I was laying on my couch, fishing pot stickers out of a Chinese to-go box, and watching a movie on my ex’s Disney+ account when my phone started chirping to life, and the record should note that I was done with the day.
Lately, I’ve been done with each day before it begins, and I’m not sure if it’s my crippling depression or the state of the nation, but I was once told the ants go marching one by one, and being a good ant myself, I lackadaisically rolled my head sideways to see whose name was lighting up the glassy screen. Four emoji paw prints and my best friend’s name. I dropped my cold pot sticker into the soy sauce, creating a tiny tsunami that sprayed droplets of sauce across my coffee table, and answered.
“Are you calling to tell me you love me?” I crooned. I have a strict policy for upfront affection for phone calls after six.
“Yes, hey, always, but… the most surreal thing just happen—” Her voice cut and crinkled across the shitty cell service, across the Boston Mountains of Arkansas, until it tumbled exhaustedly into my living room in Little Rock. “—ed.”
“Mmm?” I murmured. I thought about how my best friend always looks like she’s fresh from a fairytale, descending from some castle to see if you want to get lunch at Star of India, drink and smoke cigarettes until 4 a.m. while coked out, or take a two-hour milk bath. Her bar for surrealness is high enough to make Dali’s Hallucinogenic Toreador blush.
“My dad just called me to talk about the black lives matter protest in Harrison. He told me about how Tom Robb was there, laughing and shaking hands. Can you, can you imagine being that out of touch?”
Eyes still fixed on the ceiling, I raised one arm above my head to pull at the end of my ponytail, and asked, “Who is Tom Robb?”
I dropped my ponytail and gave her my full attention as she breathed out, “He’s the leader of the fucking Klu Klux Klan, Emalee.”
Yes, Arkansas. The Natural State. Lakes and rivers, those waterfalls TLC told you not to go chasin’, they’re here. Johnny Cash was from here. And there’s no professional sports team, but the U of A Razorbacks share a mascot with the High School from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I consider a redeeming quality.
One of the largest headquarters for the KKK happens to be located here as well, and my best friend just so happens to be from the same forgotten town of Harrison, AR. The inside scoop on Harrison, you ask? When she was a toddler, her neighbors got arrested for planning to sacrifice her to the devil—they even had a child sized coffin in their living room. When my friend was sixteen, her boyfriend gave her a horse named Hillbilly Chili. If I recall correctly (and I do) that boyfriend ended up in jail for possession of methamphetamine. In small towns everyone goes to jail once or twice.
I imagine her father as pasty white and paunchy, aggressively pleasant, always holding an extra chuckle on hand for things like avocado toast and human rights as if mockery was an ace to be kept in one’s back pocket. He owns a used car dealership, misses the ‘80s, and can’t tell if a website is real or not. I imagine he’s a version of my dad. Always so confident about the value of their opinions, regardless of the fact said opinions are hinged on a high school diploma from the late ‘70s.
Her dad went to the protest as a spectator. He believes in Trump, oblivious as a cow meandering towards the slaughterhouse. Spectating, because nothing lends a respectful air and gravity to the struggle of a race of people like watching in amusement.
These old Southern men are all smug in their sense of invincibility that comes from the small amount of power they wield. From their connections, jobs, and friendships. Their Southern manners dour at showing compassion. They’re as tacky as their beach-themed bathrooms.
His stories rolled off him and onto my friend. He said there were several young men with AR-15s lining the square “defending their businesses, of course” and “Thank god it wasn’t televised.” He didnn’t grasp it was a show of dominance. That touting rifles is an act of terrorism acceptable only because they are white Christian males.
She continued to tell me how her father bellowed about how his friend Jim had participated in a nine-minute kneel in honor of George Floyd. He said, “Jim’s knee went numb, and when he went to switch knees, he fell over and had to be helped back up.”
My friend sighed into the phone. She’s frazzled, chain-smoking cigarettes on her back porch, and in between puffs she said, “Jim said, ‘Shit I can’t even kneel for nine minutes,’ while laughing.”
She and I want to excuse them for their age and Fox News brainwashing, but it sours the soul to hear a fat white man laugh about his inability to kneel, as he mimics the cop who kneeled on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. A black man callously murdered on video becomes a joke about a white man’s bad knee. The casual dismissal. I want it to be excruciatingly clear that it is me, a Caucasian that has been afforded a private education, tennis lessons, gymnastics, ice skating, sailing, sculpting, flute, and cheer, who says: “White parents, I’m not mad at you. I am just disappointed in your inhumanity and cruelty.”
Her father joked with his friends about how Tom Robb picking up a sign a protestor had dropped accidentally should be “the photo to make the front page of the paper!” After another puff, she exhaled and explained her father’s jolliness then fell flat into a somber pause as he stated, “It won’t, of course, because it won’t stir things up enough.”
The thing is, we are stirred. We are worked into a frenzy by the blatant abuse of power by the men who raised us. We are frothing at the mouth that the parents who made us go to church every Sunday are content with inhumanity as long as it benefits them. Yes, from our poverty and declining mental health, our blood starts boiling.
We got off the phone after I squeaked out, “I love you.” I sighed and gave up on the dream of pot stickers and Disney nostalgia and screwed my eyes shut. I was freshly exhausted in new and terrible ways from the distress my friend is in.
She is tired of the pain all around us, and I am buckling under the nonchalant abuse of power when obedience is not the immediate response. We are tired of being backed into corners.
There is no comfort or act of sublimation that can make the truth any less concrete: the blood is on all white hands and they cannot be washed clean.
I opened my eyes because all I can do is feel the pain that engulfs others, and fight with her for the change so desperately needed.
Photo Credit: Kelsey Bardwell