beyond the Bronx, and east into Connecticut. To the west was New Jersey. I wondered about the number of miles we could see.
The wind was strong and blustery, a constant sound in the ears, like standing at the edge of the ocean. I remember thinking, "It must be like this all the time up here. Wonder what it's like on a windy day." For a second my imagination turned horrific and I thought about what it would it would be like if an unexpected gust were to take my feet out from under me and send me flying from the top.
Between the office appointment and the cab, we had looked around in a tourist shop and I'd bought one of those disposable cameras. Now I was ready to use it. I especially wanted to get a picture of the two of us facing south, with the Empire State Building and all of those lesser skyscrapers behind us. I asked a young woman if she wouldn't mind. She snapped the photo and smiled as she handed the camera back to me.
The roof wasn't where you wanted to linger. Within few minutes, Chloe and I were having lunch at the pizza place on one of those top floors. I guess I'll never forget one of the songs that played in the background that day. It was Billy Joel's "Lullabye."
Someday we'll all be gone
But lullabyes go on and on
They never die
That's how you and I
Will be . . .
Of course, it made me think of me and Chloe.
I don't recall much about the rest of the day. There was a late afternoon shower, and we bought an umbrella at a little shop on Broadway. I still have that umbrella.
Within a day or two after we'd gotten back, though, I started wondering where that camera was. We looked, but didn't find it. The week following September 11th, we looked a lot more, but it never turned up.
Since then, when I'm not wishing we had that photo, I sometimes think to myself, "Maybe it's just as well."
Either way, I have these memories. Now and then, I hear that song. It always makes me cry.