Across the Violet Sea
The morning sun was shining on a cloudless day in May as a river of purple flowed down Waverly Place. New York University’s Class of 2003 was graduating and Daria Morgendorffer was among them. Wearing the traditional robe and mortarboard in school-standard violet, she walked the graduation route—starting on Washington Place, making a right onto University Place, and then left onto Waverly before finally passing under Washington Square Arch and taking a seat in the temporary grandstand erected for every graduation.
The walk was never especially organized, as groups of friends clumped together, waving to each other and to the underclassmen who worked as ushers for the ceremony, often just to see their friends one last time. Daria was no different, laughing and joking with a small circle of close friends. Topics ranged from party plans to old stories to the humor inherent in the purple robes of the only university in the country silly enough to call its sports teams the Violets. Even Daria, who still evinced no interest in athletics of any kind, found the idea of playing for the Violets to be howlingly funny.
College had been a revelation for Daria. She’d finally reached a place where her intellect didn’t automatically label her an outcast, and her role of “Misery Chick” was filled by whole clubs of people with worldviews that made her look like Brittany by comparison. Bonding with her dormmates had been surprisingly easy, and for the first time in her life, Daria felt comfortable. And now she was leaving.
Daria and her friends turned under the Arch and that melancholy thought grew into a deep well of sadness. Looking due south, she saw a few puffy cumulus clouds in an otherwise blue sky. She did not, however, see what she’d seen every day of her first two years in Manhattan. The Twin Towers were gone, lost in the horror of September 11, 2001. As she contemplated the empty sky, her mind rolled back almost involuntarily to that fateful day early in her junior year.
She’d actually seen the first plane hit. En route to Bobst Library for some early research before her 9:55 class, she was crossing the park when she heard the too-loud whine of a low jet. Looking up, she saw the first plane slam into Two World Trade, felt the ground shake, and heard the terrifying explosion as fire bloomed from the wounded building. Flipping open her cellphone, she’d called Quinn, then a sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology on Seventh Avenue, and told her to turn on the news. Unsure of what to do after that, she’d begun to meander back to her dormitory, Third Avenue North, when the second plane hit One World Trade in eerie mirror of the first. Shaking with horror, she’d tried Quinn again, but this time all she got was static. Growing more frantic by the minute, Daria gave up on technology and ran the mile or so to Quinn’s apartment on Twenty-Sixth Street. The Morgendorffer sisters watched the world come unraveled together, unable to reach Helen and Jake, often crying in each other’s arms as some new nightmare detail was revealed.
Coming back to herself, she noted the silence around her. Likely all of her fellow graduates were reliving that same horrible day. Once again she felt grateful that she’d had her support group, both Quinn and her friends, and later Jane, who’d moved to Manhattan the following spring. She could still remember the terror of the freshmen, newly come to the big, tough city, now forced to deal with reality gone haywire, where madmen flew planes into buildings and killed thousands. Many had left, even among the upperclassmen. She had stayed. So had Quinn. Between them the Morgendorffer sisters had convinced their terrified parents that leaving Manhattan was not an option. Such a retreat would merely be letting the terrorists win, and that they’d refused to do. So they’d persevered, through the campaign in Afghanistan and the military actions that continued even now, the madness in the Middle East, and Attorney General Ashcroft’s war on civil liberties, which had only recently begun to show signs of reversing.
Quinn was here today, of course, having met up with Helen and Jake, who had come up from Lawndale, and Jane, who’d taken the day off from the gallery. As she took her seat, Daria tried in vain to catch a glimpse of them in the huge crowd. With the families of over six thousand graduates in attendance, it was impossible to pick anyone out.
The ceremony itself was unimpressive. Various and sundry speakers were trotted out to give essentially the same meaningless pep talk before the designated students from each school accepted their diplomas on behalf of their fellows. With so many students graduating at once, it was impossible to distribute diplomas individually, and the College of Arts and Sciences always had its valedictorian accept, unlike the Tisch School of the Arts, which was invariably represented by whichever famous graduate would elicit the biggest roar.
Daria had actually been in the running for valedictorian through sophomore year, but had broken the cardinal rule—never take a class with a professor who is a genius—twice as a junior. The result was her only two B’s, and someone else on the podium when the time came. Not that she minded. She still had her summa cum laude key, and not having to participate in the ceremony left her time to be alone with her thoughts.
Images of Lawndale and even Highland came unbidden to her mind. At the time she’d been grateful to get out of Highland just to get away from Beavis and Butthead, but Lawndale had turned out to be far more than just a source of uranium-free drinking water. She’d met her first real friend there, and learned about desire and then romance. She still thought fondly of Tom, though they hadn’t dated for years. They’d tried as freshman—he was at Princeton, only a train ride away—but it hadn’t worked. They were going in different directions. Daria had fallen in love with the City, while Tom had finally realized that what he wanted was to fill the role he’d been born to as his father’s heir back in Lawndale.
As for Trent, though The Crush was long past, he was still a firm friend, and they were in contact often. The Spiral were getting bigger and bigger with gigs up and down the East Coast and major labels sniffing around after two indie discs had sold respectably. Daria still vividly remembered her shock at heading down to CBGBs for the Washington Square News to review an unknown group that had just hit the New York scene and finding it to be none other than Mystik Spiral. Even more shocking was how much better they’d gotten over the years. Their sound was now exciting, and Daria had given them a glowing review.
Lawndale was also where Daria had realized that there was an alternative to eternal sibling war. The respect that had grown up between her and Quinn was grudging at first, but by the time she had left for college in the fall of ’99, the Morgendorffer sisters had each come to realize how much they valued the other. Daria had missed Quinn terribly during her freshman year, almost as much as she had Jane, and finding out that Quinn would be attending FIT had been a joyous shock. While they still moved mostly in separate social circles, Daria and Quinn had made sure to make time for each other, trading trips to museums and fashion shows.
If she was happy that Quinn could share this day with her, she was ecstatic that her partner-in-crime could be here, too. Taking business courses at Lawndale CC had been a big help to Jane, so that when she’d finally sold a couple of pieces, she was offered a job at the gallery that had bought them. Now she was here, painting away to her heart’s content in a loft in the East Village while working uptown to pay the bills. Well, some of the bills. Manhattan was still insanely expensive, but Jane had assured Daria that she’d be able to survive and thrive or, if the debts got too big, run off to South America and spend a few years with Penny. Daria hadn’t asked too many questions, being grateful to have her best friend back with her. Her college friends had taken to Jane as well, which was a great relief.
The last droning speech finally ended. This one was Senator Clinton’s speech. No matter what names were bandied around beforehand, the honor of giving the commencement speech always seemed to go to whichever local officeholder needed a platform to prop up their ambitions. The Senator had stopped short of declaring her intention to run for President, but only just. Daria turned her mind away from thoughts of a Clinton campaign as, for the second year in row, the playing of the school alma mater was replaced by Bruce Springsteen’s folk dirge for the victims of September 11, “City in Ruins.”
Once again her mind drifted back to the Towers and all that had been lost: lives, jobs, symbols, innocence, security. She thought of the City, still fighting back from the aftermath of the attacks, and of the long road she’d come to reach this point. She thought of her parents, how much she loved them and how long it had taken her to understand that. As Springsteen’s mournful guitar was replaced by the more cheerful strains of “Pomp and Circumstance,” she looked out across the violet sea and smiled her Mona Lisa smile. The city was still here and so was she. Things weren’t so bad. With a whoop that surprised even her, Daria flung her mortarboard high, proud to be a member of the Class of 2003.
I actually started this fic over five years ago. First it was going to be set on September 11th itself, but after awhile I decided that a more distant persepective would help the story. I opted to have Daria be a sophomore in 1996-97 to align with the start of the show, hence Class of 2003.
Also, as you can no doubt guess, I went to NYU. I was there in the early '90s, and after September 11th, I couldn't help but wonder how the students were reacting and think about how I would have reacted. I don't think IICY had aired yet (or it had just aired), and I thought that NYU was a school Daria might have been interested in, and that she'd be a good medium for examining some of my own feelings about that day. And here we all are five years later. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: Daria and all characters are copyright MTV 1997–2002. I own nothing and am merely along for the ride.