By Louis Bourgeois
I am on an extended trip in the U.S. This is a my first such visit in four years. The primary reason for the six weeks here in the U.S. is to spend some time with my 93-year old mother, to introduce her to my Ecuadorian wife and our baby, now 2 1/2 years old. A secondary reason is to visit some of my best friends in Minnesota, where I lived the last 25 years in the U.S.
Just a few days ago I took my wife and baby girl to New York City. Just a day trip, but almost more than I could handle. My day lasted 21 hours, but it was my wife’s birthday so I did my best to keep up my energy and spirits.
It all started well enough, with a smooth ride on Amtrak into Penn Station, then an easy subway ride to the South Ferry. I was delighted to discover for the first time the attraction Staten Island Ferry. I had been in the past to all the other Burroughs of New York, but never had a reason to go to Staten Island.
It is quite something, introducing my wife to the U.S. for her first visit, for her to experience the wonder of New York City. I have been many, many times in Manhattan, first as a child with my family. Later I would travel down from my family home in Connecticut to visit my older sister who was a student and later a professor at Colombia University. It was quite the adventure to travel into Manhattan alone at the age of 16.
At the age of six I had my first experience of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, a father-son adventure. I returned to Yankee Stadium every year with my Little League team. Some years later I was engaged to a lovely Italian girl, whose family lived in the Corona section of Queens. Over my adult years I would visit New York often, sometimes to see a Broadway show, other times to visit a special exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art.
So my relationship with New York City was emotionally and intellectually rich. But the last several visits, once in 2006 to hear a talk by Eckhart Tolle, again in 2008 to experience the Broadway play “Wicked”, and now this day trip in 2018, have been very difficult for me. I was living in Minnesota, married to my second wife, deeply involved with my second career as a landscape architect, when I watched in amazed horror as the second plane exploded into the World Trade Center.
My whole world, especially as it related to our culture, government, and specifically New York City changed that morning. This day was the beginning of my search for another life, a journey that would last about 12 years. I would choose to leave my marriage, my career, my country and my life as I had known it after the devastating events of 9/11.
This trip to New York City was particularly difficult for me. The ferry was fine, and our exploration of Central Park was delightful. But when we chose to walk from Central Park the many blocks to Times Square and after the Empire State Building I became increasingly stressed and exhausted. The two hours of waiting in lines at the Empire State Building was almost more than I could bear. I was so tired when we took the elevator from the 86th floor and observation deck down to the 80th floor. Here the endless crowd, which was fascinating to my wife as it represented pretty much every country and language in the world, was herded through the souvenir store before they could ride another elevator to ground level. I pleaded with the guard, trying to use my sleeping baby girl in the stroller as my excuse, to skip the merchandising, but he laughed and said, “Sorry, but that’s capitalism!”
Little did he know how deeply that comment touched the anguish in my soul. All the way through Times Square I needed to show my wife a positive attitude, not wanting to spoil her fun. I simple focused my attention on my daughter, pushing the stroller through the “noise and haste,” with barkers at every turn selling discount tickets to that night’s Broadway plays, bicycle rickshaw rides, t-shirts 10 for $10, etc. etc. etc. Atop the Empire State Building the little that I looked at the panorama of the city’s skyline, all I could notice was the incredible number of cranes, new towers going up everywhere. What is fueling this economy, this bullish market, this enthusiasm for a future New York?
When I was a young boy I felt often when in New York the feeling that I was a stranger in a strange land. I adapted myself as best I could to become a “householder” with mortgage payments and credit cards, two wives and two careers. But I never truly enjoyed this game, a game that sometimes I felt that I was winning, but in the end I felt that I had lost. Actually I can remember that when I was at my “peak,” my employees working hard at my landscape designs while I spent the day on the gold course, there was little joy in “winning.” It’s a bit like my lifelong adoration of the New York Yankees. They have had more than their share of winning, and yet to this day it still hurts every time they lose a game.
The events of 9/11 ruined my relationship with New York City, even though there are still many things I adore about the place. Perhaps it is like a marriage where the sting of the divorce taints what was once a profound love. I never went to visit “ground zero.” On this trip I never wanted to gaze in awe at the new skyscraper that now stands in the place of the World Trade Center. I wanted to remember New York as I had once loved her, before my heart was broken.
It is likely that I will never return again to see New York. This trip was for my wife and daughter. I am sure that in her future she will be just as happy to visit friends and family in Miami, and to enjoy her “shopping, shopping, shopping.” It’s time for me to say my final farewell to an old friend.