like leftover trees
after Christmas joy is gone
this is our country
like leftover trees
after Christmas joy is gone
this is our country
Mythili is eight. She’s named after an amazing woman who speaks three languages with the fluency of a native speaker, two of which my Mythili will never know.
I came home a bit early tonight. My oldest, Isabella, named after my sister, walked the eight blocks necessary to meet me after tutoring so we could find her some semi-leather boots that match mine. Isabella is almost ten. She can just about fit into half of my clothes and has a much keener sense of fashion than me. I don’t know how I’d shop without her.
I was home early tonight because my life revolves around cancellations. Cancel the job I’ve loved and lived for for seven years. Cancel the program for which I sacrificed everything. Cancel my private English tutoring sessions on a weekly basis, because for you it is a bonus, a brief education. For me? Just another cancellation of my semi-automatic life.
Time is money. I say this now because cancellations can be golden.
These are the words I heard tonight, as Mythili voluntarily read books to her baby sister:
“Mama, did you realize the Statue of Liberty was built in 1826?” (Isabella)
(Mythili from other room): “1886, I read 1886!”
(Me, in same moment, recalling the specific childhood memory: 1986. Age eight. Trip planned to New York City for grand celebration of one hundredth anniversary [July 4, 1986] of said statue. Mother and father holding my hands in their hands to break to me: “We’re going to have to cancel this trip. Your surgery is scheduled for that week.”)
“Isabella, it was 1886.”
Riona, the Irish queen, as diplomatic as her regal name: “Mythili, where are those boats going?”
“They’re trying to get the best view of the statue. Remember this summer, at Jimmy’s house, we were on the mainland? But then we took the boat from one island to another to get the best view? Remember, Riona? They built the statue on an island.” (She refers to our summer trip, my cousin Jimmy’s house in New Jersey, the pain of my most recent Spanish cancellation so painfully present that the Staten Island free ferry was the only possible way to see Lady Liberty).
This is why we are here. In five years, they will read about the Romans. They will say, “Remember when we went to the Roman theatre in Cartagena?”
They will study Druids. “Remember when we visited Stonehenge?”
They will chew paella. “Remember the gambas?
They will be these small children, grown so grand, their life filled with cancellations. They will remember their parents’ hands on theirs, age eight. How they loved and hated Spain. How they cried, laughed, lived.
They will remember.
We went to the mall today. Packed with shoppers. We almost never buy anything there other than a shake that we all share from Chik-Fil-A. We take the girls to play on the little play area and peruse the puppies in Pet City and to kill an afternoon without spending more than $5. Isabella had to go to the bathroom and suddenly we were in the back of Macy’s when we started looking at all the nice leather sectionals that were $2000. “When we get our tax return,” Bruce joked. Who has $2000 to spend on one piece of furniture? And that was the sale price, the Presidents’ Day sale.
We started walking out and the girls examined the plate sets, the men’s shirts, the towels and sheets. “Hey, this isn’t the mall, this is like a regular store!” Isabella announced, having never really been inside one there before. Everything was on sale, we could have got some real deals, $20 dress shirts instead of $40, a $15 lingerie Valentine set, already marked down the day after. All because… because why?
Why do we have the day off today? Have we all forgotten? Here we are stuffing ourselves with fast food concoctions and filling our shopping bags with sale items and doing anything but taking a moment to realize why this is a federal holiday. This is the typical American interpretation of a holiday: consumerism.
I’m sure Lincoln and Washington are turning over in their graves right now. What were they fighting for anyway? What have we forgotten in the course of 230 years? Is this really what freedom and equal rights and human sacrifice have all amounted to? A winter clearance of coats and boots in every store countrywide?
Sometimes I ask myself, what has this country come to? How is it that the things that sustain us—the buying and selling of goods—are the same things that destroy us? How can we simultaneously prevent and prepare for a recession, just as Einstein once asked the same question about war?
When I buy anything, I am wrought with guilt. I think about the person in China who made my product and a hundred others like it for a dollar a day. Instantaneously, I think of the store-owners and employees who will be out of work if I don’t buy more. I think of the destruction of natural resources from the production of each item. And I think of how spoiled we all are, how we think we need more than what we need, and how my children’s future will be impacted by this.
But today, as I witnessed sale after sale in honor of Presidents’ Day, all I could think about were arguably the two most influential presidents of all time and their idea of the American Dream. Did Washington read the Declaration of Independence to his suffering troops during the winter at Valley Forge, did Lincoln sign the Emancipation Proclamation and take the first step towards equality, for us to save a few bucks and add to the debt and environmental nightmare that we’ve been swimming in for years? And if this is how we honor our presidents, the leaders of this great nation, where is our country headed?
I can’t answer that question. I can only reach out and take my girls’ hands and lead them out of the mall. Perhaps this is the first and most important step to guiding the next generation in the direction of the real American Dream: the dream our presidents had, once. The one about freedom. Not consumerism.
oh, this is boring to you?
you would rather we not watch this video?
I would like to see your friends taken away
one by one
only for you to discover the gaseous
infusions that steal the air from their lungs
after weeks, months, years
without more than gruel to eat,
whips on backs,
and no parents to cry to
(they are already gone)
boring, you say?
because you are so busy
sneaking to the restroom
to slip in a text, send a photo,
and check on your layers of makeup,
to be sure your revived 80’s
leggings look just right under the
mini skirt that barely covers your ass?
let me apologize.
I didn’t mean to plan six weeks
of lessons about tolerance,
and revelations of truth
that should shock you to the core.
what I meant to do was
strip you of your identity,
call you names that only Satan would repeat,
demoralize you in front of your peers and the world,
and murder every person you’ve ever loved.
then maybe, just maybe,
you might come into my class,
sit quietly in your seat,
be grateful for every carefree moment
you’ve been handed by the
generations before you who were not carefree,
and let the tears that have been hiding inside you
slide down your cheeks.