A couple of years ago, I took a master class with the inaugural poet Richard Blanco at The Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables with some of my classmates in the writing program at FIU. Blanco mentioned that he had been thinking lately what it would feel like to come from nowhere. I felt a slight clench in my gut then, sort of an inner acknowledgement that it was a feeling I recognize.
When we all introduced ourselves, he wanted us to state where we’d come from. This is always a question I dread, because even though I do have a place I was born and lived in for the first few years of my life, I spent my childhood in a military family, and the constant packing and unpacking of home to move to another base created an estrangement from my hometown. When I answered my usual, “I was born in a small town in Pennsylvania, but grew up in the Marine Corps.” Blanco nodded.
“Oh, okay, so you know what I meant about coming from nowhere.” He asked.
“Yeah, I do.” I answered.
When I go back now to visit, it’s an odd sort of ritual. I know people in my family by name, but it’s not like I know my extended relations in the way someone who was raised there knows them. Even my brother and sister feel a little distant to me. I did try to live in that area for a few years, but it never quite fit. I never quite fit. I’m not sure if it was that the politics were so conservative, or that because it’s a rural area it’s difficult to find things I need to sustain me like poetry. I just knew I didn’t belong.
I lived in Upstate NY for a while too, and at one point thought maybe I could settle there and live. But again, it just wasn’t right. There was something more I was looking for that I couldn’t find in Binghamton. So when I went looking for a graduate program, I focused on a place I felt I could finally call home. I chose South Florida mainly because of the diversity in the region and the vibrant writing community.
As an undergrad, I’d gotten a degree concentration in global culture, and for me, connections with friends who come from different places and have different customs is a big part of what makes my life full. I like to feel I’m connected to a community that comes from all over the globe. Many of them immigrants. In a big way, that’s because even though I was born in a small town in coal country, and my family has been in America since before the American Revolution. I feel like an immigrant in my own country, like it doesn’t quite belong to me.
Home has always felt like a fairytale of sorts. I’ll say, “I’m on my way home.” If I need to call and let The Chef know I’m running late, but there’s always a pause there that gets filled with a question. Am I really home yet? Is this where I’ve landed?
Since the election results came in early Wednesday morning announcing Donald Trump had won the presidential election, I’ve had a rough time. I’m finding that even before I get a cup of coffee poured, I’m reaching for the anti-anxiety meds to stave off the panic attacks I wake into.
Online, Trump supporters seem perplexed at the level of terror the rest of the country is experiencing. A cousin, whom I normally adore, posted a meme that said Hillary supporters are being ridiculous, referencing Sarah Silverman’s statement to the “Bernie bros” at the Democratic National Convention. At that point, I was coming out of two days of sedation. I confronted the cousin with my own post explaining that the election had caused serious anxiety, and his wife responded on his behalf, apologized, and said he’d been just kidding. That they’d voted for Trump because , “We like our 2nd Amendment rights.”
Another friend called the protestors a bunch of whiny losers who need to sit down and shut up. On Veteran’s Day, I saw Trump supporters suggest the protestors should have more respect for vets by keeping quiet, not protesting and by standing to salute the flag, and I agree, we should respect veterans more–by making sure they have adequate healthcare and security when they come back home. By making sure there’s a home to greet them, and that they’re not left floundering on the streets. By not electing a man who suggests PTSD is a weakness, or mocks disabilities–Or likes getting his purple hearts the easy way. My stepfather got his the hard way. Two of them. I don’t think I can be expected to respect anyone who thinks that’s easy.
One of the only arguments I ever won with my dad was when I refused to stand to salute the flag, because I was upset about a bomb that killed a little girl on the other side of the world, and the vice principal of my high school sent me home with an in-school suspension note to face my Vietnam vet Gunnery Sergeant dad who was livid, and tried to insist that he wore his uniform so I’d have a flag to salute. And I told him, nah, Dad. You wear your uniform so I have the right to decide if that flag represents a country I’m proud enough to stand for. And he said, “You know, I never thought of it that way before. You’re right.”
It feels like I am living in a foreign country right now, or that I come from a foreign country who makes the decisions for the country I now live in. I keep looking around me for America and wondering where she went. I miss her.
And then last night, at the anti-Trump protests in Miami, my friend J.J. Colagrande, reported people who live in condos along the protest route were throwing rocks into the crowd of protestors.
What I think some of these Trump supporters are missing is that this isn’t just a case of people who can’t take a loss “like a man.” It’s that real people feel they are endangered, with good cause. And if I’m panicked, it’s because they are people I love as much as my own family.
I get that my friends and family who voted for Trump are not actively engaged in the more sinister behavior of some from the alt-right, and white supremacy groups, but I just have to question the values of placing the right to own a gun over another person’s right to liberty. And to me, that’s what this election came down to. It’s like Love and Hate had a cage match, and Hate beat the fuck out of Love in the tenth round, left her bleeding on the mat. TKO.
I have a former student who lives in New York City now, and is a brilliant poet, whose family immigrated from Egypt. I worry how safe she is when she travels to the afternoon call to prayers at her mosque. I worry someone will stop her from making more poems.
I have many LGBTQA friends who are still recovering from the shock of the Orlando Pulse shootings. I worry about all of them. Trans suicides have spiked since the election. I worry this will finally be too much for some I know right now are on the brink of despair.
I have gay friends who finally, after years of fighting the classiest battle for civil rights I’ve ever witnessed, got married, or adopted children. I worry their rights will be stripped away.
I worry for every Black friend I love, not only from on the street skinhead thug violence, but from a random police stop. I worry about their children, how they would feel if they ran into signs like those posted above the water fountains in Jacksonville: A Return of Jim Crow
I worry that every woman I know might get her pussy grabbed–or worse.
I can’t walk out my front door without worrying for every woman I see in a hijab. I’m constantly tensed, ready to jump in if I see anyone approach. Because I can’t just sit down and shut up if I witness a hate crime or hear hate speech. To me that is not American.
And my God, I worry about my sweet fresh-faced students who sit in my classroom each week writing their hearts out. I tell them to write through their lenses of personal perception, because Hate has a much harder time doing its ugly things when faced with the complexities of an individual rather than a generic demographic, but then I also have to wonder, does it matter in the face how of much hate is crawling out of dark and hidden corners lately?
In what kind of country is the fear of losing the right to own a gun more important than the potential loss or serious injury of such talented young people?
The Southern Poverty Law Center declared the Trump campaign a hate organization way back in February. If you look on their website, just since the election reports of hate crimes are skyrocketing: Hate Watch
Andrew Anglin who runs “Daily Stormer” a website popular among neo-Nazis, declared, “Our Glorious Leader has ascended to God Emperor. Make no mistake about it: we did this.”
David Duke is dancing. David Duke says a Trump victory is something HIS PEOPLE are largely responsible for orchestrating.
I’m worried for the whole world. At the bank today, a news headline flashed that Putin acknowledged the use of chemical weapons in Aleppo.
I started getting strange urges to plant things after my stepfather died. The summer after his funeral, I ripped out a substantial bed with my bare knuckles and planted a glorious garden in my friend Michael’s backyard. It seems now, whenever someone dies, I get the same urge. Someday, I’d like to live in a house with a couple mango trees in the backyard and a plot of land I can dig up and garden in. It’s more of a challenge here in the apartment on the lake. The feeling of filling a pot with soil just isn’t as satisfying as getting my hands into the earth. And the plants here don’t last. They get attacked by aphids. The sun is just too bright on the balcony and they burn. But I keep trying to grow something back there. It’s more like a compulsion than a conscious thought-process. It’s an urge to nurture, deep-rooted in me. I need to make things grow.
I got that urge this morning, to get my fingers in the dirt and work out my grief, and went out for potting soil and seeds. But I just keep wondering. Who has died? Is it America?