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But So What?

I’m Obnoxious

by MISSY COMLEY BEATTIE

By the time you read this, I may have a grandson. May be on my way to spend a week with him. I’m excited yet anxious, thinking of years ago and the way I felt when I was pregnant, unconcerned with gender, caring only about a healthy baby.

Now, the worries are wider.

Where I live, you can’t spit without hitting a Prius. And most of the bumpers display an Obama sticker, a peace symbol, and an anti-fracking message.

One afternoon last week, my neighbor D came over. With a friend and a bottle of wine. I said, “It’s too early to drink.”

D asked, “When do you start?”

I looked at the time on my computer screen and said, “Two forty-three.”

After one glass of red, I knew I was talking too much. Blathering on about injustice. D tipped the bottle above my goblet, pouring a second. When she lifted it to land a third, I shook my head no.

Suddenly, I had to ratchet up about being unable to vote for the lesser of two evils. Next thing I knew, D’d reloaded my wine glass, skillfully, while I was distracted. I pressed on about the illusion of choice, those small baubles we’re offered, like cellphone plans and TV and Netflix menus, pathetic nods to freedom.

Oh, dear, I felt terrible the next day. Not just from the hangover but knowing I’d been obnoxious.

A few evenings later, D requested my presence. I couldn’t believe it. Thought there might be method to her invitation—to exhibit me as some specimen, the person who never shuts the Grandma Fletcher up. I made a silent vow to behave, practice restraint.

As soon as I entered D’s condo, I recognized a couple I’d met at a pre-theater cocktail party months ago. Back then, they’d discussed their activism at Moral Mondays in Raleigh, protesting the conservatism of Gov. Pat McCrory. I wasn’t sure I could maintain allegiance to that vow I’d just made. I longed to say something innocuous, such as, “Yes, I remember you.” And then, if there were a pause, “How long have you lived here?”

But there was no lull. Because almost immediately one of them mentioned seeing me at a Moral Mondays rally. Yes, I’d gone, at the urging and in the company of my son, when I first moved to NC. Then this very nice man said he and his wife had attended the large, recent event held on Saturday to denounce the policies of the Republican-controlled state government. I smiled. Then blurted that my rallying, protesting, marching, holding signs, holding hands, and candlelight vigil-ing had achieved nada. Not only have I accomplished nothing for peace and justice, and how naïve I was to think I could, US foreign and domestic policy have become even more repressive.

There I was, at it again, no control, as I yapped on about the influence of multinational corporations whose voice is louder than ours, even if we amass in large numbers to shout that the status quo is intolerable. Yammered on about politicians, the twinning mainstream parties, the Koch brothers, and Art Pope. Blah, blah, blah-ing that Pope used his uber-wealth to deliver a draconian blah, blah, blah to NC and that no state is protected from this. But I didn’t stop there. I had to yap more with the why-I-won’t-vote explanation—that the system’s corrupt and to vote is participating in corruption.

Then, when I was asked my opinion of Elizabeth Warren, I said, “She supports the Israel Lobby.”

This, after only one drink.

It’s embarrassing. For many reasons but especially since I don’t have a solution. I just bitch. And I’m conflicted. Really. I have friends who adamantly disagree with me, who organize and risk arrest in pursuit of justice. If one of them called tomorrow and asked me to join her or him at a demonstration, I actually might go. Even though I know that politicians exploit these protests by saying, “Look, here’s an example of dissent. This is democracy in action.”

When I left D’s and walked across the hall to my place, I said, “You have to stop this wretchedness, accept the decisions others make about their own contributions.” Talking to myself.

I imagine my grandson, his innocence, my wanting to protect him forever, this child I will love with all my heart. I think of that look between parents, an expression so joyous, so electric, it sparkles. I’ll see this soon, feel it.

But I’m thinking too about mothers and fathers who’re waiting the arrival of a baby, worried about the effects of US WMD, DNA-changing depleted uranium, worrying that schools, homes, and playgrounds are battlefields. And I’m ashamed—ashamed that I am incompetent to do anything except express frustration with such intensity I’ve become un-fun.

I wonder too if my grandson will look at me when he’s old enough to comprehend, when I’m diatribe-ing, and say, “Shut the Grandma Fletcher up, Grandma Fletcher.”

Missy Comley Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Baltimore. Email: missybeat@gmail.com.