“Aussie, suddenly you’re afraid of everything. You don’t like construction sites—”
“Those trucks cause earthquakes!”
“They’re pounding the earth to put in new utility poles, Aussie. You also don’t like the sound of gunshots from shooting ranges.”
“I need to be near somebody who’s going to kill me?”
“You’re afraid of the carwash. You used to love the carwash.”
“Till you left the back window open and I got white soap suds all over me.”
“Was that traumatic for you, Aussie?”
“No, realizing you’re getting senile on me is traumatic. Anyway, it’s good to be afraid of things.”
“You want to survive, don’t you?”
I talk to Aussie while listening to live coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. I don’t do this full-time; depending on who’s testifying, I make the sound louder or softer. It becomes like the song of racism in this country, sometimes more audible and sometimes less, depending on who’s talking and who’s listening. But it’s always there.
And everybody’s afraid. How palpable it is may differ, but fear underlies everything in that trial: fear of being black and encountering police; fear of being police and encountering blacks; fear of people gathering around you, yelling and cursing; fear of chokeholds. Do they call them restraints? Nothing restrains like death.
Fear of not breathing. Calling out to your mother.
I met Rafael 9 days ago when he came by for a food card. He and Jimena chatted in Spanish.
“Do you know of some work Rafael can do?” Jimena says to me. “He’ll do anything. Clean-up, outdoors, anything at all.”
“Do you work now?” I ask. He looks like a boy to me.
He works in the farm, he explains, only he needs more work.
“How is your mother?” Jimena asks.
When he leaves, I ask her: “How old is Rafael?”
“19,” she says. “He needs money for his mother. She has cancer, so he came here to get work so that he could send her money for medications.”
The drawback is that he can’t drive legally, so whoever has work for him must also pick him up to bring him to the work site and return him afterwards.
These stories are like the testimony I hear from the Chauvin trial—voices reminding me all the time of an alternative reality to my shared-house-in-the-country-with-dogs-and-six-birdfeeders life. The shadows here invite me to take photos of the nuances of spring. The shadows of other people are reminders of violence, fear, loss of breath, loss of your mother.
Shadows can be so abstract. They make for great art, but also for concealment and ambiguity.
“I don’t get it, Aussie. When you first came here, the only thing you were afraid of was men; nothing else fazed you. Now you’re afraid of everything.”
“I got older and more mature, I know that the world is a scary place.”
“Are you sure that’s the lesson you’re meant to learn? You used to love going to Jimena with me. Everyone petted you, made a big fuss. Most of the little children liked you. But last time you practically bolted from her porch and I had to close you up in the back seat of the car.”
“There were pit bulls on the street!”
“So what? Aussie, I had the best pit bull in the world. Bubale loved people, children and babies. She couldn’t stop licking them.”
“Did she love dogs?”
“And what about Spiderman?”
“Spiderman who jumped out of the car and scared me to death.”
“You mean little Miguel who popped out of the car window with a Spiderman mask in front of us?”
“You can give out all the food cards you want, I’m never going back there again.”
You can also send a check either to support my blog or to buy food cards for immigrant families to: Eve Marko, POB 174, Montague, MA 01351. Please write on the memo line what you are donating to. Thank you.