Once Upon A Time...
There was a little girl who lived in New York City. All of her life she, and all of her family, lived in this beautiful city. To this little girl, at the time she was growing up, places like Milwaukee, San Francisco and New Orleans seemed to be completely disconnected from the place in which she lived.
As the girl grew older she began to explore all of the wonderful things this city of her birth offered her. Museums, concerts, parks and second hand clothing stores. She vowed in her heart and to her soul that she would never, ever, ever live anywhere besides this fabulous, loud and crazy city.
Then, one day, this little girl grew up. More specifically, she was expected to become a grown up. She had gone through all of her school days and now, armed with a diploma and a minimal sense of entitlement, she was expected to make her way in the world. She looked out onto the city of her home and where once she had seen beauty and wonder and adventure, she now saw high rents, low salaries and garbage piled on the sidewalks. While in her heart and soul a small voice still spoke out in favor of her earlier and earliest promises the other part of her (that would be the part that held the degree in Creative Writing) scoffed and called the dream impossible.
Turning then away from childish dreams and promises the girl packed her bags, grabbed her cats and her bear named Ted and hightailed it for a more promising scene financially agreeable scene in the great, mid-western city of Chicago.
The girl saw this sojourn as a resting point. A way-station of sorts, where she could learn to live and pay bills, perhaps write something off the wall fantastic and return, triumphant to her beloved city of New York.
She never intended to stay away for all that long. But, as it is wont to do, life got in the way. There were many trials and tribulations and dramas of enormous consequence to her life that prevented her from returning, let alone triumphantly.
And then, one day, a horrible, horrible thing happened. A big chunk of the city that she loved and watched from afar was set upon by Terrorists. All she could do was watch the horror unfold from the chair at her office desk as thoughts of everyone and everything she had left behind raced through her mind.
Where was her mother? Was she safe? Had she been hit in the head by falling debris? Had her father made it safely out of mid-town? What about her cousin who had an office near "Ground Zero?" Was she safe? When would the phones work again? Where were her friends and relatives???? How could she get in touch with them to know they were safe?
And what about the city? The city of so many dreams and hopes and promises? What about her city? Would it ever heal?
The girl sat at her desk and wept. Wept for all the people who were lost, all of the buildings that were gone and all of the needs of her city. If it had been possible, she would have been on the next plane/train/bus/slow boat back to New York. She felt as if the city might never forgive her for not being there at its greatest time of need.
For the next week she watched from the safety of her bed in her spacious, yet barrio adjacent, apartment in the mid-west as death tolls rose, speeches were made and plans for war were laid. She wept and wept and wept and wished that she had never left. Wished too that her mettle had been tested along with the rest of New York on that day. Feeling that she had inadvertently forfeit her right to be a New Yorker by being safely tucked away in The Second City on the day when all of New York rallied its resources and muddy good feelings to pull itself out of rubble. She looked at pictures taken by friends and strangers of the place that she still called home and felt that there could be no greater sense of loss than this gaping hole in her heart where those towers had stood as symbol of home and hearth and family.
Time heals all wounds. This is true. To an extent all wounds will heal and do. All wounds leave scars though. Some are visible. Like the way she cries on the plane after visits to New York. Some are more subtle, like the way she cringes with every mention of 9/11; no longer innocent numbers but an indelible mark on the lives of people all over the world. Or the way she handily avoided all news casts and internet news sites today, the fifth anniversary of that day.
But some scars are on her heart. Some of them do not fade with time but only sharpen in contrast. Some of them were reopened when she watched New Orleans wash away. Watched with her boyfriend as his city suffered grief and tragedy and injustice as well. Watched and realized that there is no difference - blown up or blown away. It's still your heart - her heart. His heart. And now they share a personal grief and guilt that they do not discuss and do not acknowledge. But it's there in the way they scoff at elected officials and their officious words. Promises of hope and healing for their cities are filtered through this grief and guilt. Knowing that in a solitary way they failed. Failed to be there when their family, and friends and homes needed them to be close and available - for a heartbeat, for a helping hand. As a daughter or son, cousin and friend. Failed to be there when their homes needed to be claimed as homes.
So now she must reconcile this guilt. She must remember that, although if any city in the world were capable of laying a guilt trip it is New York, there is no guilt. That, despite the length of her time in this city away from her city she is still a New Yorker and still a member of her family - family of blood and family of those that call New York "home." Because, no matter how long she is gone from New York she thinks about it every day. No matter how much changes in her city or with her family all of these people and buildings and walls and water run through her veins and make her heart beat. No matter what vacuous accent she picks up here in the mid-west she still falls into the familiar patois of New-Yorkese five minutes off the plane.
And no matter how hard her boyfriend argues against it, she will be back.
She will be back.