Do Better

My mom sent me a Facebook message tonight: Write on your blog!
My absence on a certain social media must be getting to her.

It’s been a minute; a lot of things happen in a minute. It was April one day then it was August. I was depressed as hell in the Spring and now I’m doing better. Even with my sharp memory for sequence of events, there are only a few years I remember beginning to end. 2020 has been one of those years, like 2001 was including the months leading up to and after September 11th. Those whole damn years were brimming with depression, change and realization. If I knew more about the cosmos, I’d attribute it to that.

From behind the counter at the bookstore – because I don’t do much else – there has been a lot of observing. First, let me tell you that I kind of detest books about bookstores and stories about writers. That will not be my schtick, but ultimately I do have conversations with folks that attune me to the community around me, and here is what I am hearing: there are a LOT of divorces for people of my age. My mom says, it’s what happens at your age. There are a LOT of exacerbated mental health challenges. There is illness and potential patients who are putting things off. There’s a lot of drinking – no surprise. There is loneliness. There is fear. There are differences of opinion. There is rage.

I’m going to pull out the dirty carpet on Charlie and I. In the mornings on our six minute drive from the Sixth Ward, there are a lot of things to complain about. People not using turn lanes, people breaking for pedestrians and for no reason, too-long lines at Starbucks when folks could shop local, and the irritating Jeep that parks in our lot with the “Red Neck Bitch” sticker over a confederate flag. I’ve threatened to record us so we can be grossed out about our six-minute tirade. I’ve said, “we are terrible in the morning on our way to work” and I’ve also said this is our safe space to be assholes because it is hard to show up over and over again and be in a relatively good mood when you are working with the public. By the time we get into the store it is over. But the store is a place where discussions happen, and to be honest it is designed that way. As former educators, it is deep in our bones to mine and bring to the surface pressing topics. Charlie is a historian; I am a writer.

This is ultimately what I wanted to write about: It was about 12 pm last Monday when a couple came into the store, one lingering near the front, the other deep in the Young Adult section referencing a conversation about books on her phone. She was not much older than me. Hell, for all I know she could’ve been younger. He’s way older and standing apprehensively near the front door. I approach, offering help with finding the books her daughter back in South Carolina is seeking, and she’s excited because we have found several of them and there is no sales tax. When she gets to the counter with her stack, she’s grabbing a tote, looking at stickers, and finding other gifts to bring home from her RV trip to Montana. Right as she’s about to pay she says, “Forget it. I don’t want any of it” and starts for the door. I’m blindsided by this and apparently her male counterpart is too because he inquires. She says, “They don’t like police officers” as she heads for the door. Funny things is, we had that conversation that exact morning on the way to work, pissed about the encroaching Back the Blue signs in our neighborhood, discussing whether or not the Black Lives Matter uprising was incongruent with supporting police officers. Can the two exist simultaneously, we wondered? I don’t have the answer for this, but in our group of close friends there exists a man who is a state trooper who we love and admire. We also make is plainly clear that Black Lives Matter through our conversations, our actions both through the store and at home. But anyway, the lady, she’s headed for the door and Charlie posits the question to her: can’t the two things both be possible? But she can’t hear it, she’s arguing, “All lives matter!”, she’s pressing to leave, she’s saying something about riots and violence. And Charlie is out of their seat walking toward them saying, “You don’t think black lives matter? Get out! Get out of my store! Get out, now!” The store was full. Folks were coming in as they were going out. I looked around in my daze. No one was batting an eye at their response. People kept shopping. They were nodding along.

This is not the full exchange in my memory because cortisol. Because trauma response. Because my memory falls out when I am in fear. Because I shook my head and pivoted towards Speculative Fiction, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy to help a customer seeking a recommendation. Because I said, “I just can’t. Not like Charlie” out loud.

I wish I could better express my truth like that. Or, I admire that Charlie can turn on a dime and express exactly what they believe in alignment with an active conflict. My processing speed is long, delayed. I’ll let someone yell at me and make a scene or monologue me for five to ten minutes before an articulate truth is able to emerge. I’ll have a response a day later during a shower, long after the fact. I’ll wait a week to share my feelings, after the fear has left my body.

This is what I do know: when I come down off that cortisol high, I know what’s right and wrong. I came out of the back room at the store thirty minutes later and rubbed Charlie’s back. I said, “I’m proud of you. That was the right thing to do.”

We haven’t gotten that Yelp or Google review… Yet.

I still don’t know how they got that far into the store without seeing all of the signs outside: the fascism quote on the sandwich board, the Black Lives Matter letter press sign on the front window, the Black Trans Lives Matter sign, the rainbows, the Open to All, the We Welcome poster. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m trying to tighten the space between conflict and response, and to trust my feelings in effort to inform the ways I respond. I want to act faster when opportunities arise and also honor survival strategies that I learned so long ago. I want to protect the feelings of others because I feel deeply, but I also wish to better honor my own.

I’m practicing. It’s hard.
But I’m doing better and I will do better.

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