Some Things Are Not For Sale

Some Things Are Not For Sale

Gogo was raised by her uncle after her mother died and her father left for Africa. Her father never returned from Africa, and whether he was alive or dead she never found out. Her uncle was large and had a strong jaw. A head shaped like an anvil. His words had the same sort of weight. But he didn’t say much, thankfully, and his house was large enough that they could (almost) coexist without crossing paths. Gogo told me she could dissolve into a glass of water when he yelled for peace and quiet. The house was on the edge of the Okopai River. When I visited we stayed in her room. If we were hungry we left her house and went to the small diner nearby. If her uncle was in a bad mood we stayed at my place, hiding beneath the covers of my bed so that my parents wouldn’t know she was there. We were safe beneath the blankets, lying close together and whispering about where we would go tomorrow, next month, next year, forever. We read books to each other. Great Russian literature and American classics. We read “Waiting for Godot,” which was one of her favorites: We said we would go and see it performed one day when we had the money. We read poetry and wondered how so much could be said with so few words. My parents never caught us. Gogo always slipped through the window before sunrise and before my dad started making jokes at the breakfast table where I pretended to laugh. My dad always said, “You can’t be a...
It would be safest if you ran

It would be safest if you ran

There has been, of late, a focus on borders and walls. And, consequently, a rise in xenophobia. Or is it because of xenophobia that there is a focus on borders and walls? Populism has always existed, but the sentiments that elected the current administration seem to be the result of a “chicken or egg” conundrum: Are people scared because the world is scary, or is the world scary because people are scared? But the rhetoric itself has changed in the United States: The denial of the USA as a “country of immigrants” and open borders has been the guiding force behind recent policy in the White House. The conversation is not about coming together as much as it is keeping out the “unfamiliar.” The notion of community becoming something more rigidly defined: who belongs, and who doesn’t, and who gets to decide. But perhaps it was always there, as has been suggested by the Washington Post’s America has always been hostile to immigrants, among others. The United States of America has always had a nativist streak – a populism as inward-looking as today’s “America-First-Make-America-Great=Again” mantra that has led to so much hatred and violence from the ruling class. People can’t really be to blame for feeling scared, they tell us. As humans we pride ourselves on our autonomy; our ability to be in control, to conquer, to rise above. We are in control. We need to be in control. And when we can’t give the enemy a face, a face must be given: Muslims. Immigrants. “Welfare Queens.” Others. Them. The people you don’t know. It doesn’t matter, of course, that there is no...
Lazy Days, Falling Asleep, Stuck in School, Dreaming

Lazy Days, Falling Asleep, Stuck in School, Dreaming

I don’t want to be here, my eyelids getting heavy. My back starting to hurt. I don’t want to stay sitting, stuck at this desk in this classroom of this school that smells like old wood and grandma’s books. Mr. Jalle up front talking about history and politics and why we are where we are. But he can’t explain why I am where I am. I think sometimes about climbing the trees outside, climbing to the very top, then jumping off with my arms outstretched because I think I can fly. My eyes are open. I see something in front of me. Dark green, watery green, swamp. I’m underwater. My eyes are open. The water stings my eyes. I reach forward with my hand. There’s nothing. I’m choking on swamp water that tastes rusty like old nails and tonic. “You’re blind,” the voice in my head tells me. Mr. Jalle’s voice up front is like a hum, steady, like low-fi bass reverberating in my ears. I don’t hear anything he says. I’m listening. I don’t hear anything except for the sound in my head. Chatter, like radio static, noise. The bass low and steady in my ears. I’m blind, I think. I’m blind. I don’t need to learn any of this. What good will it do me if I understand the Emancipation Proclamation? I can’t run for president if I’m blind. There’s never been a blind president. How would I get to the podium to give the speeches like I see on TV? With someone helping me every step of the way? Holding my hand? How would I negotiate...
The Cruelty of Children

The Cruelty of Children

There are some who say that cruelty is learned, and not inherent – the result of trauma and abuse early in life. Freud’s view was that cruelty is natural; that sadism (the want/need/desire to do harm to others) is the forgotten child of sexual desire and aggression, based in biology and psychology and a deep-rooted part of human nature. I’ve always liked British psychoanalyst and author Christopher Bollas’ view: He believed that beneath hatred and hateful behavior lies a pure and simple emptiness; that anger and hatred and subsequent cruelty are nothing more than ways of filling that emptiness. And, he said, importantly, that it is better to feel cruelly than to not feel at all. Cruelty among others Johns Berry came to live in our neighborhood the summer before we started eighth grade, and only a few days before my 13th birthday. He lived in the house across the street from mine. A house with three stories. Mine has only one. The third story is just an attic for storing things you wouldn’t be sad about never seeing again, but it was nice. It has big windows facing the street and pillars like Old Rome across the porch. Nobody else in the neighborhood cared about his house, though. They cared about his face. There was a rumor going around that that Johns Berry’s face was burned all the way through, caught in a fire when he was a baby, and now he wears a mask to cover it up. A hospital-blue mask that hangs loose around his skin. There was always spit running down his neck because he...
Why I Like the Rain

Why I Like the Rain

The sun shines through the window across all the stuffed animals Lala left behind in her room. It rained last night. There’s a rabbit sitting outside of my window, staring at me. So skinny I can see its ribs. The ghost of my grandmother comes and visits me every morning around this time, but today it’s just the rabbit. I believe in science, but she comes anyway. Science says if things move fast enough, they disappear. So we don’t really exist. We’re just moving slow enough to see what’s going on around us. Part I: Home Mom is watching TV on the couch, sweating with her stomach hanging over her knees. Tucker must be around somewhere else. I don’t hear him like I usually do when I get home from school. Maybe he’s in the garage. Maybe he’s out with a girl. It’s hot. Mom has the fan blowing right on her face so no one else can get at it. The AC is broken, it has been since last summer, and all we have is one fan for the whole house. She hogs it all to herself. Except for the one that Tucker uses in the garage, but that one is built into the wall so we can’t move it anywhere else. We don’t have any cereal left in the cupboard. I make myself a peanut butter sandwich instead. Food doesn’t last as long when it’s this hot. If we leave the bread sitting on the counter for just a week it turns blue-green and moldy. That happened once and mom got so mad at me I thought...