It’s not a typo. It’s the date a whole new life opened up for me. I know for many it was the following morning that that happened. And it was for me too. But on 09/10/2001 I started school in Chelsea, NY. Acupuncture school to be specific.
It was a Monday, as you know. There was a thunder storm that started around 4 pm. There was a very loud thunder clap that silenced our instructor. After which a man in the back with a very deep voice said “that was ominous”. We all laughed. We had no idea how true those words would turn out to be.
The next morning what happened, happened. We were a collective of strangers, new to this school, to each other and maybe to the city of NY. Some people had the support of friends, lovers, family members. Some of us did not.
Prior to starting school a number of things happened that caused me to take a step back from the decision I’d made. The events that unfolded prior to 9/11, in my life, where brutal and shocking. And they preceded the most shocking experience of all.
I drove across the country in a Ryder truck with every stick and stitch I owned loaded in it. My sweet 11 year old dog, Scooter, rode shotgun. Between us was a cooler filled with ice and peanut butter, jelly, bread, half and half and a few other things you need to drive across the country alone and on the cheap.
We went South through Oregon so I could drive along the Columbia River and through the lower parts of the Rocky Mountains. It was early March and I knew there would be snow farther North and as I’d already seen the states there I wanted a different experience. We took I84 (later I86) through Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and stopped for a visit with some friends in Northern Pennsylvania.
All of this travel went off as smoothly as you could image. No problems with the truck, the dog or me. It was a perfect trip. Right up until with crossed over in the New York State.
My cell phone suddenly didn’t work. Verizon dropped service in NY because of the high instance of fraud and theft in this state. I didn’t know I was without service until I crossed the Williamsburg bridge into Brooklyn and was very very lost. This was before GPS and I had a paper map but it’s not like at 9 at night, in the snow and after driving 4 hours without a break I was able to clearly navigate that map.
I started to cry. I was so frustrated, Scooter and I had to pee and for the first time in a 3000 mile trip, we were lost. Then I remembered; NYer’s are nice people. I rolled down the window, got directions and was to my grandmothers house in 30 minutes.
I arrived on 3/19/2001. My grandmother had one of those Singer sewing machines with it’s own table you can drop the machine in to. Well, she did that while it was still on and on 4/22/01 the whole front of the house went up in frames when the motor overheated. Thankfully, no one was hurt. But everything I brought across the country was destroyed. Clothes and all.
We moved into temporary housing courtesy of the insurance company. On 05/12/01 I received a bill from Macy’s. I did not have an account with Macy’s. It was for $10,000. Then I got a bill from Capital One, which I did use but for an amount I did not charge. And then I figured out where all this was coming from. My cousin had stolen the necessary information to open accounts in my name and go shopping for his girlfriend. I know this because the dummy had the bills forwarded to his home address.
This took over a year to clear up and it was a very stressful experience on top of everything else I was dealing with. But finally I had enough money to rent my own space and I chose a room in an apartment in Harrison, NJ. I rented a truck, loaded my stuff and drove to NJ. I unloaded and carried everything I owned up 3 flights of stairs to my new apt. I would take the Path under the WTC to get to lower Manhattan. I would not spend one night in that apt.
Acupuncture school is a masters program in many states including NY. It takes 3 years and it’s as intense as any graduate program. Starting school at 35 years old is difficult. I had recently returned to NY after living in Washington state for the previous 16 years. Other than my immediate family, most of whom lived on Long Island, I knew no one.
On 09/10/01 I rode the L train back to Brooklyn. I had planned to start staying at my new place the coming weekend. While on the train I got a phone call from a woman I went to massage school with back in Seattle. Kate called to tell me that my very good friend Kurtis had a heart attack the day before, 09/09/01, and died.
The next morning I was sitting at the table writing in my journal and drinking my coffee. My grandmother said she wanted to watch some golf on TV. After a few minutes she called me into the living room because a plane had hit one of the towers of the WTC. I had just been writing about how my life was about to change in ways I couldn’t have imagined. And then I saw what was playing out on the TV.
I sat with my Nanny and I said “either someone had a heart attack and lost control of the plane or we’re being attacked”. Within a few minutes I knew which it was as I watched the plane hit the second tower. I don’t think I cried immediately. In fact, I didn’t cry all day. But that would be the last day for many months that tears would not fall like rain from my eyes.
I rented another truck and drove back to NJ to collect all my things from the apartment I would never live in. As I crossed the bridge I watch in horror as the smoke continued to rise from the site of the WTC. My brother offered his vacant apartment on Long Island and I took it. With no income, no (good) credit and no student loan money, I had few options on where to live. My brother gave me a home that first year back in NY and I will always be grateful.
I wrote this because someone asked me to write about an event in my life where the trajectory of my life was forever changed. Truly, there isn’t ONE event. There was one decision, to move back to NY, and from that one decision and a cascade of events I did not cause, the trajectory of my life is different than I ever thought it would be.
For better or worse, I’m a New Yorker again. I have met some amazing people I would not have met had I not come back. I have a relationship with my mother that is deeper and more substantial than I could have ever guessed it would be. I’ve met women who have become my best friends and who without their influence and love I would not be who I am today.
But I do wonder. What would I have done; would I have gone to acupuncture school, gotten married, bought a house? Would I have stayed in Olympia or moved to Colorado, the other state I was thinking about moving to when I moved to NY.
I’ll never know. But it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it sometimes.