When people would talk about how much 9/11 affected them and/or changed them, I would smile and say something like “that’s nice.” As I was thinking, “it’s not America’s tragedy, you were 3,000 miles away. How could it have affected you?”
I live on the Upper West Side, almost five miles due west from The Trade Center. My friends who live(d) downtown told me that I didn’t suffer enough as I wasn’t physically near the scene. I believed them.
Smoke did come into my apartment; I was and still am inconvenienced by some of the after affects. It changed my life as it changed so many other lives.
My mom died suddenly a month later. I became bitter, angry and a bit jealous of the families of the victims. Not only did they not have to pay estate taxes, they made money. It was irrational but so is grief. Because of anthrax scares, I would get late notices before the bills. My personal mourning meant nothing to most people.
How can you mourn an old lady at a time like this?
Gee, I don’t know. Something to do with her raising me, being the last person to love me unconditionally, and my truest friend?
I’m a third generation New Yorker; my parents were both born in Manhattan. Though they lived in Nassau County most of their adult lives, my dad always tried to vote for mayor. He also waited for the super, but that’s another story. My dad thought that people who moved from New York were all crazy, unless it was London .
My move to East 63rd Street just off Fifth Avenue when I was 25 was one of the happiest days of his life. I had left New York twice but came running back both times. I knew Manhattan was my fate; just thought that it would be The Upper West Side where everybody was my age.
I grew to love being the prisoner of Fifth Avenue as I could easily walk to any neighborhood in Manhattan. On Sundays I usually walked down to The Trade Center and would decide where to go from there. One bright May Sunday, I detoured off my route to the club in The Village where everybody did know my name, and the soon-to-be-new-owner, my college friend, Lenny, and Lucinda Williams, when she was just Lucinda, introduced me to my boyfriend Zachary who had moved to New York two years earlier from New Orleans to become a folk/rock star.
As I write about Zachary often, and never seem to be able to get away from the beginning, I have spent much time thinking about that walk. The year before I had worked across from St Paul’s Church; met most of my adult friends there. Downtown, The Trade Center and St Paul’s played many roles in my life at times. I remember when South Street was a pier people would sun bath on. During the week it was filled with workers, but on weekends it was deserted. I have never been a sun bather; love to walk on the beach, but I would sit at the edge with my legs in the polluted water. It was a Manhattan oasis. We don’t have many of them anymore.
I don’t love New York as passionately as I did before. It had been losing its lustre for years before 9/11. My mom was old, and had macular degeneration to the utmost degree. By 1996, when I finished grad school, 20 years after I got my undergrad degree, I knew I had to to stay here. In 1997, I found the almost perfect co-op on The Upper West Side which is still way different than The Upper East Side, but has been gentrified. Most of the city is usually crowded. I spent $95 the other night to see a play that most people loved; I thought that it was trite and not a tenth as good as the book. I liked the film Hairspray a lot more than the play.
I live the proverbial ten blocks from Lincoln Center and don’t even watch performances on TV; I do appreciate all the free summer events, but have I made it to more than one event this summer? Of course not.
My mother died; I’m free to leave. But do I? I talk about it often. New York’s in my blood.
I did think of moving to New Orleans about ten years ago. My mom said:
“But you don’t know the crime there.”
I looked at her rather strangely; she couldn’t see my expression:
“You know the crime in New York; you know how to walk so that nobody bothers you.”
I thought about it; she was right. But now I know Santa Monica and Venice Beach, CA. I could move; I will move. Hopefully I can be bi-coastal. But I have a few things to finish first. Maybe I will always have a few things to finish first. I’m comfortable here.
I wondered how I could be in another city on 9/11. How could people understand?
I found out this week that they can. I finally understand that you don’t have to live in a city to love it or feel its misery (Gawd does that sound like bad ’80’s psycho babble.)
I finally understand that everybody can truly feel the pain. As 9/11 was America’s tragedy so is Hurricane Katrina. It’s so much worse that it’s beyond my comprehension.
I am so sorry that it took a tragedy of this magnitude to make me understand this.
Of course, next month I’ll probably think New York is the center of the earth again.