Last night, Erica and I were sitting in my apartment’s office working on the show when it became clear from the living room that something important was happening. So we rejoined the rest of our households and flipped from HBO (because we were going to watch Game of Thrones again) to CNN and waited to find out what very important thing was happening, all of us with a certain degree of trepidation.
“Well, it can’t be something anyone else knows, or the news would have it,” we reasoned, which quickly ruled out any sort of explosion or nuclear war. We figured the Libya and Syria situations had been too ongoing to merit this type of news moment and we were sort of at a loss. Like most of the Internet, we reached the first contact or Bin Laden’s dead conclusion pretty fast.
And then we all know what happened.
Today, I both feel like I’m supposed to write about it, and that I don’t need to write about it. Isn’t everyone writing about it? But I also live in New York City, lived here in 2001, and when I didn’t live here, lived in DC just blocks from where all that partying was going on in front of the White House last night. So whether I like it or not, and whether you like it or not, I have stuff to say I should probably say.
When 9/11 happened, I termed the time after, when parts of my city were closed and you could still smell the burning, During. Eventually, During would be over, and it would be After. But in the time since then, I’ve discovered something horrible: After never came. During‘s just gone on and on with all sorts of fear and bigotry and security theater and wars that were supposed to be about one thing and turned out to be about something else.
I’ve spent ten years saying I want my country back. Everything wasn’t perfect before 9/11, of course. And terrorism isn’t just about bin Laden; most terrorism as it transpires in the US, is, of course, actually domestic in origin and related in no way to the fears that particular Tuesday in September instilled in us (except when it’s an ugly and violent response to said fears).
I’ve also spent ten years wanting my city back. New York isn’t just where I live or where I’m from. It’s where I was born. It’s my home. It’s in every iteration of my biography; it may as well be part of my name. It’s changed a lot, in the decades I’ve spent here. And lots of those changes have had nothing to do with 9/11, but some of them have. We went, I felt, that day from being the world’s myth — a slightly wicked city every one dreams of calling home — to being America’s TV-movie of the week setting — theme park and object lesson, safe in a box, and not even real, not even in legend. It’s something that sucks, and that I’ve hated.
Last night lots of people cheered and lots of people felt relief. And I just felt… not that much. It was anti-climatic. I’m glad we finally found the guy and did something that at least resembled what needed doing. I’m certainly glad we have one less bogeyman out there to justify all the ways in which things over the last ten years have gone wrong. And I wish that this means that soon it will finally be After, and we’ll bring our troops home, and I’ll be able to do silly stuff listen to Ani diFranco’s “Arrivals Gate” without having to explain to people younger than me what the world was once like (if you’re impatient, skip ahead to the 30 second mark).
But I’m not counting on it. I don’t think many people are. And that’s really been the price of all of this, hasn’t it? On top of all the lives — and if you only watch US media the numbers are way higher than you realize — there’s this whole no going back thing. Time never works that way, I guess, but last night I realized I’ve spent ten years waiting for After, when all I ever really wanted was Before.
If last night was the end of a war, I have no discomfort with all that celebration we saw on TV. But I don’t think it was. And if the news of bin Laden’s death is a cause for celebration, it is one because it means that fewer people will die because of him and his legacy. That’s not just about the US, that’s about the world.
Look, I know in New York City we often pretend we don’t live anywhere but here. We don’t live in America; we don’t live in the world; we live in that conglomeration of quasi-legendary cities, a country made up of places like London and Rio and Rome.
So when I say that much of what I saw on TV last night made me uncomfortable, it’s just that; I’m not policing your feelings; I’m telling you mine. I live in a place where yeah, some really terrible things happened, a place that doesn’t even always seem real, by choice, even to those of us who live here. And it’s complicated and it’s hard and someone, no matter how criminal, being dead isn’t something I know how to be happy about, not because of some moral high ground (believe me, I don’t have a lot of that), but because it’s still During, and I just want to be done.