Photograph by Paul
I guess I should be grateful. Your efforts to stymie any sort of advances in environmentally friendly conveyance means that — encouraged by, I have no doubt, your close relationship with the oil industry — for the moment at least, gas is cheap. Last summer (for it’s autumn now, we can all agree on at least that much, unless time itself is now Fake News?) I was riding around the backcountry with my father, trying to help him string memories of my mother back together. That’s what I was there for. It had started as a secret but then, somewhere along the road, he began telling anyone and everyone, spilling out our sad fruit like a Thanksgiving centerpiece, arranging all the plastic morsels so they clustered picturesquely out of the horn of plenty in the middle of the table. The proctors at the museums. The waitresses in the diners. This is my daughter, he’d say, and we’re out here because her mother is dead. They’d look to me, these hapless repositories of some stranger’s sorrow, as if for an explanation or an apology. I stared back at them blankly. I was feverish and in pain, beginning to realize but not yet quite admitting (the health care system you’re about to make worse is already fragile, you see, and isn’t able to provide much for temp workers like me) that the boon I thought I’d be able to grant my father, the one gift I could give him on this forlorn trip that might cheer him, was no longer mine to give. My grasp slipping on that, I had no energy left with which to carve out a tidy excuse to these strangers. They could deal.
I guess I should be grateful. Thanks to the opioid epidemic you’ve done nothing to combat, news about it is rife to the point where even I, untouched by effects of that miasma creeping through our ranks, had read about it. It was an article on opioid addicts I thought of when I wobbled home on my bicycle the day before the roadtrip, sticking to public roads with lots of cars alongside the path. The article had talked about people overdosing in Best Buys and WalMarts, deliberately picking public places in which to take their next hit in order to increase the chances that they might be found, and saved. I was out here all alone, far from my husband (who had just visited, in fact) on a contract job, with tunnel vision and a dizziness I tried to attribute just to the heat. Still, I thought, take a cue from the addicts. Stay in public places in case you collapse. I spent the rest of the day in a freezer of a coffee shop, drinking water, leaching strength from the frigid temperatures and from the assurance that at least if I keeled over, someone might call an ambulance. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, because again—temp worker, not-great health insurance—my deductible is more than I currently possess in cash. And also, I wanted to believe it wasn’t necessary. That it was just the heat. That I still had gifts to give.
I guess I should be grateful. The way you’ve divided the country into oil and water and set us all on fire provided, at times, a respite for the people we met on the road. Something to talk about other than why we were out there. My father loathes you but enjoys playacting for oblivious audiences; he can do a great cantankerous old geezer and could occasionally be seduced down this path by a man in a Trump hat or someone standing next to a political sign along the road. He’d get them talking, and then sometimes to yelling, and it would distract him, for a time. Meanwhile I tried to stick to the air conditioning, and to take deep and measured breaths. I wanted to stop being dizzy. He had seen me avoid drinking at this place he’d been so proud to find—an artsy hipster establishment, definitely my kind of place under normal circumstances, and so unlike him that he’d clearly hunted it down for my benefit—and I’d felt like Little Foot refusing the pterodactyl’s last fruit, when I declined. I couldn’t drink. My body was on fire already; alcohol would not have improved the situation. Besides, I still had hope.
I hate Little Foot in that scene.
I guess I should be grateful. On the last day of our road trip, laden with pictures taken exactly where my mother had stood, filled with food eaten in exactly the same booths she had eaten in, he told me she would have been proud of me. I don’t know why; I don’t know what I had done to make her proud. I never got to hear, because I had to excuse myself to the bathroom to lose the grandchild, such as it was, that I thought I’d have been able to announce to him at the end of this sad trip. I had done the math. I had been right, but not right enough. The only gift I had left for him was gone.
I guess I should be grateful? Because a few days after that you started another of your innumerable petty wars of words, this time with a dictator bristling with nuclear weapons. A bloviating bully as unstable as you, and as pampered into believing in his own illustriousness as you. He sent everyone on this side of the ocean into paroxysms of worry and lip-biting trigonometry calculations, wondering if his promised nukes could in fact reach our shores. If they did, they’d reach me. I’m smack-dab in the middle of American Places To Hate, and even given NK’s propensity for exaggeration, if their missiles could indeed stay up, they’d hit me. They’d hit what would have been us.
But there is, of course, no us at the moment. Just me. And as the talk of war—the stuff of bad writing in bad video games and movies; lines like “diplomacy will continue until the first bomb drops,” for crying out loud—ramps up again, after a brief respite (?!) brought by the horrific devastation (by which you seem unmoved, of course) of hurricane after hurricane, I guess I should be grateful. For only having to worry about my own body. (My husband and relatives, after all, are all out of harm’s way, far to the east.) For not sowing that seed of worry—of hope, yes, but nowadays, of what has to also be a perpetual, throat-seizing source of terror, for the future ten years and five years and even a month from now—into my heart, into my family’s hearts. For bearing no gifts and leaving myself that much less rooted, through love, in a future you seem very intent on destroying in a pillar of flame and puerile name-calling. For losing a child who would have been born into what is, right now, a pretty ugly world, and one with an indeterminate shelf life at that.
I guess I should be grateful.
But, Mr. President? I’m not.