Thoughtful, deeply-resonant words, followed by emotional, rhetorically-sound commentary. Smart Republicans uniting in favor of decency and reason. Makes me feel hopeful.
Yesterday I resigned my position in the York Township Republican Committeemen’s Organization. Below is the letter I sent to the chairman explaining my decision.
We come together in political parties to magnify our influence. An organized representative institution can give weight to our will in ways we could not accomplish on our own. Working with others gives us power, but at the cost of constant, calculated compromise. No two people will agree on everything. There is no moral purity in politics.
If compromise is the key to healthy politics, how does one respond when compromise descends into complicity? To preserve a sense of our personal moral accountability we must each define boundaries. For those boundaries to have meaning we must have the courage to protect them, even when the cost is high.
Almost thirty years ago as a teenager in Texas, I attended my first county Republican…
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Something terrible happened to my family. The kind of thing people “can’t even imagine.”
“I can’t even imagine.”
This was one of many mantra-esque expressions which arose during the weeks after my husband’s fatal accident. It was uttered by people who meant very well, but who (understandably) wanted to distance themselves, except themselves, from tragedies such as this. These four words italicized, emboldened and underscored how exceptional our sudden loss actually was. I assumed these people had, at least once, watched the news, seen a movie, or read a book. If so, they actually would have imagined–seen in their minds’ eyes, as I had–a lot of really tragic things. The message in that seemingly benign mantra presented as:
“Your family’s situation is so bad, it’s completely unimaginable.”
“You really can’t even imagine?” I almost asked one of these kind, well-intentioned people. Instead, I said to myself, “Oh, that’s why they’re called “sympathy” cards, not “empathy” cards.”
I’d always wondered, actually.
Then I thought “Maybe there should be two separate categories of cards: “Sympathy,” for customers who can’t imagine, and “Empathy,” for customers who can.
Then I thought to myself, “It must be time for my Ativan.”
I wanted to ask those people how it felt to not be able to imagine it at all, but I never did. It’s rude to pose abstract philosophical questions over casseroles and chicken katsu, over cookies and macaroni salad, in the midst of so many flowers, embraces and tears. Instead, I made like a jellyfish and let the tsunami of love carry me through those weeks. So much sincere kindness from people we barely knew. So many parents who, during the first weeks, sent their children to spend full days and nights in our home, to make sure my kids knew their friends were with them no matter what. Smiling, laughing, carrying on. Allaying for them–and for me–an unspoken fear bundled in the loss and grief package: the fear of being defined by tragedy. The fear of forever otherness.
“We’re going to be okay.”
That was my mantra.
“We’re going to be okay.”
The five-word emergency kit of clichés. The moment the most horrible words I’d ever heard, the exact moment the the unimaginable words made the seventeen-inch journey from the cop’s lips to my ears, to my brain, to my heart, these five words seemed to mobilize like a small, but mighty troop of Special Ops soldiers. They came in a whisper first, right after the the unimaginable words pushed themselves from my broken heart to my throat to my lips. They came just after I’d watched (in my mind, I can see the words as physical text. Black. Times New Roman.) those other words hover in the emptiness between my mouth and my children’s ears, embedding themselves in their minds and their hearts.
It’s not true.
Holding them. Holding them so close.
Yes. Yes. Yes. It is true and we’re going to be okay.
We’re going to be okay.
We’re going to be okay.
What other choice is there?
In the weeks and months that followed, I cried. Twice I cried hard in front of them. Once, while driving my daughter to ballet, a truck exactly like my husband’s passed us. We had just pulled out of the driveway. The driver wore a fluorescent yellow shirt exactly like my husband had worn every day to work. The driver, in fact, looked exactly like my husband. I saw my daughter turn and crane her neck as he passed. My heart couldn’t bear the moment. Those who have been through tragedy understand the feeling. The heart ruptures and you think you’re going to die. But I knew the kids would be okay as long as I was okay. So I said,
“That man looked like daddy, huh? I miss him so much.”
“Are you okay?”
“Do you want to go to dance?”
Routines meant “okay.” Laughter meant “okay.” Talking about missing daddy meant “okay.”
Stuff like this probably meant “not okay:”
After I dropped her off at dance class, I drove through the neighborhood searching for the truck and its driver. I didn’t think (at least consciously) that the search would lead me to my husband. I thought that I would locate the asshole who had the nerve to drive a truck exactly like my husband’s and wear a work shirt exactly like my husband’s and have a shaved head exactly like my husband’s and drive through our neighborhood? What monster does something like that?
I didn’t find the truck or the driver, thank goodness.
Even so, definitely, “not okay.”
When I got home, I broke into tears in front of my son, who was at the table doing homework. It was something I promised myself I wouldn’t do. Promising anything while grieving is not a good idea.
Without hesitating, without looking at me in horror, without saying a word, my twelve-year-old man child got up and hugged me. That was it. He hugged me and I cried. Finally I said, “I’m sorry. I just really miss Daddy.” Then I wiped off my face (I did have the wherewithal to skip mascara. Nothing says “not okay” quite like a mascara-induced Rorschach test streaming across your face), kissed him on the forehead and made dinner.
Less than two months after my husband’s death, I had to travel to the small island of Lana’i for work. I’d first met him on Lana’i and lived there for a school year. We traveled back and forth by ferry every weekend–alternating between Maui and Lana’i–for the better part of nine months. We fell in love deeply and quickly. Nearly every inch of the island held a memory of us. I tried to fortify myself, repeating “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay,” but I was terrified. I began crying the moment I arrived at the harbor in Lahaina. I managed to get through the day of meetings without breaking down, but on the return ride, as night fell, my chest began to ache. It started as a dull ache but escalated into an acutely painful stabbing sensation. I thought I was having a heart attack and tried to figure out what I would do if I needed an ambulance pick-up at the dock. Then I thought about who would call my best friend, who would then go to the house and tell the kids. Then I said (I whispered it to myself, out loud #notokay), “Get it together, Marnie. Pull it together. No dying.”
That seemed to do the trick.
This became mantra number two: “No Dying.”
Days moved by. I was in shock and, I suppose, the kids were as well. It was hard to tell. I watched and listened and even smelled for signs of distress. They seemed so fine. They didn’t want to “talk about it.” Every therapist I spoke to told me essentially the same thing, “Children are resilient. If you’re okay, they’re okay. They will follow your lead.”
So, okay…be okay and everyone will be okay.
I took them to the therapist I was seeing for my PTSD. They cried a little, which was good. On the ride back, my son asked,
“Do you pay for that?”
“Yes, I do. Why? What do you think?”
My daughter chimed in, “Well, maybe if it’s like twenty bucks…” voice rising skeptically at the end.
“So, not super into it?”
“No!” They answered, pretty much in unison.
“We’re gonna be okay,” the eleven-year-old Goddess of Wisdom assured me.
“We’re gonna be okay,” I repeated.
Were we already okay? The word holds so much nuance and power. It’s one of very few etymologically untraceable words. Is it a even a word? Choctaw (“okey”)? Greek? French (“au quai?”) Martin Van Buren? Obediah Kelly? It must be Ativan thirty.
Days happened. I dropped the kids at school, went to work, picked them up. One of the things about “shock” is that you don’t realize you’re in it until you’re out of it. Another thing is: it sticks around a while. I can remember very little from those first months. Random bits emerge slowly from the shock bubble. Some materialize like images in a crystal ball–blurry, fleeting, non-sequential. Some pop up out of nowhere, jumpy and poorly edited, like old black-and-white movies. But most events between February and August of 2014 are gone, gone, gone.
I booked a safari for the following summer, a full year in advance. This brand of fairly rash act could fall under “okay” or “not okay,” depending on who’s doing the hashtagging.
Marnie just booked a safari in Tanzania for summer 2015. #notokay
Marnie just booked a safari in Tanzania for summer 2015. #okay
See? It depends on who’s hashing the tag.
And people were hashing some tags, I’m sure.
A single image settled itself in the front of my brain at some point and it stuck. I took it to mean something. I still take almost everything to “mean something.” (#notokay?) I am sitting on an army green folding chair, flanked by my son and my daughter. I have one arm around each of them. It’s late afternoon and, in the golden, shadowy time before dusk, we become a silent, sturdy triangle, semi-silhouetted, staring out over the vast Serengeti.
Alive. Away. Together.
The image made me feel hopeful and warm, so I held onto it. #okay.
Can you even imagine?
Miryam waits before she wakes the children. She waits because the birds are not yet singing and nothing moves, not even the almond trees. She waits because she knows in their sleep they remain children, oblivious. She lets Kaleb and Sara linger there, drifting through whatever dreams they may be having. Good or bad, the dreams are their own.
When their eyes open, things will be different. Miryam will have to tell them their father died in the night. She will not tell them that he went away or that he went to sleep. She will not tell them that he might be all right, that he is sick and receiving treatment and in good hands. She will just sit them down, right beside her on the bed, Kaleb on her left and Sara on her right, and tell them that he died.
She will say these words: “Daddy died,” and then she will tell them that they will be okay.
She will say, over and over again, with increasing certainty, “We will be okay.” Just as if she knew it to be true. As if she could promise such things.
Before the birds, before the wind in the almond trees, before the opening of Miryam’s children’s eyes, the call to prayer:
Eşhedû en lâ ilâhe illallah
Eşhedû enne Muhammeden resulullah
Lâ ilahe illallah
God is Great
There is no god but God
Muhammed is the Prophet of God
Come to prayer
Come to salvation
God is Great
There is no god but God
The hollow echo of the muezzin blankets the town. It is time for Miryam to leave her room, to kiss her children awake, to watch their eyes open slowly, to take them by the same hands their father often held. It is time to tell them.
The night before his father died
the boy walked the living room floor in the hiking boots
they had held his father’s feet many times they had come
between his father’s solid feet
and the island
between his fleeting feet and
black lava the earth had thrown up long ago
over and over
toward rising and setting suns
under full moons
they had taken his father
to places where the island ends
and ocean begins to
appearing and disappearing
appearing and disappearing
over rusty rutted muddy paths
they knew his father’s tread
the shallow contour of his arches
they had memorized
the rhythm of his stride
days later they
gripped the boy’s feet they
came between his lonesome growing
his heavy heels
and the volcano
felt his tread
knew the difference
moved the boy into the crater
carried him down the barren trail
while all around the island
A couple emerged from the bus station on a sunday afternoon, blurry-eyed and creaky after sleeping through most of the long ride, glad to be off the bus. The quiet, broken only by the trickling of a fountain, was what the wife remarked on first. It was a shushing kind of quiet, a near-silence which suggested a church more than a city. The quiet compelled the wife to whisper her first impressions to the husband while they limped along together, slanting and sweating under the weight of their packs.
Tonight, after making love and showering, they would go to the bullfight. It would be their only opportunity during their short stay. The idea filled her with dread: the bull being punctured, teased, deliberately aggravated to the point of exhaustion, then impaled. The cheer of the crowd as the bull collapsed. The bravado of the matador. But she wanted her husband to be happy, so she told herself stories about the cultural significance, stories about the ritual and the dance, stories about the solemn parade of the dead bull through the streets, stories about reverent Sevillanos eating the meat of the fallen bull. She thought about Hemingway, of course. She considered the brutishness and also the beauty of life, and she steeled herself for the spectacle.
Before the bus had even pulled away from the station in Algeciras that morning, the wife’s head had slumped against the window and she’d begun dreaming. Something to do with a red, foil-wrapped package and someone telling her not to open it.
The wife had woken up only once during the five hour ride. She’d been deep in the fog of disorientation particular to travel. There was the initial jolt (“where am I?”), the subtle embarrassment at having fallen asleep in public, then a momentary yearning for the nearly-forgotten feel of her real bed. Their real bed, which still existed, as their children did, halfway around the world from where they were. During those few, semi-lucid minutes, the bus passed a huge silhouette of a black bull—-a billboard—-standing on a yellow hill. She tapped her husband lightly and his eyes opened halfway.
“Look. We’re in Spain,” she whispered. She watched his eyes close again, and soon hers closed too. She would never know if he’d seen the bull on the hill.
When the iPhone alarm had gone off at 5 am that same morning, the husband had groped for the light switch in the dark. After packing and dressing, they slipped out to roof patio of their riad to watch the sun rise over the Straight of Gibraltar. The wife sat at a table, sipping coffee, while the husband leaned over the bougainvillea-draped ledge, snapping pictures of the red sun moving up and over whitewashed merlons and serrated parapets. They remained there, taking it in, until they heard their taxi rumble up the cobbled street below. Then they threw on their packs and ran downstairs. They wanted to be sure to catch the first ferry out of Tangier that morning, to move on to the next chapter of their adventure. To leave Morocco and head to Spain.
As the cab rolled along, barely squeezing through the the tear-shaped, arabesque threshold, the wife looked back. An ache formed around her jaw and just below her heart. She already missed the labyrinth of hidden stairways, the confounding, meandering passages, the glimmer of light on the leaded-glass windows. She already missed the jingle of the coins in the hidden pocket of Sharif’s white kaftan, as he led them through the medina, as they snaked their way through the crowded souks. She vowed to remember the prayer rugs. She wanted to recall them readily, again and again, just as they were, draped over the high ledges, drying in the afternoon sun. She wanted to remember the wail of the muezzin at dawn, at midday, at sundown.
The wife craned her neck and kept her gaze fixed on the the fortressed kasbah until it receeded completely, until the driver turned left and headed towards the docks, where their ferry–“Baleària.com” painted boldly in blue on its hull–waited. At the docks, cranes and barges and trucks were already moving and lifting and bringing and taking. Men in fezzes and elaborate jellabas begged tourists to pick up one last memento. The husband had stopped, even though the wife had tried to pull him away. She kept walking, backing up slowly, watching him bargain. Finally, she watched her husband shake the old man’s hand. She watched the dark old man hand her husband the goat skin drum. A present for their son.
She shook her head.
“You’re going to have to carry that thing until we get home, you know,” she said.
Then she smiled and kissed him, and they boarded the ferry and crossed the Straight of Gibraltar.
“Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both gods and men…”
So much has changed and nothing has changed since the morning my husband last tapped on the bathroom door to say goodbye before he left for work. Since he last called me while I waited for the kids at the dentist, to check in (as he always did) to tell me he was heading for the beach.
So much and nothing has changed since I began to worry, since I called and called again. Since I drove through the falling night, heart beating, to Baldwin Beach to try to find him.
The bathroom door is still here.
The phone is still here.
The beach is still here.
Palms still blow in the strong afternoon trades. Waves continue to build over shifting trenches offshore at Baldwin. They continue to break hard on the sudden shore.
The night will come.
My heart will beat.
And he will still be gone.
Our children will laugh and cry, triumph and struggle and grow.
My heart will heal (my wabi sabi heart, it’s healing now. It is.).
And he will still be gone.
A whisper in the wild night wind, a cooling, breathing shadow in the midst of a relentless afternoon, the earthy smell of coming rain just after sunset.
And he will still be gone.
And he will still be here.
I’d like to say I learned it in Kindergarten, but the truth is: it’s not really that simple.
In Kindergarten, this kid named Sean Mosley grew fond of me. It was a creepy, grown-up style fond, a fondness which may have been dubbed “obsessive stalking”, had terms like that been bandied about in 1972.
Sean Mosley would sit by me on the school bus, even when I’d tell him not to, and regale me with tall tales about how he:
- Once scaled the Himalayas (“the highest mountains in the world!”)
- Tamed a bear and kept it as a pet
- Rode his bike to McDonald’s and back by himself (in ’72 the closest McDonald’s was about 20 miles up the I-5 in El Toro)
- Starred in a TV show that hadn’t come out yet.
“Marnie, is Sean coming to your house after school today for lunch?” our teacher, Mrs. Roman once asked me. Her angled brows and the rising trill in her voice nearly screaming “this sounds fishy!”.
My five-year-old “No!”couldn’t have been more visceral, more laden with disgust, more fraught with the absolute ill-fated hopelessness of Sean Mosley’s love.
Sean stood there, smiling, undaunted, taking in stride his banishment to the “Thinking Chair” (as if HE needed more time to think!) for cooking up the “after-school liaison” story.
Another time he rolled down the bus aisle, punching and wrestling another boy, yelling
I loathed this Sean Mosley.
I loathed him for his humiliating, unabashed idolatry of me. Me! Fellow Tall-Tale-Teller, Deeply-Challenged Shoe-Tie-er, Unwieldy-Scissor-User.
He didn’t even know me.
And, hello! I loved someone else.
I loved Kurt very, very much. Even though he was a first-class grump, hated the Wizard of Oz–my favorite movie of all time–called the Carpenters’ “Sing, Sing a Song” stupid and rolled his eyes while we all sang it–“La la la la la…la la la LA LA LA LAAAAAH”.
Kurt’s unapologetic curmudgeonliness made me love him even more. So much that, on the last day of school, I invited him to my 4th-of-July birthday party. I was terrified he wouldn’t come.
But he did come to my party at the park! He was my partner in the three-legged-race and we won. My prize was a pack of “Go-Fish” cards, a pack that I would never use, instantly imbued, as it was, with beatific light, a pack which remained on my pink dresser for a year to remind me of that perfect moment when we crossed the finish-line, legs tethered, spindly arms wrapped awkwardly around each others’ shoulders.
I never saw Sean Mosley again. He wasn’t invited to the party, of course. Looking back, I feel so sad for him. He was mostly likely emulating behavior he’d seen at home, or projecting that deep, mournful longing kids feel when they know they’re not getting what they need. Now I see that.
But I didn’t learn anything about real love in Kindergarten. Zilch. You know why? Because I was five.
I had yet to watch Helena and Hermia throw down in the woods or see Juliet off herself in a cell for the schmucky Romeo. I had 23 years to go until I’d finally understand that all I really needed to know about living and loving could be found within the burgundy binding of the Riverside Shakespeare.
I had no clue–back when I was five– that romantic love was inherently narcissistic, unreliable and potentially deadly, that true love wasn’t kids stuff. It wasn’t for teenagers and it wasn’t even Romantic. True love, it turns out, goes something like this:
My Mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfume there is more delight
Than in the breath from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet I well know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
When I got to know Shakespeare intimately, much, much later in life, I realized that his collected works not only represent the absolute apex of our insane patois of a language, but contained all the real, pragmatic advice we ever need to live an upright, moral, drama-free life.
Romeo and Juliet is not a love story. It’s not even a tale about prejudice and feuds. It’s about what happens when adults are complete fools and children mistake lust for love. It’s about why 13 year olds should totally not get married. It’s about why adults need to be steady, compassionate, smart guides for kids and quit getting caught up in immature, petty dramas which serve our own purposes. Romeo and Juliet are not in really in love. They don’t even know each other! Romeo pines for Rosaline, to whom he’d recently pledged his undying love, a mere two minutes before his eyes land on Juliet. The two of them are no better than Sean Mosley–attracted to the tragedy of doomed love. Or me–beatifying some grumpy dude who refused to “La la!!” with everyone else.
Juliet’s dad is abusive and about to marry her off to a stranger for cash. Romeo and Mercutio have a very “special” relationship. Here’s the bottom line: Marriage and true love is for real grown ups. Kids may dabble, but without the right adult guidance, they almost always end up pregnant, abandoned, in a doomed relationship or–in the best case scenario–forever tethered to something they once mistook for love. Or, in Romeo and Juliet’s case….you know….
They, and adults who behave like kids, might land a two-bit reality series, but it ain’t gonna turn out well.
Love is certainly not that. It’s complex, grounded, and often unromantic. It’s the long haul. It’s wrinkles and cellulite and getting the “second best bed”, it’s having the same person there–over and over, year after year–to share the same story with you. The part with the champagne-soaked dance at sunset, the part with the biopsy result, the part about losing your dad, the part with the crushing debt (…for death and money questions please press “2” for Hamlet, and “3” for Merchant of Venice), the part where you stood in your child’s empty room and cried, the part where you held onto each other for dear life.
I definitely didn’t get that in Kindergarten.