Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Snap Crackle Pop Culture

She hunched over, tugging the blanket tighter around her chilled feet, ankles, calves, knees. Leftover Halloween gummy candy lodged in her teeth - no wonder she'd given up "dots" years ago. The warbling voice of a friend of a friend serenaded the office space from a small grey box on the desk. MySpace music warmed the air. She pushed her glasses up her nose, glancing at the metallic red sheen of the latest cell phone upgrade. No calls.
Her throat still raw from recent illness, she paused, testing her spirit. How was she feeling? How was she feeling? Weary. Pleased. Happy. Adrenaline-fused. Tired. Achy. Excited. Only two months, and she would be one and another, not simply one, the loneliest number. She considered the planning and work between the two points in time, and sighed. Christmas seemed like a minor blip on the radar compared to the monumental event a week and a half afterwards. She didn't want to minimize Christmas. But she also felt that a wedding somehow represented a lot of what Christmas was for, or why it was celebrated, as if Christmas itself were nodding enthusiastically as she unwrapped new joy.
She had intended to type about her pseudo-anarchy. How she'd watched "V for Vendetta" on the 5th of November, a movie recapitulating Guy Fawke's famous attempt to blow up parliament. She'd finished the epic Harry Potter series, pulsing with the thuds of fictional battle between good and evil. In a snap, an instant, she had reawakened to the reality of voting day, and felt the good, clean revolutionary Scotsman lurking in her blood come raring out. Completely fed up with her party's positions, stances, and behavior, she marched out of the voting booth triumpant, having finally wielded what little power she had left in the political process. She had finally threatened her politicians with what they understood: the dangling prospect of loss of power. She had voted, completely, thoroughly, and fiercely for the opponent. Not to support the opponent. But to communicate her displeasure. She remembered feeling proud of her "I voted" sticker that she'd later ripped off, bemused.
Bemused because her little act of defiance had wilted, shriveled, curled up and paled in a self-aware manner several hours later at lunch. Sitting across the table from her was a man with deep, dark skin, a broad smile, and happy, if haunted, eyes. He spoke about the war. How the rebels had entered Monrovia. How he had run from checkpoint to checkpoint. How he never picked up his wedding clothes from the launderer. How he had escaped onto a ship at the port after squatting with friends who were eating grass because there was no food. How his brother had been killed by the rebels, like soldiers nearly killed him, til someone whispered urgently, "run for your life." How he spend days and weeks not knowing what had happened to his fiancee. How, now that they'd been married for years, they were raising nine children: four of their own, five the orphans of his slain brother. How Liberia still doesn't have direct flights to New York the way it used to Before. Before the war. How Liberia has escaped the worst of the AIDS devastation, its population only measuring 10% infected. How people in the West don't take spirituality seriously, skeptical of his stories, of many stories, about possessed people.
The "I voted" sticker landed in the trash can, along with her sense of pious burden carried in preparation for the wedding. What could possibly be more important than being with the groom when it was all said and done? He had escaped chaos - missiles, gunfire, upheaval - but didn't know where Ruth was. His plans, his finished education, what did they mean now?
And there she sat, certain that finding just the right ribbon for bouquets no longer seemed quite so pressing. Her curtained, sheltered voting booth anarchy, held in the safest of places - a fire department - now sanitized, even homey. Courage is born anywhere we let it be, she reasoned, knowing that moral courage can appear big or small. But pretending to be courageous when there is no cost is usually called, on most American playgrounds, showing off. It didn't mean she didn't have courage. But it did mean that it was still a young courage, only tested in fires she didn't understand, but that increasingly grew with time and experience. She had not fled a burning city; she had fled spiders. She had not lost a close family member; she had missed them when she didn't get to see them all the time. She had no echo of gunfire ringing in her ears; she had only the violence portrayed on the television screen, easily paused, easily muted.
She sat across from the dark-skinned man, face to face with her own self-importance. When she stood up from the table, her shoulders were lighter, face more carefree. She left the burden of herself with the wadded up napkins and left, liberated by the man from Liberia.

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