Safe in the Country, Too Far From Home

We arrived upstate around 9 p.m. the day of the attacks. The night was

star-filled and still, even more still than usual because there wasn’t a single

jet in the sky. We’d decided to get out of the city for several reasons,

ranging from the sensible to the superstitious.

Our children’s schooldays had been called off for Wednesday.

We were concerned about the debris cloud from the financial district drifting

uptown. And then there was the call I’d received that morning as I watched the

tragedy on television, from a writer of alleged psychic abilities in Los

Angeles, an acquaintance of my wife.

She’d turned on her own

TV and felt compelled to call. She felt strongly that we should leave the city

as soon as possible. I returned to the coverage, but the call frankly spooked

me. My reaction on seeing the planes hit-over and over on videotape-and the

towers crumbling was that, horrific as it was, it could have been worse. At least

the attack hadn’t been biological or nuclear. Did she know something I didn’t?

Over the morning, we received calls from other parents. Were

we taking our kids out of school or leaving them there? People seemed to be

turning to each other to gain what little perspective was possible in a

situation without precedent, trying to distinguish hysteria from legitimate

concern. We decided to leave our kids in school. They seemed as safe there as

anywhere else.

The biggest difference from a typical day on the Upper

East Side was the abundance of fathers picking their

kids up at school that afternoon. Fathers walking

hand-in-hand with their children. Fathers giving piggyback rides. It was

as if the hypnotic trance that Wall Street held them in for the last decade had

suddenly snapped.

We decided to leave around six. I felt foolish, as if conned

by fear, as we got on the West Side Highway, our normal escape route from the

city-and I felt even more so when we discovered that the highway was blocked.

We drove in confusion around Harlem and finally found

another exit over a small bridge, then headed into the Bronx.

When we finally arrived in the country, my relief-if you

could call it that-was tempered by something like embarrassment, as if I’d been

disloyal by leaving at her moment of greatest peril the city in which I was

born, grew up and have lived most of my life.

And beyond that, there was melancholy as I wondered whether

this was to become the norm-fleeing in the face of every new threat-and, if so,

how few such incidents would it take before you stopped returning completely?

A friend who lives on Canal Street and also left with her kids told me she always

considered her country house her real home. But since this happened, she

realizes her heart is in Manhattan.

There are art galleries upstate, and playhouses, and even a

couple of decent restaurants. But, ultimately, it isn’t the food or the arts

that makes New York exceptional.

That’s a myth. It’s the people, their proximity, the cross-pollination that

comes merely from breathing the same air and riding the subways. The sweet and sometimes beautiful unpredictability of life.

That can happen nowhere else but a great city.

We returned home Thursday morning.

Safe in the Country, Too Far From Home