Which Way Is Home?
The New York TimesThe New York Times New York
RegionSeptember 8, 2002  

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  Welcome, jeffga

Which Way Is Home?

(Page 2 of 2)

Instead, when Ms. Fortinsky and the children reached the lobby of their building, a retired police officer ordered them to the boiler room. As the smoke thickened, Ms. Fortinsky soaked strips of clothing in water and put them over her children's noses to help them breathe. Suddenly, there came a crash followed by successive crashes. "We thought it was our building," Ms. Fortinsky remembered. "Rachel went limp in my arms. I thought this was my last moment."

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The second tower had just collapsed.

Barefoot, shaken but uninjured, Ms. Fortinsky and her children were evacuated to Bayonne, N.J., and then to the National Guard Station in Jersey City. From there, they headed to Ms. Fortinsky's sister's in Englewood Cliffs. The rest of the week passed in a blur as the Fortinskys shuttled from one relative's house to another. Ms. Fortinsky felt overwhelmed, but there was no privacy, and she didn't want to cry in front of the children.

The Fortinskys had initially hoped to return to their old apartment, but when they visited the apartment a week later the extent of the damage persuaded them otherwise. The children's clothes were stiff with dust; all the computers and television sets were damaged, and, most disturbing of all, Rachel's crib was filled with glass.

Briefly, they considered moving to the Upper East Side, but unlike her husband, who had been in his Midtown office the morning of Sept. 11 and had not experienced the attack firsthand, Ms. Fortinsky felt uneasy about the city. Walking along Madison Avenue, she had the same sense of being under siege that she had felt during the two years she spent as a student at Hebrew University in Israel. "I wanted to be someplace quiet and forgotten," she said.

For the Fortinskys, like many New York families, the suburbs had seemed to be somewhere in the future, an eventual reckoning with a more settled, family-oriented way of life. Though the couple had been thinking about relocating within the next year or two, before Sept. 11 that year or two had felt far away. Only after the attack, when their old way of life seemed replaced by a more perilous one, did the suburbs symbolize both refuge and fresh start.

On Oct. 5, 24 days after the attack, the Fortinskys moved into a furnished colonial-style rental house in Scarsdale, N.Y. They took with them the few objects they could rescue from their old apartment, including family pictures, menorahs and silverware that Ms. Fortinsky's grandmother had salvaged from her old home in Lithuania after surviving the Holocaust.

Shaking Off the Dust

For three months, while the Galloways waited for their building to reopen, they bounced around like refugees, first to a one-bedroom apartment above a Greenwich Village bar, then to a two-bedroom in Chelsea. The children attended classes at Public School 41 and St. Bernard's before their own school building, P.S. 234, reopened in February.

The Galloways had made brief trips back to their dust-caked apartment to retrieve emotional necessities the children's stuffed animals, their old dog's ashes but more than anything, they wanted to spend Christmas at home. A worried Liam had asked his mother whether Santa Claus knew where Chelsea was.

Shortly before the holidays, a rumor spread that 600 Gateway Plaza wouldn't open till Dec. 28. "That's when I started crying," Ms. Galloway remembered. "The one thing we wanted for our kids was a normal Christmas."

On Dec. 21, the Galloways got their wish. "It was very emotional," Ms. Galloway said of the family's celebration of that holiday in familiar quarters. "It marked the start of life in a normal way."

But the Galloways still had to contend with their emotionally charged surroundings. A poster in the lobby asked, "Have you seen this black box?" a reminder that residents of 600 Gateway Plaza lived in the heart of an air crash and crime scene. Going home through the maze of closed streets was a challenge. Some evenings, Mr. Galloway went to the roof to watch the recovery efforts and sadly watch firefighters converge in the solemn ritual that meant that more human remains had been discovered. When the Galloways walked out the front door, they were engulfed by a sea of tourists and memorials.

Because Ms. Galloway was still having nightmares about the towers falling, she entered a group therapy program provided by the Visiting Nurse Service. Liam, who had developed a fear of the subway after seeing pictures of the damaged No. 1 train tunnel, was enrolled in an art therapy class, where he drew pictures of Osama bin Laden with his head ripped off or trapped in hot magma. "Everything that could have happened to bin Laden, did," Ms. Galloway said with a laugh.

But as many of the family's neighbors returned and as stores reopened, the Galloways could feel the neighborhood revive. January brought the first block party, at the Garden Diner on South End Avenue. West Street reopened in March. Soon, the community board was arguing about a dog run that had been on the agenda before Sept. 11. "That's when we knew things were back to normal," Mr. Galloway said.

The family mourns the loss of the trade center, whose silhouette and attractions played such a large role in their lives. But Mr. Galloway believes that much of his family's life is still here.

"After the attack, I realized that terrorists could attack Des Moines just as well as New York," he said. "When I realized that, I started thinking of all the reasons I'm here in the first place: the family community, the closeness to work, the excitement. They still exist."

Bittersweet Reunion

In early October, Ms. Fortinsky began the complex process of creating a new life for her family in Scarsdale.

The first week was the hardest. She had to beg for the children to be enrolled in preschool and other activities that had started weeks earlier. After years of having a doorman, she found it scary being alone in a house; one evening, hearing noises outside, she called the police, who determined that the intruder was probably a raccoon. Suburban streets seemed empty compared to bustling Battery Park City, and she worried that her already traumatized children would have trouble making friends.

"Here activities attract children from 10 different towns," she said. "It's not like Battery Park City, where there was one diner where we all gathered."

Ten days after the move, the Fortinskys held a party at Chelsea Piers to celebrate the twins' fourth birthday, and to say goodbye to their Gateway Plaza neighbors, many of who had also relocated to the suburbs. As the children took rock-climbing lessons, the adults shared their Sept. 11 stories and, with hugs and tears, traded new addresses and phone numbers.

As the weeks progressed, the Fortinsky children settled in and made new friends. But their mother continued to feel isolated and anxious. The rental house had one problem after another: termites, flooding, electrical mishaps. Although she felt safer in the suburbs, she was having nightmares about watching the tower fall toward her window.

In November, Ms. Fortinsky started seeing a psychotherapist, who diagnosed her condition as post-traumatic stress disorder. Ms. Fortinsky also brought in Sarah for a session. A few weeks earlier, Sarah had confessed that she often dreamed about being carried down the Gateway Plaza stairs by Ms. Holden, the housekeeper, and worried that her mother loved her less because she had carried the other two children instead of her.

"When she told me that, I was heartbroken," Ms. Fortinsky said, her voice wavering. "I started thinking about why I had told her to run to Donna. I hadn't been thinking anything, perhaps only that she was a little bigger than the other two. But I still felt some guilt."

In January, the Fortinskys signed a contract for a house in nearby Larchmont. They moved in three weeks ago. But even in her new surroundings, Ms. Fortinsky often thinks about her old life. "I miss their stuff more than my stuff," she said, pointing to her children. "I miss their Thomas the Tank Engine table. I miss the play dates down the hall."

Asked what she liked about the suburbs, Ms. Fortinsky absentmindedly clutched one of her children's stuffed animals and answered, "Nothing."

"I shouldn't say nothing," she added a moment later. "I just can't think of anything."

Her son, Jacob, who was playing nearby, interrupted proudly, "I know some people in shul."

Ms. Fortinsky beamed down at him. Then her smile faded. Just last week, she said, she had taken the children back to Battery Park City to meet some old friends. They had eaten at the Garden Diner and played at the tire park. But something didn't feel right.

"It isn't ours anymore," she said sadly. "Our lives weren't lost, but it was a loss of life as we knew it."




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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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