Day 81: Monday, June 1
I spend the day laying the last of my walkways. Scraping up last year’s straw from a pile in my driveway. I fix the clothesline that snapped in the wind. But whenever I come inside I check the news. I feel both shame and sadness.
Day 82: Tuesday, June 2
Two nights ago Eric woke up in the middle of the night with something painful in his eye. I spent 15-20 minutes in the bathroom trying to squirt saline into his clenched lids. Sunday we sanded a metal shelf and he’s certain part of it is now lodged in his eye. We can’t get it out but we get it to the point where it’s no longer painful and he falls asleep. It dislodges the next day.
Tonight I’m the one who wakes in the middle of the night. While maneuvering my way through the dark to the bathroom I walk straight into an open door, face first. It startles Eric awake.
“Are you ok? What happened?”
“No,” I whimper, confused and in pain.
He follows me to the bathroom and we turn on the lights. It’s a repeat of the night before but the roles are reversed. Neither one of us can see well, but Eric can see enough that he goes downstairs to get some ice. He returns with the washcloth brimming full.
“You didn’t need to use every piece of ice in the freezer,” I say. I start to laugh the way you do when you’re overtired and delirious and you’ve just smashed your face into a door. Eric starts laughing too and soon we’re giggling in the dark. Forgetting about the pain.
“You know, when I get up in the middle of the night I put my arms out in front of me so I don’t bump into anything,” he offers gently.
“I did,” I say. “But my arms went right around the door.” We begin to laugh harder.
“So you’re just zombie-walking into doors?”
In the morning my face is red and swollen but there’s no black eye.
“I was prepared to take a picture and send it to your friends to let them know you broke up another bar fight,” Eric says.
“And by bar fight you mean door rebate. I’m getting crazy in my 40s.”
Day 83: Wednesday, June 3
I keep getting messages from friends I’ve made all over the world, asking me if we’re ok. We’re not. They say that from what they’re seeing on the news it looks like we’re on the brink of a civil war. It appears the war is being started by our own government, against its people.
Today I watch videos of peaceful protesters. Men and women and journalists expressing their First Amendment rights to free speech, dominated by an alphabet soup of agencies at their own Nation’s Capital. This article and this footage.
This is not the America I thought I lived in. I don’t recognize this country, and for the first time I think these protests are helping white people understand, for a brief moment, a infinitesimal fraction of the pain that black men and women in this country have been trying to express to us that they’ve experienced every second of their entire lives: This is not our country. We don’t belong here. We are adversaries of the State. I am hunted and feared.
Playon Patrick brings me to tears tonight.
Day 84: Thursday, June 4
There are a team of Mexican roofers working up the road. I can hear them chatting away in Spanish. I keep hearing one shout “arriba! arriba!”
Every 15 to 20 minutes they let out a cheer. Joyful, high pitched celebratory repetitions “ayayayayay!” I imagine it’s when they finish a row of shingles, or some other goal they have achieved. Keeping them all motivated and happy. Every time they do it it makes me smile. It’s nearly 90 degrees outside and all day long they cheer on top of my white neighbor’s roof.
Yesterday Eric told me a story of a friend who was getting his roof redone. The neighborhood was all white. The roofers were all black. The white kids decided they wanted to join the spirit of the times and have a Black Lives Matter parade. So they decked out their Land Rover in BLM posters and drove around the block, while the crew of black men roofed their house. “Talk about privilege.”
Day 85: Friday, June 5
Conflicting messages. Confusion. “Now is the time to check in on your black friends” one article writes. “Stop checking in on your black friends” says another. Post black squares in solidarity! Don’t post black squares because it’s not enough! (As though posting black squares were the only thing we were doing). I know this confusion is privileged and absolutely pales to the discomfort, feelings of constantly being under attack, and fearing for their lives that black people face every day. But it also makes it hard to understand how best to be an ally.
I get involved and then retreat because I’ve said something wrong and been shamed. White people make assumptions about what other white people are doing or not doing. Aren’t we trying to remove assumptions and bias? Why are we fighting the cycle of hatred and violence with more hatred and violence?
Eric had a two hour conversation with his conservative parents last night about community policing. Information he knows first hand after being part of a group of citizens that tried to introduce community policing to the city of Troy. These are the dialogues that are important. This is how we educate one another to useful alternatives that help save lives and begin the faith building process and reconciliation.
While painting the back door I look out and see dark clouds in the west. The storms always come from the west. I run outside. Take the clothes off the line, releasing each clothespin, grabbing handfuls of socks, paint covered jean shorts, tshirts, flannel shirts, underpants, towels and toss them all in to a woven basket. Carefully I move the screen insert I’d been painting into the shed and fold up the tarp. I can hear the thunderclaps to the north. The roofers on my neighbor’s house still hammering away. I haven’t heard them cheering today.
I go to clean my paintbrush and think “it’s not raining, but I’ll probably get struck by lightening” and just then as if I imagined it, a lightning bolt comes down from the sky over our house. Thunder simultaneous. I rush inside with adrenaline. The sky opens up and then hail (Eric later describes it as a trillion ice cubes). The winds are so fierce that I think the Norway maple is going to split into five pieces. I watch the large sugar maple get rocked and twisted. Every single tree is spinning in circles, and so am I. Rushing from room to room. Peering out at the tree tops, tree bottoms. Counting my potted plants. Taking inventory. We lose power briefly and Eric’s meeting is abruptly ended.
“I’ve never seen a storm this fierce,” he says. I shake my head.
“Did you see the hail? My team asked if people were pelting stones at my windows it was so loud.”
In the end all we lose is a dead maple and all the tawny daylilies and Stella D’oros and sweet peas beneath it. My cardboard plant gets tossed over the edge of the porch and lands square in the middle of a bleeding heart, splitting her stems wide open. But I’m most concerned about the roofers. I still hear them working even when the thunder starts. Still when it begins to rain, and later still even through the hail I briefly hear their hammers. When the sun emerges so do all of the animals that were caught off guard. As I’m pulling the cardboard plant out from the arms of the bleeding heart a squirrel emerges from the bushes, drenched and dazed. He looks at me differently. Without his usual skepticism so I say “phew!” and he nods. I head out on to the roof to clean out the gutters. It hasn’t rained in so long I didn’t even know they were clogged until it was spilling over in sheets around the perimeter of the house. I see Eric down below, wandering around looking for me.
“Oh hi!” I call, and he looks up. I must be a strange bird.
“There you are,” he says. And heads on to assess the fallen tree.
Day 86: Saturday, June 6
It takes us three hours to replace the screen in the screen door, though the work isn’t consecutive. We start and stop. Eric heads inside to retrieve some tools and after fifteen minutes I go inside to check on him and find him on the phone, dealing with work. He’s been working 80 hour weeks lately.
We both feel guilty for not joining the protests. And I contemplate how being able to protest can be a privilege. Certainly not the same kind of privilege, but privilege none the less. There are folks who must work and can’t afford to protest. There are folks who can’t afford or find childcare. There are folks who can’t physically protest, especially now. Our vulnerable population needs to weigh weather or not they should be protesting during a pandemic because it puts their life in immediate danger. I recognize the urgency expressed by black Americans who are telling us that their lives are always in danger. This is unacceptable and has been for over 400 years. I feel strongly that being an ally comes in many shapes and sizes. One way is to march, if you are able. Another way is to advocate, donate, and listen. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Being shamed for not marching doesn’t help anyone. Being out on the street isn’t the only way to voice that police brutality is unacceptable. We need to be creative in the ways that we rise up. Because at some point the protests will end, but the advocacy can’t.
Day 87: Sunday, June 7
I walk up to the falls with Eric for the first time in weeks. It feels like a different place, quieted by undergrowth. The echoes of our voices stifled by a canopy of leaves. And of course, there are no people, or evidence that there has been in some time. That’s how we know things are opening back up.
I sit in my spot at the corner of Star Falls and remember when I could see to the other side. Now it’s obscured by filled out bushes and trees. The deluge of water has slowed to an imperceptible trickle. I recall my interest in the moss growing on the face of the waterfalls, [Day 24: “I contemplate the moss at the edge of the falls, saturated, inundated with water. Struggling to breathe. I know the waters soon will slow. The moss grew there for a reason. It’s soggy now, but it will thrive.”] It is thriving now, but breathing… I’m not so sure.
During our evening walk we meander through the Altamont Fair Grounds and wonder aloud if it will be held this year. As we pass through the gate I remark “There are so many people!” and then I laugh because there are only five people and one dog. But this is the country and this place is usually empty but for a few times a year. We wander down the alley that for one week in August is filled with food vendors. Beer and karaoke. Soft pretzels, pizza, corndogs, lemonade, cotton candy. Lights twirling and flashing. Carts and stands of plush toys hanging in neat stacks. The scent of fried dough and soft drinks obscuring the smell of animals and hay from other sections of the Fair. For one week of the year there are so many people of all shapes and sizes and colors. But now it’s all boarded up. The alley is empty and quiet.