Which Way Is Home?
The New York TimesThe New York Times New York
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  Welcome, jeffga

Which Way Is Home?

By KATHERINE MARSH

ON Sept. 11, Jeff Galloway was standing with his family in the courtyard of the Gateway Plaza apartment complex, a block west of the World Trade Center, when Liam, his 8-year-old son, screamed. Mr. Galloway, who had just rescued the family's German Shepherd from the family's 32nd-floor apartment at the complex, looked up and saw the top of the south tower tip back. Then the whole building seemed to explode.

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Running toward the esplanade, the Galloways were overtaken by the roaring cloud of pulverized building and tumbled into a planter box. It was so dark, Mr. Galloway couldn't see his wife, Paula, or his children, Liam and his 9-year-old sister, Kiera, although they lay right next to him. His initial thought was: "This is fire and smoke. We'll be dead."

Eleven floors down from the Galloways' apartment, Gila Fortinsky was frantically searching for her 2-year-old daughter, Rachel. Ms. Fortinsky had just stepped out of the shower to see what seemed like 40 stories of the south tower barreling toward her. Her living room windows blew in, shattering glass everywhere and filling the apartment with dust. Ms. Fortinsky located her 3-year-old twins, Jacob and Sarah, but Rachel was missing. "I finally ran to the bedroom and found her there, screaming, covered in glass," she said.

Donna Holden, the family housekeeper, scooped up Sarah, and Ms. Fortinsky, wearing only biker shorts and a towel, carried Rachel and Jacob. Together, they headed down 21 flights to the lobby.

In the most important way, the Galloways and the Fortinskys were lucky on Sept. 11. They survived. But in the subsequent weeks they faced a wrenching decision: whether to stay in the city they loved or rebuild their lives elsewhere. A year after the attack, when a cautious normalcy has returned, it's hard to remember what a painful choice this was, especially for families like the Galloways and Fortinskys, who lived almost exactly at ground zero.

In some respects, Sept. 11 was just the beginning. Subsequent shock waves included the anthrax scare along with threats to the subway system, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square. Although relatively few families eventually left no reliable figures exist as to exactly how many the decision-making process forced people to reassess their relationship with the city.

As tenants of 600 Gateway Plaza, one of only two residential buildings physically damaged in the attack (the other was 114 Liberty Street), the Galloways and Fortinskys confronted these questions early on and under harrowing circumstances. Their building became an F.B.I. crime scene, their neighborhood an international epicenter of mourning. They became refugees, separated from the small, ridiculously meaningful things a Thomas the Tank Engine table, a beloved dog's ashes that make a few rooms a place of significance.

Though a year later, one family remains in New York and the other has left, both the Galloways and the Fortinskys struggled hard to find their way home.

Unbreakable Tie

Like generations of New Yorkers before them, the Galloways were drawn to the city like Dorothy to Oz. Jeff Galloway had arrived in 1978 from California to attend Columbia Law School, which he had chosen specifically so he could live the exciting life of a New Yorker. Four years later, he became one of the first residents of the newly opened Gateway Plaza, a cluster of six apartment buildings containing 1,700 apartments that was Battery Park City's first residential complex. Paula Galloway had fallen in love with the city as a Newark teenager, when she started hanging out at Greenwich Village clubs like the Blue Note. The couple met at Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, the firm where he worked as a litigator and she as a secretary.

Initially, Gateway Plaza was occupied mostly by young singles, but many of the original tenants, like the Galloways, stayed on after marrying and starting families. For the Galloways, the complex combined the child-friendly feel of the suburbs with the verve and ease of city living. The couple founded the Battery Park City Dog Association and went swing-dancing every weekend, often at the Greatest Bar on the Earth atop the trade center. Ms. Galloway took the children to Art in the Park at the Battery Park Conservancy and worked out at the health club at the Marriott Hotel. Mr. Galloway coached in the local Little League.

Even as the Galloways, plastered in ash, their eyes stinging, picked themselves up out of the planter that bright September morning, their tranquil way of life didn't seem in jeopardy. Even after the second tower fell, Mr. Galloway could not grasp the enormity of what had happened.

"Our mind-set was funny," he said one recent evening as he and his wife sat on a bench on the esplanade. "I was talking about where we were going to spend the night as if we'd be back the next day."

That afternoon, after being evacuated by ferry to Jersey City, they hitched a ride to a friend's house in Cedar Grove, 11 miles away, where they ended up staying for six days. As they shopped for staples and monitored the news, the Galloways debated whether they should move to New Jersey permanently. They worried that the city would be a target for future terrorist attacks and wondered whether their children would be safer in the suburbs. But after more than two decades as New Yorkers, they felt an inextricable tie to the city that had always loomed so large in their dreams.

Then came an experience that confirmed for them that their home was New York. On the night of Friday, Sept. 14, the couple celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary at Bruschetta, a restaurant in Fairfield, N.J. "It was a nice restaurant," Mr. Galloway said apologetically, "but a nice restaurant in New Jersey."

Refuge and Fresh Start

Like the Galloways, the Fortinskys had also been lured by the magnetism of the city, particularly its hard-driving law firms. Gila Fortinsky of Teaneck, N.J., arrived in 1990 after graduating from Georgetown Law School to work as a litigator at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. That same year she moved to Gateway Plaza. Four years later, she married Jerome Fortinsky, a Long Island native and Yale Law School graduate who had come to the city to practice law at Shearman & Sterling.

The family's life in Battery Park City was, as Ms. Fortinsky put it, "very busy, very scheduled." Her husband was active in the Battery Park Synagogue. The children played in the local tire park and went to Tuesday morning story time at Borders Books in the trade center. On Sept. 11, the twins were to attend afternoon preschool at nearby P.S. 89.

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Joyce Dopkeen/The New York Times
THEY STAYED Jeff Galloway and his family. "I realized that terrorists could attack Des Moines just as well as New York," he said.



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