when pictures fail me…
It’s been a few years since we’ve actually seen each other, due to distance, lifestyles, and a lull in funerals. And there’s no dire need to acknowledge second marriages of cousins or their offspring’s own parenting events, either with mailed announcements or congratulatory cards and phone calls. It’s assumed that Facebook will take care of all that.
This is where I see you, in the form of your avatars: an American bald eagle and a bunch of pink roses. Actually, there’s not much interaction here either. Though sometimes our comments follow each other when my mother (your sister-in-law) posts one of her pastel dog portraits with eyes that could melt the polar ice cap faster than global warming (which I wonder if you believe even exists). My mother’s Facebook page is a nice, neutral ground for stopping by and setting our differences aside, like the backyard bar-b-ques we used to have in the ’60s, where the only swats taken were at badminton birdies.
Mostly you appear to the upper right of my screen, in that insistent, insidious scrolling feed that snares my gaze against my will, yet another Facebook coup in sabotaging the attention span. I see you both, “liking” and commenting (one of you always in ALL CAPS! OK, we hear you!), rallying behind the Tea Party and its many far-right spin-offs.
Am I really so surprised? I grew up in our middle-class Republican enclave, but started bucking the trend when I took particular glee in snickering at the coda added by Democrats to Barry Goldwater’s slogan: In your heart you know he’s right. In your guts you know he’s nuts.
Still, it was a different era. I can recall none of our lawns advertising our candidate of choice for traffic to see and neighbors to know. I never really was aware of how our families voted, nor did it feel natural to ask. Maybe it was understood that we were voting–of course–Republican! Now Americans are in each others’ faces, or rather, Facebook pages, lobbing comments like grenades, but in the comfort of internet anonymity. Except, my two beloved aunties, I do know you. Or thought I did. (And I suppose the reverse is also true).
The first time I clicked on the Tea Party’s group that you joined, I felt sucker-punched. Reading comments, I was transported through some gate of hell that led directly to the underbelly of white suburbia. The same place I had grown up, only now fully exposed and flaunting itself in self-righteous klieg lights. I try to avoid checking to see what you’ve added to that vitriol of a stew. Usually just a pinch of salt to the ugly, squirming, sightless larva-like thoughts. Words. For all to see.
We were so secure in our world back then. We had dealt with Germany and Japan. Russia and China were worrisome, but no more so than those few black families trying to cross the river over to our side, the West Shore. I couldn’t wait to get out. My first vote was cast for George McGovern in ’72. Embracing the Democratic Party seemed as natural as breathing the polluted air of New York City, which became my home for thirty years. I became a classic New York Liberal.
In 1973 I was raped. You didn’t know this. The culture of blaming the victim, as well as the shame that accompanies this predatory act of violence, was long in place when it happened to me. Groomed to be a “good girl,” to be seen and not heard, to not make waves; I didn’t scream. Even within my immediate family, we didn’t talk about it. The quiet was partially the result of a predictable trajectory from the little girl you once doted on, who quietly drew princesses in her bedroom. In the flux of changing times, I was both careful and arbitrary with whom I shared.
The cloak of silence so many women cling to even now is one that took me far too long to shrug off and walk away from. But I did. Now Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want to dress me up in that same cloak and slip me into an orderly binder. I’m not going.
You are in your late 70s–the generation before mine. The Silent Generation. Maybe things happened to you in your lives that you still can’t speak about. Maybe you cling to your beliefs without questioning them out of habit. They are a buoy in a frightening world. Maybe all the technological advances moving us forward in hyper-speed make you backpedal to a time when you could stop and smell the roses behind the white picket fence. Maybe you feel you’ve found your voice, on Facebook, in the din of a group that is fearful and angry and loud. And that’s where you feel safe, and can be heard. Before the fact of your mortality silences you forever.
I wish I could sit down at a table with you both, yes, over a cup of tea. If I were a reporter I would ask: Now that you know someone in your family who was raped, how can you support Paul Ryan as VP, who equates it with a form of conception? (And do I come across as rapable?) Do you know or care about anyone personally who does not have health insurance? (She just poured you tea). Do you have any gay family member you love, or a friend or acquaintance whose company you enjoy? (Sure you do. Just look a little closer, if they are still closeted while in your presence). Do you have friends who are other than white? Or Christian? (God, I hope so).
Let’s up the ante. Don’t you want your granddaughters to live in a world where they can choose how and when they want to conceive and have their own families? Don’t you want your sons not to think that women are less equal or qualified, even as the government you wish in power would tell us so through its policies? And why, oh why, do you so vehemently wave that American flag and claim to be a patriot, when you want to deny to so many the rights and freedoms that our country was founded on?
One last question. Can we disagree about so much that is so important, and still be able to love each other as family?
I’m not a reporter, just your niece. But I’d like to know. It’s very personal, to me.
copyright Sharon Watts 2012