By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
My partner, Red, works just blocks from the World Trade Center, and her voice was my wake-up call September 11, saying, "Honey, I can see it as it's happening." The next message: "Honey, I am OK." Then: "Honey, we are being evacuated." Others received similar messages, heard the voices of their loved ones, but the outcome was much different.
Red walked home to Brooklyn, to safety, over the Manhattan Bridge. Wednesday morning, brave soul that she is, she went into Manhattan by riding her bicycle over the bridge. She works for the phone company, Verizon, and was needed to get the city back up and running. For the first time in 21 years, her routine commute to work was disrupted in a most surreal way: A National Guardsman with an assault weapon asked her for identification.
She has been working mandatory 12-hour shifts every day since it happened. When she comes home at night, she is exhausted and covered in soot; her clothes smell like, well, the smell we have all been breathing these last weeks. She peels them off, walks downstairs to shower, and all that's left of her is a gas mask hanging in the hallway. "Those paper ones do absolutely nothing," she said to me. "Even wearing this one, I can feel it in my lungs and my throat." The lines on her face have grown more pronounced, her eyes are weary, and she falls asleep in my arms as I stroke her head. Though she is not sifting through rubble or working 40 hours without sleep, she's my hero in all of this mess, one of thousands of people who walk down to ground zero and return even after they've had a good look at the devastation. I would not be strong enough to do it.
George W. Bush is not my hero. He does not inspire confidence in me, nor does he reassure me. All I can see is the gleam in his eyes as he chomps at the bit to go to war. While we all weep for the senseless death of more than 5000 innocent people, how can the majority of Americans simultaneously cheer him for his vicious eye-for-an-eye rhetoric? How can he sell us on the hypocritical idea of war in which thousands more innocent people will be killed, also for no reason, all for hate? I don't want the terrorists to "win," but how can we retaliate against them with the same deadly methods they use to cripple us? The cycle he will create with a war will only end in more destruction and death, which is what the terrorists look forward to.
With so many sons and brothers and fathers lost in the attack on America, I cannot help but be transported back to the dark, emotional time when I lost my own father in another tragedy, a different kind of war, to AIDS. One of the things he left behind was a large poster of the words NO WARin chunky block letters. Framed in turquoise metal, it was one of dozens of pieces of art that graced the walls of his house; I was desperately trying to find room for all of them in my Brooklyn apartment. It was leaning against a wall in my hallway for a while, until, in a playful fit of running, my dog bumped into it, sending it crashing to the floor. The glass cracked in only one place, down the center. At the time, I felt ambivalent about it. I asked myself, "Should I get it framed again? Will I ever hang it on my own wall?" As a Vietnam-era veteran who was miraculously shipped home from Okinawa before things escalated, my father was vehemently anti-war, and the poster carried tremendous meaning for him. But it didn't speak to me in the same way, and so I let it go.
I wish I had that poster nowit would help ground and guide me during this horrific time. What I really wish is that I had my dad right now. He would have a field day with the media coverage. He would write letters to his local paper. He would circulate pro-peace petitions. He would fire off an essay, and I would be allowed to see the first draft. He would be angry, he would be outraged, he would be understanding, and he would be comforting.
Both my mother and my father instilled in me a belief that I could do anything I set my mind to, and I could change the world. Now I am constantly fighting against feeling helpless and hopeless. I can turn my book launch party into a fundraising event. I can teach people about erotic role-playing to provide some relief from the tragedy. I can write sexy stories to help return the country to some form of normalcy. But then what? People look to me every day for advice, but at first glance, my mission as a sex educator and activist does not seem critical to our current situation. However, sex is not irrelevant in a time of such crisis. Although many of us may not feel like having sex, others will. People have sex to connect with the ones they love. We have sex to feel alive and celebrate life. We have sex to feel safe, comforted, reassured. We have sex to relieve stress, to be momentarily transported to a state of bliss. We have sex to heal. And all these aspects of sex are important, especially now.