Thursday, September 16, 2010

Autumn Awakening

If 30 days has September, then today would be the official beginning of "late September." The first day of fall is exactly one week from today, and I will turn 25 on the last day of summer... Time is swiftly passing and the weather is steadily growing cooler. One tree on my street has decided to get a head start on the others and its leaves are already beginning to take on a rich red hue. I don't understand the rush, but maybe that particular tree is just an overachiever.

Though I'm hesitant to see summer end, there is an air of relief about fall that is akin to winter changing into spring... No more sweaty days where you long to to peel off so many layers of clothing that you risk impropriety. School kids are off the streets and back in classrooms, hopefully with commutes much earlier than yours. Friends who have been away traveling magically return with stories and photos. Wedding season thankfully begins to fade away, so that Facebook is no longer inundated with the obnoxiously requisite "jumping bridal party" or "bridesmaids lift groom horizontally" photo opps.

And best of all, shallow though it may be, fall means the beginning of a whole new wardrobe!! Before the misery of winter sets in and everyone tramps through the slush-laden streets in the obligatory black wool coat and black leather boots, you are free to experiment with the palette of autumn fabrics and colors... Houndstooth, herringbone, corduroy, tweed, and of course, leather... Mustard yellow, olive green, burnt orange, burgundy, and every shade of beautiful brown imaginable.

I can wear all the cardigans and sweaters I want without seeming like a psycho for owning a million in every shade. Jacket or blazers are a must, preferably in any of the aforementioned fabrics.... Scarves are finally an accessory once again for everyone, in every imaginable color, and not just for hipsters who risk passing out in mid-July by wearing a keffiyeh. And for your legs, the denim gets darker and gets tucked into possibly the best wardrobe item about cold weather... BOOTS!! Ahh, I'm dreaming about the possibilities right now... Boots with jeans, boots with dresses or skirts and tights, brown boots, black boots, tan boots... One boot, two boot, red boot, blue boot... Boots, boots, BOOTS! I wore my first boots/jeans/blazer/scarf outfit out last weekend and man, it felt good...

Since the weather started changing, I've seen people wearing everything from full winter coats to cutoffs and sandals...on the same block and on the same subway car. Apparently New Yorkers can't always agree what the weather calls for, especially in these times of transition. They'll figure it out. All I know is that if my birthday reflects anything about me, it's that I was born at the perfect time to revel in the weather of late summer and early fall. I love the lingering green of the trees and the crisp hint of coolness in the air. I love that when the leaves finally turn completely, they glow red and gold against a perfectly blue autumn sky. I love how my hair is suddenly frizz-less and plaid is acceptable in any form and it's okay to wrap yourself in scarves and how red wine suddenly tastes better when you've been the slightest bit chilled.

So goodbye, Summer. I'll miss you. You gave me a great tan this year. But you make me sweat. And so autumn, I love you. I missed you. You and I have always been great friends, and it's good to have you back...

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Everyone remembers where they were on this day 9 years ago. As my mother so aptly put it, "This is your Kennedy." She recounted to me her own story of that terrifying day when she learned the President had been shot when she was home sick from school. She said I would never forget, because it is one of those moments, one of those days, that will be forever trapped in your memory. A small part of you will always be that self you were when it happened.

I was 11 days away from turning 16, having just started my junior year of high school. As I gear up for my 25th birthday, I realize how this was such a milestone at the time. I remember how excited I was at the prospect of driving, how I was going to try for an editor position on the high school paper, and how my parents were soon going to depart for Kazakhstan to pick up the black-haired toddler who would become my sister. My school was in a small rural town, so set apart from the rest of the world, and we lived our lives in truly blissful ignorance of the outside world. At 16, not much else mattered. I don't remember what my first period class was, I just remember that when I stopped at my locker to pick up my books for second period, there was a strange anxiety in the air. Kids still laughed and flirted and yelled and chatted--I was one of those kids--but so many others hurried to class anxiously that it was plain that there was something amiss.

I first heard from a girl named Laura--our last names meant that our alphabetized lockers were right next door. She stooped to get her books with a harried expression, and when I asked what was going on, she looked up at me with a twinge of annoyance for not knowing what had happened, but also with great fear. I will never forget her eyes. I don't recall her exact words, but it was someting along the lines of, "Didn't you hear? Someone blew up a building in New York. It's all over the news."

In my Photography class, the teacher had already turned on the TV, and all I could see were soaring buildings surrounded by billowing smoke. I don't think the second plane had hit yet. Perhaps it had, but for me, the events of the day become more and more unclear, just fleeting images and sounds accompanied by a sinking feeling of dread and above all, confusion. All we knew was that buildings were burning in New York and no one knew why. Teachers herded stray students into their classrooms--the school was on lockdown. The principal made a tearful announcement telling us a terrible thing had happened and that we could keep our TVs on and to stay in our classrooms. When we learned about the attack on the Pentagon, just an hour south of our little town, we were truly terrified. But there are a few moments that stand out clearly...

CNN or some other news network reported that the attacks were the work of terrorists--Muslim terrorists. Most of us knew of only one Muslim student in our school. A boy at my work table, with anger and ignorance in his voice, said that this student was "going down." I immediately responded with harsh scolding, defending the poor teenager who had nothing to do with the tragic events of the day and who I realized with regret was soon going to be a target of misplaced hatred. Our school was at least 90% white, our town was small and conservative, and anyone who was different stuck out like a sore thumb--we didn't need a terrorist attack to single out this student even more. The boy who had made the remark immediately recanted, saying he was just kidding, but the damage was done. I look back on this now and realize that this gut reaction of a scared 16-year-old boy, and my strong defense of the only Muslim person I knew, a person I was not even friends with, was a premonition of things to come. This was my first inclination that while our country was united in grief, it would soon become divided along lines of race and religion.

I remember finding my best friend at the time and escaping with her to the bathroom, where we could find a little peace from the crush of emotional reactions occurring in the hallway. We had few direct connections to New York--she had a friend from summer camp who lived in Manhattan, I had a cousin who was a senior at NYU. Neither of us had any idea of the layout of the city, if there would be any chance that either of them would have been caught in the attacks. Luckily, Stuy High and NYU are not in the Financial District. But at the time, we just knew that the girls' bathroom provided a place to slump against the wall with a few other girls, I don't remember if we knew them well or not, and just cry. I did not like crying in front of others, and I felt a twinge of resentment for the girls who wandered the halls rubbing at their eyes and hugging their friends as if they personally knew people in the towers. I thought it seemed like they were doing it for attention. So like all high school girls in all high school movies, the bathroom provided solace, a place for emotions to come gushing out, until a teacher came and quietly shooed us out with pity in her eyes.

Later that day in Journalism class, my teacher seized the opportunity for us to really learn something about reporting, and we devoted an entire special issue of the paper to the attacks. This was a big deal at the time, and a therapeutic way for all of us to deal with the events in a strangely professional and productive way. I was given the assignment of writing the front page article, so I called up my teacher's cousin or brother or friend, I don't recall which, who lived in New York, and did my first real interview, getting all the gritty details I could about what it was like to be in a city under siege. I later realized that this assignment was a test, as I was eventually given the position of News Editor (which was to directly lead to Editor in Chief). With that, my 16-year-old ambition to be a high school newspaper editor was fulfilled, the same as it would have without the attacks. And thus life went on.

I don't remember the rest of the day. It was a Tuesday, so I was probably going to a dance class of some sort after school. Maybe I just went straight home with my mother, I don't know. But in the months and years following the attacks, I could feel the world changing, and I changed with it. This was probably my first real awakening to how the United States was viewed by the rest of the world. They didn't all love us or want to be like us or want to live within our borders--they wanted to kill us. The patriotic rampage began. People plastered their cars with ribbons and flags, they started hating the French, your love of God and country was questioned if you questioned President Bush (which I did, all the time), I attended a peace rally in Washington, D.C., and my graduating class joined the Army in droves and were swiftly deployed to Iraq. Then I went off to college in New York City...and I'm still here.

That day is still so clear for so many people--their grief and fear is real, and sadly, this makes Islamophobia strong. The mosque near Ground Zero has started a firestorm of both criticism and support. A Muslim taxi driver was recently stabbed because of his religion by a drunken 21-year-old white kid. Glenn Beck held a rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream Speech," making a mockery of the civil rights movement and progress in general. A redneck Florida pastor threatened to burn the Quran, and actually received attention from President Obama and General Petraeus--now he says he won't do it. Speaking of the President, far too many stupid people believe that he's Muslim, largely because they want a reason to hate him.

Do you remember how hate and fear caused these attacks in the first place? Please, America, don't give anyone, anywhere, any more reasons to hate us. I don't want another day like this to stick in my memory forever, forcing me to forever be 16. This is a day I will never forget--no one will, though we might want to. We owe it to all those who perished and all those who lost loved ones to always remember. But I don't want to remember another day like this. Please let it remain the only one.