New York State of Mind

My grandmother died clutching her rosary, her beloved first edition of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin and a photo of my grandfather, a handsome man whom I barely knew and who had preceded her to the grave by thirty years after working himself to death in a Brooklyn meat plant.

She had not remarried.

If you listened to my grandmother speak about her life, which I alone within my family did, you understood she felt her years had been a succession of cruelly dashed hopes. Her parents had died when she was a girl. War had crippled her. Yet she had opposed leaving Russia to the last hour, and it had pained her daily to see my grandfather toil for the benefit of men who mocked and mistreated him.

In her final years, she considered it a neverending insult to have descendants as thoroughly Americanized as we.

But even I did not realize the bitterness and acidity she had accumulated. Although we knew she did not have friends or happiness in the United States, not even I could have imagined the power and depth of her hatred, or predicted its devastating consequences.

Although my grandmother had few possessions when she died, and there was consequently little interest in her will, she left to me what she had cherished most, her collection of rare books. It was there that I discovered a letter inscribed with my name, to be opened upon her death.

I did so immediately following the cremation. The letter contained the following instruction: “Scatter my ashes on Liberty Island.”

This required a permit and I applied for one.

It was days later, while seated on a white ferry crossing calm inland waters, holding the urn containing her ashes, surrounded by tourists, that grief hit me hardest, and it was then I truly said goodbye.

After we landed, I recited a prayer, opened the urn and let the winds take her remains.

I closed my eyes.

And opened them to: tourists gathering around me, speaking, gasping, and pointing at the Statue of Liberty, around whose base my grandmother’s ashes swirled, a dark buzzing cloud, rising and rising until the entire figure was cloaked—

A cloak which fell away like sand revealing:


The Statue of Liberty was gone.

Devoured by the ashes, which had grown in volume and were accelerating, circling the island like a runaway ribbon of death as we stood stunned with phones in outstretched hands, before condensing into a black sphere and shooting across the bay toward Manhattan.

The rest I remember from news footage and YouTube:

Ashes looming over downtown like a storm cloud;

Descending like fog;

Consuming skyscrapers, vehicles, people—

until they were all emptiness and New York City itself was but a vacancy beneath a cosmic blanket. Then too that blanket fell, smothering whatever life remained and settling into an eerie wasteland, an earthen scar where nothing grows, the wind never blows, and my grandmother’s ashes lie dormant in a gray and hateful peace.