A Letter From 2,800 Miles Away

Sep 11
2011

Ten years ago, I had been living in Los Angeles for just two years.
I wrote the following a few days after September 11, 2001. 

***

Dear Grandma New York,

I wish I was with you now.  I wish I could sit with you and hold your hand as you slowly recuperate. I’m jealous of the rest of the family who was – thankfully – there after it happened. And I am glad that they are there to comfort you as the doctors diligently repair your wounds.  But I am so far away, Grandma.  I can’t hug you and hold hands with all the people who line your bedside. Instead, I have to send my heart from here.

These bad men, Grandma – they may have attacked a wealthy beautiful woman, but they picked one tough broad to fuck with.

You taught me that.  I was just a suburban girl, comfortable, naive, unchallenged. You were a place to visit, a family member placing lox and bagels on her table on a Sunday morning.  I grew up and wanted to live with you.  You accepted me but warned that you slowed down for no one; I would have to find my way on my own.  But you had it all and I wanted to see it.  I found out you were much more than lox and bagels and Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda.

Unabashedly, you showed me who you are, flaunting strengths and flaws with equal abandon.

You embody danger and safety, education and ignorance, and speak many, many languages.

You rarely sleep and are all the more beautiful for the lack.  At night you shine, jiggle, sway, while in daylight you continue briskly forward, a cup of jo in your hand, a firm destination in your sights.

You’ve got a mind for business and have invested wisely, supporting both millionaires and entrepreneurs.

You’re fascinating to those both near and far, and why not? You can dance, sing, paint, sculpt, and are a fiercely competitive sports player.  And you have been known, in fact, to do all of these things simultaneously.

Many want to be your lover and you flirt with all. Some want to be with you forever; others as just a one-night stand.  They revel in your excitement and late hours, and wildly spend money on you until they return to their own families, exhausted. You’re grateful for the time you had with them, knowing full well that they will, eventually, return.

But not everyone is drawn to you; some see you only as harsh, wild, dirty and loud. You accept them, regardless of their bad taste.

Others have called you vain; your never-ending face lift a testament to your never-ending desire to be better, look better.

Artists paint you, sing about you, photograph you…never satisfied with their representation of your angular beauty.

You embrace all walks of life, and made me accept them, as they co-exist.  All colors, all sizes, with dimes to dollars in their pockets.

You taught me tolerance of the young and the old, the strange and the sane, the destitute and the rich.

Both savage and gentle, you taught me the difference and how to avoid one to find the other in the mere turn of my own step.

You taught me to be tough, to take care of myself.  You challenged me with scam artists and taught me the comfort of trusting my own instincts.

You expanded my mind. I learned the art of quick but sincere conversation.

You even showed me that I had to leave you to pursue my dream, with the understanding that I could return anytime I wanted.

You made me love you. And then I grew up and left you as other things became important.  This is my heart to you from 2,800 miles away as I watched the unspeakable on a tiny screen.

I saw a blow and your thighbone broke; another strike and your kneecap popped.  Then I saw you collapse, a strong tough old broad, covered in dust and flames.  And then, oh then, Grandma, I witnessed your heart attack.  You went into shock; fear running through your veins and out your pores, the swiftness of the attack squelching any possibility of comprehension.  I saw it on TV over and over and over, not quite understanding, and yet wanting to rush you to the hospital myself despite my confusion.

But I couldn’t reach you. I was paralyzed in my distance, reduced to a huddle on the floor, a flood of prayers screaming eastward.

I saw the paramedics rush to your aid; I saw strangers rush to your aid; and quickly, oh so quickly, those strangers and paramedics became our family. They were there and I was not. You were crying but I could not see your tears.

I know that you’ll survive; the doctors will do their job, your wounds will heal, the family will visit, cry, drop off presents and your heart will continue to beat.  And I know that my presence there would be of small consolation for you, but being able to see you and the family – to look into your wound, the dark deepness of it, the time it will take to heal and then look into your eyes and know that you will recover, because you could never be truly broken – to simply be with you would be the greatest gift to me.  Right now, my own heart’s view is not enough. So my wish is to be there, not so much for you, but for me.

I carry your picture with me now to make me feel better, a physicality to ease my distance. Your shape has changed, but you still hold your frame tall and mighty, without an ounce of shame or fear. Tossing your curly locks, you wink at the doctors and pat the heads of those that surround you.

You will live forever; I have no doubt.  I only wish I could be there so we could smooth the hair from each other’s foreheads.  But for now, I will leave that to the rest of the family, taking comfort in the fact that at least you are not alone.

I’ll be home for the holidays.  And we’ll tawk.

Your Loving Granddaughter 

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4 Responses to “A Letter From 2,800 Miles Away”

  1. lisa says:

    Hey Cuz,
    Wonderful writing, so glad I stumbled upon it…..can't wait to see you!!

    Lisa

  2. vivian oxford says:

    Wow! So beautiful. I was in New York on that day, but am now in Los Angeles. When you go back for your 'tawk' in New Yawk, please give my regards to Broadway.

  3. Alfi says:

    Send this to New York Magazine.

  4. Doug Gompertz says:

    I didn't see this last year . . . but I read it today.
    Brought tears to my eyes.
    Beautiful, as are you.

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