Protection

Please know you are constantly in my thoughts. Despite your perpetual presence in my mind, your footprint on my psyche, there are no concrete traces of you in the world. You are immaterial, you are nonexistent. And yet this very nonexistence thrusts you into a spotlight of not just being but of wonder and awe, concern and dread. It might be unfair to weaponize the abstract ‘you;’ to use what you may (or may not) be to express my own frustrations. Perhaps it’s your fluidity, perhaps it’s your permanence in my heart urging me to express to you my feelings. Perhaps I’m afraid to sign my own name to worldly frustrations and fears and my personal agonies.

Why am I so inclined to think about you? Maybe it’s a societal pressure, a bending norm that floods my social media feeds with your prospective peers – their first week, their first month, their first year, each in a meticulously coordinated Gap outfit. My peers present only jubilation online; their happiness and success reach across my entire timeline, towering over political hot takes and graduate school diplomas. They dominate their sphere and, because I cannot look away, they dominate my sphere, too. I want that happiness; or, at least, I want that perception of that happiness, that feeling of achievement, that beauty of stewardship and unrelenting love. I want that for you too.

But my head is very cluttered. This does not make me unique, but it directly affects you. I don’t let fear govern my life. Fear is a monstrous machine, a tactic used by the Right, a tactic used by the Left, a tossed salad of Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow takes and media and my second amendment-loving uncle. Sometimes you are what you eat, but I consume this salad regularly and have morphed, not part of the salad kit but influenced by it. Shit, maybe I do let fear govern my life. But how couldn’t I?

Do I fear for you? Of course. What, specifically, I fear is far nuanced. The expectation of preserving the world’s wellbeing is on your shoulders.  That isn’t in any manual, but that’s my expectation of you because it’s my expectation of me.  And my performance has been fucking dreadful.  I’m a grain of sand on a beach of apathy. While glaciers melt, I bring my own bag. While unarmed Black men are murdered, I re-read Ta-Nehisi Coates.  While foreign people are oppressed, I post scriptures online.  I’m terribly inadequate – only adept enough to acknowledge my own inadequacy. I fear you’ll either feel the same uselessness, or I fear that you won’t. If you do, how will I gently let you know you’re facing the impossible? If you don’t, if you gravitate to consumerism and career and leisure, what will I have done but photocopied my own image?

I fear for your mentality. I mostly dismissed Punnett Squares when learning about them in high school, but I remembered the dominant gene. I remembered it first for a test, but later because of my own inclinations and my own internal struggles. They call it a “chemical imbalance.” I do too, because “motherfucker” is not a formal medical term. But if you are to be the product of this lottery, I fear the outcome. Would you scratch off a number to reveal a life supply of palm sweat, overthinking, and irrational and debilitating anxieties? Would you face flare-ups of panic, bouts of hopelessness, cycles of disillusionment? Would this torturous, insufferable motherfucker suffocate you? If so, what could I do? I bought you the ticket and scratched off the numbers.

I fear your arrogance. This may seem an unfair projection, but you are me and your arrogance is my arrogance. It’s possible I could assure you nice things. A stable income. A place to sleep. Amenities on top of basic staples. A middle-class socioeconomic status in a “safe” neighborhood. Good schools and academic mobility. The Jeopardy category for all these clues is titled “privilege.”  Your peers may reject this reality because my peers reject this reality. I abused my truth of whiteness, heterosexuality, affluence, and opportunity.  My harmful anti-Semitic and homophobic and racially insensitive and misogynistic troupes found praise and encouragement from my mates. My arrogance clouded – and is clouding – my reconciliation. When they say, “learn from your mistakes,” I want that to mean your spending and eating habits. I don’t want you to learn from your mistakes that harm others because those are mistakes beyond destruction. They can damage people, just as I have unknowingly done. Your peers may carry on, telling you you’re too woke or too sensitive, but you must understand the gravity of your words and actions. Yes, I want to protect you from the world, but I also want to protect the world from you.

You have unfathomable power, both to hurt and to be hurt. I fear for your livelihood. It’s true that I rolled my eyes when commanded to “text when I arrive safely.”  I did not understand that my safety was in constant jeopardy.  Nor could I grasp the threat I carried to innocent bystanders.  When I blasted J. Cole behind the wheel while shooting off a text, or watched unresponsive as my roommates binge-drank, I abetted reckless endangerment in the name of having fun.  Fun.  Some would retort that “you have to live your life” but you must be living your life in order to live your life. And if I somehow manage the Herculean effort of shepherding you from your own threat, how then will I shepherd the other 7 billion? Drivers are becoming drunker. Disease is becoming deadlier. Powerful men are becoming more predatory. Gun culture is becoming more glorified. Mass shooters are becoming more common and more accurate.

You could certainly argue that my approach is a fearmongering sibling to my laundry list of late-night hosts and social media posts that incite fear. I don’t mean to spread concern, only to describe my own interpretations. I am a cynic, but also an optimist and a realist. I know that if the immaterial ‘you’ one day crystallized, there would be joy and laughter, sharing of a mutual boundless love. Though I carry unnecessary fear and anxiety, political and humanitarian anger, I’m also living a life defined by a supply chain of love, from the Most High to my elders to my younger siblings. Perhaps it’s because of this love I’ve sensitized to a supply chain of pain. I want to terminate genocide and I want to uplift my friend going through a rough patch. I want everybody safe. I don’t want to heal your wounds; I want you to have no wounds.

All this weighs on me as I struggle to answer the question my timeline is unconsciously asking, almost beckoning with their sonogram and stroller ride photo reels, beleaguering my decision to be indecisive. With one eye I read a comical onesie slogan and see a toothless smile; with the other I read The Onion’s ‘No Way to Prevent’ mass shooting satire and see tearful faces. In my hands I examine a box of contraceptives that are branded as ‘protection’ and I wonder: is this protection for me, or is it for you?   

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