I stood at the corner of Fulton and Broadway early yesterday morning. It was dark and drizzly; my black sandals were speckled with mud from an unsuspecting puddle. Water dripped off the stone porch of St. Paul’s Chapel behind me.
I was there to cover a memorial service for the sixth anniversary of 9/11. St. Paul’s Chapel—just a block from Ground Zero and an hour before the ringing of church bells echoed in memory of the first plane crash—was a solemn space. A sense of quiet reflection pervaded the crowds walking past me on the street.
I waited on the sidewalk for a friend from graduate school, taking a moment to collect myself before I began this reporting assignment, and ate an apple. It was one that I bought from the Brooklyn farmer’s market last weekend, crisp and cool with a gnarly stem.
And as I ate—watching the neon-vested crossing guard wave at a little boy across the street, the women with shiny hair and tipsy black heels and the men in business suits on blackberries walk by—I remembered a line from a piece that Joan Didion wrote when, at age thirty, she decided to leave New York for L.A. She speaks about her early days in the city, just a few years after college, when she was late to meet someone but bought a peach on Lexington Avenue and stopped to eat it on the corner.
I could taste the peach and feel the soft air blowing from a subway grating on my legs and I could smell lilac and garbage and expensive perfume and I knew that it would cost something sooner or later—because I did not belong there, did not come from there—but when you are twenty-two or twenty-three, you figure that later you will have a high emotional balance, and be able to pay whatever it costs.
That essay—Goodbye to All That—lodged itself in my mind a long time ago. Joan Didion, as I have written before, is a favorite.
But right then—in front of the chapel that gave shelter to dust-covered passersby as they ran from the collapsing towers six years ago—that image of a young woman eating a peach, struck by the knowledge that there is a cost to life in New York City, resonated sharply.
Perhaps it was because, now one month into an intense graduate program of journalism, I am having more trouble than usual getting Didion out of my head. Perhaps it was because the effects of grief surrounded me, putting everything in broader focus. Or, perhaps, it was simply because I was there, on the street, eating an apple.
But, I stood there for a few minutes, waiting to begin reporting, and nothing tasted more apple than that apple, and nothing felt more New York than that damp New York sidewalk.