Bed-Stuy Is Burning is a novel about a fictional race riot in contemporary Bedford Stuyvesant, one of the most historically volatile neighborhoods in New York City. The novel initially focuses on Aaron, a disgraced rabbi turned Wall Street banker; Amelia, his journalist girlfriend; and Simon, their infant son. The infusion of upwardly mobile professionals — like Aaron and Amelia — into Bed-Stuy’s historic brownstones belies the tension simmering on the streets below. After a cop shoots a boy in a nearby park, conflict escalates to rioting — with Aaron and Amelia at its center.
Below is an early-draft excerpt from when the novel was written in alternating first-person voices. Here, Amelia is more blunt and callow than she becomes in later drafts. In this passage, she thinks about her infant son and the actor Adam Driver.
I didn’t want my Simon to suddenly die, but if he did, I wanted it to be Aaron’s fault. I could survive Simon suffocating, and I could forgive Aaron if he accidentally suffocated Simon, but I didn’t know if Aaron could forgive me.
When a couple gets engaged, they’re repeatedly asked a series of questions: How did he do it? Did she know it was coming? Did she cry? Can I see the diamond?
The questions allow friends and family to share in the couple’s joy, to feel part of their love. The answers matter less than the conversational enthusiasm they enable. When a couple has a child, they’re asked questions that play a similar a role: what was the birth weigh? How long was the labor? Who do you think he looks like? Do you love him so much? More than you ever loved anything?
It was hard to say I loved Simon before he knew I existed. Before he knew that I was different from the wall and my boyfriend and himself. I’m not sure non-reciprocal love exists. I cried when I leaned around and saw his little head sticking out of my body. I knew he was inside me and I felt him there for months, but when I saw the baby who would be my son for the rest of my life, it was the most powerfully emotional moment of my life.
But it wasn’t exactly love.
It was pride, for one — a kind of pride that makes me wonder if adopting is more significantly different from giving birth than I would have thought. I’m proud that my body — with its bad eyes and thin hair and lactose intolerance and basal cell carcinomas — could make a new body inside it. I’m proud that I made a thing as fat and short and perfect as Simon. But my guess is that the pride fades away and what’s left is the other most powerful emotion I feel, that of protection.
My son turned one a few weeks ago, and I’ve just now stopped waking up every night to hover over his crib to make sure he is breathing.
But if he does die, I don’t want it to be my responsibility. I want it to be Aaron’s. But it won’t be. It will be mine. I know that. Somehow I know.
I couldn’t sleep so I thought about what would happen if Simon were to die, and I thought about my boyfriend sleeping next to me, and I thought about my interview with Adam Driver, who played Adam, Lena Dunham’s boyfriend, on Girls and now is in the Star Wars movies. I interviewed him that day and I liked him. He had many of the same mannerisms as his character on Girls, and he even had a background that I imagined his character shared — like his father in real life was a preacher, and he joined the military after 9/11 — but he also had this unassuming, almost apologetic smile that he fell back into all the time in real life that the director or editor or someone on Girls must have worked hard to remove all traces of, because in real life he has an athletic boyishness that balanced his self-seriousness. That’s what I’m going to write about. His boyishness.
Adam Driver is married, but the whole time I was with him I knew that if I was feeling better about my body and I wasn’t breastfeeding and I was feeling sexual again and not just a mother and I wasn’t attached to Aaron because of Simon and Aaron wasn’t such a great guy and it wouldn’t hurt him so much if he found out and if it wouldn’t ruin Simon’s life, I’d really want to sleep with Adam Driver. And not just as a physical thing. I’d want to sleep with him as a life-experience thing. Almost as if I were doing it for Simon. For Simon’s future. In the same way I think it’s good for him to live in Bedford Stuyvesant and grow up in such a diverse neighborhood, I think it’d be good for him for his mother to be intimate with Adam Driver.
Brian Platzer has an MFA from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and a BA from Columbia University. His writing has appeared often in The New Yorker’s Shouts and Murmurs and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, as well as in The New York Times, the New Republic, Salon, and elsewhere. He lives with his wife and two young sons in Bed-Stuy and teaches middle school English in Manhattan.