We have a killer pool – seriously, its just ridiculous – but, now that I’ve been here 2 years, I have to admit I’d trade 30% of the pool to be 30% closer to civilization. We’re a long way out there, commute-wise.
But the main thing that my neighborhood excels at – the thing I really hoped it would do and that, wonderfully, it does - is getting people together. The entire place is engineered to force you to be friends with your neighbors. There are no straight streets or culdesacs, and everyone has comicly small plots of land (1/8th of an acre is typical). Instead everything loops together and the streets swoop around in natural curves to forms angular coves of homes which surround tons of impromptu green spaces. You live pretty much on top of your neighbors, so you have to get along. Kids don’t play in their own yards – and, in so doing, avoid the yards of others or exclude some from their own - but instead are drawn out, together, to the common spaces. It is a neighborhood designed to make you go outside and be part of something.
Most people who move here get that – in fact, like me, it’s the main reason people move here in the first place – and we all rush outside at the first day over 60 degrees to stand around and complain about our jobs, our kids and all the troubles these days with each other. Again, with each other.
Probably the person who I’ve seen embrace and personify this spirit the most is the mother of one of the little girls in the neighborhood who is Jude’s age. The girl’s name is Julie (not really, but you get it) and her mom is Rachel (same thing). They live directly across the street from the central playground and we met them long before we moved in. On no pre-text whatsoever except enthusiasm for making strangers into friends, Rachel invited me over to their townhouse one day and it was a fantastic, joyous mess, toys and coloring books and dress up clothes covering pianos and lego tables, the walls covered with badly askew framed pictures of Julie and her older sister. What few adult-looking stacks of books and papers I saw had retreated, backs together like doomed Spartans, to the kitchen table. I don’t know how the girl’s dad fit into the picture, but the girls lived with Rachel fulltime, and its probably important to note that she lived in a townhouse; the neighborhood basicly broke ground at the front end of the downturn, so for several years they built townhouses and cheaper homes to stay afloat, which means the first wave of people who moved in did so with less money in the bank than those of us who came later but with a worldview that held a whole hell of a lot more optimism and sunshine than was common back then. It’s likely Rachel wouldn’t be able to afford anything now being built here (nor, as it happens, would I), or even to buy her own townhouse, which is an absolute shitty shame. There’s definitely a more guarded edge to the last wave of move-ins and I hate it.
Jude and Julie are in first-grade and Girls Scout together, play together occasionally (it would be more, but really, for both girls, there’s just too many kids whose houses are closer to their own) and consider each other friends.
So that’s Rachel. Now, a massive veer sideways.
Last night I stayed very late at the office to try to knock out a piece of work that has nothing whatsoever to do with my job but quite a bit to do with what makes me happy these days. I’m working on two different stories for publication – paid publication! – and need, badly, to get one done. So I stayed at the office until late and it sucked. They say writing has 5 stages: This is going to be awesome, this is going to be harder than I thought, this is just horrible, this is OK, Thank God I’m done. Last night I fought through horrible into OK. Almost done.
As the night wore on, I kept checking twitter, because of course I did, and sometime as ‘this is Horrible’ was finally giving way to ‘OK’, that shit in Oklahoma happened. Basicly, America’s government tortured an American to death. Deliberately, mercilessly and with a full moral understanding and medical acceptance of what was being doing. As red flags go – just medical and technical red flags now, nothing involving “opinion” – it was friggin’ Red Square on Fatherland Defense Day. Close to an hour after an American doctor was ordered to use his skills and knowledge to kill another American, the man finally – mercifully? No? – died of a heart attack, so I guess now we know how long it takes you to die of a heart attack when you know that you are, absolutely, being tortured and the torture is never going to stop.
Through drugs or fear or whatever, something led to something and his heart just stopped.
So I went home, rolling over my struggling story in my mind but also haunted by what the American government had just done to an American. At one point – and this is when it hit me just what horror we’d committed – there was a statement released by the “victim’s family” so I clicked on it, and was for several seconds confused by what I found because it was the pre-execution thoughts of the family of the original victim, a teenager that the dead man had murdered. So by inflicting this barbarism on this girl’s killer, the American government had managed to completely erase my awareness of her. Of course she is the victim. Of course she is the one – the only one – whose death we should be mourning and remembering. But thanks to the ghouls that allowed last night to happen – the list is long, and in the end we’re all on it - she’s now, at most, another victim.
(also, just in the confines of Oklahoma, there’s a bunch of dead people and lots more hurt people who didn’t kill anybody but did get run over by a tornado and now are sleeping in cars and we should probably concentrate on them, but now we have to ignore them for a while and hash out – yet again – why we are looking up at Saudi Arabia as a justice system. So, again: great job, Governor)
So I got home, and sat down – exhausted by the writing, depressed by the news – and my wife told me that Rachel had died.
Apparently she caught a cold or the flu, something led to something and her heart just stopped.
There’s no way she was older than me. There’s no way that I’m kinder to strangers or friends alike than she was. I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt and say we adored our kids the same amount. What I’m saying is I get why some people thought it was OK to torture a guy to death in Oklahoma but a bad cold killed a single mom with two little girls yesterday and there’s no reason why it wasn’t me. We even annoyed our friends the same way by bragging about the same neighborhood.
This morning, the internet is, of course, all over Oklahoma. Her name, someone notes, was Stephanie Neiman. The original victim. Certainly worth remembering. Elsewhere, between the shock and the bluster, someone else retweeted this randomness which is evidently Langston Hughes:
Lord in heaven,
Crown on His head,
Says don't be 'fraid
Cause you ain't dead.
Sounds about right.
Holy Shit, y’all. Its later than you think.