The day was hot and steamy; it was mid-July in the bustling
city of New York. I lived on Staten Island, which to this day few people
realize is a part of New York City. The Big Apple was just five cents and
a ferryboat ride away. High school was out for the summer and there were
still several weeks left to enjoy the freedom those torrid months brought.
Karen, aka Ka, and I had been friends since the latter years of grammar
school. She was a year ahead of me in school but that never seemed to
matter. We became the BFF’s of the fifties and sixties. We lived on the
same block, each on a different side of the main drag cutting across the
tiny island. We met when I was about ten years old and for years we walked
back to school together at lunchtime, eating our Twinkies and Ring Dings
purchased from the local corner store. After school and on weekends we
were virtually inseparable.
On this particular vacation day Karen and I decided to hop the
ferry and take a ride over to Battery Park in Manhattan. The miniature
park was located right where you get off the ferry on the Manhattan side.
It was a charming place where you could endlessly watch people just being
themselves. Actually, most of Manhattan was like that. You could do almost
anything and no one paid any attention; people felt free to be who they
were. That was my favorite thing about the big city, especially Greenwich
Battery Park was also the home base for a few excursion boat
rides. For a mere pittance you could take a tour ride around Manhattan
Island or you could head up to Bear Mountain or simply make a short jaunt
over to the infamous Statue of Liberty. On this day we opted to make our
first and only visit to the Lady of Liberty. Little did I realize that my
life would change forever that day.
The ferryboat docked almost at the feet of the Lady. The
passengers got off quickly, wiping their brows from the sizzling
temperatures and soaking humidity. The mist cast from the Hudson River was
of little comfort. Heck, we were young and could take it! I had just
finished my first year of high school and was placed in the honors class.
I was somewhat apprehensive about going back to school with all the stiff
competition, so I was determined to make this summer a fun and interesting
The crowd of tourists dispersed themselves all over the tiny
14-plus acre island. Some enjoyed walking in the breeze while others
headed straight for the gift shop which displayed tons of miniature,
bronze-like statues of Ms. Liberty all lined up in order of size. Karen
and I headed directly for the base of the statue and began the hike
upward. The first thing we noticed, besides the oppressive heat, was the
incredible narrowness of the staircase which shot almost straight up. It
was like walking up a winding elevator shaft.
Once we were committed to walking there was no turning back as
there were streams of people behind us and no room to turn around and go
back down. With each vertical step we took the space became more and more
confining and the steps grew more and more narrow. The air seemed to
evaporate as it became increasingly dark, but we inched our way to the
top. The windows along the climb were few and far between, making the
whole event feel like a bad experience in an amusement park’s not-so-fun
house. The most overpowering feeling was that of being trapped. At long
last we arrived at the top and could catch our breath. Finally a choice of
going back down or continuing to the crown of Lady Liberty! Of course we
had to experience the whole enchilada, so off we went, onward and upward!
We climbed the rest of the way and experienced a once-in-a-lifetime view
of the majestic New York Harbor and New York City. It was all so
breathtaking, both literally and figuratively. I did not realize at that
moment just what an impact this adventure would have on me.
Karen and I decided we had had enough climbing for one day and
shuffled down the steps to the base and boarded the excursion boat back to
Battery Park. Whew, back on semi-home turf! We were both exhausted so we
headed for the Staten Island Ferry terminal and home. Once on board we
bolted to the concession stand and had a tall drink and one of the ferry’s
famous large soft pretzels. It felt like a little bit of heaven. With
waves crashing against the pilings, we pulled into the dock at Staten
Island about twenty minutes later. Now, just one more leg to our trip: the
#107 bus down Forest Avenue. In another twenty-five minutes we were home
It was quite a draining adventure, but as two young teenagers
we felt we could still squeeze more out of this precious summer vacation
day. We decided to go to our individual homes and have dinner, then meet
again in an hour or so to go see Quintin and Ed at the local bowling alley
and maybe roll a game or two. Alas, that was not the wisest decision I
could have made.
Karen and I met at the designated time and again boarded the
#107 bus heading down Forest Avenue toward the bowling alley. I felt
totally depleted, but at fourteen years of age energy was presumed to be
in endless supply. I clearly expected to catch my second wind before we
arrived; however, about three-quarters of the way there I noticed I was
feeling very strange.