Calm Amid Its Rage

2012.136.430.2“How are you?”

“Just living the national nightmare,” I say.  Everyone finds it charming.

Wednesday morning, I said, “Are you okay?” to someone, and she said, “Oh, I’m fine, I would’ve been upset if Hillary won, too.  I’ve followed that Benghazi stuff pretty closely.”

“Oh,” I said.  It’s okay to vote for a demagogue if his opponent has been attacked by her political enemies, see?

When I got on the subway and imagined everyone being dragged off, everyone except me, of course, just the Jews and the immigrants and the dangerous black people, which was everyone on the train except for me.

This was histrionic.  Was it?  What else was there to wait for, exactly?  Years ago, I took a class on the Holocaust.  Economically struggling people, scapegoating, “he doesn’t mean it.”  This is what I had been told, begged, to understand and remember and respect and guard against.

Many people were, at best, reckless with their vote.

I spent all of Saturday watching Netflix.  I took refuge in “The Crown,” and hour after hour of Queen Elizabeth’s problems.  I coaxed myself to eat with Ritz crackers.

I had been invited to a party.  I was supposed to bring a dish that reminded me of home.  I baked brownies and mixed up mint icing.  This is what my family has on Christmas and Easter.  I don’t know why.

I got dressed, buckled high heels and drew on red lipstick and set perfume at my neck.  This what I do when I feel awful.  I walked up brownstone steps, and a friend hugged me and let me in, and I thanked him for inviting me.  There was art as warm and buoyant as he is, and everyone there was some kind of artist or teacher.  All the years I felt so strange and silly, being an artist, here it is so natural and normal, it is such a pleasure.

Part of our evening was making art, drawing, paints, cardboard.  I sat and built a little house with blue and red wallpapered walls.  Cut out windows, a door.

In one way, I felt completely at home.

Then someone played “Home on the Range,” and I knew  I would only be at home at a French restaurant in Kansas City with three of my friends, where we’d eaten and drunk together a million times, that was home, there, with them, who knew exactly the way I was wacky and dumb and charming and how I could be trusted and how I couldn’t, exactly the ways I could be cruel and kind.  That was my only home, and I had given it up, and I never knew why.

I went to the dessert table and heard someone innocently say the brownie icing was very minty, not knowing I had minted the brownies myself.  I wanted to die, and then kill him, like any reasonable person would when someone said her brownies were minty.  How minty should they be?  How minty?

I went up to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror.  No more wine.  Go home.  Go to bed.  I got my coat from a bedroom, and saw text from my family singing “Happy Birthday” to my stepmom, which overwhelmed me with sadness again.

I went back downstairs, said good night to my host, and he gave me a hug and thanked him again, and again I was happy to know him.  It was good to be out, with art and people and kindness, even if I was a little too crazy to be out.  If I waited to be completely okay to go out, I’d end up a maiden in a tower.

The sermon the next morning began with the priest saying, “Whiskey, tango, foxtrot.”  And then it was about how we had to move into contemplative prayer until we were calm.  We had to work to let Jesus calm us because people needed us, and we needed each other, and we could only work from Jesus’ calm, not from anger or fear.  I cried.

We sang, “Oh hear us when we cry to thee for those in peril on the sea.”

We prayed, “We give you thanks for women and girls.  We will honor their integrity and work for their full equality.”

We sang “America!  God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood.”

For some reason, I’m not blaming God for this, though I may change my mind.

Unless it is terribly cold, I walk through Battery Park on my way back to the subway.  Today it isn’t terribly cold, just cold, and sunny.  Young people in day-glo vests ask you if you are going to the Statue of Liberty.  The portrait artists were set up, the people who sell the t-shirts and the signs that say things like, “Wine: how classy people get wasted.”  I walked past a restaurant playing, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” and a little kid said, “It’s not even Thanksgiving!”

The statue was out there, like usual, and Ellis Island.  I don’t know where I expect she would go.  Just past the statue are the huge freight cranes of the Staten Island piers.  I always wish the cranes were not there, I always think they are ruining the view.

I still am confused by the sea air, I am not used to living on the edge of the continent, maybe I never will be.  The sea air, spray of tangy fishy and mild salty, blows in on our island, summer and winter.  I always thought water was only for summer.

Image: “Water, a ship at sea during a storm, from ‘The four elements’,” Stefano della Bella, Metropolitan Museum of Art.



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