I was inspired by your compulsive book-ordering on my behalf, and did some compulsive shoplifting on your behalf. I got you this sweater- I like the color, and it’s very soft. I got myself a pin-stripe button-down with narrow bands of the same vivid blue, they’re both from the same cheap store so they might fade with time, but for now they seem perfect. I also got you this- can you believe they had a book of Victorian lesbian erotica at goddam B&N? I know you like Victorian lesbian erotica and wasn’t sure if you had this book already, but knew that if you didn’t, you would appreciate it. After my “shopping” I ate a cup of over-priced icecream and watched the cars glint in the sunshine, looked down at my wingtips, wanting polish, so scuffed they’re almost blue. I wasn’t impressed by the icecream or the cars and so I straddled my bike and rode to the lake, looking for something better, older, more nourishing. I felt a sort of anger at the bike-path, so covered in fall leaves it was like riding through a bowl of cornflakes. No one, it seems, outside of Portland, has much respect for bicycling as a valid form of transportation, and so they don’t bother to clear the bike paths.
At the lake all the foliage was on fire. I pushed my bike through the woods and dropped it, crackling, into the leaves, next to a large oak tree, the ground covered with moss. The sun, this late in the year, still warms me- for better or worse. I sat and watched the lake, a squirrel flicked its tail and made a sort of purring noise, a barred owl called out across the water. (Who cooks for you! Who! Who cooks for you!) I opened the book of Victorian lesbian erotica I got for you and wrapped a wool scarf around my neck, a sort of gray hounds-tooth cashmere- I would’ve liked it to be the same vivid blue as your sweater but I am leaving to travel west again, in ten days, and I needed a color that will match the train. I read a story in the book and found that I liked it- not because it was hot- it was more lukewarm than anything- but because it was such a curiosity. And the strange typos and obsolete language had me believing it was real- pulled from underground publications of the 19th century, like the introduction claimed.
I rode home under the half-moon (because it gets dark at 5:30 now) and got frustrated at a busy intersection- alone at the signal, the light would not detect my small bicycle. The light across from me, backed up with cars, changed green, red, green again, while mine stayed red. Meanwhile, the road in front of me was solid with rush-hour traffic, no way to cross against the light. And not even a metal pedestrian button to punch. Finally a few cars joined me in the lane and my light changed- and was so short I hadn’t even made it across the intersection when it turned red again, and it was only through the grace of waiting traffic that I didn’t get hit. The whole experience made me furious. So angry I wanted to scream at someone. And it’s not just biking, it’s not just the concrete- it’s also, in a way, a sort of emotional aftermath of the presidential election. For the first time in my life, the other day, I felt a sort of hope for my country- I felt for the first time, in fact, that I belonged to a country at all. It’s as if I’d been living in a sea of my own making, while a political storm blew itself out overhead; a storm as removed from me as the clouds, as untouchable as a hurricane- nothing to do but duck and wait it out, or leave. Friends have come and gone as activists, small boats riding the surface, edging closer to the storm, sucked into its eye and torn to wooden shreds. I have always chosen to stay below- it’s too big, it’s too powerful, it’s too out of control.
And then, it’s as if a piece of paper was dropped to me on a length of fishing line, way down deep where I was hiding, making my weird way like a black bear in the forest. A note, and the note said some of the things that I had never admitted to myself I wanted to hear- the note used words I could understand, it used language that made sense to me, as if it was coming from a real human being, of flesh and blood, a human being who cried salt tears and felt, for once, a sort of empathy. I knew where the note was coming from- it was coming from the storm above- still as distant, still as out of control- but somehow the note had reached me, and I couldn’t help but read it. Before I knew it a crack had opened in my heart, and seawater rushed in, and suddenly, it was me up there- exposed, on the surface, facing the full terrible weight of the storm- somehow, suddenly, it was me.
And when morning came, the world hadn’t, after all, changed. To the contrary, the election had brought the worst of the racist, fear-driven bigots out of the closet, and I suddenly felt exposed and oppressed and afraid in a way I’d never experienced. Not only were we still living under the same terrible time-bomb of a system, but now the wealthier and more close-minded half of the country was seething, roiling mad, whereas before (when gas was cheap and war was plentiful) they’d been quietly placated, almost hypnotized with content.
I was on the surface now. Shopping centers sprawled, lights stayed red for bicycles, television commercials sold horrible toxic shit. Everything, of course, was the same. I had been tricked. Somehow, for a moment, I had been tricked.
It made me seething, raging mad. It made me want to scream at cars, throw rocks for no reason. It made me want to set fire to shopping centers, burn them to the ground to see what sorts of weeds might grow up in the blackened rubble. It made me want to tear up concrete, freeing the animal trails below. It made me want to shout at families, just getting home from the day, with McCain signs still in their yards-
ARE YOU THE ENEMY? ARE YOU THE ENEMY? ARE YOU THE ENEMY?