Friday, 24 October 2008

Bad Neighborhood

I had a secretly Democratic Stepford Husband ask me a few weeks ago, “Do you ever feel like you’re going to wake up one morning and Al Gore is going to be finishing up his second term as President and the world will be right-side up again?” I paused at this question for quite a while.

First, it’s not everyday that you have a Stepford Husband, who also happens to be a successful attorney, mention Al Gore. Second, after the trauma of the 2000 election and all that has happened since, I have not allowed myself to play the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game with this scenario. I am an “it is what it is” girl. I split my time between the present and the near future. I don’t spend time looking back because 1) I’m happy with where I am and I know if not for my past, my present would be different, and 2) I do all I can to live without regret—and regret lives in the past—so I don’t visit that dark place very often.

And now, after eight years, the scenario of a two-term Gore Presidency is just too far away for me to get a clear picture of in my head. I tried for a minute, but it was like trying to look through a window someone had painted black. I knew that there was something on the other side, but I was blind to it. So, I answered him honestly, almost in a whisper, shaking my head, “I can no longer imagine what that would have been like.” He nodded, as if he knew this was painful for me.

I had an overwhelming sense of sadness for the rest of that day because, well, his question prompted me to take an unscheduled road trip to regret’s hometown.

As I roll in past the city limit sign, there on the right side of the road is the best job my husband ever had. Although now, it looks like a gutted crack house, seven years after the company that had provided the job closed down. I look away, not wanting to think about the eighty-hour weeks my husband is putting in now to keep us afloat. I know if not for us—me, the kids, and my dad—he would take something, anything, that paid less.

Across the street, sitting on the curb, are the Batman and Superman action figures my then-four-year-old son insisted we carry everywhere in the weeks after 9/11. I turn my head away as I remember his big brown eyes pleading with me from the backseat “Mom! Turn around ... I left Batman and Superman. We can’t go without them.” When I protest, he tells me, “But Mom ... we can’t leave them! If they had been there to hold up the buildings, the bad day wouldn’t have happened.” My daughter doesn’t even remember the “bad day.” I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.

I cross over a bump in the road thinking about how my dad lost his job at fifty-five and how sure he was another would follow. In the rear view mirror, I can see the remnants of his retirement account, busted open early to finish getting my brother out of college. I catch a glimpse of the roofline of the house he paid on for twenty-eight years. The same house he lost when the thirty-year note only had nine thousand dollars left on it. I speed up.

I reach the cross streets of Iraq and Katrina—the images of each melting together in my mind. Both war zones, both avoidable, both a failure of leadership. Both responsible for so much human loss and suffering. I feel a little carsick.

I move into a nicer, but bittersweet, part of town. There on a hill is the house I thought my kids would live in until they had homes of their own, the house I thought we would retire in, the house I thought I would die in. The sold sign still sits in the front yard. Sold for an additional bedroom and bath so my dad could join our family. That, at least, as been the good that has come out of the bad.

I realize I’m almost out of town. I just need to get past the line of boarded up banks on the right and foreclosed homes on the left. The fear of the economic crisis makes it hard for me to breathe. I roll up the windows hoping to keep the stench out. The uncertainty of this edge of town mocks me from the passenger’s seat. I stop, open the door, and push him out. I speed off before he can get back in. He chases after me. I can hear his footsteps.

I cross out of town and back into the present. And there on an election sign in my new front yard, the sun shining its gossamer rays down upon it, is something audacious. HOPE. And while I can’t change the past, I know I can affect the future. One letter, one syllable, one word, one article, one reader at a time.

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