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I work as a fundraiser at my school, which requires me to make a lot of phone calls to alumni I don't know. If they're nice enough and have enough time to talk to a random college girl, calling them to ask for money, they ask me where I'm from.
I reply, "Pittsburgh."
Then there's a pause.
There's now a weight that comes with telling someone I'm from Pittsburgh. The weight lingers in the air around my words. I can tell they want to ask questions.
"Are you from around where it happened?"
"Do you know anyone affected?"
I find it hard to answer any questions or condolences that are bound to come after telling someone I'm from Pittsburgh. People usually say something like "so heartbreaking" or just a simple "I'm so sorry." I think I'm just so not used to being directly affected by something like what happened, but mostly I just can't convey to them how much it really did affect me and why the whole thing is just so confusing to me.
Let me start by saying I think Pittsburgh is the greatest city in the world. I know I could be proven wrong by a million different statistics, opinions, or just straight up facts, but nothing could ever change my mind. It's where I was born. It's where I was raised. I don't even love watching football that much, but I love the Steelers as if it was my favorite sport. I can put on a perfect Pittsburgh accent in a split second, and I have a regular order at Primanti's (pastrami, with extra cole slaw of course). I walked around the streets of Squirrel Hill late at night all through high school to get pizza at Aiello's. I cherish days that it's sunny because you don't get too many of them in my city, and the days we get I spend on the beautiful Allegheny.
Pittsburgh is the greatest city in the world for a lot of reasons, but the number one reason is its people. People from Pittsburgh are a different type of human. They talk different, act different, and drive very badly and very different. Deep down I know I'm biased, but I just see people from Pittsburgh as being such pure human beings. We're all just people from an old steel town who love our sports teams. We just have so much genuine love for each other and our city, and that love is a binding force for all of us.
So when I heard about what happened in my city, my heart didn't just hurt for the people directly affected by the tragedy. My heart hurt for every single person in Pittsburgh because we were all directly affected by the tragedy. On that day a lot was taken from us. Our safety, our peace of mind, and our privacy all shattered in one morning. My little steel town suddenly became breaking news coverage, and the streets where I once drove every day were plastered all over CNN. The most beautiful part of Pittsburgh and the most diverse became another statistic. Another name to add to a list of horrific tragedies.
It took me a while to process what had happened, and I think it only really sank in when I was watching a clip from an episode of Mr. Roger's. He was talking about always looking to the helpers in tragic situations, because no matter what there will always be helpers. Suddenly I sank to the floor, to weak to stand up. My heart felt like it was ripping in my chest as I thought about my sweet little town being ruined by a monster. That feeling of my heart ripping in my chest still hasn't fully gone away.
At the Steeler game the next day, a man stood in the crowd with a sign that read:
"Hate can't break a city of steel."
I talk about Pittsburgh in a sort of fairytale way, calling it a sweet little town with a lot of bridges and old steel mills. But that really isn't the case at all. Pittsburgh is tough as nails. The sky used to be literally black with pollution from steel mills. We have some of the best sports teams in the country (most Super Bowls, too). We went from being a powerhouse city, until suddenly we weren't, and since then we've clawed our way back.
I think that's what's getting me through all of this. I know Pittsburgh is going to be okay, because we've always been okay. We keep to ourselves, we get things done, and we watch out for one another. That's how it always has been.
So if I'm asked again how everything is in Pittsburgh, I'm going to say we will be okay.
I know we will.