TWA Project
 
 
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Words | Brooke Mazurek

Media | Paige Mazurek

 
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Part I.

New York, New Job, And A Shaman-Induced Escape

Three months before I turned 28, I quit my job, packed up my apartment in Brooklyn, and wrote a five-page letter to Russ, my boyfriend of four years and a man I still loved deeply, explaining why we needed to break up.

The question I was often asked when people found out I was dating a musician was, “What else does he do?” Did he teach music or play in a wedding band? Waiter and then gig at clubs after work? “Even if he worked a desk job, he could still identify as a musician,” my Mom once remarked. It reminded me of my homestay mom in Costa Rica who years earlier served me a plate of pork when I was still a vegetarian. “Don’t worry,” she had whispered. “I won’t tell anyone if you eat it.”

Stability was a word our parents liked to suggest—but for Russ, stability existed in the singularity of his commitment to something so unstable. There wasn’t and wouldn’t ever be anything other than music. And against all odds, he was now bracing himself to spend 300 days a year for the next two years touring the world with a hugely successful band. All while I was preparing to throw my own stability out the window.


 

 
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I had spent the past six post-college years working my way up the editorial chain in magazines. From wonderfully talented people I learned what it meant to package a story, how to tap into the feeling of something that interests you and turn it into a viable feature. But in January of 2017, days before I watched with searing dread as Donald Trump was sworn into office, I started a new job. It instantly felt like a wrong turn.

I could tell you that the panic I experienced was chalked up to my new boss, a person whose layers of anger and sadness were caked on like paper mache. But there was something bigger happening, some greater emotional pull. I began escaping to a bathroom stall to cry during the workday. I cried in subway cars and over plates of falafel. I cried while I was walking my dog. I didn’t understand the tears, and I resented both that they existed and that I couldn’t stop them.

So I set up a Skype session with a shaman named John who I met in California a few years earlier (more on that later). From early childhood up through adulthood, John had survived seven near-death experiences but never thought much of this fact. He went into the engineering field and while lucrative, his job had been a source of misery for many years. 

Over Skype we spoke about John’s path to shamanism, how there were signs he ultimately quilted into a narrative that was laced with greater meaning—but how those signs had taken him years to comprehend. “Your soul,” John told me, “is crying just as just as mine once did. You can either listen to it now, or you can let the feelings get pushed down and confront them when they come back again . . . . and they will come back,” he promised.

I rattled off a list of reasons why a life change wouldn’t work. For starters, I had no savings. There were student loans and debt that needed to be paid off. There was rent in New York, and sure, I wanted to only write—but how could I stay in New York and make that happen? And what about Trump? Outside of my own bubble, it felt like the world was ending. Like someone had hit the self-destruct button. I told John I understood what I needed to do, but that I needed to think on everything.

 
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Then I got attacked in the subway.

A few weeks after the Skype session, I’d been on my way home from a concert when a man asked for directions. It was late but I always traveled late, and I didn’t want to be the jerk who walked away. Wasn’t that part of the problem with Trump’s America? That you could look at someone, label them a predator and thereby perpetuate the vicious fear-of-otherness cycle that was ripping the country apart at its seams? 

So I explained that the C train wasn’t running, told this man he would have to transfer to another line—only, he wasn’t listening as I spoke. He was staring. 

I felt the hair on the back of my neck levitate. 

The man followed me when I walked to the other end of the tunnel, and followed me when I eventually got off of the train. I’d been wearing a necklace with my name written in gold script, which is why, when the man began sprinting after me through the hollowed-out Lafayette Avenue stop, he also called after me. Brooke, Brooke, why are you running, Brooke?

I was lucky, I made it home that night. And three weeks later, as the last of the hives that immediately broke out all over my body disappeared, I put in my two weeks notice.

The collective “They” say that after 10 years of living in New York, you can officially call yourself a New Yorker, yet with my status newly earned, I suddenly found myself waking up in my childhood home on the outskirts of a town named Boring. 

As I worked from the front porch each morning, I marveled at the thick silence that had settled in around me. At night though, as the crickets howled, I would lie awake dumbfounded by the realization that I now had an old and a new life. I catalogued what I missed of the old. 

I saw Russ in everything. 

My gut knew that this current chapter had been a result of many things, still, there were moments when I told myself I had taken a wrecking ball to life. I wondered where it all started, what that first domino was. 

I found myself returning to a moment a year-and-a-half earlier, in March 2016.


 
 
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Part II.

Retired And Soon-To-Be Re-Hired

I wondered how I could have missed it. How, after more than a dozen trips that brought me in and out of John F. Kennedy International Airport, it could have failed to make even the slightest impression on my radar. But for whatever reason, under a cold and cloudless night sky, the old Trans World Airlines building was right in front of me.

Its beauty isn’t subtle. Designed in 1955 by the Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen, it’s a mid-century masterpiece comprised of swooping white cement that delicately curves around 100-foot high windows. Some have compared its shape to a UFO, others to a bird with wings stretched outwards. Regardless of interpretation, there is no denying that its composition—especially in the context of the terminals that now surround it—is startling.

By 2018, if all goes according to plan, it will also be New York’s next great luxury hotel. Where the old check-in counters once stood? Maybe a chic sushi bar. The cocktail lounge upstairs where the chewing gum people stuck under the bar became fossilized? Think grand pianos, smooth jazz and $16 dollar Manhattans. At least that’s what a representative helping to lead the transformation, later told me he envisioned.
 

 

 
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[I want it to] be experienced as a place of movement and transition
— Eero Saarinen
 
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Right now, though, it’s all sitting there just as it was when the Port Authority Association closed its doors in 2008—person-less, save for a round-the-clock security guard. Once a week, a man who lost a job he loved more during the 2008 recession, walks through the building to make sure there aren’t any leaks or cracks in the 6,000 ton roof overhead. In the winter the heat is kept on and in summer, the air conditioning on full blast so that it doesn’t all wilt away. 

The building was lit up and lonely as my taxi cab pulled away that March night, and as it faded into the periphery I thought of the things that might have kept me from seeing it time and time again. I also thought about the nature of airports, the way their physical design can close travelers off; about how they are stepping stones—a place you go to get someplace else. And because they are so often bereft of beauty, you do what you can to get through them faster, to not be so present, to not let them become a sort of limbo. 

I didn’t know what the TWA building meant when I saw it, only that it felt important. As the clock inched towards 11 o’clock, I texted my Mom and Dad to ask if they were familiar with it. 

Mom responded immediately.

“Of course I know it.”


 
 

Part III.

Mom’s Keys To The World

 

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When my Mom first met my dad at Newark airport in 1974, she thought he was Italian. “His name is Anthony," she’d said to herself, even though his roots are Eastern European. She was a ground hostess, the person responsible for getting passengers who were running late and celebrities to their flights; he was a ticket counter clerk for TWA. They were both dating other people.

Mom had worn white gloves to her job interview as secretary for TWA’s cargo division five years earlier, and when she landed the position, the local newspaper wrote about it. Working for the airlines, especially TWA at that time, was still considered glamorous. They had a strict dress code, but when my Mom wasn’t working, rings were stacked on every one of her fingers. She wore rams-head hoops, camel-colored coats, bellbottoms and platforms. My Dad wore saddle shoes. 

Every TWA employee had to choose a codename that corresponded to their first and last initials. My mom, then Robin Rosenthal, was “Rockin’ Robin.” My Dad, Tony Mazurek, was “Tough Meat.” They still laugh every time they recount this. They could also travel all over the world for free. 

Because of this, before my mom had kids, she had the world. Tucked in the top right drawer of her dresser is a collection of keychains to prove it. From a single silver key ring, the world becomes a borderless, intermingling pile you can hold in your hands.

The collection stopped growing when my parents had my older brother Zachary in 1984, and any prospect that it would expand all but evaporated when my Mom got pregnant with triplets—me, my sister Paige and brother Joshua—four years later.

Growing up, I would lie on the floor for hour-long stretches examining each one--the sandalwood donkey from India, the miniature compass from Capri-- while my Mom shared snippets of stories about these exotic places that were so far removed from our life in Maryland.

It turns out, to get to any of them, she always had to depart from TWA’s international building at JFK.
 

 
 
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[ In Progress ]

 
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