The night before she was supposed to cover the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade as a freelancer for The New York Times, Sarah Maslin Nir set the alarm on her phone for 5:30 a.m. She wasn’t nervous or worried. She’d gone to the parade every year growing up. But this was her first chance to get inside it.
On the morning of Thursday, Nov. 25, 2010, Maslin Nir woke in her West Village apartment before her alarm clock went off. It was perfectly still and pitch black. In her foggy morning thoughts, she wondered who was in her apartment, who had a key, who was she fighting with? When she fully woke, Maslin Nir realized a man had broken in, and he was attacking her. She quickly stopped fighting back. She told him where to find her money. She made sure he remembered her PIN. He took her phone, her money, her electronics and left.
Maslin Nir ran to her neighbor’s and banged on the door. Once inside, she looked down and saw blood pooling onto the floor around her feet. She sat inside her neighbor’s bathtub as he called 911.
Around the time when she should have been meeting a Times photojournalist to start their day, Maslin Nir waited in that tub as an EMT treated her wounds. She’d been stabbed in her shin just beside her popliteal artery. That morning would leave her with a six-inch scar, gratitude to be alive and a desire to cover the parade she’d missed.
A ringing phone woke the Times’ Elizabeth Harris that morning. When she answered the strange number, her friend since the age of 2 was on the other end riding in an ambulance toward the hospital.
Harris’ number was the only one Maslin Nir still had memorized.
Distract me, she told Harris.
Harris started talking about her wedding – she rattled off the menu, went on about dress styles — she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying, but her unofficial wedding planner loved it, so Harris kept talking.
As the ambulance pulled up to the hospital, Maslin Nir saw her mom waiting. Is there anything I can do for you right now? Harris asked. What do you need?
Instead of talking about herself, Maslin Nir used that moment to offer one last opinion on the wedding. Harris and her fiancée had been debating whether to wear colorful dresses or white ones, Harris remembered, “and she said, ‘wear white.'”
Angel Franco waited in the cold, gray morning for Maslin Nir. He watched passing taxis and delivery trucks for about an hour. And as he waited, a sense of unease grew. He got a contact number for Maslin Nir and called again and again.
Franco, a veteran Times photojournalist, started calling editors, then the photo desk. He woke people up.
When he finally got a call back, he learned the freelancer he was supposed to be working with was in the hospital.
“So I went to the hospital,” Franco said. “The way I was brought up, even though we weren’t together, you just don’t walk away.”
He spent some of that Thanksgiving at the hospital, talking with Maslin Nir and getting to know her mom. He went back to Maslin Nir’s apartment to make sure it was safe.
Maslin Nir was surprised that day that he came, that the Times’ Jodi Rudoren visited and Bill Keller, then executive editor, called to make sure she was OK, too. She wasn’t even on staff.
When she went back to her apartment with her parents that day, a woman with forensics was there to dust for fingerprints. And that’s when everything that had happened that morning sunk in.
“She said ‘thank you for this holiday gift,’” Maslin Nir remembered. “She said ‘I’m usually dusting for these prints off a body.’”
A few days after Thanksgiving, the man who broke in to Maslin Nir’s apartment was arrested. He’s still in jail.
She became a staff writer for the Times in 2011. What happened that Thanksgiving Day is not something she talks about much, but the break-in remains a lasting trauma in her life.
She pushes through it to do her job, though. This year, Maslin Nir’s investigation into nail salons in New York City, “Unvarnished,” took her into dark buildings and disturbing situations.
“The story was always worth it,” she said.
And every year, she volunteers to cover the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Maslin Nir finds something different each year, like the teenage marching band members who treat New York City hotels like dorms, or the specter of wind that threatened to carry the giant stars of the parade away.
Maslin Nir and Franco still haven’t covered a parade together, but they have worked with each other since. They have different ways of seeing the world, he said. “She’s very open and giving and accepting and loves the world and whatnot.”
And he likes that about her. She hasn’t let that break-in define her.
“Some folks would build a bomb shelter, put up a big steel door, pour cement in there and never come out, or this would be the focus point of their entire life. With her, it’s like a learning situation. This happened, but you know what, I’m not giving it any real estate in my brain.”
“I’ve never really thought about how it’s affected her ability to do her job,” she said. “It hasn’t. She’s one of the greatest, most fearless journalists in the building, which is saying a lot.”
Maslin Nir won’t spend Thanksgiving morning this year in the cold, following the parade, the balloons, the floats and the people. She volunteered, but instead, she’ll be watching it on TV like the rest of us. Each Thanksgiving, though, whether she’s covering it or watching it, Maslin Nir feels indescribably lucky to be alive.
It’s also an annual reminder about the kind of people she gets to work with and the kind of place where she gets to work.
The New York Times building is almost totally empty on Thanksgiving. But the parade ends at Times Square, and she ends up back at the Times.
“Some people might complain about working on a holiday,” Maslin Nir said, “but at the end of the parade, I do what everyone else does on Thanksgiving. I end up back home. It’s just my home is The New York Times.”
And even though she won’t be working this Thanksgiving, she still plans to stop by.