Tag Archives: memories

Memories Evoked

I enter the subway car.  To my delight there is an empty seat near the door.  I sit, rummage through my bag for my book and begin reading from where I left off, but the words are blurry and I cannot concentrate.  I am aware of a powerful odor emanating from the person seated next to me.  I close my eyes and try to concentrate on breathing through my mouth.  My stomach clenches and my eyes begin to water.

I’m five years old.  Mrs. Williams is rustling about in the other room.  The pain in my chest is as much from the ache I feel because my parents have left on their yearly trip as it is from my fear of the woman who has been hired to take care of us for the next few weeks.  Mrs. Williams with her coiffed hair and antiseptic smell, everything about her is no nonsense, business like, a kind of grim resignation that oozes from her every pore.  When angry she uses her hand, like a paddle, it comes down swift and seemingly without emotion, as though the pain I feel upon contact has nothing to do with anything: arbitrary, remote, senseless.

I hate Mrs. Williams and my anxiety and sadness that my parents have left us, even for only a few weeks adds to my hatred of her.  She crinkles and rustles when she moves, her skin hangs from her body like an ill-fitted suit, she smells of soap and perfume that make me nauseous.  She is stocky and seems well rooted to the ground, her movements are steady and purposeful.  She rides out the time my parents are gone like a convict doing time.  I can find nothing pleasant about her.  Just thinking about her fills me with fear.   Her dislike for me and my sister is all the more apparent when my brothers are around as she obviously dotes on them and shuns us.  If ever there is a dispute, it is my fault, no matter that I am the youngest with siblings a full eight and six years older than me.   

We are told she had a son sent to Vietnam who never returned.  We are told it is because of this son that she adores my brothers.  I take this information in stride.  It is fact.  I am representative of something unwanted, something I do not and cannot understand.  She is particularly concerned about my bowel movements.  She takes note of them, even going so far as to stand guard outside the bathroom listening for sounds of success.  As I sit on the toilet I imagine her ear pressed to the door.  Why this is important is something I can’t figure out, but that it is, is evident by the reports she feels compelled to give my older siblings.  Now my brothers and sister are on high alert.  My bodily functions are examined, discussed, they have become a topic.  The more I am closely observed the more  anxious and fearful I become.   

I grip my book tightly and try hard to breathe out of my mouth. I glance over at the woman next to me.  Her eyes are closed and I realize she is asleep.  As the train careens through the darkness, her body sways with its motion.  The train turns.  She leans into me, the smell of soap, antiseptic, and some other odor I cannot identify, but that reminds me of those weeks once a year when my parents left us in the hands of someone who should not have been caring for small children, is over powering.  She is unaware of me or the memories her presence has evoked.

I think of my children.  I see the look of anxiety on my daughter’s face when she says, “No, not going to Katie’s class.  That is the old school.  Emma goes to new school.  Emma goes to new school with Mommy.”  And all I can hope for is that her new school will not be staffed by anyone whose presence gives her cause to remember them decades later with anxiety and a feeling of plummeting through an endless darkness.

Visiting the new school

New School

Nic’s Birthday

“It’s Nicky’s birthday!”  Emma said, bouncing up and down.

Nic beamed at her.  “Yeah.  Thanks Emmy.”

Then Emma launched into a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, not once, not twice, but three times!  By the third time she was beginning to lose her audience, not that she cared.  Nic was intent on opening his presents.  “Where’s Dad?”  he asked more times than Emma sang Happy Birthday.

For the record, it was 6:24AM.

A trip down memory lane through pictures and text…

Two years ago I interviewed Nic about what it was like for him to have Emma as his sister.  Things have certainly changed since then.  For a view into a year or so later, click ‘here‘ and then more recently, ‘here.’

 Richard, Nic and me minutes after Nic was born 12 years ago.

That look on my face is joy (I know you wouldn’t have guessed) mixed with exhaustion.  My labor was over 38 hours long!

At our wedding, getting ready to nurse, yup nothing conventional about anything in our lives, even then. 

On our honeymoon in Taxco where we all got sick.

Big Brother, Nic.

Growing up

In a flash –  12 years later 

Nic and Em

Merlin looks on.  I imagine he’s thinking – Is there room for me?  No, maybe I’m safer here.  They certainly are curious creatures, these humans.

Happy Birthday Nic!

To read my most recent Huffington Post, click ‘here.’

To read my guest post on Special Needs.com, click ‘here


Remembering September 11, 2001

The ten year anniversary of 9/11 is this Sunday.   Since we live in New York City it’s impossible, even if one doesn’t watch TV, to not be aware of it.  Last night as Richard and I walked home, having spent the evening on our weekly “date night”, we stood with dozens of others in Union Square and looked south upon the two beams of light shooting upward from the site where the World Trade Center towers once occupied.

Nic was fifteen months old at the time and I was in my second trimester of pregnancy with Emma.  In fact, that Tuesday morning, September 11th, I had an OB/GYN appointment at the Elizabeth Seton Birthing Center.   Richard was in the shower when I looked out the window of our living room, with Nic in my arms and saw the gaping hole in the north tower made by that first plane.  I remember holding Nic and yelling to Richard, “They hit the tower again.”  I was referring to the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, when the terrorists detonated a truck bomb underneath the north tower.  My first thought was that this too was done with a bomb.  It wasn’t until we ran up to the roof of our building, just as the second plane hit the other tower, that we began wondering whether this might not be terrorists, whether it was some bizarre coincidence or whether airplanes were being used as bombs.

We readied ourselves to keep our appointment and off we went to the birthing center, just five blocks south from where we live.  My midwife’s best friend worked in one of the towers and I remember she was visibly upset and worried.  Other than that, I remember little of my routine exam, beyond feeling dazed and concerned with the events that were occurring outside of the birthing center.  (Years later, after Emma was diagnosed, one of the many specialists we saw wondered that there might be a connection to the rise in autism and the toxins released by the collapse of the towers, but we never heard or read anything further to substantiate his thought.  It now seems unlikely as, sadly, the rate of autism has risen world wide and not just to those who lived in close proximity to the World Trade Center at the time of their fall.)  When we left the birthing center to return home, we were told the first tower had collapsed and the magnitude of what was happening began to seep in.  Still Richard, who’s office was in Soho, went off to work and I returned home to Nic and our new caregiver who had been hired the day before.

As the events began to unfold, the day became increasingly surreal with reports coming in regarding the other planes, the president’s whereabouts were unknown, our cell phones didn’t work, the bridges and tunnels were closed, and the sirens from the police cars and fire trucks citywide created a cacophony of deafening sound impossible to ignore.

The next few weeks remain a blur in my mind with various images melding together to create a kind of collage of memories – Not being able to sleep because it began to rain and worrying about all the survivors who would be wet and hungry.  (This was before we fully realized there were almost no survivors.)  Walking on Fifth Avenue and seeing a tall man covered in tattoos, weeping.  Hugging a total stranger in Washington Square park where people had posted flyers with photographs of missing friends and relatives.  The smell of burning rubble, the quiet that descended upon the city like a thick carpet and through it all the unbearable, collective grief that we all felt.

For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism, go to:  www.EmmasHopeBook.com