What are we fighting for?

Little A is named after the Game of Thrones character who’s not supposed to even have a name. Or a face. And yet there she was, being a bad-ass, boss-ass motherfucker on last night’s premiere, reminding those piece of shit Freys that the North remembers. A friend sent me a Facebook message immediately after: “Hot damn! That intro… when you guys named your daughter, bet you didn’t know she was going to be straight gangsta!” I responded with the “in-tears laughing” emoji, but what I really wanted to say was, “Well, actually, that seems about right.”

Little A got mad at me on Saturday because I was pulling weeds in the garden instead of pushing her in a stroller down the driveway. “I’m going to get a gun from Pennsylvania and shoot you,” she said. I told Mr. D about it later, and he said, “Yeah, she said she wanted me to die earlier, too. Ah, our sweet little A.” Then we both laughed and let it go.

But I thought about it as we drove to dinner. I thought about a lot of things, in my slightly stoned condition. I thought about my need to talk, about all the things I want to say to Mr. D but never do because he never really talks back or engages me in conversation, and in my attempt to better fit his groove, I fall farther away from myself. Because I’m a talker, and I said as much as we were driving. “So talk,” he told me, and I did. I talked about all the things that popped into my mind, and he responded in his tepid, disinterested way. I talked about Little A’s remarks, how my mom was helping in the yard and overheard her and must have mentioned it to my dad because he voiced his concerns later as I dropped the kids off for a sleepover. I talked about how it concerned me, too.

Mr. D said Little A was just pushing the envelope, that she doesn’t know what she’s saying. I disagreed and said it comes from a place of anger, hurt and resentment, that she has no control of her emotions, and left unchecked, it could be a dark and dangerous precedent.

There are two boys in her preschool that she doesn’t like. G and B. She talks about them often but has never actually told us what it is that they do to her. “Do they hurt you? Do they say mean things? How do they make you feel?” I ask her often, but she responds like her father–tepid and disinterested, leaving me with nothing.

I suggested to Mr. D that when we talk to Little A, we try and speak to her in words she’ll understand. To compare what she says to us to the way G and B speak to her. To ask how it makes her feel and remind her that her words have the power to do the same. He agreed.

We pulled into the restaurant, and I grabbed the bottle of wine I had carefully selected/stolen from my parents for the occasion. It had been months since we’d been on a date, and years since I’d been to this particular BYO, and I carried the conversations on my own as Mr. D left his wine undrunk and I finished my glass.

“You could have told me I looked nice,” I said.

“You do,” he replied. “I was thinking it earlier.”

“Yeah, well, it wouldn’t kill you to say so.”

We finished our dinner in record time and drove home, waiting for some friends to come over. He never complimented me or showed any affection until about five minutes after we got home, when he grabbed me to kiss me, and I thought, Oh fuck you with your tardy attempts to be sweet when you didn’t do a single fucking sweet thing all night. I can’t stand you. All you do is take me for granted. As if my love for you will sustain this marriage because you never want to work at it. And by work, all you have to do is say nice things from time to time, act like you enjoy my company, and fuck me. As if it’s so hard. Or maybe it is.

I was crying when our friends came over but dashed to the bathroom to compose myself, and I don’t think anyone noticed. Mr. D and I slept on far corners of the bed that night.

The next morning, he picked up the girls from my parents, brought them home, and Little A repeated her same Pennsylvania gun threats when I tried to switch off Littlest Pet Shop. Mr. D and I attempted to talk to her, but I finally said, “Ok, I will not be speaking to you for the rest of the day.”

And for whatever it’s worth, the idea of being shot and killed isn’t so strange to me. Not by my child, of course, but it’s a thought that crossed my mind quite frequently a year ago, after I received the cover of my last magazine with the words “Rape, Torture, Kill” scribbled on top. It was in my mailbox at work, along with some vaguely racist epithets and oddly incendiary language against Obama. It seemed to be written by a 2nd Amendment-loving former soldier with palpable PTSD. It left me terrified. One night, I dreamed of running through my house as men broke down the doors. I ran with my girls, faceless, shapeless, but whose presence I would know anywhere, in any reality or lack thereof. We hid on a rooftop garden, Big A under a bench, Little A and I inside a sandbox. She was loud as she shifted into place, and I could hear my heart pound as the footsteps drew nearer. There was a statue of a brass horse nearby, and a man asked Little A to hand it to him. “No, no,” he chided in a friendly tone. “Make sure you keep you eyes closed.” He was playing a game–one in which she wouldn’t see what he was about to do, and it gave me an immeasurable measure of peace, to know then that my girls were safe, the type of vacant certainty you only find in dreams. When he drew out a knife and stabbed me in the neck, I felt death envelop me like a blanket, wrapping me in its warmth and carrying me to a place unknown, as if I were falling into a forever that had no escape. My neck burned when I awoke. “Are you going to blog about it?” Mr D asked, after I told him my nightmare, and I said no. It felt too dark and personal.

That was almost a year ago. A few weeks back we took the girls to rural Pennsylvania, to visit Mr. D’s aunt and uncle, who own a motorcycle shop and a copious collection of firearms. They were so hospitable and sweet, letting our girls rev the engines of their Harleys and laughing uproariously at the ear-to-ear grin Little A wore with each vroom. I posted a lovely photo of the kids in their garage, a  beautiful work of art in and of itself, with posters and sculptures in an entrancing collage all around. Cropped out of my social media posts were the two Confederate flags and swastika; illegible but ever-present were the “Make America Great Again” bumper stickers.

Little A says she wants to get a gun from Pennsylvania to shoot me. I say: fuck you, kid. You want to know what it’s like to have a dead mom? Fine. I’ll be dead to you. Mr. D says I’m being too harsh, that I treat her the way I treat him. That I’m being too cold. That she needs us to be loving more than anything. That I’m a piece of shit. Those are his exact words to me, which he says, in the car, as the girls sit in relative silence in the back seat.

This is not the time for this, I say. Let’s not talk, I say. But we do. We say it all, and we say nothing. Nothing accomplished, nothing achieved. We don’t speak for the rest of the day, and after the girls fall asleep, we get stoned and watch Game of Thrones.

Arya starts the season off like only she can. It sets the stage for the entire episode: families diminished, fighting for relevance and survival, wondering why they’re still standing and what more they must do to succeed. The night is dark and full of terrors. Winter has come.

What are we fighting for, I wonder. As a country. As a philosophy. Isn’t it funny that at a time when technology connects us in ways unimaginable–we are more divided than ever? America First.  So insulated, as if we can go back in time. Perhaps we can. Perhaps Time is nothing more than a big circle.

What are we fighting for, I wonder, as Mr. D sits on the polar end of the couch. I start Tweeting. Maybe it’s a good thing that Mr. D never wants to talk to me. Maybe it will inspire me to Tweet more and talk to a wider world. Maybe the Internet will talk back.

I believe I’m a good talker. Which is basically all writing is. Me, talking to my reader. I have 160,000 who read my work project. Or technically… I have 160,000 people who get my magazine. But of those, how many people actually read it? I wish I knew.

I know I’ve improved the magazine, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done. But it could be better, and I want to make it so. My name is finally at the top of the masthead. After all the drama with the Duck–the one who took full credit for my work, who told me to write a 15-page report, overnight, as my dog died of cancer and then didn’t look at it for three weeks, and then told me I never made a deadline in my next performance appraisal–after all that, the Duck’s name is gone. And in my tiny little magazine world, I finally sit the Iron Throne.

I thought of my magazine as Arya Stark spoke with the Lannister soldiers. The alleged enemies. The pawns on the battlefield, and I thought of the cover story I pushed for the next issue, the one Enrique captured so beautifully in prose. About the ones who fight, and for whom the fight never fully ends.

This is our chance to do real journalism, I told Enrique, after he shared his first draft. Of the nearly 4 million post-9/11 veterans in America, just 3 in 10 hold bachelor’s degrees. We could do work that matters. Good work. Work that we’re proud of. Work that bears our name. Work worth fighting for.

I don’t always feel like fighting for my marriage, and I don’t always know what to say to my kids. I want to teach them to love fiercely. I want them to live a good life and know it. I want them to distinguish the bullshit from the things that matter, just as I want to separate the two for myself. And it is for those things–the important things, the real things, the ones worth dying for–that I want us to fight, with all we have. With a daring spirit bold.

 

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