An Ode to Washington, D.C., My First Favorite City

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

I am 8 years old & visiting Washington, D.C., for the first time with my parents. My dad & I are sitting on a bench on the National Mall when a bird poops on his head. I am particularly enamored of public transit & of the Metro's colorful, extremely '90s logo. I write it all down in my diary, where I say that it is my favorite city in the world, as if I've been to others.

I am 14 years old, & my mom & I have taken my exchange student brother, who is from Peru, on a family vacation to Washington, D.C., so that he can see the U.S. capital while he's living here for the year. We visit the Air & Space Museum with my cousin, Patrick, & then we stand at the wrought-iron fence outside the White House, agog, in awe.

I am 21 years old & heading to D.C. for a summer work/study internship. I live in the dorms at George Washington University & intern with Family Equality & watch the fireworks over the Washington Monument while lying in the grass on the National Mall. I am obsessed with the peanut butter banana smoothie I buy for lunch every day near my office on K Street.

I am 22 years old & driving into Washington, D.C., with my mother, who is attending a librarians' conference. I'm moving here later this summer, & we don't know much about the city yet, but we do know I don't want to live in the sweaty Eastern Market apartment we look at. When we eat dinner at a hotel restaurant, my mom screams upon spotting a rat scurrying into the bushes.

I am 23 years old & graduated from college two days ago. Tomorrow, I start my new job as a legislative assistant for a progressive faith denomination, for whom I will focus on legislation related to civil rights & criminal justice. I don't know it yet, but the five other LAs with whom I work are about to become some of my best friends, & this year will be one of the best of my life.

I am 24 years old & working as press secretary for the same faith denomination. My friends & I hold Hebrew signs for Barack Obama, & when he is named president-elect, we high-five strangers in the streets. Later, the cold January day when he is inaugurated president becomes the happiest day I have ever experienced; we end the night with margaritas at Lauriol Plaza.

I am 25 years old, same job, same place. My favorite aspect of my work is teaching at our weekend conferences, in which 300+ teens come to Washington, D.C., from all over the country to learn about social justice. We hold Havdalah at the Jefferson Memorial, & we take them to Capitol Hill to lobby their elected officials on environmental justice & reproductive choice. 

I am 30 years old, & I return to Washington, D.C., after four years spent elsewhere. I come back because, amid the chaos of my personal life, it is the city that feels the most like home. My family comes to visit, & I relish in showing them the sights. I live on 16th St., & Barack Obama's White House is visible at the end of the street when I wait at the bus stop. It never stops feeling beautiful.

I am 31 years old, & it's time to leave again. I write a love letter to the city that I decided was my favorite when I was just 8 years old. I know I won't be back, not to live, but I will never lose my affinity for this city or my gratitude for the way it shaped the person I am as I leave it behind me. I do not cry as my aunt drives us away from the city, the Washington Monument fading into a speck as we go.

I am 34 years old, & I am in Washington, D.C., for a long weekend to staff a conference at the office where I used to work. Nancy Pelosi is a guest speakers, & my colleagues let me join their staff photo with her as if I belong. When it ends, I spend a week in a small AirBnB near my old stomping ground, exploring the city with my friend Arielle, as though I've never been.

I am 36 years old, & I haven't been back to Washington, D.C., for two years, thanks to the pandemic. I watch from Cleveland as rioters, rampagers, domestic terrorists – anything but patriots – invade the city I love, the historic buildings in which I have so many memories. I text my friends to be sure they are safe. I cry. I look through every photo from four years spent there.

I remember one day, a long time ago – my first year there, 2007 – my friends & I were on Capitol Hill for work, & we caught view of the Washington Monument behind the trees, up close, with the dome of the Capitol Rotunda in sight in the dark. "If I ever see this view & don't feel anything," my friend Ben said quietly, "that's when I'll know I've become too jaded & that it's time to go." 

These days, that friend is the congressional editor for Politico, & today was one of the busiest days of his career – but he's still there, never jaded & always working to uncover & share the truth. 

I don't have any words of wisdom. I don't have words of hope or insight into what comes next. I am terrified & scared & sad. I am furious. And I know that people & ideas, that humans & democracy & justice & integrity & hope, are more important than place & things, than the Capitol rotunda decor or the Senate chamber dais or the windows of any building. 

But I hate watching this happen to the places & things that represents those ideas. I hate seeing Trump flags & blatant hatred & maskless fury on the Capitol steps, rappelling onto the floor of the Senate chamber, bashing in those historic double doors. I hate what it represents, how it makes me feel, what it makes me afraid for. I hate thinking about what comes after this, where we go from here.

For now, I'm just a liberal Jewish girl from Cleveland, watching from afar & trying my damndest to make the world a better place while my favorite city burns & the country I want so badly to love seems to grind to a halt. I don't know what's next, but I know that right now, in this moment, every single thing hurts.

I love you, D.C, & I'm with you.

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