It’s summertime but the living feels too urgent. There’s something heavy about the air; humidity and fear, the sweat of not knowing.
You can see the heat radiating from the rocks and loose gravel as you drive up the makeshift rows in the stony parking lot at Harriman State Park in New York’s Hudson Valley. The sun sits high in the sky, looming over the proceedings like both judge and executioner.
My wife sits next to me, seven months pregnant, looking off at nothing in particular. My three-year old son is in the car seat in the back blithely singing “Weeeeee aaaaall live in a yellow submarine…a yellow submarine…a yellow submarine. Weeeeee aaaaall live in a…”
I park our 2018 Nissan Rogue in a vast sea of diversity: 2017 Nissan Rogues, 2019 Nissan Rogues, and the like. Stepping out of my air-conditioned safe space I walk around the back of the car to get my son. I steal a quick glance at the entrance, a gate with a picnic tent manned by young volunteers. Normally I’d visually estimate the wait, then ration my outrage over the inconvenience so I can complain about it until the moment we get in. But these are not normal times, and that’s not what I was scanning for.
I hear the rhythmic thump of drums. I feel my heartbeat. A demonstration of a tribal ceremony and ritual dance is starting.
I’m pushing the stroller, my son munches gluten-free Chex, his Nathan’s Hot Dogs promo NY Mets hat slightly askew. My wife trails about ten feet behind, her hands on her hips, her face in the quintessential I’m Very Pregnant and It’s August in the Northeast expression.
The drumming gets louder. A white woman asks a man in full tribal ceremonial dress to take a picture, like Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. “I’m gonna need this then,” he says gruffly, sticking the donation bucket in front her, his expressionless face conveying more than a smile ever could.
More drums. My eyes scan the length of the line, drinking in every noteworthy detail about the other people coming in to this annual Native American cultural event. What are people wearing? Are there any white men coming in alone? Does anyone look nervous?
We pay, don our wristbands, and we’re in.
“Let’s take a walk over to the lemonade stand,” I say pointing to the food and drink area in the back. We weave through lines of people congregating at vendor tents and in the center where the tribal procession is now in full swing. I want to get some cold drinks and find a shady spot to set up our chairs.
I look for trees. I look for exits. I look for proximity to the restrooms. I look for exits. I look for a good spot to see the dancing and festivities. But mostly I look for exits.
The emcee leads everyone in honoring those who have fought:
Let’s have an ovation for the veterans of World War II [cheers] …How about for those who served in Korea [a few cheers]…Now all our Vietnam veterans [loud cheers]…How about Grenada? [a few cheers]… Now let’s see our Desert Storm vets [cheers]… Alright, now for Afghanistan [loud cheers]…And the War on Iraq [loud cheers]…. Now our peacetime veterans [cheers]…
And now for the veterans of the countless Native struggles in defense of our lands, our water, our culture [loud cheers].
And now, for all those who never came home, who gave the supreme sacrifice. [loud cheers]
My son is eating cotton candy. My wife is eating ice cubes. And I’m estimating how many innocent people have been killed by the US war machine in my own lifetime. I’m wondering what a “supreme sacrifice” really is.
Is the man who takes a bullet for his country really any more heroic than the man whose head is blown off trying to save 79 cents on toilet paper at a Walmart in El Paso? Maybe neither are heroes. Maybe they’re both victims of the same disease.
There’s no internet or phone reception here, but somehow I don’t feel disconnected at all, as if the tweets are now beaming directly into my cerebral cortex. I ask myself if I’m the only one who feels that way. No one replies. No one retweets.
A group of Redrum bikers walk past. Their tribal symbols, open expressions of indigenous pride and consciousness, and non-white skin make it clear that this isn’t exactly a Bikers for Trump gang.
I think of “The Shining” and murder, of blood, and of genocide. I think of resistance, and how a people can survive every effort to exterminate them, including those efforts ongoing today. I think of Standing Rock; of Mauna Kea; of Puerto Rico.
But mostly I think of my son. I think of what I want him to know about this country, this society, this world I’ve brought him into. I think of rising seas drowning his children, and of a future fascist regime rounding up and separating his family the way the current one does to families whose misfortune was being born with the wrong skin color in the wrong country.
Now I’m sliding deeper, it’s getting darker.
I look at my son in the stroller in front of me. He smiles and holds up the cotton candy in his hand as if he’s come in from a great hunt to show off his achievement. But I’m not living this moment, I’m living in what could be the next moment.
Suddenly I’m grabbing him and holding him close to my chest as we run. He’s screaming and I’m running. Everyone is running, everyone is screaming. But I don’t hear anything at all, just the sound of drums in my chest as I run. I feel wet and look down to see my son’s head in pieces in my arms.
I die in that moment. Not that I’m shot and fall to the ground and bleed to death. But everything is over. There would be no life after that. I could not, and would not, want to survive. There would be nothing. It would be death, as immediate as if it were a bullet in my brain.
“What’s wrong?” my wife asks, snapping me out of it. “Nothing, I’m fine” I say, as I always do.
We’re walking in the parking lot again. It’s even hotter now. No choice but to keep moving forward.
“Daddy?” he asks.
“Yeah, Booba?” I say.
“Can we sing a song?”
“Of course, we can.”
We sing as we walk. I look at my son. I look at my wife and my unborn son in her belly. And I think of escape, of freedom and safety.
I think just how nice it would be to leave this Shithole Country, to save my family from this terminally sick society.
But more than anything I think of the darkness of this storm. Of sailing up to the sun and finding a sea of green. Of wishing, more than anything, that we could live beneath the waves in our yellow submarine.