Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Letter to the dead

Dear Mom & Dad,

When I was a child, first becoming conscious of the world around me, it seems you did your best to shelter me from the worst of its horrors. I remember my first childhood terrors: fear of the dark, of the horrible monster which lived in my bedroom closet, of the unseen and unspeakable creatures which lived just on the other side of my bedroom windows at night. As I became older, the terrors came not from my imagination, but rather from the nightly news broadcasts you and I watched each evening: political assassinations, the growing, unceasing, daily count of the dead in Vietnam, protests in the U.S., more political assassinations, riots in the streets, shootings on college campuses, the burning of cities. It seemed like the entire world was exploding in fury and coming apart at the seams. Of course, you knew the answers to these problems. It was those people who questioned authority, those who were different, or dared to be different who were causing the problems. It was the “outside instigators” who were coming in to convince the blacks that they shouldn’t be complacent and be thankful for what they had, the Jews and Communists who were stirring up the problems. You sat in the comfort of your living room chairs and diagnosed the country’s problems each night as David and Chet told us what in the world had gone on that day. And you sheltered me from fears that these things could touch us (me). It only happened to those people, those people who didn’t follow the rules.

As each day turned into a month, each month turned into a year, seasons passed, worries, no, terrors grew within me. The war was going on and on, the death toll each night was growing. As we watched the evening news, you seemed to become angrier and angrier. Angry at those anti-war protestors, those who were burning their draft cards, those who were escaping to Canada, those who were burning the flag. I knew my day was approaching. What would I do? What could I do? Each passing year, each passing month, each passing day became a sentence of sorts, I felt I was living in a prison awaiting the final sentence to be delivered, death in a foreign jungle of which I knew little about and even less about why I would be there fighting –– except it was the “right” thing to do. Why was I so certain that death would be my fate? Because I was marked. I was different. I was one of those people you cursed about each night while watching the nightly news. I was the sissy, the boy who couldn’t throw or catch a ball in gym class, who couldn’t climb a rope, who couldn’t wrestle. It was my destiny.

In spite of this growing terror, this sense of impending doom, we were isolated from the violence we were witnessing. It was all happening on the other side of our television screen, not really effecting or touching us directly. Yes, we knew cousins who did not return home from Vietnam, or returned home missing limbs –– but they still weren’t “us.” And even when block after block of public housing and slums were burnt in Lancaster following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it was on the other side of town, that place were we need not go. The terror in the night, the monster in my closet, outside my bedroom window was revealed as real; that shelter you tried to create to shield me was splitting at the edges from the violence, terror, and horror of the world which could not be denied. However it remained in the closet, outside the window, on the other side of the television screen; it didn’t touch us, we could no longer deny its existence.

As the terrors increased around us, I became cognizant of future terror. I was trained well for this. From my first moments in institutional life, sitting on the floor in the basement of the elementary school with my back against the wall and my head lowered and covered with my arms for air raid drills in kindergarten to the duck and cover drills which would follow I learned that the world was inherently a dangerous place. Not dangerous in a way that you could prepare yourself for, or see coming – this danger, this terror would just fall from the sky and in an instant turn our bright sunny world into dark fire and brimstone. I was also becoming aware of a growing threat to the environment, mostly from the media. I wasn’t yet aware of Silent Spring, or able to connect the dots – you dismissed those concerns as foolish fantasy, harmless, na├»ve.

The real terror, the persistent daily concrete threat I faced each and every day paled in comparison to the imagined future and unseen threats which only touched me in my imagination; those threats and terrors which hid behind the door, outside the window, on the other side of the television screen where much more horrific than the daily constant abuse I suffered from my peers at school for being different and the constant berating and belittling I received at home from you. The terrors, the threats in my imagination could become as large or as horrific as my imagination would let them, they were unknown and would always multiply; the daily terrors, it seemed, at least had some semblance of boundaries, I was conversant with them.

The days went on, turning into months, the sixties ended, Nixon resigned, Saigon fell, I was becoming an adult. I began the process of realizing how wrong you were about so many many things. The threats, I now realized, weren’t from outside of the country, weren’t from the communists, or the Jews, or the blacks, they weren’t from the “other,’ they were from those who were supposed to be our guardians, those who were supposed to help us, to protect us, who lied to us, betrayed us, our leaders, they were from you.

The eighties ushered in new terrors, new horrors; horrors and terrors I now face as an adult. Horrors and terrors which touch me, which I could never discuss with you – it would have taken just too much effort to make you understand. Reagan, mo[u]rning in amerika, trickle down = homelessness, greed, AIDS – these terrors, these horrors can compare to the daily abuse I experienced as a child, they where/are concrete, not imagined. The real terror, the true horror is the apathy of amerika, of Reagan, of Bush, of Clinton, of Bush, of __________, of you, of the middle class, of the upper class, of the gays, of myself; all of us who wallow in the shit of our privilege. Yes, I am HIV positive. Yes, I have an AIDS diagnosis. I never told you this while you lived. Telling you was one more thing I didn’t need to deal with, I was dealing with enough already. I moved to San Francisco, to find a family, to get away from you. I found my family here. Most of my family who I found, who I loved, who loved me, are dead now. I remember how my family would come to my aid when I had nothing, showing up on our doorstep with groceries when we first moved here, Joe and I, and hadn’t yet found work. They fed us. They loved us. We loved them. They died the most horrible sudden deaths, brave men who even in death wiped our tears and told us everything would be alright. They cared for us and we cared for them. No one else would.

You, Mother, died in the eighties, The very day you died I was on a plane back home to help Dad. That was the best day of my life, I was free, finally free. You could no longer touch me, hurt me. No more was there the off chance that the phone would ring, and your voice would be on the other end to push my buttons you knew so well how to push, to belittle me; even as a man you could do that to me. For the first time in my life I truly felt, completely, like a man. Dad and I actually had a conversation. We had never done that before. He was free too, although he worshipped you in death, you who I know tormented him in life as you tormented me. He couldn’t wait to die after you left, he wanted to die, he told me. I helped him do as he wished.

I don’t know what happens after death. I know that Dad would stare at the clouds and imagine you, Mother, were up there and you could see all and know all now that you were dead. I have seen much death in my life, I have held lovers as they died, comforted them, stroked them during their last breaths, I have gotten the news over the phone, in the mail – oh, so many I have seem die. I think they are just gone. I think you are just gone. They, and you, only exist in our memories. That is our legacy, how the future remembers us. That is why I am so profoundly sad now. Our greed, our privilege, our uncaring, our judgements, our indifference, our shit is coming down on us. It is worse than communism, worse that black uprisings, worse that Vietnam, worse than greedy politicians, worse than AIDS, worse than 9-11, the worse blowback we have ever seen –there will be no more more now. Everything that humans have done, the good, the bad, everything will soon be gone. We have destroyed the only place we have to live, Mom and Dad. It is beautiful, fragile, our Mother and Father, wrapped up in one but we didn’t care. We only cared about ourselves. Now it is too late. I know this. I think everyone knows this to some degree or another, they must. It is over, done, we have gone beyond reparations. The world will go on without us humans, we will soon cease to exist.

The polar caps are melting at ever increasing rates, the faster they melt the more blue ocean is exposed which absorbs more heat which melts the ice faster, the seas are rising, the oceans are dying, seafood will soon it seems be only a luxury or a memory, gas prices are rising – meaning we are beginning to run out of oil for our sprawling society, we turn to corn for fuel (and packaging) and wheat prices go through the roof precipitating food riots around the world,. The weather is worsening, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 385 parts per million (scientific evidence suggests for life to be preserved on a planet similar to the one on which life developed we will need to reduce CO2 to at most 350 ppm), we’ve managed to melt enough portions of permafrost in the north to send huge quantities of methane pouring forth into the atmosphere, warming temperatures have introduced a foreign beetle into Canadian forests which have destroyed unprecedented areas of forestation; and the thing is, we are only stepping harder on the gas, pouring on more coal. When the system which is destroying us provides us with water from a tap and food from a grocery store there exists little incentive to change the system or to bring the system down.

I remember thinking, back during the mid-eighties, when the obituaries in the Bay Area Reporter were filling more and more pages each week, when more and more of my friends and family were dying every day, when the pain of all those deaths seemed more than I was able to bare, that maybe, just maybe, those men were the lucky ones. It is us who survive and live through the coming collapse who are the ones we should be crying for. And yet, here we are. Who is to blame? Who is in denial? Are the ones who yell for change in denial as much as those who bury their heads in the sand? All I know is I hate what I see. Nothing you tried to protect me from, nothing I could have imagined equals this. No one is guilty for we are all guilty. No one is innocent for we are all innocent. Soon it will be over, all of it, everything, civilization, art, architecture, war, death, AIDS, nothing matters. I fear the days to come.


Your loving son,
Woody

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