There was a little gallery on 9th Avenue around the corner from my house and they hung pictures people had taken that had to do with 9/11. There were some unbelievable shots of the site, people on the street, firefighters and police, things that made your heart stop to look at them. I brought in an article I had written and they hung it on the wall and it stayed there for about eight weeks. I’d go in periodically to look at it, always carrying my little boy.
I had written the article was for the New York Times but by the time I got it in the editor said they had been saturated with pieces on 9/11 and felt they had to move on. I wrote about my baby being born on 9/10 and how I could see the twin towers straight from my window at Roosevelt Hospital on the 12th floor. Right before he was born I’d had an article published in the City section of the Times so I had a contact with the editor. I was even supposed to call him on 9/11 about meeting at the offices that week to discuss writing more pieces. And I did call that day and leave a message. I hadn’t said anything about being pregnant before but when I called I said I was in the hospital and why. Who could have ever dreamed that something like 9/11 would happen?
When I got home there was a message asking me to call him and I did. We talked about everything and he congratulated me on my baby. He said it was chaotic up at the offices so I shouldn’t go up there but he asked me to send more pieces and I had. And when they didn’t take the 9/11 article he told me to keep pitching him. So when I walked all around the city with my son I was also trying to think of things to write about.
Even when he got to be about six weeks old people still thought he had just been born
The article I had in the Times was about using the internet at the public libraries. I sent it out to people along with the birth announcements I had made. And I took my baby to the main library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street to keep sending emails. The computers there were in the beautiful Rose Reading Room with the vaulted ceilings and they were lined up at elegant wooden desks. I wrote to everyone I knew about my baby and 9/11, including people I hadn’t spoken to or heard from in some time. My baby still slept and slept, but little by little he started to spend some time awake. He’d look around with an expression of such curiosity on his face. And then he’d just go back to sleep again.
Whenever he was awake, lying on the bed at home, I’d sit and talk to him. I’d tell him any such thing, ask him how he was doing, and he’d look right at me, as if he were trying to understand. Sometimes I’d hold a toy above his head so he’d have something to look at. When I ate food I’d bring it over and sit down next to him. I took him out every day and walked all over Manhattan. And even when he got to be about six weeks old people still thought he had just been born. “I thought you had a doll,” one girl said. “How many hours ago did you have him?” another woman said. “He’s got the angels hovering over him,” someone else said.
And I swear he had an aura, an ultra-innocence about him. Maybe it was because of 9/11. Maybe it was because he was born three-and-a-half weeks early. Maybe it was because I had tried so hard to get him. I had plotted for years. And the guy knew about it, yes he did. First he evaded the question, then he said no, and then he agreed. I knew him all that time—all the way back to Japan, when I was 31, and I worked there. Even before that, when we were both in graduate school. He might have agreed without really knowing it would happen, or thinking it could, or how careful I was with my timing. But he agreed. And then he just got worse.
Every Pissarro-pointillist dot that made up my world was about to change
If you could imagine how I plotted on my calendar when I would fly to Milwaukee and visit my mom. The guy lived there too. We had met in graduate school. Twice I extended my trip to make the timing more perfect. I called and changed the ticket. The first time didn’t work and the second one did, practically a drive-by the last day on my way out of town. And then I was back in New York and I knew that very day. I stood behind the black wrought iron guardrail with the big apple design at the airport waiting for a taxi and I knew. I could feel those little pulling cramps you get when that possibility for life travels down to meet what awaits it. And I had just left his place hours ago so I knew. “Get ready,” I said to myself, and I drew in a big breath of air. Every Pissarro-pointillist dot that made up my world was about to change.
And that’s how decisions are. It was the same when I quit my job, two years before my baby was even born. I stayed late the last night and slid the keys under the office door after I had closed it. The next day I had to sit on the bed in my apartment and get used to the world revolving differently around me. It’s something to have a baby and be by yourself and it’s another thing to also be unemployed. The guy didn’t have a job either so I didn’t get a shred of help from him. His name wasn’t even on the birth certificate. I had sent him the form so that it would be and he never sent it back. In the end I liked it better that way, looking at the birth certificate with only my name on it and the name of my son. That was the way it was, wasn’t it? I and my little boy.
And the guy kept calling, he did. He left messages that took up all the space on my answering machine and then called back and continued them. Sometimes he went on for three separate calls. I never answered the phone now till I knew who it was. He rambled on about authors and all these things we were going to do that we never would do. That was him all over. He was the most intelligent and literary ne’er-do-well that you ever did want to meet. He had his qualities. Shortly after my little boy was born he got kicked out of his apartment because of the shambles it was in. It was funny how as I had driven off that last time in my mom’s car I had felt I’d never be going back.
I settled in to a happy peaceful feeling with my little boy, overall
My mom had bought such a beautiful white crib for my little boy. But after awhile I stopped using it and at night I kept him in the bed with me. It was just easier that way when he’d wake up every two hours and want to feed. At first I was panicked every time I woke up about where he was. Was he wrapped up in the blankets? Had I rolled on top of him or dropped him? The same thing had happened in the hospital. I had woken up with my heart racing. But he was always there, just as peaceful as a new sun. Sometimes I would have moved him over to the crib before I stopped using it. It had light blue sheets with happy yellow moons and stars on them. When he got older sometimes my little boy liked to play in it. And then after a time we sold it and we got a good price.
I settled in to a happy peaceful feeling with my little boy, overall. I mean, it was true he got colicky for a while, or something, and would cry for five hours at a stretch. I couldn’t put him down even for a second and I had to be moving almost all the time. If I stopped walking with him he’d start screaming in a rhythmic panic, as if the fate of the world depended on his not giving up. It was as if he had finally woken from that endless sleep and realized all the things that had happened—he had been robbed of his rightful place in the womb and he wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
Even with all that, and being by myself, I got used to devoting my entire life to my little boy. And maybe it was better that I didn’t have that many friends or even contacts in the city. I didn’t really have any expectations, aside from taking care of him. And he got over those crying jags after awhile but it still seemed he was ultra-sensitive to every single thing that happened around him. If we went from inside to outside he’d start crying, from outside to inside he’d start crying, always frantically. The first time anything new happened to him he’d flip his lid—the first time I put him in the front pack, when he was finally big enough to even be carried in there. The first time I put a little jacket on him he seemed to think the world was over. Any little change he hadn’t experienced before set him to screaming for his life. He was like that for quite a while but little by little he started getting used to one or two things.
Any little change he hadn’t experienced before set him to screaming for his life
It was big triumph when he’d sit in the car seat and wait while I took a shower or tried to throw together something to eat. Before that I’d have to wait till he went to sleep, which could be a half-day project in itself. I always had to have a strategy—prepare food ahead so it would be all ready during his crying time. Take a shower whenever I could, no matter what time of day or night, practically when I had already just taken a shower, just to make sure I could get one in.
But when my little boy settled down a little, and would sit in the car seat, it was more as if he were part of what was going on, as if he wanted to be. He’d look around and pay purposeful attention, seeming so eager to show he was participating. And of course I talked to him nonstop, even sometimes just describing the apartment to him. Sometimes I’d take him on a tour—of our one room—and show him what was there, talk about the kitchen and the bathroom and the windows and the bookshelves, the purpose of particular things and what certain objects meant. He usually had a rapt look of interest on his face so it did motivate me to go on.
That’s how our days went for the longest time and I walked all over Manhattan with him. The winter was gloriously mild that year. Everything after 9/11 seemed to be so beautiful. It was sad and ironic. I took my little boy to Milwaukee at the holidays to see my mom and my sisters. One sister lived in Madison and the other in Minneapolis, both where they had gone to college, but we met at my mom’s. I and my little boy saw the guy once, just once, or actually it was twice. We met at a coffee shop and he held my little boy for only a minute and I didn’t like it at all. How dare he thought he had the right—he hadn’t helped with anything in the least way. The other time he came to my mom’s. We got in a fight and I made him leave.
I knew one fine day I’d have to start everything over and I was convinced that I could
My mom was giving me money for the time being. My dad had died right before I quit my job, that’s how I was able to do it. He left me a bit of money and in any case I wouldn’t have done it had he been alive. I was at the end of my rope—or it certainly seemed that way to me at the time. I went to East Europe and then South America, the first one year and the other the next. I felt some desperate need to do that, and also to write these stories I had kept in my mind. The money I got from my dad I made last. I knew one fine day I’d have to start everything over and I was convinced that I could, though my mind often reeled. And I had wanted to have a baby more than anything in the world.
My little boy quit those crying jags altogether by the time he was about four months old, not long after we got back from the holidays in Milwaukee. He started to be able to sit up. He wasn’t as thin. When he was lying on his stomach it was such a big deal for him to hold his head up by himself. He worked at it regularly. It seemed he had goals now, and when he sat up, at least propped by pillows, it was easier for him to play with toys and watch what was going on around him. He seemed much more accustomed to being a baby now, as if he knew what to do. I could give him little a cereal by then, as well as baby-food fruit and vegetables from jars. And even though he flipped his lid the first time I put a spoonful of anything in his mouth he got used to it and liked it and he filled out even more quickly.
By the time spring rolled around and he was six months old he was as round and as adorable as could be. He was also the happiest, most bubbly kid you could ever expect to meet. He made eye contact with strangers on the street and smiled at them wildly. The loud guy at the SRO next door was particularly enamored of him. “He smiled at me, he remembers me,” he’d say, in his wackadoodle, hyped-up way. My little boy made positively everyone’s day. He would shine and glow as I pushed him down the street in the stroller or carried him with me in the front pack or sometimes just in my arms. “Ay que lindo!” this Hispanic guy said as my little boy caught his eye over my shoulder on the sidewalk one day. It seemed he was flirting with the whole entire world.
That spring was magical as I had made it through the first winter with my son
That spring was magical as I had made it through the first winter with my son. And despite all those crying fits it had gone so much better than I ever imagined it could. I had envisioned myself stuck up in the apartment with subzero weather putting us on virtual house arrest. But it hadn’t happened, not at all. Even on the few cold days we had had, and when my little boy had a fever no less, I wrapped him up in so many clothes and blankets he was sweating and took him out and walked around while he slept. I felt lonely sometimes but I never felt isolated. I had my son and I had all of NYC.
I dressed my little boy in soft cotton clothes of pale yellow, light blue and even sometimes pink as I had gotten pieces from my sisters. There were all girls in my family until my younger sister finally had a boy, and then I of course had mine. When my little boy was four months old I put him on the swing at the park. He seemed to find it so peaceful and he would have this faraway look on his face before inevitably going to sleep. He couldn’t help it. Every time the swing swung down his eyes would close as if some other world were calling him. Swing, swing.
In a short time he’d be asleep, while the birds sang and the flowers bloomed all around him in the little street-corner park. I also took him to the playground to show him things and tell him we’d be going there soon. I’d set him on top of the slide and let him just look around. I did everything I could to make him feel part of the world. And I was so grateful to live in the city where so much was going on right outside the door.
“I’ve got to have a baby and I know I will,” I thought
When I was in living in Japan I visited Seoul, South Korea, the first winter I was there. I walked out into a cool, bright morning with the sun slanting almost blindingly down the sidewalk. People were traversing the streets the very first thing in the morning, with a hurried air of vibrancy about them. Even the old people seemed so integral to the sense of motion it was if they were carried along by the sheer multitude of combined steps. “I’ve got to live in the city,” I said to myself then, with an almost panicked edge to my thoughts. Similarly in South America, on my first morning in Caracas—I sat at a small table drinking espresso outside a café. I sat there in a T-shirt, having come from the February cold in New York. “I’ve got to have a baby and I know I will,” I thought. I wasn’t then quite 39.
Thoughts come to you just like dreams do. They’re invited and they stay and they turn into life. You watch them with the same kind of awe and confusion. I couldn’t believe my little boy was part of my life. I looked at him sometimes as if from the outside and watched the joy with which he greeted the world. You wondered then how there could even be any space leftover for sorrow.