Friday night was a very, very typical pre-Halloween Friday night for me–after missing it last year, partly because I think it was in a different town, I made my triumphant return to The Rocky Horror Show live onstage, complete with bold makeup and bright-pink fishnet tights. I laughed, I shouted until I was horse, and I did the Time Warp. A good time was had by all.
On Saturday morning, probably around 11:15, I stopped for gas on my way to get my hair dyed and was scrolling through Twitter when the news broke–a shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. At the time, the death toll was four but they were pretty clear they know that number was gonna go up. When I was sitting in friend/stylist Emily’s chair an hour or so later, it was eight. When I was driving home an hour or so after that, it was 11, and almost all of my programmed radio stations had stopped playing music altogether and were instead playing news broadcasts and press conferences.
I only lived in Pittsburgh for six months, but I’ve spent my entire life hovering nearby. I grew up about an hour south, went to college at a University of Pittsburgh branch campus, and after those six months on Mt. Washington, I moved to another small city about an hour away. I’m far enough removed that I don’t feel like it was my community itself that was harmed, but I’m close enough that it hurts. I’ve teared up reading the news. I’ve seen my Facebook feed turn into nothing but an endless timeline of shock and grief and my notifications a string of people marking themselves as safe. Seeing the city in the national news is weird, and seeing it the national news for this reason is heartbreaking.
Part of me isn’t surprised–southwestern Pennsylvania isn’t known for its diversity and tolerance, particularly the area where I grew up, so much so that a coworker from that same area messaged me pointing out the last name of the shooter is common there and it wouldn’t be a surprise to learn if that’s where he was fro. But part of me is surprised because a violent, anti-Semitic Pittsburgh isn’t the Pittsburgh I’ve ever never known, and because of that, I knew that the city would really come together in the aftermath. The anecdotes are uplifting–people opening their homes to reporters covering the shooting, people cooking for the police, singing at vigils, huge turnouts at blood drives, massive amounts of money raised for the synagogue and victims, though admittedly not all from this area. As I write, the Pens are playing with patches on their uniforms that say “stronger than hate.” People are sharing slogans saying hate can’t bring down a city of steel and images that replace the gold diamond of the Steelers logo with a gold Star of David.
I love Pittsburgh. The only reason I don’t live in the city itself is mostly timing–when my housemates all decided to go our separate ways, I just couldn’t find an apartment in the city that I could afford at the time. But I spend a lot of time there. I go to concerts there (I’ll be there Thursday), I see shows, even go to the movies sometimes. It’s been a difficult few days for everyone, especially the victims and their families above all, and I hate that this happened and that there are people out there who support the shooter or support similar acts. This is a very sad, hateful chapter in our history not just as a city but as our country and I’m eager for it to be over, but I know it will end. It would be nice to say a lot of uplifting things about moving on and putting it behind us, but the unfortunate reality for those who were there is that this is something that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Still, I want to close with optimism.
So like I said, I love Pittsburgh. I look forward to more fun nights out with friends and family, and I know this does not and will not define the city.