When we identify respect (coming from the root word meaning “to look at”) as one of the dimensions of love, then it becomes clear that looking at ourselves and others means seeing the depths of who we are. Looking into the depths, we often come face-to-face with emotional trauma and woundedness. Throughout our history, African Americans have pounded energy into the struggle to achieve material well-being and status, in part to deny the impact of emotional woundedness. Truthfully, it is easier to acquire material comfort than to acquire love. —From Salvation: Black People and Love, by bell hooks
Home is not just a house; it’s this yearning for a place where you’re safe, [a place where] nobody’s going to hurt you. —Toni Morrison, in conversation with Claudia Brodsky at Cornell University on March 7, 2013
“I write and that way rid myself of me and then at last I can rest.”
—Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life
1:05 a.m.: The rain starts. I arrive; so close to her I can breathe the rain mixed with the sour smell of her scalp.
1:13 a.m.: Fighting against the slowdown of the pills, C sits in front of the dressing table and hates what she sees: an ancient face with new furrows, an aged reflection of whom she thought she still was, a worsened version of herself. She can’t leave the house tomorrow as she is now: swollen face, short eyelashes, brittle hair stuck to her scalp. Grey spots mark her pale forehead like stains on the face of a full moon—a reminder of the fire in the apartment that almost extinguished her years before.
Inside the bounded mercury, we keep going. All circuits that close make serpents of us, constrict and envelop every tender corner until only a small portion is distinct, our feet dangling like the end of a
sentence. We suspend ourselves in a room full of light but take none in.
Papá announced, “Maria, I’m going to war,” and stubbed his cigarette out in the ashtray. Mamã, clearing the table, gave her usual start. She stood stranded in the kitchen doorway, a dirty plate in each hand.
Going to war meant going out in the dead of night to David’s bar, playing hide-and-seek with military patrols. Our lot’s supporters gathered there after hours, drank a few beers, exchanged questionable information and reliable rumors. It had been the same every night for the last three weeks, since their lot retook the city.
After dinner, Papá would say, “Maria, I’m going to war,” and Mamã would give a start, try to talk him out of it, remind him of martial law and the curfew.
Then, out of desperation, she’d say, “At least wait for the shooting to die down.”
“We need to do more, Mom,” my son tells me. He’s fifteen, supports the Kurdish resistance and fancies himself an anarcho-socialist (“It’s not like being an anarchist, Mom, okay?”). The Young Socialist lives in a state of perpetual indignation about the state of the world. He insists that governments can and should do better, and that capitalism is the root of almost all problems—past, present, and future. He hopes for radical social change, but when I call him an idealist, he’s furious: “It’s practical, that’s all. Marx and Öcalan, their ideas would work if people weren’t just so… stupid. And greedy.” I usually tell the Young Socialist that, because I’m a literature professor, my version of “do more” is of the teaching and writing sort, rather than the man-the-barricades sort, which I know disappoints him. He says: “We’re all complicit, Mom. You’re white and a professor, and there’s no way to escape your own privilege, even if you’re only white by accident.”
“You Like to Have Some Cup of Tea?” and Other Questions About Complicity and Place