September 11, 2017

That Day, Them and Me

That Day

A group of friends and acquaintances has gathered; and, for the first time, the conversation isn’t centered on who’s paying for the next shot, or who’s “on deck” for a round of bar darts. 

We are shocked, stunned and uncomfortably vulnerable after that afternoon’s horror show, now seemingly on a forever loop of planes crashing, buildings crumbling and people covered in ash.

It is September 11.

I’ll never trust Them. Never.

The words fall on my ears like lead. They are heartburn eating up my chest, and I am disappointed. This acquaintance is bright, funny…and kind.

But, but…I stammered through the shock and vulnerability, almost pleading, Hold on here. I mean, did we mistrust all white guys after Timothy McVeigh…did we?

The Next Day

It’s my best friend’s birthday, but the smoke, sadness a fear has wiped away any thoughts of celebration texts or calls.

I make my way to my one-bedroom apartment down the busy thoroughfare that’s dotted with fast food restaurants and strip malls on either side. I espy the tiny gas station that lies about forty-five degrees off the thoroughfare and maneuver the car to make a quick exit to get there.

I want a newspaper. Not because I need the newsprint and pictures and stories to remember, but because if I ever had kids, I’d want them to know that I lived through it.

The place is thick with the aroma of car freshener and incense, and a little left of the girly magazine display are the dailies. The television’s on, replaying on loop what we all already know.

I grab a paper and the one thousand point font headline screams TERRORIST ATTACK and the full-size graphic below confirms it is, indeed, time to panic. I take the paper to the bullet-proof cashier’s window, and realize the cashier is brown. Browner than me.

Probably Middle-Eastern.

Kindredship happens in that split second. It isn’t a kindredship in the whole I’m colorblind, we’re just humans who are hurting, frightened and vulnerable. No, it definitely isn’t that. I’ll never trust Them is still stuck and gunking up my innards.

It is kindredship based on remembrance of all the times I, and my brothers, my sister, my parents and some friends had been pegged as Them.

Even though you are but one, you are All. You are Them.

Being Them is shameful, embarrassing and sometimes frightening. You have to answer on behalf of an entire group of people for the stupidity or hatred of a singular person within the group. You have to develop a duck’s back to repel all incremental and incidental insults slung when you least expect.

I feel for the guy; and, now I’m hypersensitive that I only know of middle-eastern people, but don't actually know any. Nope. So I reach out in the way most comfortable to me: I make small talk…and giggle…and smile wide and friendly.

It’s embarrassing, really.

I’m now the equivalent of the white person who strikes up a conversation with me to tell me about their black friend, or ask me how to cook greens (fyi – I don’t know, my mom never cooked greens) or ask me if I know this one other black person within the entire city or doing everything to say but not just coming out and saying I’M OKAY WITH YOUR PEOPLE.

Geez, this guy isn’t Moses. He doesn’t have any people, to let go or otherwise. I pay for the paper, hop back in the car and head home, all the while kicking myself for being too giggly and smiley and friendly and…just unnecessarily Extra.

The Years After

Now, The Thems and the feelings around The Thems are uglier and seemingly sometimes state-sanctioned.

And there are many more Thems now – Jewish, Hispanic/Latino, LGBTQ, whatever side of the political spectrum with which one happens to disagree, Black Folks (a continuing role) and still, sadly middle-eastern and/or people who other people with ill-intent determine to be The Ultimate Them: Muslims.

Hate crimes against all The Thems have climbed exponentially since November of 2016.

I wonder about The Thems I pass everyday who are dealing with slights, insults, stupid questions and dirty looks. I wonder who is dealing with a hate crime but too frightened to say anything. I wonder what to do. I’m not a protester or a marcher and God’s the only One who knows about my conversations with Him.

The scene is a different gas station – this one blocks away from home. I see this brown guy almost weekly, and we talk about the weather, how my car drives in the winter or why they don’t carry the brand of cigarettes I like.

On this particular day, another awful thing has happened to the Them and it’s on national news and it’s eating me up inside. I grab a newspaper and a bottle of water. He asks how my day is, and I gulp and choke out

Are you doing okay? I mean…it can get weird around here…you know?

I look him in the eye while saying this because I want him to know that I am here, that I care. That I see him as a person – not a Them. I blink back tears that threaten to appear in the short time I asked that short question.

He doesn’t break eye contact. I know that he sees me – he sees me -- and says

Yes. We are fine.

Yeah…I guess we are fine. I hope we are fine.

August 14, 2017

Still Standing

It seems I’m always late, always a half-click behind, and I hurriedly keyed in the code to pick up my then 3 year-old from childcare. Her teacher greets me and says There was a little bit of problem today.

I gulp hard: it seems my little girl came to the rescue of a classmate who was being teased, and evidently, she was pretty upset but the teacher calmed her down.

I could get on board with that type of problem. 

We talked about it on the way home. Her tiny voice strained as she choked back tears Mom, they just kept calling her [her classmate] a baby…and, and...it made me SO mad I just started screaming STOP, LEAVE HER ALONE!

To this day I can’t remember teaching her to do specifically that – to step in for kids who are being bullied. But in that moment, I just thanked God for sending her to us with that kind of heart and prayed she’d always carry that softness for others within her.

Over ten some-odd years later, she has.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
The chaos, horror and hatred of Charlottesville is a thick sticky blanket of shadowy darkness that's still lingering over me.
 
I’ve been trying to dissect what I’ve known for some time now: that hate and racism still pulsate throughout systems, media, songs – and people. I know this, and yet seeing it march down a street torches blazing, distorting faces with its ugly pride, send a chill down my spine.
 
I was tempted to break from the coverage when my now teen daughter walked in the room, but I left it on. She was appropriately disgusted and then nonchalantly said Oh yeah, that reminds me… and proceeded to tell me about how she and her uncle had vile words hurled at them earlier in the week.

Gravity pulled on my shoulders and a new level of exhaustion set in. I knew this day would come, had talked to her about it long before, but…dammit. Just dammit.
 
She was no worse for the wear and shrugged it off. Maybe our previous talks had worked a little too well.

Even as I kept my mama bear instinct at bay, I couldn't help but think If people knew this kind of stuff actually happens to people they know who walk a path different from theirs, they’d be outraged. Certainly, if they knew my daughter -- this sweet, funny and kind kid -- they’d want to stick up for her.
 
Like she stood up for her classmate all those years ago.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
Hours later, a 32-year-old woman who was a counter protester was killed in a terrorist attack spurred by the day’s rally.
 
My stomach twisted at the thought of that woman’s mother and the nightmare she was going through at that moment.

Was she remembering seeing the spark of her kid being a fighter for other kids? Was she thinking of her own nervousness when her daughter told her that she was headed to Charlottesville to stand up for what’s right?
 
 
We tell our kids to do the right thing, but I don’t know if we consider what the cost might be. I definitely didn’t all those years ago when I was thanking God for my daughter’s heart and asking Him to preserve it.
 
And I don’t know where we go from here, but maybe a start would be standing up for each other.

Not just for the sweet, funny and kind people we know, but also for the people we don't know who are exhausted daily simply from living because others who don't like their skin, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation make their life hard.
 
Chances are, those same people would stand up for us.



 

April 25, 2017

It's a Really Short Season

The powder blue rental bikes are soldiers lined up in formation under a clear, spring sky waiting for twenty-something singles, newlyweds, families with kids who have long ago ditched training wheels, empty-nesters, and those with broken marriages, broken homes and broken dreams.

They wait to be used for a slowed down exploration of the life that, up until now, had been under the grips of a long, dormant, cold season. They seem to understand that the cycle of sun, warmth and rain has brought to fruition blooming and reawakening.


For a minute, I think I hear them say:
Push one pedal, push another and feel your knees do what they were created to do with each revolution. No one is behind you honking and in a hurry to pass on to the next thing. Go ahead, squeeze the brakes. Stop. Now look – and actually see – what you’ve been missing while driving.
This season is shorter than you think.
For many years, my car was being wife, mother, clocking in, clocking out and trying to create a reasonably perfect marriage, childhood for our daughter and household for our family.

I was whizzing by genuine memories when I was en route to perfect, manufactured memories. Driving with windows up, I never felt harsh weather, but I didn’t feel warm spring breezes or breathe in the signature smells of April showers.

I had almost stopped exploring -- much less even looking -- because I believed there was no new ground to be covered. Each day had its destinations, time of arrival and time of departure. Good conversations, belly laughs and just being were infrequent detours.

Days fused into weeks, weeks into months and months into years.

Seasons passed.

I was changing my daughter’s diapers one day and having “the talk” about periods and puberty the next. One week my husband and I were planning an impromptu vacation detour and the next week we were talking retirement options.

One minute, I realized I’d have to begin having annual mammograms in ten years. I blinked and in the next minute, I was in a doctor’s office waiting…wondering if everything was normal. The nurse told me I’d either get a phone call if something was “off” or, a postcard if there were no abnormalities.

I had never wanted to receive a postcard as much as I did that day.

In the in between time of waiting, I thought about missed seasons and the incidental moments of goofy-ness that seemed like roadblocks. The heart-to-heart girlfriend conversations cut short because of the itinerary’s pull. There were more missed opportunities for exploring than I could – or wanted to – recount.

And then just like that, the postcard arrived.

April 12, 2017

About The Bananas...Kind of

It started with the bananas. It always does.

They had been receptive to bananas for a while, my daughter and husband. Me too, if I was being honest. But our romance with the bananas began to fade as did the fruit's once creamy yellow skin.

Eat these bananas soon! announced my husband as if someone in the house must surely still love them. These bananas are going bad! Someone needs to eat them before they do! As if he wasn’t a ‘someone' who could eat them.

I lied and said it was my full intention to make banana bread out of what now looked like October leaves. They were beyond dead; and I trashed them with a wince, thinking of how my mother loathed waste.

A giggle barged into my wince as I thought of a dear friend who often said he was so old, he didn’t even buy green bananas.

The thing they don’t tell you about October leaves-bananas is that they attract fruit flies. And after you toss the bananas, the fruit flies stay…I don’t know why, maybe they’re hoping to resurrect the romance so carelessly tossed away.

This sent me to my local hardware store in search of a fruit fly catcher thingee.

Hardware stores aren’t my favorite place to be to begin with. There are thousands of aisles loaded floor to ceiling with eight million different nails, all set aglow by eerie orange fluorescent lights that buzz in time to muzak while the scent of nondescript timber wafts over my being.

At least that’s how it felt. Maybe that’s why I was so easily distracted by the daffodil bulbs on the aisle endcaps.

How long had I been threatening to plant daffodils? Three? Five? Seven years? Didn’t matter. All I knew is that every year I’d find myself in the backyard with muddied knees and then day-after strained hamstrings from planting annuals for hours when I should’ve planted perennials. Like daffodils.

At ten bucks a bag, they were worth it. I bought them, planted them and dared any neighborhood squirrel to even think about digging them up. I figured they’d shoot up in April or May and from that time forth, I couldn’t wait to wait out the long Wisconsin winter and see my handiwork.

I’m so old I don’t even buy green bananas I suddenly heard my friend say.

Now I’m not old, but as my waste-loathing mother would say: tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. Just ask Charlie Murphy, Prince Glen Frey, Tray Walker, Chyna, Phife Dawg and…on second thought, don’t ask.

Green bananas aren't a smart buy after all.

Soon enough, the temps warmed and coaxed green sprouts into bursting forth through thawing soil. It was spring in Wisconsin, which meant the warm weather turned to freezing in a day’s time. I beseeched my husband to save my soon-to-be-babies by covering them until the weather would be kind to them. He did.

A few days ago, I felt the time was right and carefully rolled back their covering.


They were surviving and flourishing. I was here to see it; and, I was grateful in a way I hadn’t been in a long while.

But it all started with the bananas. It always does.