Things We Learned in the Fire






— June Jordan, Calling On All Silent Minorities

I’ve written before about how Mr. A has been nesting. He’s mostly done now. The yard is enclosed by a 6-foot fence with a double-lock gate; Kick can leave her toys absolutely everywhere and I don’t have to yell at her to bring her scooter or her ponies or anything else inside every night. I forget to lock doors, still, so we bought a family “calendar” to assign chores and one of Mr. A’s is to check all the locks because I can’t seem to keep track.

He’s built a storage system in the basement, in what was a massive junk room and is now, thanks to his hard work, a massively organized junk room with the “valuables” (extra food, medicine, paper goods, books) off the floor. In case the basement floods, which it has already done once this year.

We have room for the 22-pound bags of flour now. We have room for the 4 blocks of yeast. If I pickled or canned (“can you?” he asks, hearing about pickled carrots, and I’ve promised to try) we would store jars and jars; it’s a root cellar, like the one my grandparents had.

There is safety in there, of a sort. Grocery delivery has been less spotty than it was in the beginning. My parents offer to bring us meat; they have a meat guy now.

Kick is in a day camp; they stay in tiny groups and wear masks; she comes home exhausted but happier. I read, all day, angry Facebook posts from parents about school opening, about school not opening, and we try to make plans knowing we can’t make any plans. “In two weeks some other unhinged bullshit is going to be happening,” I keep saying, so we plan about four days out.

Our weekends, in summer, are usually a rat-a-tat-tat of activity: farmer’s market, skating lessons, this friend’s house, that friend’s coming over, park, zoo, hike, bike ride, road trip, houseguests. Instead I buy craft supplies and we sit on the porch waiting for fireflies. I feel lazy. This feels unreal.

And every day it seems to get just a little bit worse:

What do you do first, after everything burns down? I heard this so often in the days leading up to the 2016 election, I hear it all the time from conservative commentators and editorial boards: Maybe we need to just sweep our arm across the table, clear the field, bomb it all and start over. It’s not always cheerful nihilism; sometimes it’s hard to see where to even begin.

When there’s so much junk around, left over from the last disaster or six, where do you put the shelves to hold it?

But here’s the thing: There is no fresh starting point. There is no clean slate. There is no place you can go where you won’t feel the aftershocks and all of our great crimes as humans have come from our resistance to either the past or the future. We are going to have to get out of this from the middle of it and that’s impossibly hard, but it’s the only way things go.

What do you do first? Is there such a thing as, like, a consent agenda to just rescind the last four years? We need so much right now: health care, fair wages, justice for the wrongs done in our names over and over and over for years. We need hospitals and schools built for everyone, not just the rich. We need universities free and open to the public, we need as many libraries as we have jails. We need as few jails as we have oceans.

We need to defund the police as they are and rethink what they need to be. We need to undo the Muslim ban. We need to pack the courts. We need to protect trans people. We need honest to god laws against gerrymandering, laws providing universal vote-by-mail, universal basic income for crises like this, so that people can afford to stay home if they have to, and they have to.

We need science and art and we need a culture that doesn’t venerate racial belligerence and aggrieved thwarted fascism. We need support for the things that make us alive: Parks and gardens, free exchanges, beehives, birdhouses.

We need all of it and we needed it yesterday, and we act like we have to WAIT for some moment of perfect cleanliness to begin.

I’ve been saying, when this is over. When this is over, I’m buying the most expensive scotch on the shelf. When this is over, I’m taking my parents on the international trip they’d planned and had to scuttle back in April. When this is over, my kid and I are going to the zoo and we’re staying as long as we want and making as many plastic animals in the Mold-A-Rama as she can carry. We are camping by the snow leopard enclosure until they kick us out.

We are going to work harder for right than we do for simple justice. We are going to fight harder this time. We say it every time, because it’s true every time: You have to keep pushing yourself farther, faster, more.

Kick and I have found a local organization we are growing plants for, and raising money for, and donating food and books and games and art supplies to, and that’s our start. Now that we have space in the storage room we’re setting up a table, sorting out what can go, what needs to stay, and what we can sell.

Mr. A is concentrating hard on several friends, making sure they are okay, staying in regular contact. He’s also handling political donations right now because I am like THROW ALL THE GROCERY MONEY AT WHOEVER and we need to be practical.

We aren’t doing enough but we’re doing what we can. We are well supplied. Our home base is not a place to hide in, as I thought when this all started. I misunderstood it; we were never building a bunker. We were building a launch pad. If I think of it this way, maybe I will be less tired and scared.

When this is over. As if it’s ever over enough to feel over. The next world always starts while the ashes are still hot. While you can still smell the smoke.

And where do you even begin? You begin. Tell me where you are starting from. Maybe we can meet somewhere.