Childhood's End

By Harry Kapsales

I remember the best times with my father were the trips to New York. He was born and raised here, the second youngest of seven. Four or six times a year; we'd leave early on a Saturday morning to make the three-hour drive from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to visit one or another and sometimes several of the relatives. Aunt Ricky was my favorite, but I loved them all for different reasons. Ricky was kind and fun and had a way of making me feel like I was superhuman, the finest specimen of a young boy that ever was. Uncle Peter was fun and genial, Aunt Sophie nurturing and tolerant, Uncle Harry weird and hilarious and crazy and not above sneaking me a beer. Once, Aunt Helen let me drive her little read Fiat down West Street past the Circle Line at the age of 11 before I had figured out how to use the brakes. Uncle Bill taught me photography, both the physics of f-stops and shutter speeds and what to look for and how to see - and of course, there were all those cousins to play with.

Three hours seemed like all day driving east on route 80 and we filled the time with conversations about science, history, politics and manufacturing processes - dad is a retired industrial engineer. Two hours driving west on route 80, then we'd pick up route 46, somewhere around Parsipanny and, if traffic was light, the last half hour was spent on Route 3 finally spiraling down the helical approach ramp leading to the Lincoln Tunnel.

Once we hit route 3, conversation stopped. All that science was getting boring and I would rather scan the horizon than listen to the old man. I was looking for the skyline and within a few minutes there it would be. It started out low and indistinct. An almost amorphous patch of gray on the far horizon with a blurry, geometric edge, a washed-out, faded Mondrian standing on its long side at the edge of the world. Slowly it would resolve and my excitement mounted along with the skyline as it morphed into magnificent enormity. There it all was, the Empire State, the Chrysler, the Pan Am, the gold-leafed pyramid on top of New York life. The longer we had to wait at the tollbooth, the more excited I became. Until the car pierced the Lincoln tunnel and after a rushed blur of road-stripe and wall tile, we'd pop into the city accompanied by a heavenly chorus (which in later years seemed to morph into Led Zeppelin and even later sounded like REM). Here was the world were I belonged, the place where a kid who preferred ballistics to baseball and reading Salinger to shooting muskrats by the river could feel like he was part of something. Didn't have to feel like a freak because he didn't understand bass fishing and the idea of three hours of twenty-two men crashing into each other with polycarbonate helmets seemed utterly pointless.

When I was ten or twelve, something changed. Two ghosts appeared on the horizon. Skeletal at first, then skin growing from the bottom up. Skin all seventies chrome and glass. Two massive, striped colossi as if Henry Hudson had purchased the Isle of Rhodes from the Indians and transported it to the twentieth century only bigger, better, stronger and faster.

My dad said it was the World Trade Center, the tallest building(s) in the world. Not one, but two of them. Taller then the Empire State. Yeah, they were building the Sears Tower in Chicago but that didn't count, to me anyway. After all, it was only Chicago. These two buildings would house the entire population of Wilkes-Barre. There would be a mall in the basement. The elevators were the fastest known to man and there was even a "Sky Lobby" because each building was so huge that the elevators were like subways and you had to change from an express to a local when you neared your destination. That was it, all I needed to know, one day I would be there. One day I may even be lucky enough to work there.

Every thing changes - everything. The city, the country, the world - I change as do you. In January of 1999 I lost my Aunt Ricky. I will be fortunate if my father sees my forty-first birthday. But that is all good, all natural, loss is part of life. People live, love, grow old and die. That's the way it should be, the way of the world. Plants sprout, turn green, grow, spread, turn brown, die, decay. New, young plants put their roots down in the detritus of the old. The aged, dead and dying nurture and nourish the young and vital.

Yesterday something horrible happened. The Colossi disintegrated into a pile of rubble. Brought down by hate and fanaticism. My gorgeous, magnificent, wonderful city has been abused and violated. My gorgeous magnificent talented young people have had their lives unnaturally altered. My heart has been abused and violated. The hearts of my most beloved friends have been abused and violated. I am sad and angry. I am sad and angry for many reasons. I am sad and angry because I don't have a good story to tell. I overslept, woke up to NPR on the radio. Heard the announcer say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Thought to myself, "yeah, yeah - plane crashed, I'm dreaming". Woke up a little more - heard the announcer say that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Thought to myself "O.K. it's real". Turned on the TV, saw the gash and the flames. Ten minutes later, another gash and more flames. Two mortally wounded colossi in unreal Irwin Allen Technicolor are about to go down. One goes down, then the other, nothing but smoke, dust and rubble. WOW, what great effects! Only it's not an effect, it's real. People are dying; my friends, my friend's families and my friend's friends are dying.

Yesterday marks the end - my Childhood's end. I'm a grownup now and there is nothing I can do about it. I have to accept it; it's not a bad thing. Grownups know lots of stuff. Here is some of the stuff I know. Some of it is corny.

I know I love life. The night before last I fell asleep thinking "so I lost a modest fortune in the stock market, two jobs, and will be losing the man I hold closest, that's as bad as it gets and nothing else bad can happen for awhile"

I still love life

I love my friends even though some of them might be crazy

I love my family even though some of them are definitely crazy

I'm willing and able to kill without a lot of intellectualizing if called on. I'm not afraid to die without a lot of intellectualizing if called on.

I'm more willing to kill than to die.

My secret fantasy is to be part of a commando squad. Our job is to find the engineer who calculated that it takes a fuel laden 767 to form a fireball hot enough to melt structural steel and then passed that knowledge on to the people that did this. Once we find him, I would get to explain exactly why he turns my stomach. Then we would kill him. Then it will be OK to be an engineer again.

I know that before this happened I had much grief. I know that grief has made me self-absorbed and myopic. I have more grief now. I should be less self-absorbed and myopic

I know that others have more grief than I do - they should be loved and supported.

I know others have less grief than I do - they should love and support.

I know that the older I get, the more grief I will have. If I wait for the grief to go away, I will never be happy. Happiness is not the absence of grief, happiness is the presence of care.

The United States of America is the finest nation there is. We are a free and open yet oddly insular society. Our society will change as a result of yesterday. I pray we will not turn into something I fear.

If I emailed this to you, you are my friend and I love you.

General Tso's Chicken is my current favorite Chinese dish.

Even now, with all this rubble and destruction, life goes on and things start anew.

I love this city and it's people too much to ever leave. I am staying. I will contribute my talent and desire in what ever way can help mend the damage and make it better.

Harry Kapsales is a software architect living in New York City.