Condom Races

“I can give example after example, seemingly trivial things he said, and me-then slicing them open to examine in my journal, one day agonizing over a hex of hero-worship, the next grateful I met someone so worthy of respect.”  —Something Wrong With Her Cris Mazza


Shouldn’t I start with the latest, and most jarring, incident? Before character introductions, before the narrative pondering of questions raised, before metaphors for the sadness, disillusionment, even fear aroused? And fear of what? Being wrong to begin with? Sensing a narrow escape? Somehow … being abandoned?

The initial questions already listed, the primary emotions already announced, why is it so hard to simply dramatize the event? Because it was an email exchange, without setting, facial expressions, background noise … details that I know impact a dramatic scene. Maybe my title can do the job of the lead-in hook, and I can continue blathering.

He is 15 years older, and long ago had become the only person who received a copy of every one of my books — 18 at the point of this occurrence. A mentor during my inwardly tumultuous 20s, then personified, with only the thinnest of camouflage, in four novels and easily a dozen stories.

The latest timespan between book publications had been longer than usual (I’m getting tired, and the world is relieved). Plus I’d delayed sending the latest book for a year and a half after its release. So, as I had for the last several books, before addressing and mailing the package, I emailed to find out if his address had changed. Asking about his address had always been an excuse: I needed to know if he was still alive, and it’s not polite to ask outright. But this time, there was no coy substitute question to discover if he’d recovered from being sucked into an ideological black hole. I was aware he’d run for his local city council in the 2010 Republican primary, as a Tea Party candidate. In fact, the last time we’d communicated, just a year and a half earlier, he’d told me he needed to go speak with several groups about why Hilary Clinton could not be president. I do think he said could not and not should not and I’m positive he said needed; while searching for that email might validate those details, I don’t really want, right now, the visceral face-to-face of words he actually typed.

The comment about Clinton probably and partially explained my delay in sending the book. (I probably had deliberated permanently suspending the book-sending practice.) So this time, even though I had already searched local obituaries to make sure he was still alive, I still did not inquire about his address wholly without trepidation.

His answer came back promptly: yes his address was still the same, yes he and his wife were enjoying decent health, playing golf for exercise. And  … “worrying what was going to happen to California when in the schools they have relay races with 5- and 6-year-olds racing up to put condoms on models of erect penises to see which team is fastest.”

“I went back to see Pryor … In his office — not the same one where I’d worked for him, a bigger one — there was a George Bush calendar on the wall right behind his head. I didn’t want him to notice me looking at it, didn’t want to hear him say anything about it, didn’t want to know what he would say, although the fact that he had it says enough, and says, above all, that I couldn’t have known him the way I thought I had.” —Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls

Why are there people in our pasts whom we can’t forget, can’t shake even when it’s healthier to do so? Besides former-spouses or former-lovers or a love-interest who never reciprocated. Not parents who abused or abandoned or siblings who broke ties. Not close friends who died or converted to a restrictive religion. These are good reasons for the termite trails left in our brains.

But why is it sometimes so difficult to forget, break from, or merely leave behind some of those from a mentor-class: bosses, teachers, professors; maybe a coach or choreographer, music or drama director, club advisor, scout leader?

“I might dream about you, but you’d be cutting my hair or touching my eyelids with your thumbs or balancing me as I walk around on the handrail of a balcony,” —Your Name Here:___

Did the mentorship ever go bad? Not in the old-fashioned way: the pupil did not eclipse (then neglect) the mentor. We were in different fields, but even a comparison of our career trajectories had a zero factor in any morphing of the mentor relationship.

Also, it didn’t go bad in the now #metoo-established ways. The mentorship never turned sexual, romantic, or even flirtatious. For curious reasons, this is considered bizarre or a suspicious claim. Why should it provide a problem? … but it does: in defining the relationship. The interpersonal dynamic I pondered in all those stories and novels was inexhaustive and resilient as “material” because it was an undefined relationship, or defined in the negative: not friends, not lovers, not colleagues, not peers, not professor-student, not family. As employer-employee, it was once removed. Was he my “boss”? Yes … and no. Was this a complicating factor? Yes, but not in a simple line-of-command way. And some of what did make the “boss” aspect an issue has only been perceived lately, as he was in his mid-30s and a comparison of his demeanor, insight, and ability to reflect doesn’t jibe with either 30-somethings I’ve met from “the other side” or my own bumbling 30s. But remember, my perception of him was that of a 22-year-old, and that image also doesn’t jibe with the Tea Party candidate conspiracy-believer. It’s possible his sagacity, grace-under-pressure, and calming-leadership were a sham, created in part by my unfinished brain’s stewing anxiety over my impending but latent, even delayed adulthood.

But the true complication in our unofficial mentorship relationship came primarily from the “real” boss, the one with official charge and accountability for my position, who was also my mentor’s senior-faculty program director. We both worked under an egomaniac conniver whose motives always came from his desire for power and prestige. This seems almost comical, but power and prestige exist in every little world and society, even dog-training, even Boy Scouts, even Little League, even collegiate bands, even university English departments.   When he wanted to win a teaching award, the Monster wrote a letter of recommendation for himself and asked his junior colleague to sign it. The junior colleague (my Mentor) did as asked. When I, the letter’s typist, realized and looked up from my keyboard aghast, the Mentor said, “just type it exactly as is.”
I recognize now that my mentor’s senior-colleague (and my “real” boss) was gaslighting and manipulating my mentor, “requiring” certain behavior and decisions out of sheer jealousy (the threat my mentor posed on a popularity scale, on a future-prestige scale, on a future-glory scale, etc.). The boss was using common narcissistic maneuvers on me as well. When I looked to my mentor for … what … protection? Relief? Cover? … there was little to none. There was only his ability to explain … although often cryptically. Betrayal was how his conflict became defined in my POV; but the boss had a lasso on my mentor’s future, and I did not. Maybe what we really shared as a relationship was that we were both thrashing around (maybe simultaneously cowering), trying to figure out how to react or survive this monster’s style, posture, and conduct. For decades I’ve always referred to this boss as the only human being I’ve ever hated. Just now, trying (again, again, again) to describe him, I realize he was, not-so-astonishingly, a precursor but comparatively trivial Donald Trump.   Their tension started with jealousy and was manifested by my regard for my Mentor over the Monster. I did extra work for former and not for the latter. “Too much allegiance to the desk in the corner,” I was told. While I was house-sitting for his neighbor — a situation he arranged — Monster took me aside to “warn” (i.e., gaslight) me about Mentor: He was all image and no substance, basically a charismatic, and I shouldn’t “chase after personality” because I’d lose myself. Meanwhile, while I was not privy to what Monster may have said to Mentor, the Mentor started warning me that he might have to ignore me, couldn’t be seen talking to me, and couldn’t call me the name I was currently trying to use instead of a childhood nickname, because he “can’t appear to have knowledge about parts of your [my] life that have nothing to do with your [my] job.” What was he told, what did he deduce, what did he fear?
True, it was my mentor who struggled the most under the ego-motivated, manipulative, sometimes illegal practices of this monster. But even as the mentor was pressured into participating in a plan to drive me out of my job (among other ploys he was coerced into being part of), he still tried (without grand success) to advise me in being able to function without emotion, to help me perceive more of what was going on around me besides my mess, to warn me, even console me, to validate my abilities and attempt to redirect my attention to what should be my full focus and real mission. Have any low-level White House staffers (in their 30s) mentored a troubled 20-something to get out and find their real life’s work while simultaneously finding themselves being asked to lie, falsify reports, or perform illegal practices? Perhaps his lasting impact and importance lies there.   A state-employee position granted to the band program had a student-worker who elected to go home for the summer, so he ran a scheme whereby that employee cashed his state checks and sent a personal check to the person doing the work. The Monster also falsified addresses in order to get paid jobs for noneligible students in a city-run summer employment program for inner-city youth.

“Despite an easy presumption to label it a girlish crush, it was not his leading-man exterior that entranced me. It was that he looked me in the eye, undistracted, while he spoke and listened, and frequently perceived, probed and comprehended the center of my tacit and (I thought) inexpressible insecurities.” —Something Wrong With Her

The previous 5 paragraphs were written by hand in a notebook while I waited for an oil change. On the way home, without cognizant reasoning, instead of my usual practice of listening to MSNBC or CNN news on satellite radio, I chose the 70s music channel. The playlist gave me: “You’re so Vain” … “The Way We Were” … then “To Sir With Love.”

The time has come for closing books and long last looks must end
And as I leave, I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong
That’s a lot to learn, but what can I give you in return?

 Well, I gave him the 18 books I authored. Now wondering about the right-and-wrong, weak-and-strong concepts I might have absorbed.

Selected mentor quotes:

  • “Are you explaining or defending?”
  • “Credit is easy. Once you’re credible you’ll wish you weren’t.”
  • “A person’s character can be judged by how he responds to not getting his own way.” [He could have used female pronouns, but probably didn’t.]
  • “When the main concern is who gets the credit, little is accomplished.”
  • “Only idiots follow instructions without asking questions.”

And on the subject of perception alone:

  • “Look around, be perceptive. You’re the center of the universe to yourself but not to the rest of the world. Things are not going to be so level, so pure as you want them to be.” [Did he say “level”? That’s what my college journal claims he said. Or did he say “simple” or “equal” or “lucid”?]
  • “When you leave home like this, all you have to do is go 100 miles up the freeway and your life doesn’t seem real anymore, everything’s out of phase, out of proportion, like worrying late at night.”
  • [And, note same theme…] “Have you ever fried an egg? Then you know how you can let it get too hard, turn it over and over-do the other side. The cell breaks down, changes composition, corrodes, changes color, and gets really ugly. That’s like thinking too much, especially when you haven’t slept, you have no resistance, everything changes color.”

Forecasting the future of his own perception?

“’How about if someone told you you’re not the center of the universe to anyone but yourself,’ even though you looked at me and smiled, your words spoken so softly, and the background was a dying day.”  —“Former Virgin”

“Are you still unadulterated?”  —“Animal Acts”

The Believing Brain

No need to repeat the facts about and research on how long it takes the human brain to fully mature. Heightened emotion, impulsiveness, varying amounts of narcissism can continue to stew up to one’s mid-20s. I’ve already wondered how that unfinished brain’s condition may have impacted the mentee’s perception of the mentor’s character, personality, integrity, as well as the one-time conclusion that he ultimately betrayed his mentee.

Now, however, I don’t know what fog or agenda in my perception wants to find a good excuse for the mentor’s turn toward the extreme outer limits of conspiracy theory. But a first look at research in conspiracy-theory belief shows researches not considering aberration but only the evolution of how a “normal” human brain works and why, with danger or survival being chief factors.     His particular conspiracy theory — condom races for 5-year-olds — has not appeared in writing anywhere that I could find. Thus it’s even more “out there” than flat-earth, contrails-are-mind-control-poison, or democrats-are-running-a-sex-slave-industry.

“Belief in conspiracy theories appears to be driven by motives that can be characterized as epistemic (understanding one’s environment), existential (being safe and in control of one’s environment), and social (maintaining a positive image of the self and the social group)… This research suggests that people may be drawn to conspiracy theories when—compared with non-conspiracy explanations—they promise to satisfy [these] important social psychological motives.” (Karen M. Douglas, Robbie M. Sutton, Aleksandra Cichocka, The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories, Dec. 7, 2017).

A related study proposes “…conspiracy beliefs are part of an evolved psychological mechanism specifically aimed at detecting dangerous coalitions.” (Jan-Willem van Prooijen and Mark van Vugt, Conspiracy Theories: Evolved Functions and Psychological Mechanisms, 2018.) 

In other words, beliefs in unproven, hyperbolic, beyond farfetched “facts” happens through normal brain function. “From sensory data flowing in through the senses, the brain naturally begins to look for and find patterns, and then infuses those patterns with meaning. Our brains connect the dots of our world into meaningful patterns that explain why things happen, and these patterns become beliefs. Once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation.” (Credit to whoever wrote the book blurb for The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths by Michael Shermer.)

Further exploration might have also led me to research forms of tribalism rising in opposing political principles, and the tendency, therefore, to see hidden life-threatening (or lifestyle-threatening) danger in “the other side.” Although from my (biased) perspective, it does seem that “my side” doesn’t hold as many scientifically unsustainable (i.e., crackpot) conspiracy theories. Maybe Trump is a mentally ill psychopath counts, but when juxtaposed to Trump was sent by God to fix America the irrational derangement doesn’t seem to be of the same dimension.   April 28, 2019: A conspiracy theory is born: In a rally speech, the 45th president told the crowd that in blue states which allow late-term abortion, “The mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby.” (Found on PolitiFact, TalkingPointsMemo, ScaryMommy, a few others.) No national media outlet — newspaper or broadcast network media — carried the outrageous hyperbole (i.e., lie) as “news.”

But all of the above research is only interested in conspiracy theories adopted by large swaths of people. The researchers give examples like anti-vaxxers and flat-earth, government-staging of the 1969 moon walk and terrorist attack of 2001, and the contrail-is-mind-control-poison myth (interesting note: conspiracy theorists may have either mistaken or changed the word contrail for chemtrail). Searching details from any of these conspiracies displays an abundant list on Google and Snopes. But “condom races for 5-year-olds” or “five-year-old children forced to run condom races” — in any rearrangement of specifics — exhibits zero results. No one is talking about, spreading, or believing this story. The closest hits are actual condom races sponsored by various AIDS organizations in the 1980s for college students. These couldn’t be the “patterns” perceived by an evolutionarily wary brain alert for danger.

So: what if it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but you can’t find anyone else who believes it? My conjecture is there must be a how-the-brain-works difference between joining current ballooning conspiracy theories — easily available and passed in tweets, posts, blogs, or email — and adopting one that can’t even be found anywhere on the wide swath of information available except in a different form 30 or 40 years ago. This, to me, tends to put this particular belief in the realm of paranoid delusion.

The Injured (But Believing) Brain

My mother’s brain was injured via stroke just days after a triple bypass. She was only 75. She had time left for speech therapy to improve the resultant aphasia — not a physical difficulty forming words but a neurological language-processing malady. Pronouns and prepositions were scrambled (from the same as to, here the same as there, he and she mysteriously reversed in almost every case). Family relationships (sister, daughter, mother— scrambled), verbs (go and come a mystery to be unraveled), and nouns … she might say railroad when she meant airline). The brain stores language in mysterious ways.

A worse consequence of aphasia was in understanding incoming language, complicated by hearing loss. She began to sit in an isolated bubble at family dinners and parties. She could read large-print books but not watch TV. She had basic know-how for email; she had my father correct her outgoing messages and actual letters (slathered in white-out corrections). Just months after the stroke, when I’d experienced my usual airsickness returning home after visiting her, she typed in an email, “Sory for the terrible sick on the plane.” She eventually wrote an essay that started: “Time to decide to write.” There was something beautifully unique about her diction and sentence structure. Even in November 2008, when, in the weeks after the presidential election, she nearly sobbed, “This new one is going to take all our money.” It was not Obama who took their money, but the 24-hour care she required in her last year of life.

But following her stroke under George W. Bush, she slowly got better, until she started to get worse again. Congestive heart failure was shrinking the amount of oxygen sent to her brain before anyone realized. Before the longer and longer bouts of sleeping, before the fainting, before the monthly then weekly trips to the ER followed by over a year spent in a hospital bed on home-hospice care … Long before any of that, she began pestering my father to help her enter the publisher’s clearinghouse sweepstakes. “A person wins,” she would say.

Over a decade earlier, my uncle, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, was discovered to have spent thousands entering the Canadian lottery. A New York Times article in 2010 on the financial hardship of early onset dementia gave a profile of a man who was “sending substantial amounts to lottery schemes.” (Not insinuating the Canadian Lottery is a scheme.)

This kind of belief suggests brain injury. Call it heightened belief. Or delusional belief. Now add paranoid belief. Commonly, dementia manifests in paranoid delusions, most frequently involving caregivers and family members. My ex-mother-in-law reported that her caregiver ran out the back door with all her laundry, that the hospital was a “clip-joint” and her son was “in on it with them,” and that a stranger knocked on the door to tell her that her new curtains were beautiful (not all delusions are paranoid, but all delusions are …)

“Paranoid symptoms (e.g. believing that someone is out to get you, or is taking your stuff, or is in the house at night) falls into a category of mental symptoms that is technically called ‘psychosis.’” (Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH, Better Health While Aging.) “Psychosis is uncommon in younger people, but becomes much more common as people get older. That’s because any of these symptoms can emerge when people’s brains aren’t working properly for some reason.”

And those reasons: from the earliest signs of dementia to a late onset of schizophrenia to other neuropsychiatric disorders (Naresh Nebhinani et al., “Late-life Psychosis: An Overview,” 2015). Neuropsychiatry deals with mental disorders and behaviors — including psychosis, anxiety, and disinhibition, a few I cherry-picked off a longer list — that are the result of a nervous system disease. And a “disease” like dementia could be considered a traumatic brain injury. But what if there was a prior event of a corporeal traumatic brain injury?

My last visit (out of only a handful) to my mentor in the years since my first book was published was in the early 2000s. It was also the last time he told me a story to make a point in answer to a “situation” in my life … and it spawned another book (Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls).

When you read the excerpt of that dialogue, one detail, a throwaway, is his voice being “more scratchy” than it used to be. It was an aural detail I had perceived and recalled, so there it was, included in the scene. But the background of the scratchy voice was another story he’d told during that visit; a story that had nothing to do with me, with my history with him, with our nameless relationship, and had not been used in the fictional scene. He’d told me that in the recent past, he’d been in a bicycle accident, had hit his head and lost consciousness and was ambulanced to a hospital. The scratchy voice was residual from intubation. That fact alone indicates a level of seriousness. But he also told me he’d lost a lot of his memory, for names and incidents; and his years at the university, in what he did recall, had no sense of chronology. And yet … his memory of the girl who’d tried to lure him into teenaged marriage was lucid. Long term vs. short term memory. At the dementia-care facility where I take my dog for therapy, a woman tells me the details of her 80-pound dog scaring her neighbor … three times every visit… but she doesn’t recall ever seeing my dog last week.

   “Those are the kinds of moments that definitely stick with you,” he said. And with that, he shifted into a different gear, back to being the Pryor who knew me as a girl, and his voice became his voice, a little more scratchy than it was then, but still the same earnest voice as when I was across from his desk. He said, “When I was in high school, I was dating this girl for a while, and it was just dating, someone nice to do things with.”
A feeling of normalcy may’ve settled over the conversation, but it didn’t mean I was relaxed the way I used to be. I would never be relaxed with him again.
“Then one night,” he continued, “she wanted me to go to this amusement park, but it seemed odd because not many other people were there. And she insisted we only go on this dark little boat ride.”
“But who could possibly do anything during the ride?”
“Well,” he said, “she tried. I was a very morally concerned boy, and didn’t think it would be right.”
“Was she furious afterward?”
“It turned out, she was pregnant, and she didn’t want the boy who was responsible to know; she didn’t think he would do the right thing, or else she knew it would be a disaster if he did. And there I was, this really nice, responsible, moral, boy, and if she could get me to …”
“Then you’d think it was yours.” I stared straight out the windshield, not at him. “Then you’d have married her.”
 “I would have. And gotten a job, and not gone to college. Everything would have been a completely different path. You can’t help but bookmark a moment like that.”
Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls
Among the symptoms of long-term effects from traumatic head injury, from multiple sources: memory loss, mood swings, impaired cognitive function, and other degenerative brain conditions. Among the symptoms of degenerative brain conditions is psychosis. Among the symptoms of psychosis are delusions, hallucinations, depression, even late-onset schizophrenia-spectrum disorders, all of which can display in  “disorganized thoughts … meaning saying or thinking things that seem illogical or bizarre to others,” (“6 Causes of Paranoia in Aging…,” Leslie Kernisan, MD, MPH). Research also led me to a lesser known from of dementia called frontotemporal degeneration (FTD), “a form of dementia centered in the brain’s frontal lobe. Unlike Alzheimer’s disease, which attacks the brain’s memory centers, FTD causes atrophy in the part of the brain that controls judgment, behavior and executive function. People with FTD are often described as apathetic, lacking in empathy and exhibiting an impaired social filter,” [emphasis mine] (Kevyn Burger, So add loss of inhibition to the list of symptoms. Our relationship couldn’t still (if it ever was) be one where he would, in his 3rd sentence, tell me his deepest fears.   Head injuries are particularly worrisome for a number of reasons—especially ones that result in traumatic brain injuries. Not only are these injuries highly dangerous in the short term, but they may have devastating long-term effects.
Depending on the nature of the injury, its severity, treatment received, and many other factors, a head wound can result in permanent brain damage that causes an impairment lasting the rest of your natural life.
Some long-term side effects caused by a head injury may worsen. This could be due to the slow degradation of brain cells over time
—team-written for 


Just noticed: my search for a rationalization for the Mentor’s belief in condom races for five-year-olds is in itself proving that “once beliefs are formed the brain begins to look for and find confirmatory evidence in support of those beliefs, which accelerates the process of reinforcing them, and round and round the process goes in a positive-feedback loop of belief confirmation.” My mom entered publisher’s clearinghouse because of brain damage … my Mentor believed a conspiracy theory no one else ever heard of because of …

Crunching the cause-effect is easy, especially if you’re desperate for an answer. Impaired cognition + (forms of) psychosis + paranoia + lowered inhibition = an excuse.

It’s possibly true, may be the reason, could be what has befallen him. There are some factors that would tend to go against my hypothesis, like that his wife might also be endorsing these strange views (with only an impaired view of her social media to judge this). What can’t be denied is that finding an explanation was important … for me.

“Despite the reams of paper damaged by the electric typewriter on his second desk where I logged the bewildered fears and fretfulness and fury of a 20-year-old, I can barely begin to recount specifically what happened, and when, there in his office, where I was paid for ten hours a week, but where I stayed for at least 15, sometimes more.” —Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls

The Orphaned Brain

Is mine the first generation to feel set adrift, pushed from the nest, at 60? Or is it an upshot of myself being childless, so there’s only one parent-child relationship in my life, the first one, which, inevitably, ends. It wasn’t as though I lost a lifetime of essential influential parenting; I can remember many innocent missteps but little, if any, cogent wisdom. She gave the lesson of example: how to live fully in every moment — recognized, appreciated, idealized, if not followed. I had never, going back to teenaged years, asked her advice or told her of my sorrows or dilemmas. Still, with her passing was the basic loss of someone-who-cared. When my father followed two years later, the loss became the complete removal of scaffolding, or the sun’s gravity. It had been several years since the last time he’d dispensed advice or opinion, but almost everything I did (except writing) included a background question of what he/they would think of it.

If being a parent helps to dull the loss-of-orbit when parents pass, could being a mentor do the same when mentors fall-from-grace? If so, the comparative flimsiness of the female mentor is another topic to be plumbed, the first stop being studies that show college students more often use the words genius, wise, or inspiring for male professors, while words chosen more often for female professors than male are nice and friendly, or strict and bossy. Not qualities that develop into durable or profound mentorships. Perhaps, as well, there was a desire lacking in the particular female professor now cogitating the subject, not enough of a gut tug to become a mentor, or too much residual identity of being the mentee to allow for any effective reversal.

Recently, in a cursory communique for a practical reason, a former student — male, who had not kept contact with me and likely had read none of my books, even when he was a student — told me that a former undergrad of his — female — was doing a master’s project on all four of his novels. Must be nice, I almost replied. The irony of his boast apparently lost on him.

My mentor was in a different field, a life coach not career adviser. Without analyzing what might have been lacking in my relationship with my parents, and if possible, putting undeniable gender contrasts aside, I was apparently in enough dire need of a life coach to become addicted to the rapport, plus seemingly so inadequately or incompletely coached that I never stepped up to pay it forward. Truly alone in a self-made vacuum.

“… you’d laugh. Not out loud, but that smile which is a laugh anyway. Sometimes a shared laugh. That was only okay if I was the one sharing it. If not … I felt like someone who desperately wants something, deprived of it over and over and over. But what was it?” —Your Name Here:___

Here is where I should return to the mentor’s situation at the time, how young he actually was, how his professional (and then personal) life was destabilized by the Monster — ostensibly in a position to be his mentor. How unhealthy the whole milieu was for everyone. And still he tried. As he tries, now, to stop five-year-olds from being forced to run condom relays.

“And then you smiled. I never saw you in the process of smiling, and I never saw the sun coming up—it’s just suddenly there, muscling its way over mountains, around trees or through cracks in clouds. Your smile was always something waiting inside, on your other side, like where the sun is at night.” —“Second Person”


Election 2016: A Lyric Essay


*The Spatial Election*

More than anything, this election seemed to be about space. A black man occupied the White House for two terms, and now a white woman has a serious chance of doing the same. Should it be surprising that The Donald won the Republican nomination? If a Negro or a Broad can rule the empire, surely a Wealthy White Man by virtue of his colonial legacy can too—personal background be damned. The rebellion might have achieved a minor progressive parade, but now The Empire Strikes Back. With no actual applicable experience to cite for his fifty-state job interview, Trump made it about space. The Oval Office is obviously too easy to obtain, and this corruption bores into every facet of the American Experience. It’s too easy for Mexicans to enter our climate-changed deserts, and so we need a goddamn wall to uppercut them back. It’s too easy for Syrian refugees to wait two years as they toss tarnished souls into a bureaucratic penny fountain, and so we need to outlaw Islam just to be safe. A matronly diplomat is within reach of Pennsylvania Avenue? She needs to be relocated to a prison with other nasty women. Law & Order, Law & Order, Law & Order. We are a country without laws if a white man’s ass is not on the throne. This order has been disrupted by these imposters, these Others.

Donald never led in general election polls, and so he countered published statistics with observations of space. Look at this rally! Look at all these people! Look at how much space is occupied when I come to your town. Obviously this means peer-reviewed, published information must be wrong. The economy is good? I say it’s bad and watch the trash people flock. A non-white participant protests my crude language? Throw ’em out! Punch ’em! Remove ’em! Look at how a cultural critic has been ejected from my space, by virtue of my finger jabbing in their direction! I command this space for you, my frothing mass, my white bread yeast. The restoration of space has begun!

Women from his past began to come forward to share their stories of how Trump invaded their space. Beauty contestants recalled how he’d barge into their dressing rooms unannounced, reporters and associates were fondled without consent, and his magpie lips stole off-camera kisses. Trump responded with charges that the women were not attractive and, therefore, held space that was not valuable enough for him to occupy. He only invades the best space. The most luxurious space.

The second debate became the space apex. Trump’s campaign was spiraling down a long hollow shaft, à la the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, and so came the space attack. He invited Slick Willy’s former victims for a balcony cameo to unsettle the wife who was cheated on. Instead of allowing Hillary to command the floor during her answers, he loomed over her as much as he could get away with. This crone might be allowed on stage, but I will relinquish only so much of it. The Trump surrogates all cheered after about how “rattled” she seemed and that she was on the “defensive.” He might lose and lose badly, but he stole as much space as he could in the election’s final moments.


Over the spring of 2016 I played the game Persona 4. I had never played any of the Persona games previously, and, in fact, my love of Role Playing Games has dwindled a bit as I’ve come into my own as an adult. Role Playing Games are the ultimate adventure fantasy for young adults, and so it shouldn’t be surprising that protagonists are almost always men in their early adolescence.

In Persona 4, you play a young man from Tokyo who moves to the suburbs to live with his uncle and young cousin. The main storyline of the game involves a series of unsolved murders that occupy your detective uncle late into the night. You discover that someone is kidnapping the town’s denizens and imprisoning them inside a television world. You and your new friends can enter this television world and summon demons to destroy surreal monsters, making the game feel like an interactive Haruki Murakami novel.

You eventually discover that Mitsuo, an awkward, socially rejected transfer student has taken part in the murder spree. He disappears into the television world and when you confront him, he turns out to be a levitating infant hiding inside a skyscraper-sized knight. He says in a broken vocoder monotone, “I am…a shadow…Come…I’ll end your emptiness.” When he attacks your party, you see yourself from his perspective as he selects different options from a video game menu. He assumes that he is doing you a favor by destroying you because he is nothing more than a hollow baby raging against a culture that rejects him and, therefore, assumes everyone must feel the same way. If you are able to demolish his knight’s outer shell, he quickly recites gibberish language to conjure its return, rather than communicate with you directly.

Persona 4 thus critiques the traditional Role Playing Game tropes of using the genre to project a power fantasy. This need comes from feeling like an entitled infant as young men begin constructing their own masculinity. These games force you to use your maturing power to assist the weak and save humanity from its darker impulses, teaching young men that power requires a structural outlet if it’s to be wielded correctly.

The supernatural evil in Persona 4 is a desire to lash out indiscriminately at a culture that dares downplay your strength, and the game ultimately makes the argument that resentful men would end the planet if they could. The character of Mitsuo also demonstrates that a root cause for craving news coverage is a total lack of empathy for actual human beings. It’s also got a toe-tapping, J-Pop soundtrack.


Nothing depresses me more than a great singer in a karaoke bar. Karaoke is for below-average vocalists belting out nostalgia hits. But when a customer perfectly replicates Whitney Houston or Mariah Carey in some drafty dive, I just feel sad. Here is someone with a legitimate gift, and the only time that gift gets exercised is on Saturday nights between rounds of Jack. Why can’t the wealthiest empire in human history do more with its talented citizens? I’m more impressed with music than capital markets.

One Christmas at Shenanigans in Brooklyn, a non-regular took the microphone and requested Luciano Pavarotti. What came forth through the crackling speakers was the most powerful voice I’d ever heard. All conversations disintegrated as he rattled old-fashioned glasses with the finale of “O Sole Mio.” The bartenders held their phones aloft so that their wives could experience his human spirit reverberate. The applause went on for minutes. He thanked everyone and said he performs at the Met and desired a night of fun.

I had to follow him. Luckily, it was the pub singalong favorite of “Fairytale of New York.” I can’t sing particularly well, but I do come from a long line of Scottish drinkers, so I can do a mean Shane MacGowan. The Met Singer clapped and whistled as I slurred the opening bars.

I’ve always thought of “Fairytale of New York” as one of our more patriotic songs. It describes the wonder of the American Christmas: the season when a little too much neighborly booze and reconciliation is welcome. It only makes sense that it’s scheduled for a month after elections.

*The Secret of the Ooze*

The day my sister got married was the only day I didn’t have anxiety over this election. It took place in our hometown of Auburn, New York, a colossal paradox for a city of only thirty thousand. Home of William H. Seward, abolitionist. Home of Harriet Tubman, Underground Railroad Captain and Twenty-Dollar Bill Cover Girl. Home of Auburn Correctional Facility AKA Auburn Prison AKA Auburn Penal Colony. You see the cognitive dissonance embedded in the city’s neural pathways. Auburn’s brain is a dark storm of crows striking lifeless trees in feathery Vs throughout its black winters—a democratic Siberia.

My neighborhood growing up was filled with nobodies going nowhere good. There was the drug dealer across the street, the Baptist family that locked their daughters indoors during Halloween, and a whole lot of screaming domestic disputes fueled by the local brewery. Most people either worked for the prison or were incarcerated by it.

As I rose through the ranks of academia, the more my origin story made little sense to me, and, therefore, I wouldn’t acknowledge it. My writing gets published by Ivy League Universities! I’ve been invited to give readings at literature conferences! Facts like these made me want to workshop my past. “I really like how this speaker is driven and goal-oriented, but does he have to come from an upstate prison town where overdoses are prevalent? Neither of his parents is creative, so where does the writing gene come from? That’s not fully explained. Why not an artistic family from Chelsea? That seems more consistent with how the story unfolds.”

In Ninja Turtles II, Donatello discovers that they mutated into anthropomorphic reptiles from an ecological disaster and cover-up by a company called Techno Global Research Industries. It’s by far the most interesting part of an otherwise stupid movie. While other superheroes have elaborate origin stories that conveniently require feature-length films to narrate, the Ninja Turtles were simply created from capitalism’s exploitation of the natural world. The side effects of the company’s malfeasance were amazing physical specimens who lived in sewers and honed their skills to better a world that never wished them to surface. Although the film was panned for its lukewarm action and Vanilla Ice lyrics, their genesis gave hope to all the misfits out there. Unregulated capitalism created these weirdos and then did nothing to help them succeed, but, through sheer determination, the Ninja Turtles were able to succeed on their own terms. If a mutant sewer turtle can become a grandmaster in martial arts, surely a white trash kid can become a grandmaster in language.

*I Heart Huckabees*

I love the way Mike Huckabee’s jowls slide left to right when he speaks like a fleshy typewriter scripting bullshit. I love the way he considers himself a Christian and supports an honorable man of the cloth such as Donald J. Trump. I love how he compares Hillary Clinton to Jaws. I love how sharks are always the villains in movies when the human characters go out to sea. If anything, Mike Huckabee should support Jaws as he stands his ground against an alien assault.

I also love his daughter Sarah. When she speaks, I love that it isn’t just the usual bullshit like her father. It’s the terrifying chemical manure that infects the tributaries and waterfalls that surround her home state of Satan’s drab crater.

I love how when her daughters ask her what she does for a living, she says, “What does Proverbs 6:16 say again, girls?” Then to the tune of “Wheels on the Bus,” her darling offspring answer in song. “There are six things that the Lord dislikes, / seven that are abomination / to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, / and hands that shed innocent blood, / a heart that devises wicked plans, / feet that make haste to run / to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, / and one who sows discord among brothers.”

That’s right, girls! Mommy is responsible for dropping baby Jesus. Maybe someday, you’ll defy his guidelines for redemption! Money Changers always need Spin Doctors to hypnotize the flock! That’s what the Gospel writes in holy fine print!

*The Goldberg Myth*

During Bill Clinton’s presidency, there was a popular wrestler named Bill Goldberg. He wasn’t much of a wrestler, as his matches rarely lasted for more than a minute. But the major component of the Goldberg act was his entrance. His music consisted of a martial drum pattern while a menacing melody ricocheted between beats. Then the chants began. “Goooooooold-berg!” The audience would repeat this chant for several minutes before he even came out to the arena. For several minutes it was only drums, melody, chants. This spectacle created a rhythmic, hypnotic sound that made it seem as if tens of thousands of young men could conjure a demon if only they were loud enough, a kind of rock concert Bloody Mary.

The audience’s patience was then rewarded with the monster Goldberg. At six feet four and a muscular two ninety, liquid dripping from shredded abdominals, Goldberg looked like a gladiator surfaced from the depths of Styx. Flanked by a security escort on all sides, the message was clear: this is no mere athlete, but a lethal predator who requires handling by the State until released into the safe confines of a wrestling ring. The State knew that inequalities exist, and this was its answer to satiate proletariat bloodlust.

A tornado of fireworks and pyrotechnics was then released from the ground, and Goldberg slipped within its curtain of lightning. As he withstood the fury of pyro, it gave a visual effect of buzz saws trimming his goatee, only to be repelled from his face as loose sparks. Working-class machines, which require a novella of safety guidelines on the factory floor, can only rattle and skip across Goldberg’s chiseled jaw.

When the pyro subsided, there stood Goldberg, unfazed. When the next set of drums looped around, he would then exhale the pyro exhaust like a hero of draconic lineage. The chants now exploded into a monster truck rally. The Gladiator’s entrance was nearly complete, and the crowd would not allow it to fall short now. As the noise rumbled the cameras, Goldberg roared, shadowboxed, and snorted before stepping through the ropes. The music ended, but the chants continued. Sixty seconds later, his opponent was extinguished, so the music returned, and the chants grew louder until Goldberg finally marched into the backstage area with another recorded win.

The company who employed Goldberg, World Championship Wrestling, did not have any fundamental insights into the character and, therefore, ruined The Myth beyond repair. The audience didn’t care that he knew maybe five moves or that he was incapable of a technical clinic. Goldberg represented an American masculinity lost in the era of global trade. He never lost. He rarely spoke. His entire act was the entrance and the destruction. You witnessed the twilight of his victims’ lives: their value and meaning reduced to a lifeless tackling dummy.

Goldberg beat up mostly nobodies. But that was the whole point. His opponents represented for the audience all of their real world frustrations—dead-end jobs, layoffs, corporate bankers, declining health benefits, unpaid loans. If we all link our voices together in the name of Goldberg, the supernatural realm will have no choice but to offer up The Myth to avenge economic forces that cannot be corralled.

Then Goldberg lost. He lost by getting tased. Not only was the Goldberg Myth exposed as illusion, but also by a weapon of the State. The Goldberg Myth immediately took on a new meaning: even otherworldly monsters cannot survive the State’s power. He had been allowed to disrupt the system for too long and needed to be humbled into subservience. Soon after, people began booing Goldberg. His very presence reminded them of their own mortality and economic position. Today, the Goldberg chant is one of mockery by wrestling fans. It is directed at combatants who are perceived as puppets of upper management. The Goldberg Myth will never be duplicated, but those seeking votes can still replicate its intoxicating power.

*And When You’re a Star, They Let You Do It*

Like put politicians on blast. I’ll origami a thesaurus scimitar and swipe away white spots from Donald’s tangerine smears, filet his face so he resembles Freddie Kruger after several horror dreams. This isn’t the fight you wanted, old man, but you’re staring down the Poetry Sith Lord fused with Sayian DNA, and there you sit, sad, blowing on your alphabet soup. Got nothing to say? I just Force Lightning’d your toupee with sentences conducted by my fingertips. Fine. Tag in Kellyanne. I was just getting warmed up anyway. Come at me with your Jersey nonsense, free shot at the chin. Oops, wiffed again. Well, allow me to counterstrike the best I can by summoning his assault victims reborn as sorceresses, led by Summer Zervos. They cast Ballot Upheaval, zooming Don & Con, lips first, to Polaris, smooching electrical skin before its detonation.

*The Revenge of the Sith*

Let me make something clear: if you voted for Donald J. Trump, I will never forgive you. Politicians always speak of forgiving rhetoric after elections conclude. We are all Americans. We need to come together to face mutual challenges. We have more in common than we think. Yeah, fuck that. Voting for Trump means you desire to smash democracy into a thousand orange Tic Tacs. Garry Wills described the act of voting for Trump as “acting alone through him.” Well, I’m here to grant your wish. You are now alone and, statistically, near death. Sayonara.

I want to shred the whiteness from my skin. I want nothing to do with an America who would rather elect a sexist reality star than the world’s most qualified woman. I find myself at a crossroads. I’ve always hated Yoda because I thought he was a coward and a loser for what he did in Episode III (Revenge of the Sith). An illiterate galaxy elects the Emperor, and Yoda exiles himself to some swamp planet to dick around until Luke arrives twenty years later. I now understand him a bit more. This country’s Force Users are now the hunted. The Republican Party swept all three branches of government by the uneducated garbage that is strewn about the empire’s hinterlands. What incentive does the GOP have to expand education now?

I definitely will not move to another country, but now, my brain begins its self-imposed Yoda Exile from all forms of news and social media. I will only study scholarship and poetry for the time being. An orange shadow has fallen upon our nation’s rainbow coalition. But there will be a new hope.

As the election returns came in that November Night, I sobbed uncontrollably in frenetic heaves. How could I face my female students the next day? How can I promise them a bright future if they follow the rules but say nothing when the rules get violated? I had an afternoon appointment with my creative writing honors student, and I began to cry again. That’s when I realized that even if my brain will enter the Yoda Exile, my heart remains here, fighting.

The first academic award I ever received was in preschool for “Most Caring.” It’s a distinction that I’ve spent the rest of my life running away from because I feared it interfered with my natural ambition. This left me conflicted while watching Star Wars because although I admired the wisdom and thoughtfulness of Obi-Wan Kenobi, it’s the Dark Side Users whom I always felt more of an affinity for. Rather than conform to the Jedi Order’s institutionalized version of a Force User, the Sith mold the Force for their own purposes. While the Jedi live and work in a lush, fragrant campus, the Sith often emerge from the galaxy’s shadow lands, obsessed with acquiring the power they were denied from birth. As I read and read and read, I felt the knowledge flow from my brain down to my hands, tingling my fingertips, twitching for an academic battle. Reading became an addiction because of the dark energy it supplied my ego.

I am back into the light. The ultimate privilege of teaching isn’t having summers off (although I do enjoy that), but knowing my students will outlive me. Sure, my writing will also outlive me, and maybe someone will read one of my poems after I move on from this world, but it’s my former students who make this world a better place to inhabit. During the meeting with my creative writing student, I realized that my true power is the ability to foster empathetic writers and thinkers. Her rough draft featured great insights into the human condition, and, like many of my students, she is a much more sophisticated thinker than I was at her age. My Most Caring Heart has been awakened to shield my female and minority students from the ugliness creeping into American political life so that they can cultivate their gifts in peace. It’s through them that I will help save this country. Head, Heart: let’s get to work.



“I feel sorry for you,” the doctor says as he moves the electrodes over my bare chest, trying to find the optimal location above my breast to establish baseline heartbeat.

A thousand miles from this exam room in Miami, Donald Trump is being sworn in as the forty-fifth president of the United States. For weeks, I’ve done my best to ignore this hideous truth, but today, it’s impossible. This morning, the feeling of impending doom made it hard to get out of bed. If I didn’t have this echocardiogram scheduled, I’d still be under my covers with a pillow wrapped around my head.

At the start of the appointment, the doctor asked the compulsory “How are you?” His pause and inflection led me to believe he genuinely cared. I thought I owed the man who was monitoring my heart the truth: it had been a bad morning. In addition to trying to tune out Trump’s bloated face on every news channel and social media outlet, I hadn’t realized the sound I’d heard in the hours before dawn was someone vandalizing my car. They smashed the side window of my Hyundai to steal less than three dollars in change from the compartment between the seats. I drove here a few minutes ago delicately perched on opaque remnants, trying to avoid the biggest chunks that had congregated in my thigh indents on the seat.

The chest pains have been a minor concern for years. Intermittent arrhythmia left over from a childhood virus announced itself every month or so, then disappeared for no apparent reason. But a few weeks ago, while outlet shopping with my sister, the chest pains returned and have persisted since. I’ve been unable to find a correlation between potential triggers such as long runs, interval workouts at the gym, or even illness. Like so many other inexplicables, the cardiac occurrences have fallen into the category of “No known cause.” This makes me uneasy. There has to be a cause; every effect has a cause.

The doctor stops moving the transducer. “I really do feel sorry for you,” he repeats.

I say nothing because I don’t know how to reply to a statement like this. It implies an understanding he hasn’t earned, ownership of a chain of events that has preceded the here and now. Proclamations such as this take a person out of a context of her life. Even my parents, who perhaps understand my causality better than anyone, refuse to say “I’m proud of you” because they insist it isn’t their place to take credit for my worth.

“It’s not my first break-in,” I tell him.

When I bought my house, I didn’t know that a month down the line, on a rainy morning before work, a tall, homeless man in a yellow rain slicker would stare back at me from outside the French doors in my living room, hands cupped, scoping out the interior. I didn’t know that a week after that would be the first robbery: laptop gone from bed, iPod and camera gone from living room. I didn’t know that two years later, a man would walk on my roof one night, depositing stolen costume jewelry and foreign coins he couldn’t pawn. I had no way of knowing that on year three, there’d be a call from ADT when I was an hour away at work, telling me that the robber had cut the power to the house, taken my roommate’s laptop, kicked the dog, and left a trail of blood along with a wailing alarm. When I signed the deed to the house, I never suspected that on Christmas morning, seven years later, a burglar would be in my bedroom nosing through my jewelry box. Or that just three weeks thereafter, on Inauguration Day, I’d be cleaning broken glass from my driver’s side passenger window, wondering why someone steals pocket change and leaves both Garmins.

“If I were you, I’d take precautions,” the doctor says, his eyes oscillating between the screen, my chest, and my face. “With your house.” Before I can interject, he offers me the same to-do list so many others have provided: Install cameras. Put bars on the windows. Get a dog. Buy a gun. I try to shift my attention to the computer screen a few feet away or the framed pictures of flowers to my left. Instead, my eyes settle on my “Not My President” t-shirt balled up with my bra in the corner.

The doctor tells me where he and his wife hide their jewelry. How robbers know to look in kids’ rooms first for valuables, so they store them in a file in the office desk. He says he can monitor his house remotely with his phone. This approach has worked very well for him and his family. His house, for example, has never been robbed. None of the houses in his gated community have.

The thing is that the doctor isn’t me. I don’t live in a gated community and likely never will. I live near a busy intersection on the “good side” of West Dixie Highway, in a house whose selling price was reduced because it sat empty and in disrepair for so many years. My neighbors on both sides, who have bars on their windows and expensive security systems, have been robbed more often than I, despite the ever-growing cop presence in my neighborhood. This doctor doesn’t know the ongoing investment I’ve put toward home security or how with each improvement comes a new robbery. I’ve already purchased a comprehensive security system. I installed a PVC fence too tall to jump over. I own two dogs. And there is a gun here, in case it comes to that.

I wonder if my unease with the trajectory of the conversation is registering electronically. Is my heart betraying this angst? The more he talks, the greater the disconnection I feel— not just from the conversation and the exam room, but also from everything that led me here today.

I think back to the places I’ve been hiding my laptop when I leave: in the cooking supply chest in the family room, packed in a fold in the Papasan chair, or under a cushion on the couch. Spots that anyone wishing to steal things would most likely immediately fish out as obvious hiding places. Previous break-ins have taught me that robbers open drawers, look in closets, and retrieve items from blankets on beds. Prior invasions have indicated that there are no good hiding spots in a house like mine or in a neighborhood like mine, which is constantly being scoped out and monitored.

Maybe it’s this root vulnerability that robbers sense—this uneasiness I have about being observed. I wonder if this is why my house and car have been targeted so often. Anyone who has known me for even the slightest amount of time can perhaps sense this vulnerability, despite my efforts to cloak it. Maybe I advertise it as blatantly as I do political slogans on shirts. I can’t help but shiver, my nakedness registering the cold exam-room air.

“From what I can tell, you’ve got the heart of a twenty-five year old,” the doctor says, his face now committed to the EKG screen. He’s referring to the once-upon-a-time self I was a decade ago, back when I truly felt in control of my body and my life. The self I was a year before I decided to stay in Miami. The self I was a year before I bought my house.

“But we’ll know more when the full results come in.”

“Why the chest pains?” I ask.

His shoulders dip into a slight shrug. “Stress?”

While stress could definitely be a trigger, it doesn’t explain everything. “If it’s stress, then why am I not getting chest pains right now?” I ask. I’ve not had a single pain all morning, despite Trump and the window.

“Stress can be stored in the body,” the doctor says. Which, he tells me, is why the episodes don’t always correspond to upsetting events, like driving here an hour ago.

The way the doctor describes stress reminds me of how squirrels store nuts. Like squirrels, we dig little, convenient holes. We squirrel away our stress, knowing at some indefinite point in the future we may come back and do something with it, like digest it or hide it in a better, farther-away spot. Eventually, we lose track of some of these nuts, which is okay. We leave them in the earth, where a few will go on to sprout unexpected growths. But other times, we become impatient and begin to crave the crops we sowed. Despite knowing it’s best to leave some nuts buried, there are times when we end up unearthing the harvest without stopping to think about what we’ll do with it when it has been dug up.

“We’re all done here,” the doctor says. He switches off the machine and removes his gloves. “Good luck with—with everything,” he adds. Then, he leaves me alone in the exam room.


I gently open my car door, hoping the lingering pieces of glass will remain stuck to the window frame during the drive home. I switch on the ignition and switch off the radio. Some things are important to ignore. Others must be dealt with. The hard part is my knowing the difference.

As I drive in silence, I recall when the chest pains began—the morning after Christmas. Not even twenty-four hours after my house was broken into. Christmas morning, as we were halfway through opening our stockings in Pittsburgh, my parents’ home phone rang. An unknown number popped onto the TV screen, and the Christmas carols that had been previously playing were muted. My dad answered. ADT Home Security had phoned my parents since my cell phone went to voicemail. The alarm was going off in my house, twelve hundred miles away. The North Miami Police had been notified and were on their way.

I think back to my parents’ expressions, the familiar combination of worry and indeterminate upset. The same look from all those years ago after the first break-in—the look of wanting to help but having no clue how and the facial struggle to tame the futility of these feelings. As I stood outside in the frost-tinged Pittsburgh morning making phone calls to friends in Miami, the rest of my family waited patiently for me to come back inside so that we could finish opening gifts and drinking mimosas. I stayed calm, even though the front window to my house had been pried open and the person who broke in had been in my bedroom. I had no idea what had been stolen or how long the house had been compromised before the cops arrived.

Stress can be stored in the body.

As I accelerate down Biscayne Boulevard, a large chunk of glass falls from the back window onto the foot mat. I will have to file a police report today—one more for my file folder that in another life could be housing hidden jewelry. I’ll have to hire someone to replace the car window. Then, I’ll have to trim back the tree under which I park. Once that’s done, I’ll need to find a way to secure my home window, which had already been repaired a few weeks before the intruder found a way to push it open. I wonder if the chest pains will continue as long as the stress does. What if they keep up until every variable manifests? Until I finally cave in and decide to sell my house?

What I don’t know as I drive home is that later this evening, my car will be broken into a second time—that someone will go in through the shattered window and again fish through the road maps and old CDs in search of drug money or something to pawn. Or that in the morning while my friends, family, and coworkers are marching at protest rallies around America, I’ll be taping plastic bags to my car window, hoping to protect the cloth interior from the impending weather front. I don’t know as I avoid the most glaring bumps and cracks in the asphalt that in a few days from now, I will get into a fight with a student after a tutoring session, that we’ll exchange heated words in the parking lot at the university—that I will leave her in tears after we shout at one another over her love of Donald Trump, a man she used to date and truly believes will make our country great again. And I don’t know that a week from now, the doctor will call to tell me he found an accumulation of water surrounding my heart—a slim buffer, a trace layer protecting my most valuable possession from the threat of the exterior.

As I drive home amid the crumbled glass, what I do know is that something has shifted internally. In the middle of the plane of my chest is a point at which the personal and mass vulnerability intersect, where the beyond registers at forty-eight inconsistent beats a minute. In this spot, my chaos collides with Miami’s chaos and crashes head-on into the collective chaos of this country. This plane—this sheet of glass my coordinates occupy—seems to be lode bearing. It tries to remain intact but senses compounding stressors that are beyond its control. Cracks form, then spread. The center does its best to hold. And when the damage can no longer be ignored, the shatterproof glass finds a way to crumble.

As I pull into my driveway, diagonally to avoid the sprinkling of glass, it occurs to me that it can no longer be inside and outside, mine and their. Internalizing the upset hasn’t worked. Neither has locking and sequestering. Instead, what I plan to do is the opposite: from now on, I’ll leave the car unlocked. That way, if someone wants to take what’s in it—which they will—they can do so without $340 in damages. This is not a decision to stop fighting but instead a plan of action to fight a better kind of fight. It’s a choice that anticipates the unavoidable. It’s knowing when to protest and rage on, and when to take a deep, calming breath to unlock and accept the inevitable.