Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11, Ten Years Later...

 Two Weeks after 9/11; Katya's First Haircut

We moved to New York City a few days before September 11th, 2001. Fresh out of law school, Chris began his career at one of the big NYC law firms smack in the middle of Manhattan... I busied myself with unpacking the never-ending stacks of boxes while simultaneously running after my one-year-old... 

It was the first autumn since I had turned five that I wasn't "going back to school." Having decided to take a few years off from teaching while Katya was small, I was trying to figure out what my new life would be. I missed teaching terribly, and the kids back at Cranbrook in Michigan were on my mind... But I was also so thankful to be with Katya, and she certainly kept me busy!

On September 11th, Chris left for work around 8:30 and I began getting breakfast ready for Katya... It was a beautiful morning; the sky was bright blue and the sun was shining... I couldn't wait to take Katya to the park later on! I still hadn't found the boxes with the television set or radio, so she and I just chatted amongst ourselves and sang some toddler songs while I made her oatmeal and cut up some fruit... 

Then the neighbor knocked on my door. He said something incomprehensible about the World Trade Center and invited me to come watch the news coverage on his television set. We ran up to the roof, and I could see smoke billowing from the 1st Tower... We still didn't realize the magnitude of what had happened, and I went back downstairs to quickly finish breakfast.

That's when the second plane hit.

I didn't know this... The neighbor got so swept away by the coverage that he didn't come get me again... But then the first of many strangers rang our door bell. Keep in mind, we lived in an apartment building—in order to ring OUR bell, you had to either know our apartment number, or you had to ring EVERYONE'S bell.

On September 11th, exactly nine strangers took it upon themselves to ring our building's bells until they reached me. They remembered seeing a large moving truck a few days prior, with a young family... They were afraid that my husband (or I) might have been in the towers and wanted to make sure that we were OK, especially since we were new and wouldn't have any "safety network" in place.

That was just the beginning of kindness that poured out of my neighbors' hearts.

Once I realized what had happened, I tried to reach Chris—but couldn't. It turns out he was directly underneath the first tower when it got hit, but the metro then continued on to his office. He made it to work, but everyone soon realized what was going on and like most Manhattan workers, he then literally walked home (across the Brooklyn Bridge).

We were beyond thankful that he had turned down a job offer on the 85th floor of the first tower...

By this point I had grabbed Katya and we RUSHED to the local hospital to give blood. The line was literally around the block... Everyone was in shock... I gave blood, but sadly no survivors ever needed any...

I can't even remember the rest of the day; it's all a blur. I remember the days afterward, however, with stunning clarity...

Eight children on our street lost a parent. Twenty-three of the twenty-four firemen at our neighborhood's fire house died. The grief rocked you to your core. Strangers cried together. Everyone walked around as if an extra in some post-apoctalyptic film. Office papers were littered all over our street. The air tasted of smoke.

And then people snapped out of it.

Those who survived threw themselves fully into honoring those who had died, and a palpable sense of community overtook the entire city. I remember seeing a mother with a newborn baby in a carriage on 9/14... I asked her how old her daughter was, and she told me "three days." It turns out she was born at 9:02 a.m. Her name is Hope Grace.

Around this time Katya fell in love with wearing a feather boa, crown, purse—and carrying a matching magic wand. Everywhere we went, she waved her wand at people, granting their wishes... I let her. She blew kisses at businessmen, kids, housewives and homeless people... In her own small way, she made people feel better when they were reeling inside.

Katya's Attire of Choice for Six Months after 9/11

In the three years that followed, we developed a real rapport with our local firehouse... We ended up moving next to another firehouse that had also suffered great losses in the Towers. Whenever I baked, I did a double batch and shared it with the men... We shared the basil from our garden with them... They let Katya sit in the fire truck.... We went to their holiday parties... I helped them to make special albums for the families of the men who had died... 

We made sure they knew how much we honored them, and Katya and Natalia spent the first years of their lives knowing that the firefighters and police of New York City were true heroes.

Perhaps that's why it was so hard in some ways to adjust to Moscow...

After living through all that we had, I just couldn't get used to the corruption of the officers we encountered on a regular basis... A few times a month I was stopped to by traffic police looking for bribes, even when I had done nothing wrong... It got so bad that one day Katya just asked the officer, in perfect Russian, "Could you just hurry up and take Mom's money? We're late for ballet..." 

When she was five, she was asked as part of a US-created development test, "What does a police officer do?" She then said, "He works with the cash register." The examiner thought Katya's development was off-pace; we then realized that she had associated being a police officer with dealing with money...

That's when something in me snapped. I had been raising my children to think of the police, and firefighters, as heroes—and all of these corrupt officers were polluting their innocence and faith... A few months later when I was stopped, yet again, for no reason, I actually "lost it." I LET THE OFFICER HAVE IT. I refused to give him my license, refused to pay him a penny, and tried to just walk away... When he, in shock, demanded I play along, I let loose the wrath of God, explaining how such corrupt behavior had tarnished the memory of my nation's heroes in my children's eyes... I went ON and ON. 

He could not believe it... He had every right to take away my license, car and send me to temporary lock-up, but he just let me walk away... I think it was just easier that way! I got in the elevator, though, and burst into sobs... 

I should say that both of the girls know that police corruption is the "exception," not the "norm," no matter how prevalent it may be here... I want them to grow up honoring public servants, especially those who have risked everything, some even giving their lives, to help on 9/11 and after other horrid terrorist attacks that have happened in Moscow...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Moscow Sunset


Alexandra, a very talented student of mine (and—as we discovered tonight as I went to pick up Natalia—neighbor) took this incredible picture tonight. WOW. And to think I was inside dealing with dinner, homework, laundry, etc. and didn't even look out the window to see what was happening in the sky! I look forward to more of her photos!