For the month of February, each writer’s post will begin with the same line, which we’ve borrowed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
“All this happened, more or less.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“What’s happening now is what happened before, and often what’s going to happen again sometime or other” – Orson Welles
It happened on a Thursday.
One of our board members was on his way home when a car pulled up beside him and started to shoot. He was already in his doorway, but the two military policeman who were assigned to guard him took the volley of bullets and slumped over. Both bled, on the pavement, and later, when they dragged them into the car (no ambulance would come, not quick enough) they bled onto the seats. The car was bulletproof and it was supposed to keep everybody safe, but there is no safe, not really, not when you’re doing the kind of work they’re doing.
On Friday, the Honduran President had tweeted about it, and the US ambassador. The press had taken photos of the pavement and the car (the blood on the seats had dried, brown on gray) and a photo of the man who had bled too much and died. He was twenty years old, and in the photo he was smiling.
On a Thursday,
My brother turned twenty. He likes dense, esoteric books and building cabinets
And he is
On Friday I had to write emails about it, and decisions had to be made, and I didn’t have to make any of them, but I had to write people about them, and I had to google the name of our board member over and over again, and the pictures of him changed from
Thinning hair and soft hands to
Blood and crime scene tape.
I sent the email at 3 p.m., and at 3:05 I wondered how they would get the blood from the seats and I couldn’t get it out of my head: brown on grey, brown on grey and
I went to the bathroom to cry.
Javier and I got to the island at night, but it was bright and lively even late, and people walked with their wallets casually peeking out of their pockets, their cell phones in hand.
We weren’t tired yet, so we sat by the ocean and drank the cheapest beer (three dollars here, and only seventy-five cents on the mainland) and listened to the other vacationers.
“Oh my gawd” said a blonde woman, “Did I come in here barefoot or what did I do with my shoes?”
The sea was still and the moon full. Someone sang a bad cover of “Buffalo Soldier.” The island felt like a parody, like it had grown from someone’s imagination of what a Caribbean island might be like.
Then I saw on TV that there had been another shooting, this time in Fort Lauderdale, four dead, five dead, the number keeps growing, every day it keeps growing,
(fourteen people murdered every day in Honduras, various causes)
It had happened on a Saturday,
But the news took a while to reach me.
It happened on a Tuesday in November. I was sitting on my couch watching the states turn red and blue and red and red and when I realized what had happened,
I screamed F— THIS
And I started to cry and Sissel tried to comfort me but she laughed a little too, because I never swear and because she is from Denmark, and for her it wasn’t so personal.
She had gone to a gas station earlier, where the attendant had asked her, fearfully, “Who’s winning?”
“Who’s playing?” she had answered.
So instead I called Javier who is smart and sweet and brown, which felt to me for the first time like it meant something. He listened to me cry, but didn’t comfort me because,
“I can’t tell you things will be okay, because
Maybe, they won’t–”
(He works with the Hondurans we deport, as many as 700 sent back per week, planes filled with them, buses packed with them, dropped off at the airport with nothing but their disappointment. They don’t cross the border because the wall isn’t big enough. They cross because it’s that or go hungry or be shot or be jumped into gangs* and if the wall goes up, he knows, they will just build a tunnel, but more people will die on the way, more people will lose their legs when they try to jump on the train and miss, more people will be beaten on the borders or shot, and it will be
Worse than it is now, and now is
“We can pray and hope for the best,” he told me, then added, softly, “Do you understand a little better how we feel all the time?”
All at once it was too heavy, all the death I hear and write about, and the fear and abuse and poverty,
Oh my gawd, like the blonde woman said, oh my gawd.
I woke up. It was Friday. I read the news before getting out of bed, which meant before my feet hit the floor my heart was already heavy.
My head was shuffled, like a deck of cards. I laid my thoughts out on the table, trying to make sense of them, trying to find a pattern in the black and red, black and red, blue and red and red and red and brown on grey, brown on grey,
I don’t know if any of this makes sense.
All I can do is cry out that these things happened,
And they’re happening,
And they keep on happening and happening and happening
And happening and happening
And happening and
*This is a simplification. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie captures some of the nuances of the motivation to immigrate in Americanah when her character Obinze reflects, “Alexa and the other guests, and perhaps even Georgina, all understood the fleeing from war, from the kind of poverty that crushed human souls, but they would not understand the need to escape from the oppressive lethargy of choicelessness. They would not understand why people like him, who were raised well fed and watered but mired in dissatisfaction, conditioned from birth to look towards somewhere else, eternally convinced that real lives happened in that somewhere else, were not resolved to do dangerous things, illegal things, so as to leave, none of them starving, or raped, or from burned villages, but merely hungry for choice and certainty.”
Katerina Parsons (’15) lives in Washington D.C., where she works in advocacy at Mennonite Central Committee’s Washington office and studies international development at American University’s School of International Service. She spends a lot of time thinking about US policy towards Central America and North Korea, writing, singing, and searching for the city’s best pupusas (suggestions welcome).