This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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Forever Changed by George Floyd

I’m alone at work on my drawbridge. It’s 8:30 in the morning and the sky outside is so dark grey that it feels like the sun had gone down. Lightning and thunder crash all around me. The sideways rain disorients me. It’s as if gravity no longer exists.

I came to expect this kind of weather every day Florida, but I can count the number of times I’ve seen lightning in the Pacific Northwest on one hand, even though I’ve been here for nearly 6 years.

It feels like my nerves are on the surface of my skin. Even a slight breeze feels agitating. The atmosphere is highly charged. And this fucking pandemic doesn’t help. I’m so over it. I’m so done.

Masochist that I am, I decide to read the news. It seems like the whole world is on fire due to what happened to George Floyd. I already know it’s about police brutality and injustice, and I’ve been righteously indignant for days now. But for some reason I feel the need to actually see the video. I feel like I should bear witness.

Don’t watch it, unless you’re okay with being fundamentally changed. But watch it, because we all need to be fundamentally changed. Either way, it’s disturbing.

Floyd is lying on the ground with three cops on top of him. One has his knee on his neck. His full body weight is pressing down on him. Three on one, with a man who is already handcuffed, for a confrontation that was never violent in the first place. A fourth cop is standing over the action, protecting the other cops from the crowd.

The cop with his knee on Floyd’s neck is willfully choking him. He’s gasping for air. Calling for his mother. Begging them to stop. The crowd is telling them to stop. Saying this isn’t right. Saying blood is coming out of his nose. Saying there’s nothing in academy training that teaches you to do this… strangle someone on the street.

I watch for more than four minutes as he gasps for air. Four minutes is a long time. Stare at the clock for four minutes. Do it for George Floyd. You’ll see. Four minutes is the average length of a drawbridge opening.

This is very triggering for me. I used to live with someone who had to fight for every single breath he took. I know how terrifying it was for him. I know how helpless I felt. I feel helpless now.

The man is subdued, for God’s sake. Why won’t they stop? This isn’t necessary. There’s no need for this.

In my loved one’s case it was a health situation. There was nothing, really, for me to fight against. In Floyd’s case, if I had been on the scene, I’d want to wade in there and kick that cop in the head until he was dead. Anything, to let this guy breathe. Anything. Why isn’t the crowd doing that?

Because the “protecting” cop/thug has a gun and mace and a night stick, as do the other three. They are not listening to reason. They would not tolerate physical intervention.

Why won’t neck cop get up? Because the crowd is taunting him, calling him names? Is it a point of pride, not to listen to the crowd? Is he showing them who’s boss? Is this man’s life worth proving the point that you’re the alpha here? Why won’t he stop? My God! Stop! I hit the desk with my fist.

I’m crying as I watch. No, I wouldn’t kick the cop until he was dead. That’s not really in me, even at my most desperate. I would have been on my knees. Begging. Trying to appeal to their humanity.

But there is no humanity in them. You can tell. They’ve lost it. They are animals. They are in predator mode. They are very quiet. Very focused. They’ll have their kill. Because they can.

And just like that, about 4 minutes in, you see Floyd’s life leave his body. He’s clearly, obviously dead. The man is dead. I’ve never seen someone’s life disappear before, up close and personal. I’ve never seen that exact second. He goes from being a man to being dead, just like that. He’s gone.

My God, I have just witnessed a murder. I’ve never seen a murder before. And this defiant man gets paid to protect and serve us. He is a murderer in a uniform.

The murderer stays on Floyd’s neck for at least another three minutes. Why? To make sure he’s truly dead? To make sure he’s past the point of return?

I cry as the rain beats against my window. I watch as they pick George Floyd’s body up like a piece of meat, dump it on a gurney, and roll it away. Like he’s nothing. Like he never was anything.

It feels like everyone in a position of power is insane. And that’s terrifying. What do you do when you feel helpless to stop a power structure that’s gone mad?

I understand why the world is on fire right now. I get it. We are past the point of a plea for reason. The people in power have absolutely no desire to do the right thing. Peaceful protest doesn’t cut it. I don’t think burning and looting shops is the answer, either. Those business people didn’t do this to Floyd.

But we all prop up the system that allowed this to happen to Floyd, and that system has made it clear that it has no ears. It won’t listen. And fire, man… fire removes the old, twisted growth. Fire makes way for the new. Fire allows us to start over. But the best fire in this instance is metaphorical. Literal fire would muddy the message. No. we need the slow burn of peaceful yet demanding protests by reasonable people who are trying to make people in authority be reasonable as well. We need to turn up the heat and increase the pressure for justice to finally be born in this country.

Destruction and violence shouldn’t be necessary. I don’t condone it. But we do have to start over. We can’t continue to pay people who think that they’re then allowed free reign to stand on people’s necks. It’s not right. It never has been.

A sailboat requests an opening, and I come back to the here and now. Why would anyone be out in this weather? Why risk it?

As I’m about to raise the bridge, I hear a dog barking, frantically. I delay the opening and look for this dog. Probably longer than I should. Definitely longer than I normally would.

I don’t want to kill this dog. I’m desperate not to kill him. But I can’t find him anywhere, even though I hear him. That’s really strange. Why can’t I see him? I think I’m in shock.

Traffic is backing up. Finally, I’m forced to do the opening and hope for the best. My stomach is in knots. The sailboat floats casually though as if nothing is happening. That’s privilege for you.

I close the bridge. The lights turn green. All is go. I watch an unmasked jogger with a prancing, barking labradoodle puppy on a leash cross over. I’m feeling irritated.

And then, holy jumping Jesus, I’m encased in a ball of white light. I’m covered in gooseflesh. I step numbly back from the electric operating console. That lightning strike was so fast and so close that I didn’t even hear the thunder.

And now I’m watching the launch of the first crewed, private rocket as SpaceX delivers astronauts to the International Space Station. What a contrast. So much ingenuity in space, so little here on the ground.

Everything is different, now.

But I’m still breathing. George Floyd, a fellow human being, is not. May he rest in the kind of peace that none of us who are living in this hellish status quo should enjoy.

_______________________________________________

After an emotionally and exhausting day which included the writing of this post, I got in my car to commute home in a downpour. Less than hour later, that very interstate was shut down by rioters, and Seattle, too, began to burn.

Please know that I make a distinction between protesters and rioters. We had a peaceful and lawful protest in Seattle for four hours. Then all holy hell broke loose. People were hurt. businesses were destroyed. Just like the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck, people were doing criminal things, taking advantage of an already tragic situation, just because they could. This did not strengthen the message. It added to the thuggery. It demonstrated even more of what needs to change in this world.

Stay safe, everyone.

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