The last week of June I took a road trip home to NYC with friends who I had not seen in something like 20 -30 years. We grew up in Bay Terrace, Queens. It’s a beautiful and relatively affluent area on the northern shore of Queens, just east of the Throgs Neck Bridge. My parents moved us from danky, dangerous south Jamaica to Bayside in 1974. I’m sure they thought they were doing the best thing for us.
But I never really adjusted to the neighborhood. Although I am of mixed Jewish heritage, I did not identify as Jewish and felt out of place in the heavily Jewish neighborhood. My family relationships were distant and turbulent. From a very young age I’d learned to isolate myself and not reveal what was going on inside. I’d had some Catholic upbringing and went to a Christian school for a few years but God was distant and not real to me. These factors led to my falling prey to the neighborhood temptations. Lots of kids messed around to a degree but for me it was always a step further than those around me and with frequently disastrous consequences.
I left the neighborhood at the age of 17 after being thrown out of the house. I came back briefly, only to be thrown out again. The third time my parents had thrown out all my things and moved to a smaller apartment but were notified by the state that since I was still under age, they were supposed to support me. And so I got a mattress in the back of the couch to sleep on.
Desperate for privacy but with minimal education to find a decent job so I could move out, I wound up in still another dysfunctional living situation before finally finding a safe place in Manhattan for a few years and then finally moving to Brooklyn in 1985, which set the stage for the positive changes that were to come in my life once I sought help and removed myself from the people, places and things that were causing me to self destruct.
So why did I go back? Seeing old pics of the neighborhood on Facebook reminded me that there was good and beauty around me as I was growing up even if I was too sick to see it at the time. I have lifelong friends from Bayside who I still enjoy talking to. I knew my friends on the trip would support me. Somehow I wanted to stare the bad memories down and find redemption in the mess.
I saw a lot of places and things that were triggers in one way or another in the past. But most of the memories don’t hurt any more. I have a new awareness now that God always had my back, even though He did allow me to hit the ground very hard over the years until I was ready to make some changes. There were really so many ways I could have died while engaging in the reckless behavior that was the hallmark of my late teens/early 20s. I’ve known others who did not make it and I understand I am here by His grace alone.
We then went to the WTC memorial. I didn’t know how I would feel, or how I was even supposed to feel. I didn’t lose anyone on 9/11 but I did work in the south tower in the 1980s, and about five years in the general downtown area. I worked on the 46th floor of the south tower. My boss’s office faced NewYork Harbor and I used to sneak in there whenever I could just to put my face against the glass and look out.
I watched everything on TV like everyone else but it has seemed very surreal to me over the years. Our cab flew past Trinity Church and I could only catch a quick glimpse of it. That church was a very special place of peace that I used to sneak off to in the 1980s when I was struggling. Trinity Church miraculously managed to survive 9/11 and was able to remain open for the first responders and others who were working the site.
I couldn’t cry, couldn’t place my emotions. Walking through the strange white hallway made me think about all the people who jumped. And when I got to the hole in the ground that is the remnant of the south tower I walked the perimeter of the memorial, dragging my fingers along the names inscribed. When I saw the names of the 343 firefighters, their battalions and the police department, I did cry a bit. But what I felt most strongly was just nausea and a strange feeling of disjointedness. I then spent some time just sitting on one of the benches and looking at Freedom Tower, the new reality. It’s still hard for me to swallow that the beloved twin towers are no longer there.
I left feeling that I had paid my respects to the victims but the strange, disjointed feeling continues. I do hope I can go back again and take my time there.