They have stolen the treasures my mother left to me.
They have violated my sanctuary.
Hey y’all. I’m still working on the post collecting the fantastic stories I’ve heard of active compassion in the aftermath of Katrina. There’s one especially that I want to post word-for-word, but it’s long and warrants a post of its very own. (As if length of posts ever stopped me. Pthhhhp.)
I need to get this dream out of my system, though, or it’s going to haunt me all day. Probably will, anyway, but it’s worth a shot.
As background, it might be useful to let you know that I had about three hours of sleep Sunday night, a good solid seven hours Monday, and maybe four or five hours last night – broken up by a diaper change, Duckie hollering about something or other and trying to tangle her hands in the straps of my nightgown. Eventually, around four-thirty or so, we moved to the recliner and passed out again. That’s when this dream hit, like a ton of stinking bricks. What’s really disturbing about this one is that some of the supporting players are highly placed politicians and advisors – you’ll see what I mean if you keep reading. These figures haven’t ever showed up in my dreams before – the idea that they have somehow taken up shop in my subconscious is very troubling to me.
I’m talking to this woman, on a street with several inches of standing water. Her name, I think, is Bessie. The rows of short braids in her hair have split into fuzzy, wiry strands. She looks sweaty, dirty, and generally unkempt. She’s wearing a pair of old shorts and a baggy racerback T-shirt. If she’s wearing a bra, it’s not doing much good in the way of support. She has a baby, I’m guessing about ten months old, but the baby looks bigger, like maybe the baby’s dad was a large man himself. I seem to remember Bessie calls her Peaches. The baby isn’t fussing much, surprisingly, but she’s very aware of her mother’s distress.
Bessie’s really upset. She has no way to get out of town, there’s no power, no food or water for herself or for Peaches, and they’re both hungry and tired. Bessie herself is pissed off, but in a stranded, helpless, desperately frightened kind of way that’s incredibly painful to witness. I assume I’m there for a reason, so I tell her, “OK, we’ll find a way. Look, there’s a bunch of cars – they’re headed to the auditorium, looks like there might be help there. Let’s go.”
Bessie nods mutely and follows me, Peaches planted firmly on one hip. On the way to the auditorium we stop and watch the cars go by. The windows of one of the limousines is open, and I see Dubya himself looking blankly out through the window. He doesn’t see us standing by the road.
I don’t even bother trying to wave them down, but manage to keep our little bedraggled group heading to the auditorium. There’s a big rally of some kind going on, and I think, “OK, this is a little weird, but surely we can catch a ride out of town and grab some food and water on the way. Surely these people can give us that much.” The audience in the hall was all male, for the most part dressed cleanly in golf shirts or oxford button-ups. Someone came on stage (it wasn’t Dubya but someone else) and started to get the crowd fired up.
I hear a familiar voice from the crowd. It’s my father. He stands up and starts to preach. I think, “Oh, thank God, Dad’s here – I know he’ll help us out as soon as this freaking meeting is over.” Strange to hear my dad get up in a crowd and speak, but it’s a dream, and I don’t think it’s odd, until he gets worked up into his speech.
What’s coming out of his mouth is terrifying. It’s a collection of conservative talking points that I expect to hear from some right-wing pundit. He justifies, brilliantly, all the delays in getting help to the Gulf Coast, and why the government isn’t really responsible for helping these people anyway. It’s a riveting rallying-cry for social Darwinism.
And during his speech, his voice takes on the tones of a true fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone preacher. His voice gets clearer, louder, like he’s jacked into a spiritual microphone that gives his words the import and gravity of the voice of God. You can’t deny this voice – it thunders through the auditorium and turns his audience into a lunatic mob, screaming for the blood of those less fortunate.
Bessie is terrified. I am enraged, not only at my father for the drivel that’s coming out of his mouth, but also for the profound power with which he is speaking these heartless lies. I scream out my arguments against the spin, but they’re completely lost in the roar of the approving crowd.
Now that his drooling audience has been warmed up by Dad’s speech, Dubya takes the podium. I holler at him. I heckle. I leave Bessie and Peaches in the back of the auditorium and run down the middle row, meaning to grab the Prez by the collar and shake him until his white teeth rattle in his skull. I mean to get food and water and by-God NOW. I’m screaming at him the whole time, my sense of futile outrage growing more violent by the second, but he’s just talking and droning on and on, while large black-suited men catch my arms before I reach the stage and pull me back.
OK, fine, I’m obviously not going to get any help here. But I remember that mom’s old master bedroom suite is still on the top floor of the auditorium building, and I remember that she had a bunch of stuff we might could use to get out of town, especially jewelry that we could trade with and large purses and bags to help carry stuff. I remember one bag in particular that would fit Peaches with no problem, and might give us an extra hand free when we finally get out of this water-bound hellhole.
I head up the concrete emergency stairs. After a couple of flights, I am stopped by a scruffy-looking old man who must have been a deadhead at one point or another in his life. I know he’s a Buddhist, and I wonder what he’s doing at the rally – obviously a quiet infiltration, maybe recon? Who knows. He puts a strong hand on my arm and looks me in the eye, his manner urgent and determined. “Whatever you do,” he says to me, “don’t let her talk to the administrator.”
“Just don’t let her talk to him. Ever. OK?”
“OK,” I say, and head up the stairs. I open the door to mom’s master suite, my mouth open to warn Bessie.
She’s sitting in the gold velour wing-back chair I used to fall asleep in as a child.
This part is almost too awful to write.
There’s a large mahogany desk in the corner of the room. It gleams wickedly. Behind the desk is Karl Rove, grinning. His pasty white face exudes self-satisfaction.
Apparently Bessie had already talked to the administrator. She had signed a form that gave him everything in the room – the jewelry, the bags, everything. I don’t even know what she got in return.
I scream, sounding like the mountain lion that sometimes lives in the hills behind our house. My rage erupts, and I launch myself myself at the desk, with every intention of burying my fingers in the folds of clammy flesh around Karl Rove’s maggoty neck.
I can’t remember anything more.
The image of Bessie is taken straight from the headlines. I know you remember the picture of the woman at the Superdome in New Orleans, sobbing as her baby sits on her hip and stares right into the camera. That’s Bessie. (I can't find the picture, oddly enough. You'd think it would just be a quick search, but...)
My father’s presence in the dream was upsetting, to say the least. In reality (or what passes for it these days), he is the soul of reasoned, courteous discussion. He and I can solve all the world’s problems in five different ways on a back porch over a couple of beers. He’s also got a massive case of stage-fright. To hear his voice used for such distasteful rhetoric felt like a betrayal of the worst kind. And it wasn’t about him, really – it was about the voice of authority that I believed in as a a child and a young woman – it was about the voice of the government, which I had at least acknowledged as valid and important, even though I didn’t agree with its methods more than ten percent of the time and spent a lot of time rebelling against in one way or another. It was about hearing a voice that I trust on a very basic level perverted for the use of mob rule.
When we lived in Swarthmore, PA, we rented a ranch-style house, one among many others in the wooded collegiate suburb. Big rooms, a finished basement, I can’t remember how many bedrooms, and a finished attic space that was my favorite place, even though it got godawful hot in the summertime. Eventually my parents gave in to my relentless whining and moved their bedroom down to the second floor, giving me the whole attic. (Did I mention I was slightly spoiled? Also a little stubborn sometimes.) The floor was shiny maple hardwood, and there was enough room to house a small family. I had my own bathroom, and access to the roof. The angles of the walls were very odd, of course, defined as they were by the gables of the roof, but that was especially appealing to me. I spent a lot of time in that room and on that roof as a teenager, until we moved to an apartment in what passed for downtown Swarthmore.
This room was where I found Bessie at the end of the dream.
Mom was a packrat. She kept costume jewelry, every purse she ever owned, and every scarf, no matter how questionable the pattern or fabric. (This was the 80’s – you might recall the fashion then was somewhat objectionable for the most part.)
This was the stash I was meaning to plunder for our escape. The little useless things Mom kept that were always so precious to me as a child – gold clip-on earrings I used for dress-up, atrocious broches, and that one tiny diamond ring she kept. I can’t remember now if it was hers, a memento from her first marriage, or my grandmother’s. I still have it, in any case.
I feel like the villains of the world around me have invaded my most private sanctuaries and memories. When I told him part of the dream this morning, Brian said, “I’m gonna have to keep you cut off from the outside world, ain’t I?” I don’t know that it would do much good at this point. What’s worse – the reported facts of the history unfolding around us, dark as it is, or the imaginings of my head deprived of input? Being cut off from the outside world – a self-induced hermitage from news and opinions – might work temporarily, and has worked in the past, for a little while, to regain some sense of sanity. But it also cuts you off from the good things – from the stories of people who are implementing their own sense of active compassion in the world. I promise I will post on those stories soon.
In the meantime, I’m gonna send a big dream-demon-dog after those fuckers. I’m gonna take back the voice of my father. I’m gonna go pirate on their asses and steal my mother’s legacy back. I’m gonna get that self-satisfied bastard out of my beloved attic room. You just watch. It may take me a while, but I do still have the power to clean out my own head, if nothing else. I’ve done it before, and you’re damn straight I’ll do it again.
You just watch.