I was led to believe there would be punch and pie.
I’m not the only one. I was led to believe there would be punch and pie, and not just for those who showed up, because ultimately, everyone would show up in the sense that they were able. I was led to believe that people had worth. I was led to believe that ideas had worth. I was led to believe that curiosity was a thing to be rewarded.
I rolled my eyes in school when we had to say the pledge. Why the hell am I pledging my allegiance to a piece of fabric? Plus there is that nation building thing in places where, you know, stability is nice, not having a power vacuum is nice, but Punch and Judy puppet stage governments arrangements are a shit idea. Not necessarily for the reasons I thought when I was a teenager (though those reasons certainly aren’t wrong).
I knew it all when I was kid, because we all know it all when we’re kids. Strangely, the huge bounties of knowledge they possessed isn’t why kids were recruited from my high school in rural New Hampshire into various branches of the military, right? Hey, and for many of them, that was okay, too. They could see the world, they could meet people they would not necessarily ever meet (and no, not kill them, despite what my smart ass t-shirt said. I got that shirt at the local Army Surplus store. Remember that. It’ll come back.) They could earn money to go to college later, or learn a trade. A lot of them did.
But everything has nuance. Part of me says, even still, I live in the best country in the world and there is no place with as much potential behind and I believe it with all my heart. And part of me thinks that if we ever held that moment in our hands, if we were the shining city on the hill, we were a goddamn flash in the pan, a star that died before the light was felt. Those same parts feel both these things at the same time and you are fucking with me, America.
And who am I to say shit, though, really? According the hospital’s information portal, I am a forty seven year old overweight woman with ridiculously high blood pressure, ridiculously low cholesterol, and a paraneoplastic neurologic/immune mediated disorder. I have a master’s degree. I am disabled. My brain only works like… right now. But still, still, I have been so very lucky. I am lucky because I am a white person, I am lucky because I am solidly Gen X. I paid too much for an education I can not use because I am disabled. I do not get paid enough by disability to live, but the fact that I am married to a guy who is fucking wonderful and has worked too hard for over twenty years in a city position in public health, means that I can live. That we can live. We have a house courtesy of my grandma giving the gift of equity twenty years ago, and then the real estate market being so goddamn crazy that holding on to it for eighteen years meant we underwater for a hot minute when everything went to shit in 2008, but then could sell it for an insane amount… to buy another house, closer to his work, smaller, for an equally insane amount. But by luck and timing and some work, we were able to. And if luck and timing hadn’t been on our side, we would be fucked, America.
So many people are fucked here, America. You are fucked. Remember that t-shirt I had? The one I got from the Army Surplus store? Twenty years after I bought that shirt in ninth grade, a guy I graduated with, a guy with a wife and a sister and parents and friends and two small children, was working the register at that same store. And two motherfuckers came in, robbed the place and killed him. He was working the motherfucking cash register, at a goddamn shitass surplus store, and these fuckers grab camping equipment, tell him to empty the register, and they kill him anyway.
They catch them up the road, not yet over state lines, a week or so later. They were just fucking camping. And look, I am lucky that I can only count on one hand those sorts of incidents that happened to people I grew up with. What if I were Black, or had more obvious Hispanic background, what if I were Womponoag? What if I were Sioux, or Hopi? What the hell have we done?
America, I never had to walk through a metal detector to go to school. I never had school resource officers who were supposed to shoot bears or classmates or get high in the supply closet with the French teacher or whatever the fuck Betsy DeVos thinks they are supposed to do. What are they supposed to do? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be working out.
So many people work so damn hard, and it is stacked against them. And it’s you, America. You tell people that it can all be theirs. And it can’t. It can’t, and it isn’t because you had all this Pollyanna thinking… the shit you filled my head with as a child until I barfed it out as a teen and now realize that as an ideal, it’s lovely, but as a reality… It’s cruel.
It can’t because you don’t let it. It can’t because you steal the camping gear and shoot the guy at the cash register anyway. It can’t because you can’t acknowledge failure and have lost sight of the idea that what’s different and new and full of ideas and promise is beautiful, not something to fear, reject, make other and stamp out. It can’t because it is 2020 and I saw a post on a forum for a tourist town in the south and a person with a biracial family asked if it was safe to stay in a fucking chain hotel. And the answers were not consistent.
But I want that shit you filled my head with as a child and I thought was lame as fuck as a teenager. I want it realized, for me, and for my friends and their kids, and my friends’ kids and their friends. I want it for people who come here fleeing worse (and there is worse, I understand, I know, there is so much worse, but the bar is so low, why the motherfuck are we racing to the bottom?). I want it for the people who were here before us. Way before us. I want us to acknowledge that they are still here and that they deserve our respect. We owe them that, and so much more. I want it fully realized, which I understand means there is give and there is take and that there are differences which should be celebrated and cherished and removing some existential dread from the country, from the world, can make it easier to celebrate differences than radicalize the spurs and barbs and create division. It means sometimes we’ll have to deal with not being rugged individuals and we’ll have to pay for a school or a library or a fucking museum even if we never ever step foot in one “on principle.”
We have to relearn that raising up and appreciating doesn’t take away from anything. Maybe what we have to do is actually fucking learn it. Learn it.
I think that’s going to be a shit lesson for us, because truthfully, America, you’re still new in the grand scheme of things, but you kinda suck at learning as a whole. And this pride in willful ignorance… This pride in willful ignorance.
This all punch and no pie.