I am...a New Yorker

[Previous entry: "Home, again"]

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

The hot pink, leopard print tissues Jen gave me for my birthday. They seem so frivolous now, but it made me happy to think of her.

Tired and sick, but thankful.

I am...feeling like a bit of a wimp, having only returned to work yesterday when I should’ve been here helping out. I wasn't right there, I didn't lose anyone, I've no excuse. I'm writing a lot, but not saying much.

I can't believe it's been a week already. I didn't think we'd have an entire week. Passing the makeshift alter in front of St. Vincent's last night and seeing the flyers for the missing everywhere tears me up. I'm trying to go on as before, but you can't, not really, when just going to the ATM means seeing these morbid reminders. I always thought that, having faced adversity before, I would be calm and helpful in any crisis. I'm no hero. I'm still in awe of people who have selflessly done so much.

st_vincent_memorial_091701 (9k image)
Someday the flyers and candles will be gone, but it's never going to be just another bus stop again.

As I've said, I’d been having premonitions for a while that weren’t very specific. I had this feeling, as I walked around town, that I had to pay very close attention, stop and take a mental picture. This was especially true in the Village, but I felt it everywhere. I felt I was racing against time all summer to do as much as I could. I dismissed those feelings, convinced I was only racing with winter. Someone asked me recently if I'd been lying when I said how much fun I was having all summer. No, but who would have believed me about my instincts before last Tuesday?

The only feeling that WAS specific was an uneasiness about the World Trade Center. The first time I moved to New York, I just felt sad about the place because something awful had happened there. This time around, I've felt terribly uneasy. One of the reasons I was glad to leave Brooklyn was that I hated stopping underneath it on the way to work everyday.

It was even worse getting out of that station. The exit from the subway went for blocks. The last time I was there, the weekend before my birthday, I got out at the first exit I saw, instead of going through the Borders that was there because it just felt wrong to be down there for long. I didn't usually do that because I get so lost downtown, due to the fact that the streets are named instead of numbered like the rest of the city and all twisty-turny to boot, but I could not stand to be down there.

I knew the Borders in the WTC was across the street from Century 21; that was the only way I knew for sure how to get there. Last week I saw Century 21 on the news, all burnt and blown out. It’s weird to think about these places in the past tense, a sensation I remember from the months following my father's death. This experience has been very similar to to that one in many ways, mainly in that it was initially numbing and paralyzing and unreal (even though I expected both). This time, there’s the further dimension of feeling my own life is at greater risk than before.

Friends always asked me how I could live in New York, “It’s so dangerous,” they’d say, "Don't you worry about being mugged?"

"It's the safest place in the world," I'd respond.

I've long had this interest in the class system within the U.S. Much of my coursework in college focused on that and American foreign policy. This last has, for the previous 5 decades, come to mean the overthrow of other governments and the installation and bankrolling of dictators, secret police and war machines. As a result, I didn't share that common American sense of safety and disconnection from the inevitable karma of inequity and violence. At least I thought I didn't, until I realized it was so fragile.

I used to speak out on such things, but I was weary with the response that I should "go back to Africa" or being told I was only in college because I was black (actually, I check "white" or "other" on forms just to avoid that very accusation, it's equally true). Nevermind that I was smarter than all those people or had better grades, I still wasn't American enough to deserve an education.

I can hardly go back to Africa, having never been there. I'm from Indiana, was raised in California and was always a New Yorker at heart. How much more American do I have to be to exercise my First Amendment right to free speech? Instead of intelligent discussion, it's met with a lecture about how much better off I am here than I'd be in Africa. If I'm not accepted as a "real" American, then I can only imagine what actual immigrants go through. I find myself nodding in sympathy to the Americans of Arab descent that I see around me. I worry for them. I worry for us all.

I'm neither a Christian nor a flag-waver, but I agree with this sentiment:

Love one another as Christ loves you (3k image)

As John said to me last night, John Lennon's words and messages of peace and hope are close to the surface right now. It's so much better than the alternative.

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Replies: 2 comments

Was it John Lennon, who spoke to you last night?:)(yes I am)

Posted by Josh @ 09/18/2001 03:42 PM EST

Smartass! It was JohnE, not Lennon.

Posted by Erica @ 09/18/2001 09:08 PM EST

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