Five Years Ago Today (#447)

Five years ago and one day, Charlie took the yellow school bus with Mr. Richard at the wheel to his special ed preschool classroom. I waved the bus off, then went back inside our rented condo (anonymous except that it was directly behind the football field where the high school marching band practised, rain and shine), and graded papers about “why college is different from high school” for my new job. We had just moved back to New Jersey in late May of 2001 after a few years in the Midwest, in search of the kind of autism/ABA school program that Charlie learned best in.
Charlie was struggling. “It’s sad,” an aide had said to Jim when he had gone to visit Charlie and seen our boy standing still and blank as the other kids sort of followed the teacher in some kiddy dance. Thereafter, the reports home were of tears, tantrums, not being able to do X, not being able to do Y. One month later, it was decided that Charlie needed to be in “an autism classroom” where, under the always-remembered Miss Kathy, he flourished (even had a girlfriend).

Everyone, everything, struggled around here in that October of 2001.

Loss, anger, disbelief; sorrow.

And one phrase ringing in my head:

“I can see the World Trade Center from my window.”

An administrator said that to Jim over five and a half years ago. She was sitting in her office on the campus of a small Jesuit college in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Jim in his office in the former Salvation Army Building on Grand Avenue in midtown St. Louis, Missouri. Jim remembered the Twin Towers being built; in the months before Charlie was born—that would have been winter and spring of 1997—I remember him reading a gray and red book, Twin Towers: The Life of New York City’s World Trade Center, precursor research to the book on the New Jersey/New York waterfront that was just mailed off.

Jim (who was a tenured professor at a large Midwestern university) was offered, and accepted, a one-semester endowed chair at Saint Peter’s College for the fall of 2001. He was deeply into his research for his new project and, as we settled into our anonymous condo and Charlie started school, we went on Sunday driving trips to scout out locations for a class Jim was to teach on the port of New Jersey and New York. In August, an old professor friend–the author of Twin Towers—invited Jim on a special tour of the World Trade Center led by Frank DeMartini, the on-site construction manager for the Towers. They saw where the bomb hit in 1993 and took in the view from the top of one tower.

Five years ago, Jim drove to Jersey City with a friend of mine who had been unable to get back to her apartment in Brooklyn and had spent the night with us. As she headed back to New York, Jim (as he told us; I was home alone, all my classes had been cancelled but Charlie was back in school) drove down by the waterfront in his mother’s little Toyota with the broken radio. Notices were posted around the college that a police boat was heading over with supplies, and anyone who wanted to help could come. Jim called me: “Of course you have to go,” I said. The site was still smoking and hot and the air was ashes, which I was never able to scrub out of his black shoes’ soles.

Five years later and one day, I stood where Jim did on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City. I was late for class and had just missed the light. Charlie could not wake up and had to be lifted out of bed, and fell to the floor with his forehead. I saw the bus; socks could not be found; Jim took Charlie out and I ran to wave to the driver and she pulled away. Charlie, not exactly peaceful or easy-feeling, looked lost and I ran back into the house for the bus driver’s number which was (of course) nowhere to be found. I ran out to Jim: “I can’t find it!” I ran in. The bus came down another street and was hailed elaborately by Jim and me. After such a beginning, Charlie hummed and babbled and was upset when another child cried; I drove off to work with a ragged shuffle of papers in my bag.

Class started—verbs in the present tense, simple sentences—the day spun into focus. After school, Charlie hurried into the black car for a meeting with his ABA home therapy team, most of whom we had not seen for a month; he set himself to doing two puzzles while we talked. (We are starting a wake-up alarm clock program.) We had our pick of parking spaces at the grocery store and, while the shelves were half-empty, we found everything—sushi, crisp lettuce, tortilla chips, licorice—we were looking for. Charlie fell asleep fast and happy.

After my second class, a student from last year had walked in to say hi. There was a memorial ceremony for 9/11 in the plaza below and we could hear the voice of one student singing.

“I saw the first plane hit,” my student, who went to high school in Jersey City, had said. “But I didn’t see the second one.” Another student who was still in the room and I waited while he paused.

“I was getting my books from my locker,” he said. “And then I went back up and out—-”

Five years ago.

2 Responses to “Five Years Ago Today (#447)”
  1. Ennis says:

    I started to use a regular timer on a lamp in my room so that the lights go on before the alarm clock does. Makes getting up far more peaceful and easy for me. Maybe it will help Charlie too?

  2. Thanks, Ennis—-I will have to consider that. We are starting today to teach him about getting out of the bed at the sound of an alarm—-he wakes up fine, just does not want to get out of bed.

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