Before I ever loved a boy, I loved New York City.
I went on an 8th grade field trip to see Beauty and the Beast, stepped off the bus in the middle of Times Square, and knew what it was like to belong somewhere. I came home that night raving to my parents, and they also knew that I was never going to be Philly-for-life.
I applied to Columbia and New York University, and to some other colleges outside the city, but woke up having panic dreams that I got into Boston University, which would have been a perfectly lovely school, but as far as I was concerned it would have been a disaster. I was a tad dramatic about it. And I DID get into BU. But I got into NYU too. Smell ya later, Bahstahn.
And didn't New York deliver. I lived on Broadway and 10th, with sweeping views of Grace Church. I fell in love with a boy. I worked at the Letterman show. I took journalism classes so one day I could write for Entertainment Weekly. It was a beautiful, beautiful time.
I was 20 years old on September 11, 2001. I was in an 8:30 am digital journalism class when someone came into our room and said "I don't know what you want to do about this, but two planes just hit the World Trade Center." Only one girl got it immediately, and ran out of the room to call her mother. The rest of us stared at each other, decided to break up class, and wandered outside. I walked around the corner to LaGuardia and Washington Square South, which is where I saw the towers. Then I got it, too, and turned and walked back to my dorm at Union Square. Then I ran.
I wanted to call my parents, who worked at a military base, thinking they might know something. Nobody on the street was speaking. There was almost no traffic, save for emergency vehicles heading downtown. All the cabs had pulled over and were listening to the radio. That was the only sound. When I got home, I couldn't get a cell signal, so I went outside. In the 20 seconds it took to get outside, the south tower had evaporated, leaving a huge, black cumulonimbus cloud on the horizon. Behind me, a man emerged from the Union Square subway, and had been stuck there through everything. He asked what the hell happened. I told him, "A plane hit the building and the building fell down." Fighter jets screamed overhead. The man looked at me, and just walked past me toward the front of the crowd.
I will not pretend that my experience is the same as those who lost someone that day. Or the same as those who escaped the towers and had to walk home covered in blood and dust. Or the same as those who lost someone overseas fighting for the freedoms that were attacked that day. But I do know that after that day, I canceled my Entertainment Weekly subscription and started paying more attention to the news. I loved the band U2, but I stopped wishing Bono would shut up about politics, and instead I read about Africa. Having seen the worst that people could do to each other, to MY CITY, I chose to believe in the best of people, and wanted to work for that. That's what led me to leave NYC for DC, and what eventually called me back home to work for the ACLU.
Today I'm back in New York, watching boats traverse the East River outside of the window of my beautiful apartment, and listening to the names of victims being read on NY1. I work near Ground Zero, and still think the skyline looks wrong without the towers. It will never look right to me. I still have a hard time watching footage of the disaster, and will often physically shudder or retch when I see pictures of it.
But my relationship to New York remains the most stable and functional one in my life. I still know what it's like to belong somewhere, and I'm so grateful for this place, for its people, and for the thousand small daily moments that remind me how incredible, and indomitable, this city is. Tonight, NYC and I will have a drink, and listen to music, and gather with other people who know and appreciate that no ideology is bigger than humanity at its best.
It is still a beautiful, beautiful time.