Yesterday marked twelve years since my aunt, Sissie, died. I cried a lot. Not about her death, or, even, how much I miss her. She was more than ready to go and I respected that. No, my crying was a continuation of the fits of weeping I’ve been having which have been triggered by the state of the world and exacerbated by this horrid election season. When I head toward these dysthymic lows, in concert and contrast with the despair, my mind generates morbid humor, dark, often twisted contortions of plot and circumstance to do with how I’d like to end, the harbinger of which is the narrator in my head saying, “And then he died.” ‘Twas yesterday the narrator started with that again, while I was on the elliptical at the gym, and I thought, “Oh yes, just keep elliptical-ing until I collapse, which will be hilarious, a former nicotine-addicted, carb-mainlining, out-of-shape, pudgy sloth like me dying on gym-equipment in a quest to be clean and healthy, yes, I’ll keep on this thing until my heart gives out and then I won’t have to vote in the primary and deal with Secretary Clinton’s willful AIDS-Reagan-ignorance, problem solved, or worry about where I’m going to end up living and how I can’t afford a place and I’ll do the whole, ‘I’m coming, Elizabeth! I’m coming’ thing!”
Which macabre brooding of a think started another think-thing which sent me spiraling further downward.
The second man my mother married — a bigot and bully of some accomplishment and skill — was a fan of terrible television, especially those programs that affirmed his limited world view in which white men were right and everyone else was wrong, servile, or stupid. So, he loved Sanford and Son, in which Redd Foxx played a character who was himself a bigoted, bullying fool, week after week irascibly getting into mischief and mishap, all knee-slappingly resolved in the half-hour episode, all done in a way that never challenged my mother’s second husband’s vision of the “right kind of” black people being versions of Stepin Fetchit.
Now, I am aware that Norman Lear did not mean for Fred Sanford to reinforce those stereotypes, in the same way Mr. Lear didn’t mean for All In The Family to make a racist, misogynist, homophobic bigot seem huggable and harmless. But to people like the second man my mother married, that was exactly the result. Characters like Archie Bunker and Fred Sanford gave legitimacy to haters and haranguers who were not – ever, in any area of their lives – interested in divining the meaning or message from anything – rather, they came to every situation in life with their narrow-minded little reality’s fanatical ism’s and hateful convictions on full throttle and applied those to whatever they saw.
Archie Bunker affirmed rather than embarrassed them. They didn’t think he was a provincial, uneducated, nasty enabler of violence and discrimination, they thought he was right. They thought he was them. They thought he should be president. They liked that Fred Sanford didn’t want anything to do with white-folk. That, for them, was how it should be, people should stick to their own kind, preferably in ghetto areas, inside the fence of proverbial junkyards.
The second man my mother married especially enjoyed when Fred Sanford — confronted with a situation he didn’t want to or had not the capacity to deal with — would clutch his chest, roll his eyes to the heavens and exclaim to his deceased wife, “My heart! My heart! I’m coming, Elizabeth.”
Sissie’s name was Frances Elizabeth. So, when I thought that elliptical-death-thought on the anniversary of the day of her death, it seemed, well, a sign? But, I don’t really believe in signs. I think we see signs where we want to, projecting our own stuff onto the random in order to wrest meaning from a meaningless existence, to impose some sort of order on this chaos of being so that we might make it more bearable — or, at all bearable.
Which, frankly, of late, it is less and less. I begin to think “bearable” equals delusional.
That bigoted, ignorant man my mother married after the death of my father, was around through my pre-teen and teen years, a hateful presence in my own home who echoed all the people from whom I had to run and hide outside my home. And now, those same sort of awful, proudly ignorant bumpkin-boors are inching closer and closer to taking over the world, furiously, happily, openly engaging in hate-speech, nazimitating electioneering. This weekend, as the next step in their ascendency, they followed their demonic leader’s suggestion to start beating the shit out of people.
All my triggers, tripped. Buttons pushed. It is as if this country has turned into one huge high school from my teen years again and everyone is a potential hater and locker-pusher and toilet-dunker and proudly idiotic bully beast.
I am terrified.
And exhausted. It was about a week ago I posted my dismay with the homophobia of the Downton Abbey finale. No one said a word of agreement, but plenty of people told me (some with their silence, some actually wrote) that I was over-reacting and seeing bigotry where it didn’t exist or I was expecting too much.
Ageism and sexism don’t exist either. For example, the writing about Sally Field’s latest film, Hello, My Name is Doris, doesn’t in any way illuminate the biases in this country. I mean, forget the fact that men the same age as Ms. Field are routinely coupled in films with women decades younger and nothing is said or thought of it, but for Ms. Field to have a decades younger co-star she needs to be playing some sort of quirky, near-nut-job. No, nothing to do with a culture of sexism and ageism. It’s okay as long as she’s wearing two pair of glasses and is dressed in kicky-I’m-eccentric-wear, because, you know . . .
And there’s no ageism or need for health care in this country when the population is aging like mad and suffering chronic, widespread hearing loss which affects cognitive function and quality of life but its treatment is not covered by Medicare and priced out of the range of most people. See here in the New York Times [click here] – but there’s NO PROBLEM HERE. I’m just whining?
I can’t tell you the number of people who have told me to get over my anger about what was done to me in high school, how I was chased out of high school, how I couldn’t turn to my family or the school for help, how the shame of my catholic upbringing and the ignorance and evil of the second-husband-of-my-mother-bigot who ran my household filled me with my own self-doubts and internalized homophobia, doubts and self-hate that held me prisoner and scarred me for life. Get over it.
My own family member once told me I couldn’t work for them unless I could hide my homosexuality, I had to act “normal” so as not to scare away clients. I should get over that.
I should get over the opportunities and joys I was denied for being myself, and understand the complicity of “loved ones” and “basically decent people” who “don’t know any better” in the moral crimes committed against me.
I should get over Secretary Clinton “misspeaking” about the evil, hateful Reagans’ murderous record on AIDS.
I should Stepin Fetchit myself and accept how much better it is and shut up so the trumpers don’t kill me – because they are coming back, coming on strong, no longer even bothering to hide. And I should be okay when my own family comes to the defense of people like that – say, for example, the second man my mother married, or, Mitt Romney.
But I’m too fucking tired to fight. Yeah, I thought it was getting better, and in some ways, yes, it has. But not nearly enough. It already wasn’t great and then, this trump thing. And Secretary Clinton and that quote. And every personal diss I’ve lately suffered into which I will not go. Tired.
So, I’m off to the gym, onto the elliptical, where I intend to back and forth and back and forth and back and forth until, please, Sissie, help this sissy, if there is an after, help me out one more time, give me the opportunity to clutch chest and say it:
“I’m coming, Elizabeth! I’m coming!”
But if there is an after and that awful second man my mother married is there — keep him the fuck away from me. I’m tired of being the one to understand and get over. I want someone else to cry. Selfish as it is, I’ve had it.