I've been trying to write this memoir thing I was tentatively calling "Tumbling"...but I just can't do it. I end up obsessing over how to tell the story without sensationalizing anything and how do I put my memories in order and how exactly do I tell the story. The truth is, I don't really want to tell the story. I was there on that day, yes, but so were millions of others. Maybe one day I'll tell the story, or I'll keep plugging along at it for my eyes only. There were a few things that were cool. Like how I got hired at Carnegie Hall. What it felt like walking into that building terrified, and walking out with a full-time position. With insurance. There was the gala I helped organize for Carnegie's annual fundraiser and walking out of The Astoria in my formal gown and feeling like I was a girl from Coopersville and I could conquer anything. There was the man I dated, the man I fell in love with, and our Christmas Eve walking through Central Park. There was the Christmas tree I cut out of a paper bag and colored and put on the wall because I couldn't afford a real one. There were no presents under the tree.
There were drug addicts I'd pass on my way walking to work. The doorman at the apartment I rented. He was Russian and I was always aware that he was an observer, like me. There was the Irish man I met and became friends with and then crashed at his place in Brooklyn before I gave up on New York and moved home. There were my friends at work: a singer and seamstress, an artist.
There was a constant awareness that every month that passed, I was a little more in debt. There were times I'd eat once a day because that was all I could afford. I took $20 from my roommate to buy a burrito, and when she got home I cried and told her. I paid her back, but I've always felt ashamed about that. There were stories that I wrote. Ideas I had. There were awkward men I met through online dating (that I later wrote about in "Easy Does It".) And one little song I wrote was put into a small production somewhere in NYC, but I couldn't attend because I didn't have money for a ticket and was too embarrassed to ask if my ticket would be comped.
There was the man breaking up with me and me crying and feeling foolish and utterly alone. There was losing hope at writing and losing hope of ever finding someone who would love me back. There was poverty and despair. There were drunken nights and cuban restaurants and Irish pubs where people spoke with real accents.
And there was 9/11. It became part of my experience. It was, in essence, why I came home. It isn't all of the story though, although at the time it felt like it. 9/11 was like that for a lot of us. It was an earth shattering moment that changed the course of millions of lives. It changed mine. I don't know who I would've been if it hadn't happened. Can any of us answer that question?
I remember the streets (after the event) plastered with LOST signs. Memos from loved ones searching...layered one after another. There were tanks in downtown NY. There were bomb threats and fear and security clampdowns. At Carnegie, we were afraid we'd be hit because we were a cultural icon. But the music kept playing.
I still remember riding in a car over the bridge and looking at the night skyline of New York. It was beautiful. That place is filled with such contradictions, often within the same day, usually within the same person. For me it was an experience like a great Dickens novel: filled with the best of times and worst of times. Colorful characters. Poverty. Shame. Despair. Hope. Laughter. Sorrow. Deep sorrow. Loss. And then...hope again.
I changed because of New York, and in part because of 9/11. I am better for the experience...the reminder, I guess, that what life comes down to is not if you publish a book or you're famous or if you accomplish all your goals. It comes down to loving the people in your life. Sitting in a pub with them and sharing food and drinks and laughter. It's waking up next to the person who loves you entirely for who you are, even when you annoy them.
I can't write directly about all the details. All I can say is what a year I had.
Who wasn't changed by that year? Who didn't realize that the most important thing in life is...well...life itself.