Leigh Lumford is a writer and actress living in Prague who was born and raised on Staten Island.
Dear Staten Island,
You've taken a big hit. The curves of your coastlines are tattered and you must long for the children who normally frolic on your shore and the boats the bob in the marina. You neighborhoods have been beaten and snapped, but not fractured. Your residents are working hard to rebuild and help each other because you raised us well.
You are the redheaded stepchild of New York City. Often forgotten or ostracized, you stand with your head held high and maintain your individuality. Many of us, your residents, take after your strong-willed nature -- for better or worse.
With a single above ground rail, we are not moving too fast. You bring us back to a more quaint time and force us to take a moment to look around. I was lucky enough to grow up in one of your smaller communities, Pleasant Plains on the South Shore. When my mother and I would sit down at the local pizza joint, they knew our order without hesitation. My best friend worked at the Ralph's Famous Italian Ices up the street from my house and around the corner was my one-story elementary school. You gave me the pride of being a New Yorker but the small town pleasure of kickball in the street.
For five generations my family have been Staten Islanders and we have always wanted you to stay different. Front yards, local pharmacies, a hometown newspaper that reports on Little League sports -- you are an enigma to the rest of New York City. Just like you, I do not always feel that I fit the mold of what society wants me to be and I think that affords a special amount of freedom.
Known as the Borough of Parks, you provide us with hundreds of acres of green space. I remember visiting Blue Heron Park on a field trip as a child, and seeing and learning about various types of birds in their habits. You also possess wildlife the rest of New York long ago lost: deer, turkey, horseshoe crabs, rabbits, possums, garter snakes, turtles, newts and frogs.
When people ask me what they should do when they visit New York, my first response is to take the ferry. My favorite part of living on Staten Island was seeing that amazing NYC view for free multiple times a week, that most people have to pay thousands of dollars to glimpse just once in their life. Commuting from Manhattan, I'd ride on the back, where it's less crowded, and watch the city skyline, the Verrazano Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.
We got home safely and sometimes enjoyed a beer along the way.
I cannot physically be there to aid you, so please take this letter as I intend it, a distillation of support and encouragement. Your wounds may be fresh but we will mend them. As Staten Islanders we will wear this tragedy as a badge of honor. The fifth borough stands united.