Tuesday, April 16, 2013

the worst things come from inside here

I don't even know and am not going to pretend to know, I'm really not.

But I thought of something last night right before I was nodding off to sleep and I realized it's something I'll carry with me always.

Because see, I grew up in New England. All my formative years were spent in the vicinity of Boston. I'm forever tied to that place, there are streets that I know in my bones. I hear echoes of that city when I'm elsewhere. It's the place I first learned what company you can keep with a city, how you might never be lonely if you let the river and the winds nudge you along.

It's not the same now, nothing ever is. But some things come back to you. And this is hard to write. Because I grew up in New England, and to some extent, I'm of that land and of those people.

And to some extent, I'm not.

It makes me cringe to recount it, but it's what popped into my head last night and it wasn't some random thought. When the towers fell, the next day, the company where I worked held a moment of silence, but then demanded we all participate in a rousing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner in the cafeteria. I should have felt united with my coworkers. I should have felt we were one. But I didn't. As soon as it happened, as soon as everyone solemnly but angrily slapped their hands against their chest, a chill ran down my spine.

I stupidly confessed to my friend KP that the entire exercise had made me nervous. When tragedy strikes, everyone wants to talk about the outpouring of support and good will that occurs, but the first, palpable emotion in the air is often pure, angry hate. There was so, so much hate in "the rockets red glare" that I foolishly told KP that I was scared I couldn't walk around by myself at night in my little town in NJ. It felt, even moreso than all of my upbringing in EBF, like an us vs. them moment.

And I wasn't part of the us anymore.

I recount the confession as a foolish one because it caused irreparable harm. KP gave me an impassioned lecture about my self-absorption and paranoia and how I was making this whole thing about me when no one would have associated some brown girl from EBF with any of this tragedy. No one would blame me. She said it over and over again, and eventually I told her she might be right, and maybe I was being an a$$hole, because after all, people had lost their lives, and that was a true tragedy. That was certainly more tragic than me feeling nervous about walking to Trader Joe's.

Then the next day, in a town 25 minutes from mine, an Indian girl was heckled, called a terrorist, and was hit in the head with a brick.

KP called me, sobbing, and apologized, and I realized it was the first time that she really, truly understood that she and I were not the same. We may have grown up in the same area, we may have majored in the same subject, we may have had the same taste in music. But at a moment like that one, the difference between us was shoved right in her face in a way that she could not ignore. I couldn't ignore it either.

And despite having some of the closest friends ever in my years in NJ, I felt starkly and terribly alone that week.

I have very young cousins who live in Boston. They grew up completely unaware of the idea that there is an us and them, and I never had the heart to explain this to them. Yesterday, when I heard the news about Boston, I was worried about them at first because I was worried they might have been injured in the explosions. But when that worry subsided, I had a worsening dread, and I worried about their safety for a different reason. I wanted to tell them to go home and not to come out for weeks, for months, until it was safe. I don't want them harmed. I'm hoping I am wrong. That I am old and that times have changed. That there isn't such a line between people anymore, that being a Bostonian trumps all.

Last night, though, when that memory flashed into my head, I knew that for some of us, the line can never be blurred and we'll never feel entirely comfortable. Which is a tragedy too.

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