Monday, September 1, 2008
I couldn't put my finger on why why I felt so down until early Sunday evening. I even felt old, something I rarely feel, and thought of my late grandmother who passed away when I was eight.
I recall feeling puzzled years later when my mother said, "She was ready to go and I'm glad she did when she did. She said the world was getting worse. She could see the changes coming. The assassinations of Martin, Malcolm and Bobby, the riots, the Hippies, all this free love, sex, LSD, the [Vietnam] war, all of that, would have been too much for her to bear."
I didn't understand back then why social changes would have been so hard for her. I grew up with it, and thus, it was normal.
As a teen, I was lucky enough to see hard-fought battles won by We The People. The Vietnam War ended due to public pressure, women got equal rights in jobs, and blacks finally got Civil Rights. Sure, there was still many miles to go, but I could see progress.
Thus, fighting for rights, democracy, and humanity winning those fights was normal for me. I expected it to continue.
When I entered this new century on January 1, 2000 (or 2001 for you picky folks), I had a vision that this would finally be a century of peace. America had a balanced budget and better technology. The Reagan years bred wealth for many of us including myself, but it was based on cheap oil and mindless corporate greed and lawlessness that is now biting our economy in the ass.
September 11, 2001, was traumatic for me. On that morning, I had just arrived to work with my son, Xavier, who had just turned 13. He was out of school because he had a dentist appointment. We watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center on the reception area TV at my job. I worked only three miles from DC, and when the Pentagon was hit, I raced to my daughter's school to pick her up. I cried all the way home and off and on for the next several days.
Then came the anthrax scare. My mom wanted to visit downtown DC, so I took her and the kids. We walked over to the Capitol that sunny, Sunday afternoon, but it was closed for tourists. That was fine. I fussed with my daughter Casie, then five, to stop playing in the dirt next to the Capitol steps and made her rinse her hands off in a nearby fountain.
I think it was next day or two that anthrax powder was discovered in the Capitol and it was closed. That week Casie developed a strange rash on her hand, the same one that had been playfully scooping dirt.
Her pediatrician and I both wondered if this shit could have been sprinkled around the entrance and affected her. The medication for it is so strong that we took a chance it was just a rash and nothing more. Meanwhile at work, our staff psychiatrist said he wore gloves when he opened his mail - outside in his yard. Everyone was scared. A mailman became very ill and died. I'm a native Washingtonian, and felt sad for this brotha.
We began to see and hear military planes fly over our neighborhood. It was unnerving at night because the tv talked non-stop about terrorism.
Xavier began to descend into severe acting out behavior and hedonism. He became moody and combative if I tried to set even the mildest limits on his new lifestyle of skipping school, drinking, and using any kind of drug he could get his hands on.
"It don't matter," he said. "The world is falling apart. There won't be no world when I'm grown. Fuck it. I'm having fun until it's over."
My child had totally lost his mind. Once a week therapy was not helping. He had broken up so much shit that summer and acted so bad that I wondered if he was possessed. I even privately entertained the idea of finding a priest to do an exorcism on him after he acted just like that crazed kid in the movie, The Exorcist when I tried to drag him to church one Sunday.
For you parents who say, "give him consequences," yeah, sure, you try that and watch your big azzed boy push right past you and walk out the door. Then take away all his stuff as a consequence and watch him break up yours in retaliation, and have the cops tell you that since they didn't see it, they can't arrest him and then recommend therapy which he's already getting.
Ask the school system for help, and have them tell you he's not much of a problem there since he mainly sleeps on his desk and doesn't hassle the teachers or classmates.
Drag him kicking and screaming to juvenile services, but they tell you since he hasn't broken the law, they can't do a thing for you, other than recommend a group therapy for kids with drug problems, where he makes more friends to get high with.
Then watch him laugh at you and try to keep from hitting him upside his head because you know you'll end up with Child Protective Services up your ass for years and they'll threaten to take away not only him, but your well-behaved child who couldn't be more normal.
Raising him as a young adolescent male like this was a nightmare. I've said it before and will say it again: some boys become totally lost and damned hard to manage without a father in the home to keep them in check.
But finally, a ray of hope. Xavier had his first psychiatric hospitalization that following year. It was late August, 2002, and he had busted out my bedroom window with a trashcan and threatened to kill me when I tried to make him start the first day of 8th grade.
At first the police didn't want to take this seriously until I told him he had threatened to kill anyone in his path or himself if they tried to make him do anything. Only then did they haul his azz to the psych hospital.
It was the alcohol and sniffing inhalents that made him nuts, combined with all the foster care, adoption issues, and his coming of age awareness in this culture gone crazy as he searched for his identity. He was so oppositional and angry that he was still hospitalized in early October.
This was a blessing. Xavier missed the news and most of the drama of two assholes acting out his own video game fantasy of how to cope with normal problems.
On one October morning, I left home with my daughter to drive her school and then continue to work. The Sniper hit my area. Yeah, I'm talking about John Muhammed and the teen, Lee Malvo who accompanied him.
I recall the first day well. At the time, I lived off Georgia Ave in Maryland and would drive 14 miles south on it toward DC to my job. I was one of those idiots who would stop at Star Bucks each morning and pay $3.50 for a large Mocha Frappuccino. I liked the ones they made at Leisure World the best and the lines were shorter.
That morning, however, I had to return a movie video in another location near my home, so rather than be late for work, I went to their Starbucks. This saved me and my daughter from the trauma of seeing, or maybe being victims, to the murder at Leisure World.
As I drove in that direction, I heard a zillion police cars and they were heading to my favorite coffee shop where I would have been had it not been for the movie return.
Those mofos hit nearly every place I got to on that day and week, including the Post Office located on the side street of the K-Mart. They killed a bus driver there. They also murdered someone at the then-new Shoppers Food Warehouse in the evening as I drove home. This was really brazen - it's right across from the police station. People left flowers in the grocery parking lot. Once in awhile I think about this when I shop there, and in fact, bought groceries there yesterday evening.
They also killed someone at a gas station off Georgia Ave where I don't refuel, but it was scary as hell pumping gas anywhere in my area. I'd make my young daughter lay down in the car so she wouldn't be a target. She seemed to think it was a bit of game but would also peep up while I pumped, with me fussing, "put your head down!" I was hardly the only parent doing this.
I later found out they'd shot a bullet in the old Michael's Craft & Art Store the day before their first murder, also where I was a frequent customer.
Xavier was shocked to learn about the carnage in our community when he was released from the hospital. Even he wondered if whatever evil that tried to get him couldn't since he'd been locked up and medicated, and instead moved on Lee Malvo, the luckless and just as confused teenager. It was a sobering thought. Xavier finished the rest of his 8th grade without significant problems until he hooked up with run of the mill bad boys the following summer.
Long before then, the police finally caught these creeps, but the military planes and jets continued to fly all over the area as Bush got ready for war. I hated listening to them at night.
On March 19, 2003, Bush took our country back into barbarism with his shock and awe, pre-emptive attack on Bahgdad. Me and Xavier watched the news in awe. Casie, only 7, just watched.
I knew Bush was trigger happy because I believed Hans Blix, the UN guy who said they found no weapons of mass destruction, but our Prez bombed Iraq anyway. At the same time, I was scared. What if Blix was wrong? What if Saddam did have WMDs? Wouldn't he retaliate and use them us?
I packed up the kids and drove to Disney World - only for us to see a military helicopter with a well-armed soldier half-way hanging out right over the entrance to one of the parks or the on-site hotel we were checking into. He had friggin' uzi or AK or whatever that scary shit is they carry. It would have made a great photo, and I cursed that my camera was in the trunk. At the same time, I wondered, WTF? Is there no escape from this shit?
In September 2005, I had a fit watching our government neglect the Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans for nearly a week and see, hear, and read the reports of much of this appeared deliberate in the thwarting of help for these people. They were being treated more like criminals than citizens who needed help, and the lock n' load mentality of some officials and the racist media reporting of this was revolting.
I still ain't got over it.
Now it's years later. My son turns 20 this month. He's got issues galore, but he's no longer insane, and other than smoking a little weed with his friends, he hasn't touched hard drugs since leaving rehab almost two years ago.
My daughter just started high school. I think her way of coping with social madness has been to throw herself into her studies. I have never once had to ask her to do homework in her life. Not one time. She skipped a grade in elementary school and has been on the honor roll since the 5th.
But she's cool. Not as in hip, trendy, fashionable, stylish cool, but cool like Barack in temperament. She grew up watching my soft heart cry over 9/11, freak out over anthrax, be extremely protective and worried about the sniper, anxious over the US invasion of Iraq, and furious over Hurricane Katrina.
On a personal family level, she's watched my heartbreak and anger over terrible racism on one job, her brother's descent into mental illness, and like him, was with me when we rushed to her grandmother's place and saw the ambulance carry away Grandma kicking and yelling in protest for what would be the last time.
My mama always said she never wanted to leave her apartment 'feet first' in a stretcher. Fortunately, she died peacefully a few days later in the hospital. She didn't even know she was gonna die that day. She was very happy and looking forward to another family visit from us, and expected to be released soon. She suddenly got sleepy, rested her head, and died. She looked happy in death.
When we arrived, she was gone but her body was still warm. This was the first time Casie cried since she was a little girl. She was stoic about it though. She asked to be alone with Grandma, and after ten minutes, joined Xavier and I in the hallway. It was then that I saw her tears. This was the last time I saw her cry.
We lost my father earlier that year but she wasn't close to him, and luckily wasn't with me when he painfully gurgled out his last breath.
Somehow my daughter mastered the art of emotional detachment so she can enjoy her childhood and academically achieve. On the surface this looks great, but I wonder if one day she'll become a 'kaboom' kid. On the other hand, she may be well prepared for whatever chaos lies in the future.
The phrase cognitive dissonance finally snapped into my mind late yesterday. Cognitive dissonance is a psychology word. A person is stressed because they have two very different beliefs or contradictory ideas. George Orwell, the author of 1984, called it doublethink.
You see, I came of age amidst social unrest, but I saw progress. I keep looking for signs of it but other the possibility of Barack Obama becoming the next President, see none. I believe in progress, but it's feeling more like I'm mistaking magic for the real thing.
I've watched us go backwards since 2001 and descend into a dark, near-dictatorship where lies are routinely told and the media - our only news source - collaborates with them. News is so critical because if people don't know what is going on, they can't stop it or demand a different course of action.
As many of the so-called conspiracy theories have turned out to be true or at least provable if we could ever get the major players in a trial, the media continues to minimize, lie or deny the obvious when it suits them.
All they've talked about for the past few weeks is the elections and now Hurricane Gustav, as though more bank failures, our rapidly dying economy or our relationship with Russia or Iran doesn't matter. Were it not for the international news, alternative news sites and bloggers, there's a whole lot of stuff we wouldn't know about.
I, like many others, keep expecting something to give way and be different. Instead it's more of the same. I'm not even certain that much will change for the better with Obama in office because so much damage has been done, and he's also made some compromises, like to the 4th Amendment by supporting FISA, and that doesn't bode well for us.
My daughter has no cognitive dissonance. She grew up seeing the worst and never expects anything to be different, and thinks I'm a sucker every time I get hopeful. She's a hard-eyed realist - without the cynicism - more than I could ever dream to be. The world is what it is, and she expects no more or less from it, or the people in charge.
My son fronts like he's a straight up gangsta, but is really soft inside like me. He grew up on Disney, Aesop's Fables, nature, animals, and happy music to dance by. He's so soft that a baby squirrel allowed him to hold it and play with it this summer. Just him. No one else. Squirrels, as you know, are assholes if you try to touch them.
Animals trust him, except my current or previous dog when he's going off in a rage over some silly-assed thing. Then they'll let me know by growling or barking at him. Otherwise, Xavier has a knack with horses too. By his second day of horse camp a few years ago, he was riding that baby like he'd been doing it all his life.
The rug of idealism many of us stand on was pulled from under Xavier at age 13 on 9/11, and his flight into pleasure-seeking and feeling powerless to make something of his life is a symptom of this.
I wonder if these very different reactions in each of my kids is common among the youth in our country, i.e., they are either over-achieving or have fallen apart and given up. Nearly half don't even care enough to finish high school.
Tonight I'm trying to hang onto my belief in progress and hope that all the bad will reverse course, but with so damn little evidence of this, I find myself wondering if it's time to put that dream away...
Posted by Kit (Keep It Trill) at 12:06 AM