Who Was There

For Ariela

I’ve been living outside of NYC for the past 8 years and this year I’m here today and watching FB posts by people who were here and by people who were not.

For those of you who were not there: we don’t need to be reminded not to forget. We also are still angry that anyone used an attack on the most diverse, open-armed, immigrant-loving, ‘of course no human is illegal’ city as an excuse for xenophobia and a shitty war. Today we are a little too still, a little too quiet, red-eyed and weep so easily. Today we ask each other how we are, what we’re doing, how we are dealing this year. 16 years in and we check in with each other – those who you knew at the time, those you’ve come to know since. I hate to say it but it takes me a second, when the subject comes up in conversation, to know who was there and who wasn’t by how they respond. Talk about triggers.

Especially in the midwest, which has no huge fondness for NYC anyway, it’s as if it’s impolite to mention it, to mark it as anything but patriotic jingoistic bullshit, which is one of the reasons I’m not there today. But some of my fellow NYers and DC area folks are, so let me ask: if you weren’t there, take it easy on us today. Don’t ask. Don’t try to relate. Just give us some space and quiet and respect.

What’s beautiful to me is how many people who were there post happy photos of those iconic Towers. One friend had a photo of her first arrival to NYC and there they are in the background. We don’t post the photos of billowing smoke; we don’t post the conspiracy theory. We just remember, without trying to, that acrid smell for months and the fliers and the candles and the plume, that goddamned endless plume in the sky.

So for those of you who weren’t there, maybe follow our lead. Today, to me, should be a national holiday honoring the Best City on Earth and honoring all it stands for: cheek by jowl tolerance, a government that stands up for Dreamers, that honors African American labor and Jewish food and Irish storytelling and Puerto Rican music and where even the most uneducated bozo knows that their Muslim friends are really hungry at dusk after fasting. In some ways my city has always been my image of the US even though they have almost nothing to do with each other. Because my New York is artsy and decadent, exquisitely dirty and complicated and busy and fast. It’s $2 falafels and $2k in rent. It is all the extremes all the time, all the faiths, all the creeds, all the everything.

The first thing that made me laugh after that day was an Onion headline that said only Rest of Country Temporary Feels Deep Affection for New York and I will forever be grateful to Madison, WI, where the Onion was HQ’d, for that. Because it’s less true right now, it feels like, than it was even then: as a country, we still hate New York, but I always want to remind both Dems and Republicans that it is also the city of mammon, of capitalism, of the uber rich, but it is also a place that protects – or tries to – the most vulnerable.

And that, you know, is the whole fucking idea of the US, isn’t it? Unfettered greed and unfettered justice. We are big enough and rich enough and generous enough not to be mean. At least that’s what I always thought. It’s what I still think today, that the real deal is the Cajun Army and the drag queens hosting bingo to raise money to help whoever needs helping that day, that week, that month. So maybe today instead of waving a flag or whatever other bullshit you’re doing, just love on New York for a hot minute because it is, whether you like it or or not, still the best of who we are as a nation, too.

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

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