Last night, in the kitchen of my Brooklyn apartment in 2011, my first reaction on hearing the news that Osama bin Laden was dead was, “Can we go home now?”
On September 11, 2001, I was twenty years old. I’d been living in New York for a little under a year. When I said “home”, I meant south Louisiana, Terrebonne Parish.
I was a college dropout. I had an asshole boyfriend I lived with in dull Upper Manhattan, where you had to spend half an hour on the Nine train just to eat food at a restaurant with a correctly spelled name. I’d spent a year temping, hopping from cube farm to reception desk, Midtown to Financial District, law firm to dotcom to corporate HQ. I was still vaguely intent on doing something in The Theatre after college.
George W. Bush was the President: a fact that vaguely disappointed me though I didn’t consider myself a political person back then. (Confession: I didn’t vote in the 2000 election.) The Taliban existed in a haze of undergraduate Othering, their existence learned of in an issue of Newsweek sometime in the Clinton administration. I had probably never heard the words “Al Qaeda”. Osama bin Laden was a string of nonsense syllables, sort of like Muammar Ghaddafi or Yasser Arafat, except I’d actually heard of those guys.
These are some words that did not exist yet in 2001: jegging, google, housing bubble, post-Katrina.
Britney Spears was a fresh-faced supposedly virginal pop star. Rudy Giuliani was that asshole who closed the nightclubs and thought he could personally decide what was appropriate to hang in New York City’s art museums. Hillary Clinton was mostly a former first lady, though the existence of her non-vicarious political career was starting to sink in. Michael Bloomberg was just a really rich dude – in fact, most New Yorkers who did not work in finance had probably never even heard of Michael Bloomberg.
These are some things sane people thought were unthinkable in America in 2001: torture being sanctioned by the government, a black man becoming the next President, people paying money to download digital media.
All New Yorkers could agree that Jennifer Lopez was still just Jenny From The Block. The Cosmopolitan was the most awesome beverage since the Iced Mocha Frappucino. Mark Zuckerberg was a nerdy high school kid who had not yet invented Facebook. Cell phones had tiny monochromatic screens and like three ringtones you could choose from. Actually, ringtone might be another word that did not exist in 2001. People still used fax machines with a straight face in 2001.
The economy was relatively awesome. People had jobs and maybe even health insurance. Geopolitically, we were still living in the Bill Clinton afterglow: communism was over and America was a good guy on a white horse who helped out small countries like Somalia and Kosovo (but not Rwanda!).
In other words, it was a really long time ago.
The last ten years is one of those big rubber snakes with a spring inside that is just NEVER going to fit back into that dumb can of mixed nuts. Even if we collectively surrender our iPhones, admit that skinny jeans look stupid on everyone, and call a do-over on that whole stupid Ralph Nader thing.
Shit, do y’all remember when Ralph Fucking Nader was, like, the biggest political controversy going? We were naïve children back then, for sure.
In a certain way, The War On Terror – as coined by George W. Bush – is probably doomed as a way of thinking about America’s relationship with the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world. Bin Laden’s death is partly to blame for that, though I’d like to think that the Arab Spring will play a role as well. And hopefully this will be the end of our military presence in Afghanistan, put the last nail in the coffin that is Guantanamo, and keep us out of Iran. Maybe it will even keep people like Sarah Palin out of public office and delegitimize Glenn Beck.
But I still can’t go home again.
I’m thirty years old. I know what it means to take to the streets in protest.
I stopped dying my hair and started wearing makeup (OK, just mascara, but still). I liked boys and then I liked girls and now I’m pretty sure I still like both, but honestly I prefer not to think about it at all anymore. College came back and then was finished; I have an inexplicable degree in anthropology and an even more inexplicable career in television.
I can watch Oscar-winning British costume dramas on my laptop via the internet, but it’s a capital offense to attempt to bring more than three ounces of shampoo on a plane. The president is a black guy. I’m writing this blog post from a café with free wifi and fair trade single-origin coffee in a Brooklyn neighborhood that was in 2001 was mainly known for its race riots.
I don’t recognize girls, now women, from my childhood on Facebook because they all have different last names now. Not only does the Nine no longer exist, but a whole alphabet of other subway lines lived and died in the decade since I last used it to rent a video tape from Kim’s on the Upper West Side. Yesterday I torrented the new Kanye West album to put on my iPhone. This is a language I would not have understood a decade ago.
Can we go home now? No.