Seven months after 9/11, I book a flight to the city I once called home. It’s my first trip to Manhattan in two years. My first trip anywhere since my mother’s passing. It is, I tell myself and anyone who asks, a pilgrimage—to connect with old friends, to stomp through familiar neighborhoods, to discover what’s different and what remains inexplicably yet reassuringly unchanged.
My friend Rosemary anticipates my wish to visit Ground Zero. In the city before, during and after September 11, she, like many New Yorkers, has stayed away from the tragedy’s site. “I knew you’d want to go,” she tells me before I leave for New York. “I want to go with you.”
On the site’s platform, I look to the skyline, hoping for a glimpse of what used to be. Instead, I find testimonials. Bandannas tied to chain link. Notes etched into plywood. Flowers spilling out of plastic water bottles stapled to scaffolding. Countless small tributes.
Afterward, Rosemary and I climb stairs to a second-floor Houlihan’s and order martinis. From our table overlooking Wall Street, we see throngs of business suits mingling with T-shirted tourists. “I don’t know what to toast,” my friend says finally.
Ever since September 11, my mother wrote on a birthday card she’d sent my brother-in-law shortly before her death, I’m trying to remember the people I care about . . . .
one long-stemmed rose dangles
from the makeshift wall