[posted 09.21.2001]


Reflections on New York on the eve of the author’s move to the West Coast.
— Thursday, September 13

I’VE SPENT THE BETTER part of three years looking for any other way to describe myself: a transplant, a fish out of water, a westerner out of range. Anything but one of that annoying and difficult tribe. I kept my now-expired Nevada driver’s license as proof of my heritage. I plotted my escape from nearly the moment I landed on this foreign soil, even after I’d learned to find my way, after I’d made friends, after I’d found things I knew I’d miss once I was gone.

It’s beginning to rain now. On Monday night it poured and I was still sick from a cold that had sprung up over the weekend, my first assurance of the imminent fall. I’d forgotten my umbrella and I hit my head getting into a cab home. Tuesday I woke up and went to go vote and got on a train to go to work. For the three days since, I’ve searched for a way to say “nothing will be the same” that doesn’t sound trite or hysterical. None of it is new any more, not the stories or the photos or the tales of near misses and lost hope. And I still have to do this. This is what I do. On channel seven she said, “This is indescribable,” and I yelled, “Then give the goddamned mike to someone else, because that’s your job today, to find the words.” For three days I couldn’t put a sentence to paper because none of it was real and nothing would smell right in type, nothing would catch the flat light of Wall Street covered in layers of white soot or the abandoned fruit carts with rows of gray apples stacked like petrified eggs in Pompeii.

The people of this city are at their best when everything is falling apart. We’re not all heroes; we were not all magnificent all of the time. But when it counted, we were heartfelt and kind and conscientious and a woman with a baby in the front seat of her battered car slowed at the intersection and yelled, “Does anyone need a ride?”

The man I gladly voted against that morning in spirit if not in actuality was himself stuck in a building during the chaos. He walked uptown, he held hands and spoke calmly and gave the only possible honest answer when asked how many were estimated dead: “More than any of us can bear,” he said, and who knew a man who has fought speech in so many forms had such grace to speak. “We will rebuild, we will rebuild,” he said the next day, and I believed him. He said, “Go back to normal,” and I wanted to apologize for letting my newfound fear of subway suffocation and a light workload keep me at home today.

I’m afraid to go somewhere where people haven’t spent this week as concerned with the structural damage from rumbling trains as international policy, haven’t been as hogtied by the logistics of convincing National Guardsmen to allow access to an office as restricted curbside checking. We have 8 million different stories but they all take place here and none of us has gone back to a normal way of life yet. But I know I have to leave. My movers are held off until Monday, and I have a flight a week from tomorrow I plan to miss in favor of some earthbound transport. I don’t think I can stay here and see the abridged skyline and the inevitable cheap sentiment that will follow genuine pathos. I’m not sure I can continue to have faith in the thousands of humans each day I trust to make safe and sane decisions that affect us all. I’m not sure I can endure the ordinary, everyday assault of this city, once resumed — as it will be, of course; even badly beaten and brokenhearted New Yorkers are always New Yorkers and still before that humans, a race with a limited ability to sustain crisis mentality in the most inhumane of circumstances.

There has been warmongering, and there has been bloodlust, and I am no more convinced America is a beacon of all things good and pure than I was when I hit my head on the cab and went home in the rain. But if New York needed troops, if this city needed an army, I would join. I would sign up. I will, at the very least, defend its honor wherever I go next. I will call myself a New Yorker and be proud of what I’ve seen from my city in these past three days.

No matter which shore I stand on, we will rebuild. And I will come back.

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shana naomi krochmal lives in new york city, but not for long. she’s looking for dream job no. 2 on the other coast.