We’re both ’63 babies growing up in Atlanta. He and I both recall riding south down Peachtree Street in the ’70s, rounding the corner at Brookwood Station and passing the TraveLodge sign on the left, the one with the bear in a stocking cap holding a candle, its shared “L” to a child reading Trave Lodge vs. the intended Travel Lodge. It was probably a Sunday morning that our respective cars would climb the hill toward Pershing Point, he, many Sundays bound for Sacred Heart in his family’s International Travelall, and me, every Sunday on my way to St. Luke’s in our wood-paneled Country Squire. We realized our paths likely crossed again in Athens in the ‘80s when we were both at Legion Field for an REM concert, arguably one of their best.
His favorite color is purple and mine is yellow. We’re opposites on the color wheel and in other ways, too. My chatty ENFP-ness interrupts his logical INTJ down time, pulling him out of his own head, nudging him to connect. I think we fill in each other, and after all these years, hopefully better understand the intricate mechanics of boundaries and balance and belonging. Or at least by now, we know what we don’t know, and want to know more.
Opposites attract yet do their share of repelling too. We finish each other’s sentences, exchange a knowing glance across a room, and tell funny stories from our braided outlooks, but we also bicker about stupid things, vying for control. We look out for each other, though. He maps out my routes without asking, and I issue egg alerts when dining at friends’ has him fork to mouth about to discover what’s lurking in his potato salad. And in loads of other ways, too. We run late or very occasionally arrive at our version of early, which most would regard as being on time.
He likes his bedsheets untucked, his feet kicking them loose, and I prefer cozy and tucked in — give me a crisp hospital corner, even better. I joke he’s a Belgian beer and IPA snob, and he pokes fun at my occasional cold Bud in a can, in honor of my dad, who he sometimes reminds me of. He lotions his feet at night and I do my hands. We share two houses, two kids, two cats and one dog, and endless logistics. We share a life that can be full and frustrating, fractured and fascinating. He’s the velvety Chianti to my sparkly Prosecco. He’s my then and my now. He’s my love, he’s my vow. Cheers to October 1, and to our 25th anniversary.
The day is done. I woke up early this morning and went outside and saw the start of a murky sunrise, a smeared light-polluted attempt at dawn. Bats circled overhead and a nearby train whistle sounded, as a few jets criss-crossed the sky. It’s September 11th again, a day studded with sorrow and remembrances, what ifs, and what nows, a day so many shared but now wished hadn’t come at all.
Eighteen years ago and four months pregnant with my second son, I had a busy career and on this particular morning, a meeting with an important TBS creative director. The Techwood Drive office lobby was bustling as I stood waiting, staring up at multiple TV monitors. One news clip showed tall towers in Chicago – Hancock and Sears – with a breaking news ticker scrolling along the bottom. Nervous enough about this meeting I’d worked months to get, what on earth was happening in my sister’s city? With no time to learn the relevance of the story on various steel towers’ breaking points under the duress of heat, I was called in and began my spiel presenting our portfolio of logos and brochures, annual reports and point of sale. The TV was on in his office, like everywhere in the building, and I noticed him pulled into the screen as I was, both of us realizing something enormous was unfolding. There was a knock on his door and a female colleague said people were asking if they should go home. He motioned yes but said he’d be getting with her in just a minute. Horrified and now with the sound turned up, we looked at each other unable to speak, and I started to pack up when he directed me to continue. I tried for a moment, but it felt terribly wrong, clamoring for business here, now a ridiculous idea with the relentless evil that was surrounding us, taking over.
A day studded with sorrow and remembrances, what ifs, and what nows.
Petrified driving home, radio on with accounts of planes crashing and towers falling, I was concerned more still was ahead. Atlanta of course would be next on this random hit list, and I worried my route home on Dekalb Avenue was a mine field. What kind of monster was this new world that my innocent baby would soon join? No streets felt safe, but somehow, I got myself home to my toddler and husband, quickly getting inside, shutting the door behind me. The next day as if on autopilot, I drove to Sak’s to find a bathrobe, and left with something beautiful, a soft charcoal grey with a scalloped shawl collar. How bizarre and inappropriate to be shopping the day after, but I must have needed this soft wrap to envelop my baby and me, a cocoon to be safe inside. It would be years before I could part with this safety blanket, and only then when it began to noticeably fray did I finally.
Everyone remembers where they were that day as clearly if it were last week, yet I know my story isn’t unique. Our own memories combine with the reel of news broadcasts and over the years they weave a changing mix of sadness and strength and hope we carry forward. If our thoughts of this day fill us with fear and sadness, can you imagine what it’s like for the families of the thousands lost? It must be an unfathomable deeply private and personal layer to wrestle with, on a day that is forever public, the mourning of that morning we together share.
My older son, at the time not even two, now lives in New York. I imagine the makeshift memorials, the candles, the music and memories, and wonder if he notices, his head full of school work and subway schedules and college sophomore stuff. The younger son I carried that day is himself headed to college in a year, and for them both, 9/11 is something they didn’t feel but rather grew up knowing about, from us, their parents, and even learned a little in school in APUSH class, studying the United States’ response to 9/11.
When we visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum years ago, I worried about how this sensitive topic would be treated and hoped there wouldn’t be any hint of commercial flavor to this ticketed experience. When we arrived, we immediately felt the striking architecture, bold yet sensitive, and found the way finding minimal and helpful. If you could somehow gather every burnt, broken and twisted artifact left behind to tell the story of this unprecedented tragedy, this museum had done just that. Every detail, display, recorded voice, everything down to the varied lighting installed on different floors created a serene silent scene, and carefully, respectfully led you through that long dark day. Our tour docent spoke in a measured voice and presented a vivid account of this monstrous attack on US soil. Afterward, I thanked her for providing such detail that made it almost seem as if she herself had been there. She paused a moment, and then softly replied, “I was.” Tears rushed into my eyes and knowingly, she put her arm around me, comforting me, the New York tourist and she, the one who’d made it out of hell. I leaned into her for a moment, full on crying now, and then left to go outside in the sun.
My own September 11 started ten years earlier in 1991, the day my father died, so this day holds something additional. This year, I’m realizing, marks the halfway point. I was 28 then and now at 56, I’ve lived as many years without him as I have with. It doesn’t intensify the loss or anything, but interesting for me to realize nonetheless.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s this: you’re here today, so keep going, keep building, keep learning and loving. Stay in touch with people and make plans. There’s lots still to do.
I leave you with a timeless poem published in 1844 and sounds from the memorial bell tower erected a year ago in Shanksville, PA.
The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o’er me
That my soul cannot resist:
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.
Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.
Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.
For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life’s endless toil and endeavour;
And to-night I long for rest.
Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start:
Who, through long days of labour,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.
Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.
Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.
And the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.
Each morning, I go down the hall and descend the 22 stairs. Another hall, then the dining room and kitchen. I turn the overhead light on, light over the sink on, and then the stove light. Check. Check. Check. Fill tea kettle and begin boiling water for coffee. A pilot flipping switches, warming up the engines.
The morning’s hamster wheel turns again – making breakfast, lunch (ok, you shamers, I’m up early and have the time, so I make the lunch), feed the pets and the whirl of the morning is over. Everyone is gone and it’s me again, dishes emptied and ready for reloading. Dog walk ahead, rental house tenant details, car emissions – will the old car pass? I’m busy and bored, gas and brake pressed together. My brakes are on and I can’t convince my foot to let go so I can roll. Don’t want to hit something, but I’m afraid I’ve already hit a wall. They say fear is excitement with the brakes on.
PO: The post office in the town next to mine gets it. Three stations, three big hearts, all lifting you up. It’s an old timey brick building. No Saturday hours. Old ideals inside. A place that makes us each better. They know me, ask about my kids, take my trash even – used up stamp sheets, sticky backs of priority mail labels. They’d probably take your wad of chewed gum if you asked. Shipping can get complicated, and these folks always suggest the best timing and pricing. And when the lady postmaster sneezes, we collectively reply in hushed, loving church tones, “Bless you.”
Dry cleaner: This place and their clay tile roof building has been around forever. The guys inside, several of them brothers, know your name and use it. If they’re busy or you are, you can pay later when you return next. They have a sign by the register to discourage cell phone use that is handwritten and refreshingly kind and polite. We’re all better inside there on any day, busy holidays, heat of summer, etc. Inside, there’s a kind word. A smile.
Mechanic: You’re understandably frustrated the car is stalling, failing you. You’ve got better things to do and need a car to do them with. This place is tiny but full of understanding faces. The chairs are ripped, but you sit down and stay a while, laughing over automotive frustrations, talking of friends you share and the places you’re from and have travelled. The stress melts because people listen. You listen. If only for a moment, the car costs, the Uber you need to get home and the things you left undone can simply wait.
Pizza: Your local pizzeria is authentic pizza hand crafted by good people. Everything on the menu is a homerun. The staff is familiar and there’s a positive vibe buzzing inside. It employed your son years ago when he was in high school, and its owner supports the local schools, even coming in early once to make dozens of pizzas for your other son’s soccer team. Who does that? Pizza’s goodness on multiple levels.
These simple errands bring life lessons. They rip open an ordinary day and inject it with a spirit that shines through you. Something about crossing that threshold, and you’re inside a safe space, a place where you go back to being your best self, stripped of competition, callousness, impatience. Here you have time to engage, spread a little warmth. Simple exchanges find you paying it forward as you head back out into the world, imbued with your best you that you want to share. You drive home in traffic with terrible drivers, the fuel light comes on and your phone has one bar. It’s okay for a while, but these bits, these little nuisances inevitably return, chipping away at your joy and take you back where you were before. You can always return to these places to refuel, but hopefully you’ll learn one day how to fill yourself up.
A rare recent Father’s Day had us eating brunch in Inman Park in Atlanta, three generations together, grandpa, father and grandson, sitting across from one another, countless memories between them, their own childhoods and those of their children, and then flying to New York to see our other son. Two boys, two cities, one dad who adores them both. My sons, my two hearts walking around, surprise me, invite me to wrestle with my own discomfort, and teach me about boundaries, trust and faith. To fly six states away for just a couple of days is to trust that love will seep in, do its thing and wash a familiar comfort over you, over all of us. The promise of that conversation over dinner, familiar smile and renewed connection is priceless.
Yoga: “Visualize your jaw unclenching,” she instructed. So much for relaxing, that visual instead sent me to nightguards, root canals and crowns, decades of dental costs. I can’t help it, I’m English, I got the bad teeth. That morning, I drove the half hour to the Y where I unrolled my mat to practice before my favorite yoga teacher who it turns out wasn’t there that day. Instead, this broad-shouldered brown-haired girl led the class. I shouldn’t have been all judge-y, arms crossed and missing my teacher, as this instructor was kind and helpful, moving around the room correcting folks who got it wrong, me initially and later, me again. She wore a white t-shirt with graphics on it, maybe from Lake Burton or a sorority or a charity run, and Pullman brown yoga pants she could have lifted off a UPS truck. I’ll bet she can maneuver a ski boat with panache, settle into a slip at Hall’s Boathouse on Lake Rabun, and clean her own catch right there on the dock. She’s probably equally comfortable at the symphony, speaks several languages and knows the best BBQ joints, I’ll bet preferring North Carolina vinegary ones. She surprised me with her great music, too, starting with a lively song I recognized but couldn’t place, then moved into Adele 21, and REM, and even Sade’s By Your Side, that sexy song Richard and Samantha danced to in the Sex in the City pool scene. She must be hooked on that show, too.
She didn’t have that syrupy sweet voice you get sometimes, those instructors who are trying to relax you, so much so they almost put you in a trance, as if they’ve warmed your bottle and turned down your crib sheet. She did close the blinds in our room, darkening the space for her newborns down for their nap, but used a matter of fact adult tone which worked. It let us realize we are nurturing ourselves, not the YMCA doing all the heavy lifting. She’s creating the space, the framework, the movements, but it is up to us to find our own kind and gentle voice for ourselves.
Physical Therapy: “Lie on your left side,” she instructed. Uh oh, here we go again, time to dry needle the hip. Like putting your finger in a socket or having your teeth drilled, dry needling literally gets on your nerves, sending jarring reverberations up and down your body, sorting out the spots that most need it. Waiting for her to begin, I focused on the bright exercise balls in the distance, zoning out to Toni Tennille’s voice, “I will, I will, I will, ahh-ahhh-I’ll be there to share for-e-ver,” one of many 70s gems piped into the place. I pictured her bowl cut, bangs and hair curled under in uniform Plasti-Coil precision, a curvy cascade matching her large round eyes and mouth. Was it a curling iron or hot rollers that gave her that look? In spite of their sweet glances and lyrics, love couldn’t keep The Captain and Tennille together, and after nearly 40 years, they divorced. Sadly, just this past year, the Captain, Daryl Dragon, died, Tennille by his side. Thank God my physical therapist can’t see into my monkey mind, because surely she’d fail to understand this detailed tangent, but one song, one note, can send you places.
I have far to go so that my weak hip and collapsed foot arch don’t bench me, wrecking my ability to run pain free. I’ll have to do the homework, draping myself over an exercise ball, sucking in my gut and pressing my feet behind me, working my glutes and resolve to get strong again. That ball which I ordered last week still sits in our playroom waiting for me as I scrub the colander, slick with spaghetti residue.
My recent birthday carb loading – dinner and dessert, then dessert again (Alon’s midnight cake afterwards at home) – lasted several days. That pasta I made yesterday, filled with my favorite things – shrimp, red pepper, onion, garlic, spinach, tomatoes, corn, all doused in a lemony garlic wine goodness — has left me sluggish. Despite loving the hefty portion I inhaled, I’m reminded what my gyn advised, “Carbs are not your friend.”
Not sure why I’m so restless or what’s happened exactly, but likely it’s a classic case of smack dab in the middle aged-ness. I used to believe I’d beat the odds of getting that mid-life middle, that I wouldn’t hobble when I got out of bed in the morning, and that my skin tone would stay even, and not spotty like my grandmother’s. Mostly, I assumed I’d wise up, find work that would fill me up, harnessing my energy, creativity and enthusiasm. I’m realizing I’m still at that same fork in the road obsessed with getting my direction right. Or is it left?
And then I turn on the sobering news of late and I feel completely self-absorbed, shallow and in need of a mindset makeover. I’m still alive, aren’t I? It’s just that I hardly recognize myself some days, here at home with my ordinary puttering rhythm, going on almost two years now. There’s that feeling I haven’t done much yet – I’ve barely scratched the surface — and I’m sending myself regular reminders that I’m supposed to be farther along, yet other reminders that I ought to sit with this a bit, right here in this moment. I guess the instruction is take off the brakes and give yourself a break.
Finally, there are these three: brilliant writers and thinkers and strugglers, each chipping away like all of us are, who’ve shared their personal, yet universal insights, a few favorites I’m sharing, too:
The depth of the feeling continued to surprise and threaten me, but each time it hit again and I bore it… I would discover that it hadn’t washed me away. –Anne Lamott
We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”–Brene Brown
“The women I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because shit worked out. They got that way because shit went wrong and they handled it. They handled it a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.”– Elizabeth Gilbert
These are days
These are days you’ll remember
Never before and never since
Will the whole world be warm as this
And as you feel it
You’ll know it’s true
That you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow in you, in you
These are days you’ll remember
When May is rushing over you with desire
To be part of the miracles you see in every hour
You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky
It’s true that you
Are touched by something
That will grow and bloom in you
These are days
These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be
See the signs and know their meaning
You’ll know how it was meant to be
Hear the signs and know they’re speaking to you, to you
I’ve always loved June 21, the day you can officially call summer, and my grandmother “Gammy’s” birthday, too. Most years after school let out, we’d pile in our yellow Ford country squire wagon and head down to Vero Beach, Fla., where Gammy and Gampete (Marie and Scranton “Scrip” to their friends) lived. We usually stayed over her birthday, so it was particularly fun. Gammy was summer’s carefree spirit, reliable optimism and nourishing energy rolled into one. My mom’s parents left New England years ago for Florida, stumbling on Vero, a lovely beach town at the start of the tropics, where they’d happily stay.
Gammy was a delight. She put you in a summer mood even when it rained, which being Florida, was most afternoons. We’d play jacks on the floor and nibble brownies, two kinds, with nuts for the grownups and smooth for us. They were always cold, perfectly cut, and neatly stacked in floral tins between sheets of wax paper. Beach days we’d walk to Gammy’s swimming hole, where she would extend her hand so I could brave the patch of seaweed underfoot, and she’d steady us as our slight bodies broke the waves crashing to shore. To reach this place you had to step way down and then back up to a sandbar, which we could find surfacing at low tide. The swimming hole felt like ours alone, as the endless summer did.
Gampete, in contrast, was prone to being grumpy. He’d played a round of golf that day maybe, and I’ll bet his back hurt, or his score was lousy. Or both. In from the beach, he was the gatekeeper. You had to stop at the door, clutching the molding for support, so he could inspect the bottoms of your feet. Tar that washed up on the beach would usually end up there, and Gampete was ready with a mineral spirits soaked paper towel. The house’s beautiful white carpet once again was spared.
Today was the longest day of the year, and I noticed little bits of summer seeping in all day and yesterday too, more than I can remember even from multiple summers combined. I made some of them happen, but others just showed up, feeding off the summery vibe. How I got this concentration of summer for two days straight, and spilling into a third, I’ll never know. You don’t question a happy convergence of events like this. Yesterday in particular was summer at its finest. If you asked me what I did, I could have truthfully responded: Planted flowers with children. Ate cupcakes outside. Watered plants. Laughed.
Later I walked my dog and ended up in a newsy catch up with a good friend along the way. Back home, I cut mint from a pot on my deck and made mojitos, which I’d been craving for weeks. (Note: If you’re going to muddle mint, go easy or it’ll tear, and you’ll end up with a wonky green bits in your teeth. And if you’re going to try and grow mint, don’t skimp on the water, as I’ve usually done. This year is my first producing a tall deep green bushy plant, and I have water to thank. That and sun of course, too.) Instead of back inside for A/C and TV, I took my glass outside to the hammock where I sat and sipped, feet grounded to the earth, and I looked up to bats circling the sky. At the edge of the yard, I noticed a few rabbits had stepped onto this idyllic summer set, nibbling clover as they tracked my position.
As the sky went dark, I went inside, and on the way cut basil from the other planter (see previous note on water which also applies to basil, or anything you want to grow strong, yourself included). In minutes I made a big batch of pesto for supper and to share, this time adding walnuts, which cut the bite of the basil and garlic with its complex buttery texture. I drained hot spaghetti and coated it with pesto, and washed it down with diluted mojito remnants, tasting summer.
With the longest day on my hands the next day, I ended up driving to South Carolina to pick up my son and his friends from their week-long university science program. Three hours of open road and sparkling lakes out the window shifted my mind into neutral. Puffy child-drawn clouds floating ahead reminded me of summers past and gave the atmosphere an innocence it desperately needed, far away from disputes over air space, missiles, global warming, and Washington.
Out of habit, I turned on the radio only to hear POTUS defending another one of his idiotic moves or comments, and in an instant, it was radio off, back to music and summer scenery. You can just choose to turn it off, I’ve discovered.
Tonight, our town held its annual summer solstice beach party, drawing kids carrying pails and shovels, pulling red wagons and pushing dump trucks and diggers to the square where blocked streets are piled with (literally) tons of beach sand. Every year, parents and their children flock to Decatur’s Beach Party, where couples sway under palm trees to beach music holding frozen margaritas, or play on the ground sifting sand through their fingers while their kids do the same, and move and mold sand. The best summer block party you can imagine delivers happy exhausted kids at bedtime, and offers free sandbox sand for the taking the next day.
I keep wondering how I can dial up summer’s brightness to shine louder than the day’s usual sobering news, and I’ve found it’s quite simple. Turn off your tv, your radio, your negative distraction and go to your kitchen or outside and find or make a new summer memory. I know you’ve got one. Is it spitting watermelon seeds, or stubbing your toes in a neighborhood pool where some nice mom patched you up with a Band-Aid, squirting Bactine on the wound? Or catching lightning bugs in pickle jars with perforated lids, holes your parents made with their split wood handled ice pick? Or maybe walking on your gravel driveway re-callousing your feet all over again, or on a prickly lawn in bare feet to get to your neighbor’s trampoline. Do you remember the smell of earth under your fingernails as you dug for worms in your yard? Maybe you didn’t catch any fish that trip, but still, you came prepared. Did you used to loll under ceiling fans slowly turning on hot sticky Georgia nights?
It’s now the 22nd and I’m still up, not yet ready to let go of this day. I know the ones ahead are already shortening, and I still haven’t been to a pool. I did stop at a lemonade stand the other day, however, and the boy who sold me a $1 glass reported $60 for his day’s earnings! A lot has changed yet so much hasn’t. The lemonade was better than I remember, but the beads of sweat forming on his face from a day at it, were exactly what I remember from my own years ago. There’s really no excuse to not stop and drink the lemonade.
Sitting here in the AC, hints of winter are blowing across my barely tanned legs, and this house’s thick plaster walls have drowned out the bugs’ song outside. Like that tube of toothpaste you refuse to discard before reaching for another, the one you flatten and roll, and repeat flattening and rolling until you get it all out, after these last few summery days, I don’t want to waste one bit of what’s left. Summer’s a lovely cheap date, maybe one of your best.
It’s here! June 1st, the (unofficial) start of summer. Days are getting lazier and longer, and we’re supposed to feel lighter. It’s as carefree as a season can deliver.
Decatur seniors graduated yesterday, and school is officially out, but over here, it’s still in session. My rising senior has a 3000-word paper due and three remaining days to complete the draft. That junior year rigor he signed up for hasn’t backed down one iota. Exhausted, he’s got miles to go before he sleeps. It’s quite a thing — IB Diploma, playing on a Varsity soccer team, club team, too — yet he’s shown up, stepped up, and exhibited a poise I can’t say I could have mustered. And he pulled off a B in French, an A actually, since it’s weighted.
My other son, the New Yorker, decided to stay put. He landed a job in early May in a café commuting on the $400 Schwinn he bought for $60 from a guy on the street. Gotta be stolen. They say living in New York is hard, but they haven’t said much about the finding the place to live part. Guess I’ll give it a whirl.
You could call me a planner despite my typically late scheduling. My friend Sherron says I always land on my feet, and she’s seen it all, the tight spots and deadlines I nearly blow past. This spur-of-the-moment gene has trickled down the line it seems, down to my firstborn.
College let out May 21 and he had to vacate the dorm by 8am the next day. Items left would be trashed. Period. Weeks leading up to this cutoff, we talked about where he could live working the summer there. He’d rent an apt with friends in the fall, but for now needed short-term housing. Our quick texts and occasional FaceTime calls were rushed; he was studying for finals, eating dinner, on the train with spotty coverage, it was always something. Even before settling on a June 1 spot, he still had nine days in May to cover. He needed to sublet an apartment, stay with friends for a while, something. More delayed answers to my texts and a phone call or two later, I got some info. He’d be staying with a friend in Forrest Hills. End of May covered. On to June…
Conflicting reports of roommate(s) joining him in June somewhere or not joining him at all made it difficult to budget or plan. I soon learned he’d have a roommate and they’d find a place. Great, they can split the rent. No, scratch that, just in… he and his girlfriend and his roommate would be staying in NYU’s dorms — flexible cheaper summer housing. A few more conversations firmed up the plans. He’d already started the NYU housing process, but we needed to pay the non-refundable $500 deposit. It was 10pm the night before Mother’s Day, and I’d hoped to wake up impossibly refreshed, with the dewy skin I wore my first Mother’s Day, not the 55-year-old bags under her eyes variety. I knew no amount of sleep would actually deliver this, but I’d wanted to try, yet we needed this application completed and paid, so I dove into NYU’s summer housing site. Much like the Joy of Cooking which requires you to leave a recipe to flip through other pages backward and forward to locate other recipes you need — a sauce, marinade, dry rub, etc. — this site was no better. I hopped here and there, and also had to set up a group with my son as leader to ensure his roommate choice would be duly noted and granted. A few hours later at 1am, I was done. He was in NYU and summer in NYC would begin.
The next night he told me the NYU plan was off. What had changed since Mother’s Day eve to Sunday night? He said his girlfriend’s family discovered hidden pricing making the NYU stay far costlier than anyone bargained for, so with one person out of the game, it was game over. She was making plans to go home. Seems everyone had gotten the NYU memo and was moving on, but I had to reshuffle it all a few times. Whaaa? We’re back to square one? The next day I was on the phone to NYU requesting a refund, which by some stroke of luck, we should be receiving.
The Forrest Hills stay still had its expiration date, and we still had 28 June NYC nights to cover. The new plan was my son + a roommate in an Airbnb, close to his job on Madison Ave. He kept assuring me it would all work out, but with what seemed to be few if any search engines running up there what with school and work, I started mine six states away. I texted him Airbnb options and, like Goldilocks, none seemed just right: one was too expensive, too far, too small, not private enough (ads touting “Living room futon for two”), or the dates didn’t work. I pressed him on his roommate’s budget only to learn there was none. His roommate was saving money over the summer crashing at friends’ places until school resumed. Brand new news. I cleared all filters and started a clean search.
Meanwhile he needed to fill an ongoing prescription but couldn’t find the two prescription sheets he felt sure he packed. Or did he? I asked him to scour his stuff which was stuffed in a Forrest Hills basement room and no luck. Wait! He thought about it more and said his girlfriend had packed them for him, but where exactly was anyone’s guess. I pressed and he did another search (I’m calling it cursory) and nothing. I told him if his girlfriend said she packed them, then she did. Why was I believing his girlfriend I’d never met over my son? Because, she sounds organized, she sews, has a place to stay for summer (home) and seemed methodical, not frazzled when she packed them for him. A clear head pitching in. Said prescription never turned up, but I’m not convinced every stone has been turned over.
The other challenge was finding storage in this expensive city to house his non-clothing items like microwave, toaster oven, plates, etc. After some back and forth, he realized his girlfriend’s storage space had plenty of room, so he arranged to move some things there.
I found an Airbnb north of the city and I pressed the owner if my son could see it and I put them in touch. It’s 100 blocks or so from his work but is sunny and clean, and his 6”2’+ frame would have a double bed (vs the bunk bed, single beds and futons in living room scenarios I’d previously seen). The woman host I texted was nice and had a sweet friendly cat living there, too. Seemed like a no brainer to me but, like a game show with contestants debating if they should take the money or spin again, Ben wanted to spin ago. We could find something cheaper in Astoria. Mom, you just don’t know, I do. Let me handle it. Still not willing to let go, I searched Airbnbs in Astoria. Not the deal I was expecting and always a catch: wrong dates, zero privacy, or one place said they’d fine you if you had a guest visit at all, like even an hour visit in the living room. Another mentioned a camera in the living room where you’d be sleeping, though the lens wasn’t exactly focused on your bed, its peripheral vision was. The north Harlem spot with the cat never looked so good, so we took it.
The next day we were texting, and I learned his job on Madison that paid well and he liked and cycled to was no more. They said they didn’t realize he’d be away from New York in July (which he told them about up front) and couldn’t afford to keep him, so that was it.
A friend in the city has an industrial sewing machine so he can continue making garments and building his portfolio, and he hopes to get accepted to the menswear program his junior year. He has an eye for design and a nose for business. He’s continuing with his online clothing resale business, and his Airbnb host has a photo shoot she wants help with, so work is coming.
Last Wednesday was moving day. Three Uber rides full of stuff and a final backpack-on-his-back bike ride to his new place, and he’s all done. But not without a crazy story. He sent me this text that evening after I asked him if he was all moved in:
Went w my backpack and bike from queens to 7th and 53rd on the e. Then I hopped off to transfer on the D uptown but every train that came through for like 20 min was full. Then I left station to try and bike and basically got lost and poured on in Central Park then I made my way to the 1 train. Where this crackhead person bumps into my bike and starts talking and goes on and on and finally I tell him to shut up and then he follows me on the train and continues to just talk talk talk and I’m ignoring him and then other ppl get involved.. it was a crowded train but everyone was basically telling him to shut up and then I finally got off at 137th st and he’s still on the train lol and then I walk back and continue to get poured on meanwhile my laptop and speaker and other electronic stuff is in my backpack but I tried everything and it all works thankfully.
I couldn’t imagine myself at 19 navigating that city, but he’s doing it, and doing it with aplomb. Now with a roof over his head and a cat (hopefully) perched on his bed, the boy it turns out is going to be just fine. They both are. On to summer!