© 2014 Maggie Jochild.
Thursday, January 23, 2014
(Praying mantises in Kahramanmaras, Turkey; taken by Mehmet Karaca)
After my mother died at age 56 and my father’s next hasty remarriage failed, he lost his house and his job. He moved into a crappy apartment near my youngest brother and got a security officer job. He began giving full vent to all the racism he had been forced to keep in check living with Mama, and started buying guns.
He finally married again, an alcoholic Baptist widow older than him who owned her home, and spent his days on his recliner in front of the TV watching Walker Texas Ranger and Bonanza reruns. He had caddies over each arm rest. In the right hand one was the remote, a large sportsdrink cup filled with iced tea and bourbon, and a loaded 9 mm with the safety off. In the left hand one was a men’s urinal bedpan jug so he didn’t have to keep running to the toilet.
He warned me often that if I came to visit, I was to give him advance notice and a firm arrival time, and NEVER to let myself in without loud knocking and much calling out of my name. He’d say sorrowfully “I’d hate to have to shoot you, honey.”
I liken his unveiling of what must have been there all along, unchanged by my mother’s influence, as analogous to what has happened in this country since the Right made it publicly acceptable (again) to articulate open violence against niggers and bitches. People of colour and open-eyed women could have told you that the ugly reality of hate was there all along, and indeed is the foundation of American mythic superiority. Churches and the military tend to support this resurgence. It’s where the money and the troops are to be found.
At his funeral, everybody talked about what a kind, generous old man he had been. Law-abiding and a pillar of the church. White men get every pass in the world, and we all ignore how scared we are of them.
Joan Annsfire recently posted a thought-provoking piece at her blog about how Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris had been important role models for her, and the devastation she felt when it was revealed that Michael had molested their children before he committed suicide. I likewise felt a terrible, personal betrayal about this man in whom I had placed so much faith. Even more, I wondered how on earth Louise was bearing it.
Louise kept a public quiet as she recovered. Finally, on 5 March 2001, she released a short story to The New Yorker called "The Shawl". I was still rereading it and trying to take in its message when my little brother Bill died under terrible circumstances. The two became linked together in my memory.
I talked about it last night with Margot, and this morning she tracked down the story to read it. I just reread it, too, for the first time in a dozen years, and I am weeping at the power of this woman’s art.
This is how we go on.