For reasons I can’t pin down I’m thinking of Amagansett, Long Island. There’s a small hotel called the Driftwood where my family would stay for a week every summer when I was growing up. It was the highlight of the year for me.
Amagansett is a town you’d barely notice. It’s the lies just beyond the uncontainable fabulousness of East Hampton but is also several miles before Montauk, the tip of the island.
I seem to recall my family was at our happiest there. My parents would sit and read on the beach. My brother would be in the ocean, battling wave after wave while I would explore the dunes, go for walks to nowhere, or make friends with other kids. At night we’d drive out in the Chevy Malibu to find a restaurant. This was the last spell of time where we were a family of parents and children. Mom and Dad were relaxed and comfortable. Marty and I took everything in with a sense of insane happiness and wonder.
Every night after dinner, I'd walk on the beach with my father, stretching my strides to fit my footprints into his; still such an impossible mission. My dad would achingly stare up at the sky when every JFK-departing jumbo-jet would pass overhead. He'd fantasize about all the exotic European destinations where each plane's journey would complete. He'd been a kid from Jackson Heights. Europe was a distant dream for him - a dream that his unfolding years of dedication and luck would soon make a reality.
Planes in the sky.
Soon my family would move to Tennessee, soon my brother and I would lapse into the abyss of adolescence. Soon my brother would go to college. Soon I’d struggle with a mixed Southern-Northern hybrid identity. Soon I’d go to college. Soon I’d forget about the Driftwood but caught myself occasionally wondering if it still existed.
On September 11th 2001, I was working at Lehman Brothers in the World Financial Center. When it all went down I was at my desk. I thought the first plane was an earthquake. And I was on the phone when that second earthquake arrived. It took me twenty-eight minutes to get out of that building. The exit stairwells were wall-to-wall, packed with people - thousands of us. No one said a word.
When we got outside, all hell had broken loose. Paramedics were treating bleeding people on the streets. Sirens, sirens, sirens. Floods of people heading north. Floods of firefighters heading south.
I took one look up. The upper halves of the towers were cloaked in black smoke. I didn't look again.
Fighter jets buzzed. Planes in the sky.
I don’t remember much of the next couple of hours – a lot of running and disbelief. Some time later, I ended up at my cousin’s office in mid-town where I crashed on a couch for a spell. Later that evening, I went home. That was that.
The days that followed were rough – I had some shaky nerves and I didn’t sleep. All in all, I didn’t have it rough at all. I’d survived and should've counted myself as one of the lucky ones.
My wife and I were supposed to go visit her parents in Hawaii on the 13th. That was off – no one was flying. On Thursday, work called saying they wanted me to report to a make-shift location in Jersey City the following Monday.
I was sick of sitting around the house. I was sitting then standing - then sitting again. I'd watch the news, I'd turn it off. I drank a lot of Jack Daniels. Id' try to sleep but the next day it'd all start again. We had to get away.
I don’t know how the idea of The Driftwood came to me, but it did. And it was the perfect place. I don't remember too much of what we did - kitchy seaside stuff. Drives. Long walks on the beach. Just quiet.
We went there for a few days. Things got better.
Mid-way on the Sunday drive home, I exhaled in a sort of intangible, unidentifiable way. The next day, I'd go to work again. Life would go on again. Everything was going to be okay.