Every morning, I turn on the faucet to brush my teeth, and I am shocked the tap doesn’t run crimson with blood. I’m surprised every time rain begins to fall and it falls as water, not blood. The creek I cross to take my daughter to the playground doesn’t shimmer like rubies when the sunlight strikes. Body parts, holey torsos and grasping hands, don’t sprout from the ground like crabgrass. How can this be when the entire country swims in blood?
Tornadoes attacked Alabama today. They did not rage on my TV screen or my computer screen or anything else I use to watch the world through a glass darkly. They screamed their murder at my house. This is not the way death usually works in the United States.
550,000 and climbing have died from the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight people, most of them Asian American, were gunned down in Georgia on March 16. Ten more murdered on March 22 in Colorado. Every day, worshippers sacrifice more victims to the god of gunpowder. Women live in houses with their tormenters. Poor and working class Americans live closest to coal-fired power plants that spew cancer. With this much death, preventable death, how can the sun tolerate shining on us? How can we stand in the warmth and fight the urge to hide our faces?
Throughout the pandemic, the bulk of the masses have defined death down. First, the deaths would never rise above 50,000. Then 100,000. Then 250,000. Then, we eventually just stopped setting bars for unacceptability. It was all acceptable. We had defined degeneracy down. Now, we’re so low, we have to look up to see graves.
In a country as large as the United States, brothers and sisters in nationality easily become foreigners in everything but name. Appalachia hides behind mountains, invisible to the Pacific Northwest. The Deep South sinks so far from the Midwest, surveyors need to zoom out to find it on their digital maps. And Washington DC orbits like a moon, ever-visible but unreachable for all but a few.
Perhaps, in a smaller place, we would understand. Or perhaps, we would feel the weight of the mass dead if every stormy bloodfall fed rifles that grew in patches on the lawn. If we spent weekends mowing away unwanted semiautomatics that return and return because the roots are unseen. Perhaps then, we would be moved.
The clouds gleam today in Alabama. The storms have passed to some other part of the country. So, I need not care anymore. They don’t weep blood. I don’t stumble over AR-15s as I walk to the mailbox. I don’t listen to death rattles through an open window. Somewhere some body is being explored by bullets, but they’re not here. Nobody chokes on a virus here. Until death is here, I don’t reckon I’ll be moved to do more than change the channel. In the United States, death is ever-present and invisible.