Visiting Roosevelt Island

Getting to Roosevelt Island requires nothing more than a MetroCard swipe. Just another New York neighborhood, right?

Wrong!

Roosevelt Island feels like a completely different world. It’s located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens and you can get there either by taking the F train or by taking the Roosevelt Island tram, which was a quick little ride. It’s a lot of fun to see New York’s streets from a couple hundred feet in the air.

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You can access the Roosevelt Island tramway from its only station on 59th and 2nd.

The first thing I noticed is that Roosevelt Island is quiet. You can see all of Manhattan’s traffic on FDR Drive but can’t hear any of it. Roosevelt Island is only two miles long and you can walk the entire thing without needing to stop for a car to pass. About 12,000 people live in this strange little city of its own, with the helpful amenities of Duane Reade, a fruitcart seller, three restaurants, and a library and school.

What Roosevelt Island also has in abundance, however, is a lot of outdoor recreation space. This also made it feel like a completely different world. Manhattan does an excellent job of creating these spaces, but the number of parks, athletic fields, playgrounds, and pools on the island was really surprising. It even has a community garden with separate plots so you can have your own garden within a garden!

 

Once on Roosevelt Island, my friend and I stopped first at The Octagon, a fancy apartment building that used to be the main entrance to the New York City Lunatic Asylum:

People were taking wedding photos in front of it, which I can understand because the stone is beautiful. But I couldn’t help but think of Shutter Island and the sorrow of that story. What lives were lived here? What lives were lost? What stories were never told, or told and disbelieved?

The spooky, eerie feeling of Roosevelt Island remained with me despite the heat and bright sunlight. Our conversation turned to other psychological thrillers and horror movies as we walked to the lighthouse at the northern tip of the island.

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There’s clearly a legacy of advocacy on Roosevelt Island. The island is currently home to a K-12 school for students with disabilities, as well, so it was nice to see activism as a continuing conversation. Likewise, it was disturbing to think that such a calm, quiet oasis had been used as a place to remove individuals from society. (Kind of like Australia’s history as a British penal colony.)

From the lighthouse, we walked south, passing by a modern art commentary on what Roosevelt Island and New York City often represent:

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Clever, right?

As we walked south, we also passed Blackwell House, which dates from 1796. It changed hands a number of times and often housed the administrators of several Roosevelt Island institutions. You can read about it (and about Roosevelt Island’s five other Landmark buildings) here.

On the southern tip of Roosevelt Island lies perhaps its most interesting attraction: an abandoned smallpox hospital! The building was protected by a fence but the shell that remained, slicing straight through the sky, gave me chills:

At one time, those rooms were full. The walls closed in on the patients and on themselves. The ivy covering the building, blowing gently in the light wind, gave it a lifelike quality that juxtaposed sharply with the empty tree branches. Something’s wrong here.

People were quiet as they approached, looked around, took photos, and continued walking south to the park, concert venue, and memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt that occupies the remainder of the island. I won’t say that I believe in ghosts but if I did, I’d be certain that this island is haunted.

And that’s reason in itself to go visit! Happy exploring!

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The Day After the Worst Day

Recently, a friend mentioned seeing a segment from reality TV show in which participants discussed the worst day of their lives. I immediately cast my brain around to unpleasant areas and two days came to mind, though not in the way I expected.

I thought first of the night when my dad looked at my sister, brother, and me sitting around the kitchen table and said, “Mummy and Daddy won’t be living together any longer.” And then he started to cry. So did we.

I thought next of the morning when my now ex-boyfriend and I ended a relationship that had lasted eight and a half years. Calmly, in a fog, I looked at him and said, “Okay.” I did a lot of writing that day.

There’s a lot that I remember and still viscerally feel about those moments. I remember tone of voice and facial expression and it still makes me ache. As I write this, my breathing has constricted and my stomach has clenched. My hands are shaking over the keyboard and my chest hurts. I remember the feeling that came later: anguish, despair, and the sense of falling into thick, dark, unforgiving blackness.

But what I can’t remember at all is the day after each of those events. I can’t remember the day I got out of bed after what must have been a sleepless night and had to cope with a reality that, mere hours earlier, had been unimaginable. The day I had to begin relearning how to live because the way I’d been living no longer existed. The day the nightmare inside my head grew louder as time passed instead of fading.

I can’t remember the day after. I can only guess as to what happened.

This is probably a neural defense mechanism. My brain has probably suppressed the memories of the day that followed my parents’ separation and my breakup because they’re painful, harmful, and detrimental to my daily functioning.

The brain’s purpose is to keep you alive and the way that happens is fascinating. During a traumatic episode, the flight-or-fight response activates, leaving a sketch of what happened but relatively few details. The brain and body need to focus exclusively on getting you out of a dangerous situation. Both adrenaline and noradrenaline are released to allow you to respond quickly and to fight or flee as needed. Adrenaline blocks out non-essential information to focus on the essential (the quick response) and noradrenaline destroy’s the brain’s ability to store memories. Basically, the brain focuses on getting you physically out of a dangerous situation or mentally through a traumatic one and it streamlines its neural processes in order to do that. (Useful reading: Why Can’t Accident Victims Remember What Happened to Them?)

I’m willing to guess that this is what happened in the aftermath of my worst days. I have flashbulb memories of the specific events themselves (truly, neither of them fall in to the trauma category, which I’m inclined to reserve for real disasters, death, violence, sexual assault, etc.) but it seems that my brain’s neural processes interfered with my ability to remember the day after in order to keep me putting one foot in front of the other.

Since my hypothesis is based on one anecdotal example, I’m wondering about others’ experiences. Can you remember the day after a traumatic event? If so, is there something specific about that day that you remember? By contrast, is there a gap in time that you don’t remember? Have something else to say or a different idea entirely? Post a comment or send a message through the contact page. Thanks in advance!

Thoughts of Home

Some time ago, home stopped meaning places and started meaning people. Home is where my people are, wherever it is they happen to be. Home is multiple places at once because I’m lucky enough to have friends and family members the world over.

But Rochester, New York is my first home. My longest home. Rochester is the place I know the best and the place I feel safest. It’s where my immediate family lives, where my oldest friends are from and where some still are. It’s a place of both fond memories and dark moments, times of absolute elation and the deepest uncertainty. Rochester and its people have raised me and only asked that I remember where I come from wherever I go.

Rochester is technically a mid-size city on the shores of the Genesee River and Erie Canal, but it’s very much a small town. People are friendly, the pace of life is calm, and there’s a sense of collective responsibility and a spirit of helpfulness. People make connections with others, knowing they’ll cross paths again. Rochesterians have a sense of genuine pride in their city that they want to share with others. It’s not enough that we love our town and that we’ve made our homes here; we want you to feel the same way.

I’ve called other places home since going away for college back in 2008, but Rochester has always been home home. No matter where in the world I am, it always will be.

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Pittsford Village on the Erie Canal

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place