Tuesday, September 26, 2017

I Save the World Every Night

I Save the World Every Night
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
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It was the bird, Doug. The one the cats killed the afternoon before Halloween. You don’t believe in omens, but I do, and when I came home first to find the bird—not a bird anymore, really, but bones—lying near the window of the balcony, I stood there for a long second and thought, this can’t be good.

The cats were hiding somewhere. It was five o’clock and the sky had lost a passenger. I folded the bones into a paper towel and stuffed them in the bottom of the trash. When you came home, you shook your head and said, “I told you the bird feeder was a bad idea.” You were right again.

“I wanted the cats to have something to amuse themselves throughout the day,” I said defensively. “I didn’t think the birds would drop their guard. I didn’t think they’d miss the signs of danger.” One cat was a giant tub of black and white fur. The other was a lithe gray tabby with yellow eyes. Neither were exactly camouflaged against the white cement of the balcony floor.

You said (I’ll never forget), “You can’t escape danger just because you see it coming.”

What about the danger you don’t see coming, I wondered on election night. I was out on the balcony, nervous and shaking. Light wind caked in cedar blew past, reminding me of the sunbaked Lone Star State from where I sat. “Tell me if he wins Michigan,” I yelled out, then thought better of it. “Nevermind, don’t tell me.”

I looked down at my phone. Nothing political stared back at me. Instead, it was a game. Through the magic of technology, I was saving the world. I save the world quite often. I kill four diseases every night. Black, blue, yellow, red. Red is always the hardest to kill. That night it was impossible.

A month later you rolled over in the sheets and took my hand and asked if you would ever get your girlfriend back. I looked away from you and to the books I had been reading pre-Nov. 8, which sat on my side of the bed like forgotten relics from another time. I crouched against your back, my skin sliding next to yours. I had gained weight or lost it; I couldn’t tell. All I knew was nothing fit like before. Including your hand.

I had long since given up trying to save the world.

“I keep thinking I’m dead,” I said.

“You’re not dead,” you said. “You’re more alive than ever. You just don’t know it yet.”

On a morning in late January I woke up early. I was used to waking early by then; it was the time of day I set aside to edit the ten thousand stories waiting in my inbox. Each story had a different voice, and each morning I sank into a new voice like a miner crawling down the mouth of a cave with a lit torch burning to discover. This morning, however, I was content with discovering my own. The night before I had come home from the Women’s March and was simultaneously rejuvenated and exhausted from the experience, and my mind was racing.

At the window I watched in awe as an amber fire lit the balcony aglow. Dawn was the only time I enjoyed living in Texas—when the sky above the unforgiving landscape swallowed the pitch blackness from within and spat it out in heavenly flames of pink and orange. (You loved it too, although we have rarely watched this event unfold together.)

I pushed the balcony doors back slowly, not wanting to wake you. At the same moment, a bird landed on the birdfeeder. The cats immediately perked up from their positions along the outdoor chairs. Seeds dropped to the floor, and the bird swooped down to catch them. A second was all it took. The grey tabby got to it first, sinking her mouth around the neck and digging in. I reached down and grabbed at her, my fingers pulling at fur until they clipped onto her tiny neck. I yanked at her mouth and it opened. Feathers rained down as the bird flew up and my hand became a scratching board as the cat tried to break free.

I had forgotten the incident by the time you knocked on my office door much later, asking me if I wanted some tea. I was already in the cave, buried deep behind the haunting voices of other women’s lives.

I saved a life I never told you about, Doug; but that’s okay.

I used to save the world every night. Black, blue, yellow, red.

Red is always the hardest to kill, but I don’t play anymore.

One day I’ll reach out and save myself, and then your hand will fit perfectly the way it did before, even though I’m not the same bird I was then. Sometimes we see the danger and it kills us—sometimes we see the danger and it sets us free.




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I keep still-frame snapshots in my mind of election day: the near-empty parking lot (more efficient Texans had voted early), the kids selling “liberty lemonade” at the entrance, a map of Austin spread out over the lobby wall, the elderly black woman waiting below it with a sign that said, “Information.”

“I’m here to break the glass ceiling,” I had told her.

“Then you’ve come to the right place,” she said. Her eyes found mine and in that moment, I knew her whole life story and she knew mine.

An elderly Hispanic man found my name on a list of registered voters. “Did you come by yourself?” he asked.

“No,” I said. I lifted a picture from the pocket of my wool coat and raised it eye-level. “I brought my daughter.” A mouth of missing teeth grinned at the man. He smiled back and motioned me over to the nearest empty booth.

I stepped in and began scrolling through the screens, voting on the local elections first. Prop whatever, commissioner such-and-such, I didn’t care (I knew I should but I didn’t); just get me to the sweet stuff.

After the state elections came and went, the camera lens sharpened; my heart began beating faster. I was so close to the glass ceiling, I could almost tap it.

Her name was a blur from my tears but it’s a blur I take with me everywhere.

I hit the button beside the “H” of her name; deprovisioning the chains, emptying the flour to the kitchen floor, biting the sea in an unladylike blink, writing a page into history.

I reached into my coat pocket and touched the grin with the missing teeth. “This is for you,” I whispered. “This is for you.”

…and it still is, and has been every day since. This is for her, this is for us. I wake up in the dead dawn in this unquiet alternate universe and cast my vote beside the “H” where the letters of her name have long since faded away and new letters have emerged in the face of her defeat – because evil won and good is gone and hope is our only candidate.

- Erin Passons, 9-20-2017

The Complications of Standing While Drowning

The Complications of Standing While Drowning

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Puerto Rico is without power, black on the map and water to their knees but you tweet about black men’s knees and how they kneel to oppose your regime. Unpatriotic you call it but let’s be honest – you can’t stand to see a black man bend unwhipped and unchained. 

And since you don’t like how black lives sound, how does a nuclear warhead taste? A twitch of the thumb is all it takes. The Rocket Man waits for your quick Twitter hand. One poorly formed verb and goodbye, yellow brick road. 

(Don’t look now, President Clown, but Puerto Rico is still in peril. Three million souls, sink or swim. It’s hard to stand for the national anthem with five feet of water above your head.) 

But since you prefer walls that divide instead of bridges, how do you like the new America? White Americans sit on the bench hand over privilege cheering “impeach” or “submit” (depending on their jersey color), while brown Americans drown and black Americans bleed and Americans with skin in between move to the tick tick tock of Mad Hatter Trump and his ticking time bomb naughty list. Why, just last night, you dropped the sickle and hammer, and eight countries disappeared from the immigration list. 

(Don’t look now, President Clown, but Puerto Rico can’t swim. Three million potential voters underwater. It’s hard to speak Russian when your lungs are starving for air.) 

But since you prefer to pledge allegiance to a flag of one color, heed this warning: the resistance is moving in, skin and skin, knees bent, palm to heart and fist to sky. You, your puppets, your bots, your Kremlin friends, your daughter and her husband and your third wife with the plagiarized grin, will watch your Emerald City fall as Oz crumbles from within—for the real man behind the curtain is Time, and he knows all your sins. 

So take a knee and dive in. 
Tick tock tick. 

- Erin Passons, 9-25-2017
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