Friday, August 19, 2016

A Perfect World:
A Work of Fiction

Let me tell you about a perfect world. Let me tell you what I can. First and foremost when they said, "get up, everyone rise," then everyone would stand.

When I was six years old my daddy said to me, "you'll love school. They'll take good care of you. They'll teach you numbers and words and how to be kind to one another." I had visions of Harry Potter lunch boxes, and the number eight decorated like snowmen. My dad, he wore a tie my first day of school. He dropped me off in wing-tipped shoes and a suit. Then he went home and changed into the plain pants and shirt of a self taught electrician before heading to work. That's a perfect world.

More than anything, Charlotte loved Hello Kitty.  She had a Hello Kitty binder, a Hello Kitty backpack, Hello Kitty shoes and pencils. She had it all. That was a perfect world.

The thing is, my dad probably had the words and the fear to tell me what I really needed to hear. He doesn't talk about it now so who can say for sure. All things being equal he'd prefer to never talk about it again. But all things aren't equal. I know that much now; school taught me something.

Can you imagine--no you can't, you shouldn't--but can you imagine, sitting down with your child and saying, "well son, this is a big step in your life. You're going to learn to read and write, and you'll be safe, but just in case, let me tell you what to do, just in case."

You know he has to pause here. You can't tell a six year old what he’s about to tell his child without second guesses. So he pauses and then breaks the news, that maybe the world isn't always quite so safe. Imagine the dryness of his lips, how his bowels might feel, the tears he fights back because this is the conversation he has to have with the human being he might love most and whose most complicated thought up to this point has been whether Superman is stronger than the Hulk.

"It's just that sometimes bad things happen when we least expect them," he'd say. "So if, God forbid, something bad happens, listen to your teachers. But also know that if you hear gunshots get down and pretend to be dead." Then he'd lay on the ground and put his arms and legs at awkward angles. "Look at me son, this is how you do it. Do you see me?"

But you can't see him down there. Your brain literally can't comprehend what he's doing, you're too young. What is he talking about guns for? The prospect of school excited you a few minutes ago but what is this? Everything is mildly sinister now. Maybe you'd better stay home.

Eventually, months later you would have thanked him, but all you can see now are nines and sixes with a bullet hole in each and an eight with two, the class turtle wandering across broken glass and a bloody floor. Why's your dad got to be so weird? Why'd he put these images in your head?

"And if all else fails, run. Run fast and in a zigzag line. Run away. Don't worry about where to. You run and run and run until you're lost and then I'll find you." He mimics a zigzag run, too. You'd watch this dumbfounded. He might as well be an alien. And you’d giggle, because you’re only six years old.

But that’s no way to start a new school year. Instead we pack lunches and take pictures in our new sneakers and Ninjago t-shirts. Everything is normal in a perfect world.

Olivia had the best smile. And her shirts always had some uplifting message on them: love, joy, and happiness. She wore her hair back and never had a harsh word for anyone. In a perfect world everyone would experience her smile.

I use to believe in a perfect world. But then one day a stranger walked into my class. In his hands he held dark and angry steel. I thought it had to be a toy but then it spoke. It’s voice never to be surpassed in vile and ugliness. TAT! TAT! TAT! All I could do was scream. I was six years old. I didn't know what was happening. My dad hadn't prepared me for this. All the sharpened pencils and virginal notebooks in the world were rendered useless. The world was nothing. Nada. The world was the concussions. TAT! TAT! TAT! You could feel it in your ears and in your teeth. The TAT! TAT! TAT! was everything. It was I who was nothing.

Something primal arrived, something ancient, something that desires life more than all. Something drug me to the ground, like some great beast separating the Earth; it put its clawed hands over my mouth and pulled me to the floor. Then he left, the great wrecker. I'd never see him again. I've never not see him again.

There were echoes of it still. Somewhere off in the distance, Tat! Tat! Tat! Then there were sirens.

In times of great stress people talk of boulders and elephants on their chests, but it was more than that that held me down, that stole my breath. It was a mountain. No, it was an entire range. I saw my mother and father come from the west, the Appalachians cradled in their arms. They placed them there on my chest and whispered, "be still." Even my shaking stopped.

Then there was silence, or something like silence. It went on and on, long like the time we drove to Kansas to visit my Aunt and I faded in and out of sleep in the back seat of the minivan, listening to thunder and the hum of the engine. Until at last, one more Tat and then the sobs of little children. Mine and there’s all bundled together, like sticks to a fire. The singular sound of the world put to tears and lives put ruin.

Eventually there were footsteps and people speaking and someone said, "get up, everyone rise." But only half of us could stand. And so now, I’ve given up on a perfect world.

Some mornings when I wake I don't think about that day first thing. Some days the memory isn't there like a kid drowning under a frozen lake, beating at the surface of everything. Those are good days, days as close to perfect as I'll ever see. But even on those days I can still stumble upon the remnants. There's always another shooting. There is always Syria, and pictures of boys barely alive in the back of ambulances or washed up dead on beaches they never called home. There is always someone on the internet telling the world, telling me, telling my dead friends' parents, that it never even happened, that it was just an elaborate hoax to get guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. But all I can see is that man. That boy--my Mama tells me he was just a boy. And his TAT! TAT! TAT!  

If only none of it were real; if only we lived in a perfect world.

Friday, August 5, 2016


It all started with a trip. A short trip across the city. And a meal I was transporting for a struggling family. I had their address on my phone. I was parked a few houses away. But I couldn't get out. I was stuck in the car. Their food getting cold next to me; my family waiting to start dinner when I returned home. But I couldn't move. My hands shook. I took a deep breath, gathered up the food, and exited the car.

What's the big deal? I want to be the type of person who helps other people. And yet when faced with others' tragedies and struggles I most often find myself wordless, worthless--a stone statue. Beyond that, after Berkeley was born I could no longer handle the imagery, even made up imagery of movies, of little children being hurt. It sinks me. I flinch at the thought. And this house? This house had the real deal inside. Inside was a little girl struggling to keep her life. Inside was a family struggling to make sense of it. And outside was me standing at their door with a bunch of plastic containers filled with food and stuffed into a brown paper bag.

After I knocked and they answered I stepped into their entryway. The mother and father were there. They expressed their gratitude. I managed to explain the intricacies of the meal, what was to be mixed with what and what was to be reheated and what was to be eaten at room temperature. It was a normal home by all appearances; even though the closed curtains made me feel somber, nothing was actually out of the ordinary. Then the two boys showed up. They chased each other around and stopped for a second to say hi. It was nothing; just another person bringing them dinner. Except had I seen her I would have had to sit down on their steps. I would have had to collect myself. I would have had to cry in front of near strangers. This is how I would have helped them? Bring them food and cry on their stoop, accepting their comfort?

She never made an appearance and I left. I sat in my car again. This time I cried. I cried for their pain. I cried for their resilience. I cried for hope. On the drive back I knew what I had to do when I got home. There is so much unrequested and unmitigated pain in this world. Why even add the smallest amounts? Why not let people be happy and get the things they want? The exact thing they want? Especially when she is the most important person in the world to you? All these thoughts fell into a funnel and that funnel lead to one place. I couldn't tell you why this was the place, why at the bottom of this funnel was a hole that lead straight to a decision I'd barely thought about since Wren's birth.

So I opened my front door, went to Robyn, and when she asked how the drop off went I told her if she still wanted a third child then we should have a third child. This was maybe eight months ago. Fast forward to a few days ago and we acquired this picture I affectionately call "The Shrimp":

Some version of this story is what I try to tell people when they ask how I went from only wanting one child to Robyn being pregnant with our third. I don't know if it makes any sense. But somehow it feels like something in my heart has been healed even though it never felt exactly broken. I hope we can do right by this one along with the other two.

Due Date: 2/12/2017
Gender: Unknown

Monday, August 1, 2016

If Hillary is so terrible then why would I vote for her?

We could discuss the minutiae of all the supposed scandals Hillary has had. But I don't think it would be a very productive discussion at this point. At the end of the day there are people who believe many of the negative claims about her have veracity; I don't. But let's pretend for a minute that I did; that I believed some important subset of the claims are true. Let's say that in general I think she has poor character, is greedy, power hungry, and a liar. I would still have to make the decision at the end of the day if I'm placing a vote that has affect. Here's my thinking behind what I would do if I were in that position.

Even if I believe Hillary is as bad as I've been told, then at the end of her four year term here's what I'll likely get that I won't get if Trump is President (and these things matter to me, though I recognize they have different weights for you):
  1. Liberal Supreme Court Justices, at least one, probably 2, maybe 3. (frankly this list could end here and it would be enough for me and this would be less an issue if the Senate would do their job and let Obama have his pick.)
  2. No regression on same-sex rights
  3. No regression on racism
  4. People with disabilities won't have to feel shame every time they see the person we elected to run the country because he basically thinks they're useless and only worthy of ridicule.
  5. We wouldn't ignore NATO treaties.
  6. We wouldn't even discuss building a useless and racists wall across our southern border
  7. We wouldn't have a database of people based on their religion
  8. The likelihood of a very serious war will be smaller with Clinton. Trump is too bombastic and too thin skinned to not make something somewhere go wrong. I agree that Clinton is a hawk, but her interventions will be small and strategic as opposed to knee-jerk. We can survive another Syria, I'll pass on a second cold war or a World War or a nuclear war or any sort of war with China.
  9. There is value in having a female president.
  10. We won't have a commander-in-chief that wants to bomb the families of our enemies.
  11. We won't have a commander-in-chief who thinks waterboarding is ok.
  12. We won't have a commander-in-chief who has now made fun of a POW and a Gold Star family (fuck that).
  13. My daughters won't be talked about like they are pieces of rubbish by their President.
On the flip side, the negative of having Hillary if she's as bad as you say she is:
  1. She likely leaves office after 4 years with a lot of money and becomes a footnote of history.
The economy is a tricky beast but I'm confident Trump can't fix it. I don't know if Hillary can. There is definitely a set of people who have not seen the benefit of the recovery. It needs to be worked on but there is no benefit to Hillary to not at least try to fix it. She gains nothing by it being broke even if she is as corrupt as you say she is. But one thing we know is she works harder and is smarter than most anyone. I'd rather her on the project than Trump who is at best a scam artist who likely will treat our economy the same way he's treated his businesses and the people who depended on his businesses.

So I look at my vote and I ask, "even if Hillary is as bad as I'm told, is it worth throwing all those things away just so she doesn't get some personal benefit from being the President? Do I spit in the face of America and what I want it to be because my uncle forwards me emails insisting she's the devil?" At the end of the day, if I'm being honest with myself, even in that case, where my uncle's emails are 100% correct about her, she gets my vote because Donald Trump is that bad. He's an existential crisis to America, our way of life, what we stand for, and possibly for the entire world. So there is no gain for me to consider greatly the small details, the what abouts, and coincidences, and the might have beens of her political career. For now I'll trust the multitudes of Republican lead Benghazi meetings that have found nothing, and a Republican appointed FBI direct who says there is nothing to indite on and move forward against the worst candidate the country has ever put forth for serious consideration. In addition when I look at the world, at the people I respect the most, public figures and friends and colleague--intellectual and moral giants--they almost all line up behind Hillary. So please forgive me if I can't even make it to the "she's as bad as Donald" side of the argument. The best minds I know disagree with that statement. And more important than that, the best hearts I know disagree with that statement.

With all that in mind, there is no way in hell I'd give either Jill Stein or Johnson my vote. Such a vote buys me nothing. It buys the least among us nothing. Even if the naysayers are right about Hillary, it wouldn't even help me sleep at night because I'd know that I made such a vote to condemn the least among us so that I could have some sense of useless purity. My heart couldn't take that. If there were some realistic odds of a third party candidate winning, and I believed Hillary to be the devil, I would cast my lot with the person most likely to defeat Trump, though I would be pained to vote for either of the two most likely usurpers because I don't align well with their professed values, but I'd still do it.

You can judge me as a sheep. Or blind. Or stupid. Or willfully ignorant. But those labels won't change any of the above nor the amount of thought and heart I've put into this decision.