This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.
-Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
And when you’ve taken down your guard
If I could change your mind, I’d really love to break your heart
I’d really love to break your heart
-Tears For Fears, Shout
It’s my birthday.
Two years ago today I was in Houston. Today Houston is under water.
Two years ago today I was heartbroken.
Two years ago today I was alone.
Two years ago yesterday I helped a drunk across a street.
Two years ago today was worse.
Two years ago today was better.
I spent the day at West Alabama Ice House and because I’d stopped traffic and helped a drunk old man across the street to a cab the drinks were free, they said. Maybe he was a regular. I checked their Facebook page today and there was a post that says “Tippy” died yesterday, two years to the day. Is Tippy is the same guy I helped? Maybe.
I feel like probably.
Yesterday, two years from Houston and Maybe-Tippy, I buy groceries for a family walking around downtown Sacramento in the 108 degree heat, their three kids limp in their strollers. Two in the double stroller the father is pushing, a tall black man his right eye pointing aimless to the sky while the other looks at me with desperation and shame. They are believers, the mother says. God said to ask for help and not to bring shame to his name, she says. They are from Louisiana or Alabama, all I hear is THE SOUTH, came all the way to California on a Greyhound for their autistic son, they say. No services for them in THE SOUTH.
No services for them in God’s country.
I did not tell them I am an unbeliever, that the Catholic Church and the secrets they continue to try to bury is proof enough that whatever flavor of god they believe in doesn’t exist. I don’t tell them my son is T1 diabetic and diagnosed with ADHD. I do not tell them I’m on medical welfare, that I don’t make enough money to live without roommates.
I fight away cynicism and judgement and suspicion. I have no room. There is too much already in me, the Internet, the fucking air, everyone’s lungs thick with it. Choking on it. I help them. We walk to Rite-Aid and I tell them to buy what they need. My son and I wait and I check my phone to make sure I have enough money in my bank account. I don’t care what they buy. They ask if it is too much and I say no.
I want to feel good. I want to help. Fuck the rest.
Two years ago the next day same as today my birthday, I meet Daniel Quinn, whose words had cursed my vision with disturbing validation. Trump hasn’t stolen my laugh yet. I’m not mulling the morality and efficacy of punching neo-Nazis yet. Some white dude on Facebook brandishing a handgun in a featured picture on his page isn’t wishing for civil war and for me to piss my pants. Houston isn’t under water. Everything isn’t coming home to roost. Not yet.
The woman from Mississippi I’ve fallen in love with hasn’t sent a cryptic text and tried to commit suicide yet. She hasn’t been released from a psych hold yet. She hasn’t lost custody of her child yet. I haven’t stopped contact. Not yet. She’d just stabbed me from the heart of her own storm and I’m reeling, still trying to reach her, trying to save her from her rising waters. I haven’t erased every text and email and photo I have from her yet.
It was good I live in California and she in Mississippi. I get lost in other’s storms. Gravity steers me to stare down the eye of other’s rather than my own.
By chance, someone else is in Houston two years ago. I’d flown to meet her earlier that year in another city before I find the storm in Ole’ Miss. Another storm, a blizzard that sets records.
I write her a poem before I leave, using Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon as the scaffold:
In the 13th floor room
There was a lonely man
And a pillow spooned
And a picture of-
The window framed with snow at noon
And there were talking subways down the stairs
And tall building crannies
And Han Solo cabbies
And scary spinning doors
And ice-white floors
And naked cheeks all flush and gutters filled with slush
And a red-headed lady and my long distance crush
Goodbye pillow spooned
Goodbye window framed with snow at noon
And blanket maroon
And goodbye smile’s lasso
And goodbye to hay
Goodbye for today
And goodbye, Lady
And goodbye luck
Goodbye not knowing
And goodbye red-headed lady whispering “fuck”
Good bye Erika, life’s not fair
She said she couldn’t meet. Two years later, she’s sober and shacked up with Superman. It’s a curious thing to hold envy and goodwill in the same hand.
Harder to acknowledge what I’m running from. Even with both hands.
Someone new says to take the boy. Of course she’s right. Sometimes it’s best not to listen to yourself. Resistance is the call, a summons to change the flow. Maybe it’s a postcard I’m sending to the future, something for him to recall in darker times. A memory, a light. Something to balance the in-between wrongs. That’s why I drag my son through the Nevada desert. That’s why I take him to see the eclipse.
I hope she stays. She’s wind in my sails.
It’s a curious thing to watch the world slide. To acknowledge rising tides. To not relate to sides. To dispense with ego and pride.
There is a a sense that we are all each other’s consequences.
-Wallace Stegner, All the Little Live Things