The thing about being here is everything changes all the time. I spent most of a cloudy Sunday tucked safely in the small confines of my living space with Ava, who, like everybody else in this town, was sick with some kind of stomach bug. I expect to better understand her plight in about 12 hours when I inevitably get it also.
I didn’t mind the laying around. I drank at least four LaCroix coconut sodas and ate as many carbs as I could find because tomorrow I’m really going to get back on that low carb, high fat diet again. I’m supposed to be impressing someone with my early 30s physique, but I forget who now.
We watched so many different cartoons that I felt my brain start to leak a little bit from my ears. It was because of this that I told Ava we were going to read. I wanted to re-read Brave New World, but somehow misplaced it during one of the four moves I’ve made in the last fifteen years. Behind some other books was Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut. I figured this was about what I was looking for anyway, and so I swooped it off the shelf.
I started reading it out loud to Ava, editing some of the words out of course, which I plan to do until she turns thirteen because it is then that she’ll start to use these words secretly (but I know what she’s doing). When she turns thirteen, I’ll read Kurt Vonnegut uncensored. I don’t know if this is good parenting or not. That isn’t my point here.
I remember loving this book when I was younger because he used racy language and because he was against the Iraq War. I wouldn’t call myself a pacifist, but I certainly thought Halliburton was some bullshit and I didn’t agree with that campaign from the outset. Kurt Vonnegut and I were in agreement on a lot of things.
As I got further and further into the book, I remembered more of those days I protested back then, the things I did and said to people, the feelings I had about Power and corruption and greed. Not much has changed in that department. I did notice, however, that an active war threw into stark contrast my ideals against the backdrop of reality. It was much easier to see how fucked up everything was.
Then I had eight years with a president I liked. I thought Obama was a well-spoken man, the epitome of dignity, a stone-cold mix of poise and cool that could sway any country into whatever line our government wanted them to toe. I forgot how bad things were.
And now, Jesus. Here we are again.
I read the whole book in one sitting. Now, don’t paint me with a liberal intellectual brush too quick. I wasn’t in a coffee house at the time of the reading, and it was an assignment given out by my Socialists of Tomorrow Book Club. It’s all essays, or letters, and they go pretty quick. Plus, it’s Kurt Vonnegut so you really can’t stop reading unless you’re a total bonehead.
When I reached the end, I did feel one slight sliver of comfort in knowing his ghost and I had some solidarity about how shitty we all are. That was good. But the rest of my feelings were utter hopelessness over the entire human race being able to pull itself out of a death spin, terror over what is going to become of the planet we destroy more and more each day, anger that the elected and appointed psychopaths of 2004 are the same today, and a few other things that would just really make you want to put a gun in your mouth.
He said more than once that he was like Mark Twain and the others, the ones that had made jokes for most of their life to make life more bearable, but then had ultimately conceded that humanity was really just a flaming pile of shit. And he was a humanist. Oh Lord.
Hang on! I’m in my early 30s! I’m not supposed to reach this benchmark for a few more decades. Oh God, what if we don’t live a few more decades?
Even now, my natural inclination is to round this out to a solution. Let’s end on a happy note! I don’t know if I can. It’s like those Olympic gymnasts who’ve spent all their adolescent years aiming for a really high bar and getting comfortable with a healthy face plant, only to show up in some foreign country expected to hit the bar and swing themselves to gold. That’s how this feels. I’m in a foreign country and I remember the face plant. But here it goes:
Kurt Vonnegut was a good man. He told the truth, and the truth isn’t always a pretty thing. Sometimes it’s a Fireside Chat that just recaps the day’s terror. But even in the Fireside Chat we had each other. We’ve always had each other. And I’m still in my early 30s, which means I have (hopefully) at least another ten strong years to be so badly burned by tragedy, personal or worldly, that I can safely and without regret throw in the towel on all y’all. But that day is not today. It’s my job to be me. And “me”, as weird as it is, cannot give up just yet. Maybe one day I will, but by then I’ll probably be senile and in a wheelchair and people will have stopped listening to me anyway. Good for them.
That’s the thing about being here. It changes all the time, for better or worse. Least I can do is try to change it for the better. I think nihilism is supposed to be for your 50s anyway.
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