My husband had a seizure on Friday night. He was driving, halfway between Chicago and Ann Arbor, MI, alone. He was able to pull to the side of the freeway, and I was able to get family to collect him and drive him to me, where I was waiting, three hours away.
It could mean anything, of course, but the fact is that this was the worst seizure he’s had since 2007 or 2008, in the aftermath of his original diagnosis and treatment, in the aftermath of his first surgery, when we were still getting used to the idea that glioblastoma was a cancer that could be lived with, when I was just getting used to what it meant to share my life and my future and all my hopes and dreams with a man who must die.
We all must die. Death is inevitable. Coming to terms with that was hard, and watching my husband have these seizures cemented it into my head. It is not a pleasant thing, and I wish them upon nobody, absolutely nobody.
…these are the things I tried to think to myself, distracting myself from the immediacy of what it might mean for my husband to have this seizure, now, at the end of a summer WITHOUT his optune device, without any treatment at all for a cancer that is known to resurge quickly and kill fast, during a summer where we’ve struggled with the fear of having our healthcare stripped away, where his very cancer has become national news as John McCain was diagnosed with the same aggressive, awful disease. I tried to distract myself from waiting, interminably it seemed, for my husband to be back at my side, smiling and happy and alive, and I turned to the news.
Nazis, marching with torches. (I’m sorry, I cannot find any humor in the idea that they were tiki torches.) Nazis and Klansmen, shouting, “Jew will not replace us,” hoisting their arms in Nazi salute, gleeful in their hatred of me, of my children.
I was in Ann Arbor to officiate the wedding of my little sister, known on this blog affectionately as “Aunt Genocide.” I call her that because, when she became an aunt, she was working towards her Master’s in Genocide Studies. She’s now ABD on her PhD in history, also focusing on Jewish identity (that’s a broad category, I’m sure she can correct it and refine it, but that’s not the point.) My Jewish sister was marrying a friend of mine of over 20 years, the son of Venezuelan immigrants, his family torn and terrorized by the crisis unfolding in Venezuela. His cousin, a dear friend of my sister’s, is a DREAMer, who also spent the summer terrified, hoping desperately to find somebody to sponsor a VISA to keep her here, in her home, where she is safe, instead of returning to the country that has already claimed the life of my now brother-in-law.
I was in Ann Arbor to marry my Jewish sister to her Venezuelan fiancé, and in the streets of Charlottesville, Nazis and Klansmen marched together, calling for the death of both, of all our families. And I was waiting to find out what state I would find my husband in when I finally found him.
I didn’t tell my sister or her fiancé about the marchers. I didn’t tell them about the tiki torches and the screamed slogans, directed so clearly at both of them. “Jew will not replace us,” calling back not only to an anti-semitic agenda, but also to the hateful stereotype of Latinos coming across our southern border to take jobs. My family, firmly in their sights. I told them I was worried about my husband, and that is something they understood. My new brother-in-law asked if I felt, personally, concerned about events far away, that I couldn’t control. He was trying to help me find perspective, I think.
Yes, I said. But I didn’t spoil their night, or their weekend, with news that there were Nazis marching in the streets.
When my husband arrived, I cried quiet tears of relief. He was fine, so far as I could see. He didn’t look as he had in those early days of his seizures as though the lingering effects of a stroke had occupied his face. His limp was a bit more pronounced, maybe, but he was there, and warm, and having him pressed against me in the bed made me feel safe.
The next day I helped my sister prepare her wedding, and I kept my eye on the news. On the death and mayhem. I kept my eye on my husband, on his sleeping and eating, on making sure he rested. On making sure I rested, too. And I found myself filled with rage and horror and anger and most of all, resignation. Because all of these were things that must, that I knew MUST happen. When Trump was campaigning, I said it would happen. When Trump was elected, I said it would happen. When my husband was first diagnosed with brain cancer, I knew someday, seizures would return, that this too must happen.
My sister’s wedding was across the boulevard from the part of town where protests always occur, and during her wedding pictures, she noticed the marchers. Her photographer joked that she and her new husband could join the protest, that they could get some “fun” pictures.
I wanted to say, “YES! THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD DO! This protest is to protect EXACTLY YOU TWO, exactly your marriage and your safety and your future. YES drag your wedding party over and I will make the signs and we will march a few minutes at least before joining all the wedding guests waiting to toast your happiness and your lives and your futures.”
But I didn’t say that.
I said nothing, because why ruin such a happy day? I know what it’s like to have a happy day ruined. I have never been as happy as my sister was on her wedding day. When my wedding day came, it was already tinged with the grief of impending death, or death avoided. My happiness was already tinted with the blackness of the temporary, of the ephemeral. When I cried myself to sleep the night after my then-fiancé’s diagnosis, I was mourning my happiness. I knew I would never be so happy again as I was the hour the love of my life asked me to marry him. I would never feel pure joy again, pure bliss, pure hope. That part of me was gone, forever, and could never return.
My sister did not need her happiness marred. So I said nothing.
And now here I am, sitting in the waiting room of yet another MRI, waiting for what will hopefully be the same news I always hope for, that things are exactly the same… but exactly the same isn’t good enough, because exactly the same is horrible.
There are Nazis, honest-to-God Nazis, in our president’s most inner circle. Gorka, Bannon, and Miller are fascists who have insulated a megalomaniacal toddler with nuclear authority, and it didn’t take much to convince him that anyone who likes him is a “good guy,” and anyone who doesn’t is bad. That means, for our president, the Nazis are the good guys now. We’re labeling people “anti-fascist” as though that shouldn’t be everyone’s natural state. We’re labeling people “just as bad” as Nazis and Klansmen because they don’t want to peacefully lay down and let Nazis and Klansmen take over their towns. And what wearies me is that this isn’t really new. Ask any black person or Jewish person in the United States, this is not new. This is only louder, more visible, and and backed by the power of the executive branch of the federal government.
And that also is not exactly new. The White House was built by slaves. The federal government rejected refugees from Hitler’s wars. That the occupants of the White House are xenophobic and racist and anti-semitic is in no way new, but we were having a lull.
Like the lull between seizures.
I am waiting for my husband to come out of his MRI, to talk to his doctor, a woman of color, and for her to tell us everything is okay.
I want to hold her, too, this woman of two boys who look like “terrorists” to the Nazis and Klansmen marching through American streets. I want to hold her hand and share, for a moment, my fear and my sorrow. But not surprise.
This is not a surprise.
None of this is a surprise.
Not the seizure, not the torchlight march, not the death in the streets, not the man in the White House siding with white supremacists.
But I will tell you what is a surprise.
It is a surprise that when my doorbell rings and a young white man is on the other side, I am afraid. Not because he is white, not because he happens to have the haircut the alt-right favors, not because he is blond haired and blue eyed, but because with all those things together, he looks like the men marching in the streets, carrying torches and screaming that me, my family, that we should be shoveled into the oven. It is a surprise to me that when I open my door and see a friendly young white man, what I see is a giant question mark.
“Are you casing my house? Are you planning to attend the next march?”
When I look at my husband, a large, indisputably white man, I also see a giant question mark.
“Are you going to be here, to shield me and our children, and protect us from the emboldened white supremacists and anti-semites and the goddamned federal government? Or will I watch you die, and then find myself alone, and afraid, and endangered?”
When I look at the White House, I see a third question mark.
“Are you going to enshrine this hatred in legality? Are you going to codify it into American law? Are you going to permit the murder of me, of my family, of the friends who would stand up against this bigotry, just as you tried so hard to permit the death of my husband from a lack of healthcare?”
I think of the words of Ollivander, as he gave Harry Potter his wand. “After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things. Terrible! Yes. But great.”
There are MAGA hats on the heads of Nazis and Klansmen, marching in the street, celebrating the death of “fat sluts” and preparing to kill more, to kill me, to kill us. There are MAGAs in the twitter histories of “good” Trump voters, voters who claim they would NEVER be associated with Nazis, they would NEVER wish for this kind of world.
I think Trump is fulfilling that promise, but it is Ollivander’s meaning of “great,” not mine, that he is making America again.
And as much hatred, and yes, it is hatred, I feel towards the Nazis and Klansmen marching in the streets, I would never wish this moment on anyone; this moment of sitting and waiting, and finding out how close you are to the precipice of complete and total ruin, of waiting, and wondering, and knowing that no matter how lucky, no matter how good, no matter how hardworking or kind or optimistic you are, the precipice is coming nearer.
One day, the news will be bad. Inescapably bad. Worse than you have ever imagined. One day, you will have to face the horrors that come BEFORE death, the horrors of human cruelty, of disease, of being helpless to stop the suffering of somebody you love.
But on Sunday my sister was married. That night my husband slept by my side, our three beautiful children snoring in the dark. In a few hours, regardless of the news, from the TV or the radio or the internet or my husband’s doctor, we will go home and I will cuddle my daughters and tweet support of “anti-fascists,” and I will wait.
Read my more about my warnings about Nazis in America here: When People In Your Actual Life are Actually Voting for Somebody Who Is Cool With You Being Set on Fire
Read my latest post here: What I’ve Learned From Ten Years Of Brain Cancer
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