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Facing their Fears

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In April 1995, Brian and Fran Boyd lived in Tulsa. They had one child in diapers and another in preschool; neither had any firsthand experience of the atrocity 100 miles southwest in Oklahoma City. The family moved east in 2000 when Brian, an ebullient Seattle native, got a job with an Internet company near Wall Street. Fran, a fiery Long Islander of Sicilian heritage, did months of legwork to find a comfortable two-bedroom, on the forty-second floor of Tribeca Pointe in Battery Park City. The kids' bedroom had one wall made entirely of windows, providing a perfect view of the Twin Towers.

Fran had just dropped off Sarah, 9, and Brian Jr., 7, at P.S. 89, at the corner of Chambers and West Streets. She was on her way to breakfast with a friend at the World Trade Center when the first plane roared overhead. Fran dashed to the school, scooped up her kids, called her husband, and headed north, fast. From the West Side Highway, the kids saw the second fireball.

After a sleepless first night in a friend's apartment, the Boyds have been living in a one-bedroom in the Trump Hotel on Columbus Circle, the bill paid for by their renters' insurance. It took a fair amount of coaxing to get Sarah to go up to the tenth floor, though lately she's been finding the good points in being a latter-day Eloise. "There's a pool!" she says breathlessly. "And they have these little things in the bathtubs -- how do you say it?" "A Jacuzzi," Fran says.

When Sarah is out of earshot, Fran says her daughter still has rough moments. "She's been crying at night," Fran says. "She's afraid that a plane is going to come through the windows."

Brian applies logic. "I told her, 'President Bush has the aircraft carriers out here, they've got planes flying, they're on high alert, they're really checking everything that's going on, and if they think anything is out of the ordinary, they're gonna be on top of it right away.' "

"Also, we rely on our faith," adds Fran. "We say, 'God protected us. He protected us from those two attacks. He will continue to protect us.' "

There's nothing but blue skies and sun on this first Saturday afternoon in October. The Boyds have come back downtown for only the second time since the attacks, at the suggestion of a flier posted in the lobby of their old building informing them that Rockefeller Park, running south from Chambers Street along the Hudson River, has been cleaned up and reopened. "We'll see all your park friends!" Fran says to her wary kids.

But the perfect fall weather heightens the eeriness of the scene. The Boyds are the only family in the park. They're four out of maybe seven people anywhere in sight. Green placards are tied to the fences: the sandboxes have all been changed and cleaned! have fun! Brian checks out a purple-and-white soccer ball from the lonely attendant and kicks it around a few times with his son and daughter. A minute later, Sarah is climbing into her mother's lap. "Every time I kick the ball, I feel like I'm gonna cry," she says.

Brian and Fran, both 35, gently nudge their kids toward the playground. Brian Jr. is soon swinging from the monkey bars; Sarah alternates climbing and exploring with snuggling in between her parents. The park is as quiet as a graveyard.

With P.S. 89 serving as a disaster headquarters, Sarah and Brian Jr. have been wedged into P.S. 3 with two other schools. The parents of displaced P.S. 89 students watched with a mixture of fury and envy as the better-connected P.S. 234 parents won control of the brightly refurbished, easily accessible former St. Bernard's on West 13th Street. Now the Board of Ed has given P.S. 89 a take-it-or-leave-it ultimatum: It can split space with a junior high school on Avenue D that's at least a fifteen-minute walk from the nearest subway. For two hours this morning, the Boyds debated home schooling.

Brian thinks about what the strains have done to their marriage. "We fight more," he says.

"No!" Fran protests. "Only the last week."

Sarah comes over, thirsty. "Where's the water fountain?" she asks.

Her parents answer in unison, and a little too quickly: "Mommy has water!"

Handed a half-full bottle, Sarah has another question. "Mom," she demands, "are you backwashing?" Finally there's some laughter in the deserted park.

The kids drift off again. Lately, Brian tells Fran, he's heard that an anguished friend of Sarah's has been plucking out her eyelashes. Their son also startled him while walking down the street.

"Brian asked me the other day, 'Is this World War III?' "

"He did?" Fran says, alarmed.

"Yeah, I forgot to tell you," Brian says. "I said, 'No, World War III hasn't happened yet, and hopefully it won't, honey.' "

Brian thinks returning to their apartment might help settle their nerves; Fran is skeptical about moving back downtown just yet. Brian sneaks in some low-key lobbying, and at the end of the afternoon she seems to be acquiescing. We walk back to Chambers Street, pausing to chat with two National Guardsmen by the Stuyvesant High School footbridge. "Look at the cool Army men!" Brian Jr. says.

A city bus passes, but it has no passengers and a grayish-yellow powder billows ominously in its wake. "They're supposed to be hosing this down!" Brian shouts, his rebuilt hopes taking another hit. Fran clutches the winter coats she's retrieved from her abandoned apartment. By the time we reach the subway, three blocks later, my eyes, nose, and throat feel as if we've been swimming in an Olympic-size pool filled with chalk. "Do you have any answers for us? I was hoping you had answers for us," Fran says to me. "I wish somebody could make the decision for us, and we'll be sheep and follow."

All I can manage is a stammer. Later, I recall something Ed Linenthal, the Oklahoma City expert, told me. "If we know anything about the impact on wider communities, it's that there's a new self to be built out of incorporating these events. There is no old self to go back to."

Don Schuck has found solace in soccer. His boys played on a Battery Park City field that's since been paved over for the use of emergency vehicles, so Schuck and other downtown parents threw themselves into finding three alternate locations for the 650 junior booters. "I don't think any of the kids view the world with the same kind of doom and gloom that parents do," he says. "All they want to do is hang out with their friends." Nevertheless, Schuck bought his son Willie a cell phone and briefed him on what to do in case "something happens" while the 13-year-old is riding the subway to school. "It's the kind of conversation you'd maybe have a little bit when they first start traveling by themselves," Schuck says. "But not with the same kind of urgency you have now."


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