from WORTHY OF THIS GREAT CITY
(and scroll down to read a rough draft of the asylum declaration of Ray Vashon from the upcoming FAIRMOUNT)
Everybody thinks God is on their side.” Ruth put her coffee cup down on its heavy white restaurant saucer very deliberately, watching herself. Then she sent me this look full of drama those huge blue eyes wary but defiant.
I’m a journalist, I should explain, and I knew this woman just well enough to be immediately dismissive. But she was very intense, now I noticed, waiting for me like it mattered. That was interesting. Here I’d always considered Ruth one of those breezy, satiric women proficient at deflecting curiosity.
Only I didn’t need it and I didn’t really care. Frankly there were things I never wanted to hear from her. We’d met by accident at one of those ubiquitous Center City cafes that’s all calculated simplicity: quinoa salads, homemade soups, cranberry muffins, that kind of crap. It was lunch hour and the place was loud with competing conversations in those well-educated downtown voices, the entire scene as fundamentally deceptive as casual business attire. You could practically feel the pervasive atmosphere of unacknowledged cynicism on your skin, the deodorized vinegar emanating from all those dissatisfied young professionals amazed to have already acquired such long but mysteriously undistinguished pasts
So Ruth Askew, running into me in those exceptionally ordinary surroundings, flat imprisoned me in unwanted intimacy in order to entrust me with a revelation of startling profundity and enormous human significance, effectively summoning me into history, granting me an unprecedented experience that would surely transform my life – or anyway something along those lines. Because she’d been all too impatiently awaiting a sign from Heaven and was toying with the idea that God had delivered me to her for use as disciple and authoritative witness. They’re always looking for witnesses.
In all modesty, this type of situation isn’t exactly unusual for me. I have this reputation for being brutally honest, so insecure types are constantly trying to impress me. I’m their living touchstone, a merciless judge that people frantic for confirmation can’t resist. They need me; they can’t keep away. Just as I’m reciprocally unable to resist exploiting my fatal magnetism, generally to express contempt but sometimes not.
That particular afternoon I’d been in a fairly perverse mood to start with, plus any opportunity to deny that insatiable, manipulative ego was delicious, and maybe there was something a little too disquieting about her attitude. Whatever, my response was immediate and satisfying: I sat back on a vaguely admiring but indifferent little smile and stared blankly into the middle distance, allowing the moment to dissipate into that stale ambience of premium coffee and wasted lives, which is why this little scene is going nowhere.
To continue: before that summer I never considered Ruth worthy of much attention, although highly original and shrewd and determined, which isn’t the same thing as consequential or talented but only a decent simulacrum. She’s a tall, fair, raw-boned woman of thirty-odd, Irish in her bones and not pretty but rather gaunt, with an aggressive but loose and uncoordinated physical presence, an unspecified oddness that gives you second thoughts. (You’ll note I’m not about to be discreet in the name of neutrality because that’s just digging the lie deeper and I’m through with all that.) I figured her performance that afternoon, to the extent I thought it through at all, either a preamble to an unwanted revelation about her marriage, or more probably rationalization for sharing some nasty piece of secondhand political gossip. But then the truth was hardly imaginable to the strictly sane.
She’d been prattling on, getting insistent.”No one should simply expect to see good old Saint Peter welcoming them with this huge loving smile and throwing open the pearly gates because it’s you! And then presumably all your dead relatives finally appreciate you and grovel. No one for one second questions their basic goodness or imagines they might have everything backwards.” That with increased emphasis, in fact almost pleading because clearly I wasn’t seeing how intriguing and insightful she was and offering the expected encouragement.
I mean, who pays attention to that kind of shit anyway, mere justification for something profitable and concrete? Ideas, and abstract ideas at that, never imply anything important anymore. Why pay attention to them? It’s not like there was some portent of crucial real-world consequences in her moralistic maundering, some numinous harbinger of disaster arising like fog from her self-serving conclusions. Great thinkers don’t sweat out their seminal philosophies in wishful suburban isolation; genuine epiphanies are not inspired by inadequacy and neediness.
A noise of traffic outside our corner window, and an angled view of grungy sidewalk along a narrow side street of trendy storefronts illumined by thick afternoon sun: a strangely intimate scene at once self-important and impossibly spent in that way cities have. One random bar of light cut across our table, reminding us of the outside heat, adding to the general confusion.
That disjointed lunch in that pretentious location perfectly encapsulates my relationship with Ruth, which was and still is a lunchtime acquaintance at best. It naturally follows that much of the critical action recounted here occurred during exactly this sort of innocuous activity, right in front of the whole world but invisibly. We overlook how commonplace places do produce extraordinary drama, sometimes even for someone you know. Also much of what supposedly happened never really happened at all, despite what you’ve heard rumored or even concluded to your own satisfaction. That’s my main point. Another important point is that nothing would be any different now if I had listened and flattered her before kindly deflating her daydream that afternoon. She wouldn’t have listened for long. Ultimately my dismissed opportunity meant nothing because all the vital processes were already well underway, the outcome inevitable one way or the other. I think you’ll have to agree with me there.
Ruth was a moderately successful morning radio personality and the wife of a very popular politician, therefore an experienced professional practiced at public behavior. And she certainly didn’t appear unbalanced or anything. She was more like a little girl clutching a magical secret or a million-dollar lottery ticket: all suppressed glee and opportunistic scheming.
That swift glance up for my reaction! That almost imperceptible flush! Ignorantly incarnating such magnificent, such perfect irony! Those months before she walked onto a literal stage, outdoors on a cloudy country night, alone against the virtuous horde. And despite all this vaunted modesty I suspect that during this period Ruth wasn’t so much obeying God as striking out on her own, testing Him the way toddlers test parental limits.
“That kind of moral complacency makes me sick to my stomach. To my soul.” Expounding all this unsolicited nonsense to a mere professional acquaintance, what’s more a reporter. And listen, whatever anyone says about themselves, you can safely assume the exact opposite is true.
“Maybe that’s just a little bit broad,” I said. “Maybe not everyone on the planet thinks that way. I know I don’t.”
“Absolutely everyone on earth, because no one can tolerate being in the wrong. And that matters more than anything.”
But even Ruth could tell I meant it. Apparently I wasn’t the predestined confidante after all, nor this not her appointed hour. I remember she laughed, but probably she was secretly relieved, probably she did know better in some remote, rational corner of her mind. What she actually wanted was to hoard her alleged wisdom, to gloat over it deep in a cave in a mountain in the wilderness. But you see, forces were already building.
She was giving me this annoyed laughing exasperation but eying me surreptitiously, maybe suspecting the real irritation beneath the companionable patter, certainly furious with me for acting like a self-involved asshole. Although I am a self-involved asshole so what did she expect? Then she faced me full on with a kind of pugnacious, coy defiance – the automatic, intellectualized flirting of her kind. “You see it’s just simple survival or evolution. Nature decrees the things we need to do, so naturally doing them defines what’s right. Or like Noah being moral because he’s the survivor, not the other way round.” She had her chin on her fist, a reflective pose. “Anyway, I’m finding it fascinating, I’m thinking more and more about false righteousness. I’ve been absolutely obsessed with this stuff.”
That pale face somehow too exposed: prominent arched nose, narrow lips, brutally vulnerable gaze. A peasant’s face with thick dirty-blond hair flying every which way as though excited for its own reasons.
What can you do with people like that? I mean, where would you even start? They’ve gotten hold of something that feels true to them, which means power, so they’re done listening.
And they get really intense.
“Well, it’s interesting, I’ll give you that.” I said. “I’d enjoy talking about your ideas someday when we can make time.” I threw her another falsely admiring little smile and fled.
My name is Constantine Manos. As a writer I specialize in politics, which obviously includes issues of character, but until recently I never thought too much about how the personal dictates the political. The culture insists on assigning political ideas a misplaced dignity, as if these theories are just out there floating around, pure abstract concepts, when the fact is everyone’s politics are about self-image and justification. What you feel decrees what you let yourself think; ideas themelves are powerless.
Physically I’m a small, trim man with too much wiry hair, a gigantic salt-and-pepper halo, a veritable Einstein corona. I’m third generation Greek-American on both sides, I was born in Chicago on Bicentennial day, and I’ve lived in or around Phil-a-delf-ya my entire adult life, yet I’m often mistaken for a tourist and not infrequently for a foreigner. This has been happening since college; I guess I’m just doomed to present as a stranger. These days I exaggerate the quirk, imitating the stereotypical visitor from abroad because it’s effective both as an investigative technique and as a way to handle rage, including my own. I drop into a suitably quizzical posture and peer up into people so that they think me rudely inquisitive, or overly skeptical, or humble to the point of being legitimately liable to mockery if also endearing and comically brilliant. At public functions someone invariably imitates me this way, as a presumptuous sparrow hopping along a city sidewalk. I appreciate the recognition and so far I manage to tolerate the condescension, but it hurts.
Some part of this ineffable foreignness is simple physiognomy: I naturally appear saturnine, and people mutter that I glare, clearly an un-American activity. They really mean that I don’t take the proper steps to negate the negativity, don’t smirk optimistically at every occasion. They always confuse honesty with aggression.
But I think the vital difference between myself and the typical Philadelphian is my exoneration from the unique local guilt. This is a very real thing, but not what you think, not that compensating blue-collar bravado of the stoops you get in all big American cities. This is different: a great chasm, a disconnect that comes from having too much glorious past right in your face and knowing you’ve let everything go to hell in some unforgivable manner nobody ever really explains, except that somehow this city has become a discredited nonentity deteriorating in a wasteland between two largely obsolete rivers.
Unlike Boston, where they still cling to their pretensions. The problem here is that what’s supposed to matter to whether aristocrat or immigrant, all those values we’ve been instructed to wholeheartedly endorse like reason and rule of law, just don’t claim our passion right this minute. But they lurk, these ideological ancestors, behind our busy little lives. They wag their finger and urge us to remember while there’s still time, and their elderly stink leaches out to saturate the gray air of our learned town with something oily and gritty and censorious, our characteristic smell.
That’s the closest I can come to describing it. Only remember I’m protected from all this latent self-; being the servant of plain truth I automatically reject unrealistic expectations, they just promote hypocrisy.
Philadelphia’s facade is a muted gray-brown as opposed to bright red brick or skyscraper silver; our modest elevations and well-spaced parks speak of ancient forethought and somewhat ameliorate the stench, so although it’s true we’re an unusually dirty city in various ways, beneath the grime we remain stubbornly optimistic, twinkling along beside our gray rivers, winking out of mica-flecked fieldstone. We bear the dull coloration of a sidewalk pigeon, but a healthy enough strutting bird once you brush off the filth coating its robust little body and discover a blush like roseate sandstone, a bosom like creamy, veined marble.
So in speaking of the city I mean the polis, the living community and political body combined and inseparable. It’s still a kindly thing, too, despite the current roaming viciousness. Popular outrage is tempered here, and sometimes we can still hear each other well enough to disagree without condemning.
That’s only my Philadelphia, of course, not anyone else’s, and naturally it’s symbolic and revelatory, a straightforward self-portrait, and you can make of it what you want. It’s real and it’s highly relevant. And don’t go denigrating me because you’re the self-important habitué of some asshole dive in Port Richmond who gets to say what real Philadelphia is, because you’re just exposing your own ignorance. Also don’t remind me about that other violent, desperate city. I’ve written about it, which arguably I don’t have the right to do. But this is a different kind of report, concerning my own world and carrying a more ordinary kind of importance.
There are some other things I want to explain up front. To begin with, this book is a reinterpretation of fairly recent local events. I wrote it because I find the official version inadequate. Not inaccurate, mind you, so much as critically incomplete. I don’t have any new facts so this is not a new theory but more of a correction of emphasis, an attempt to turn the tide. It reads pretty much like a straightforward recounting, but that’s deceptive: this is my own creation, an arrangement with numerous additions in the way of personal histories and pertinent observations and naturally my own biased deductions to help you put things in perspective. You can’t tell the truth without resorting to some degree of trickery.
Despite having an overall strategy I wanted to write in the immediate, unfiltered voice I use to myself. So obviously I’m not terribly concerned about Hemingway’s weather or too much exposition or anything that panders rather than serves, because first this is a report, an examination of a series of compelling flashbacks, and there’s a lot that has to be explained before things speed up and there isn’t time. And second, where’s that jazz edge that stays ahead of you and leads you to the truth?I’d hoped to present something clumsy and troublesome with lame language that actually speaks, not just another of the honored walking dead, another obedient child maybe elegant enough to make your brain ache, maybe disguised with some trendy media shit or street jargon but with no real voice because indisputably deceased.
Lame is good – I sing of lame, glorious lame! I claim liberty from smooth editing and all-important marketing. Except I kept getting dragged back into the infinitely demanding past and I’ve shown myself for a coward, I’ve failed at rebellion. I’m ashamed by how traditional this has turned out because I’m suffocating. We all are. Suff-o-ca-tion. Instead I’ve been obsessed with how this little defense of the disappointing truth will be received by the city and naturally by Ruth in particular. How I have to get everything right.
Again, why I’m doing this: I intend to finally refute the crazy conspiracy shit being spread by our needy, brain-dead citizenry, all that cowardly electronic flocking, that irresponsible hubris. Probably not you, then, because who reads the opposition’s argument, right? But touted by some clearly responsible citizens, people directly involved who chose to tolerate the mumblings, thereby permitting so much outrageous opportunism to take root. It’s becoming canon; pretty soon schoolchildren will be repeating it to my face.
Another reason I wanted to keep this immediate was so I could be careless and let in insights I didn’t have myself. I wanted to be absolutely fair. I’ve said it and said it: ultimately we’re all completely, inescapably blind; we don’t just overlook a few points or perspectives, we always miss everything.
Of course all these theories and suspicions exist because there’s plentiful room for speculation; there was so much going on concurrently, all stupid if not illegal and often both, with so many indications pointing in different directions that finally people thought it more intelligent to doubt the obvious. When sheer noise carries validity the only possible response is to shout even louder to more people, to force reason on the barbarians to the extent that’s ever possible. I’m reasonably terrified that the world’s running away from me, with even the basic categories of fact versus fiction organized by popular whim: the post-truth world. Which actual apocalypse is not only widely acknowledged but actually approved by people who should know better but have gotten themselves confused. I know how clichéd this is but it happens to matter to me.
Some additional points:
The fact that I’m describing known events does not make this an interactive project. Don’t email me your brilliant personal theories, political or otherwise, even if you know someone involved. I’m not interested in promoting your shirttail aspirations. Seriously.
As this is not a new investigation it’s also not a whodunit, so obviously don’t expect any bombshell revelations – or lascivious details for that matter, all you literary voyeurs out there. Any information I have I acquired while responsibly pursuing my profession.
Now, when I describe this work as a “reinterpretation,” I mean that it’s the only correct interpretation, the truth, and I use the word “truth” in neither an objective nor relative sense, but simply to signify what we all understand when we say something isn’t a lie. Such an understanding, presented with simplicity and elegance if I may be so presumptuous, is able to stand on its own without benefit of theory. What sickens me, if I haven’t yet made this clear, is today’s evolving entitlement to democratically determined truth.
As to the specific events under discussion, unlike some other commentators I have an informed opinion: you’ll see that I had a decent amount of access. But even so I remain utterly ignorant about so much that undoubtedly matters. To take the most glaring example, I had no entrée into the heart of the Askew marriage: the smell of shit in the bathroom, the despair of boredom – or the ongoing ecstasy, for that matter. All that urgent information is still folded up in their conjugal memory, packed away in some bottom dresser drawer. Maybe they got home and screamed profanity while holding satanic rituals; I wouldn’t know. As to some others described here, of course I speculate: probably I’ve created illegitimate characters who don’t exist in reality, except they exist now, don’t they? You see, even today I have more questions than most people, because most people have bought into one of the current municipal myths, but at least I have the central facts straight, and I’ll give you this much: I do adamantly contend that there was an “it,” meaning a single series of causes and effects, with no convenient coincidences.
Finally as to me, you can forget any obvious tabloid suspicions about me being gay or obsessed or vengeful. Please realize that I can almost certainly outthink you, even regarding myself. And another thing, I consider truth a gift that everyone should just graciously accept. Everything I share here I give lovingly and with respect.
Of necessity I skim some hoary old issues in philosophy but I refuse to openly engage; it’s relevant but you’re basically on your own. I’ve lost patience with all the learned pundits and their belligerent, self-defeating worldview, the one where we’ve reached the limits of conceptual thought, cleverly enlightened ourselves out of our own minds and into an endless whimpering compromise with no further possibility of real movement, not even a rumor of joyful anarchy to vitalize the depressed present. Except that’s what always does happen, everything wallowing in despair until some disobedient idea lands in an undiscovered corner, random quantum jitters to put an end to the apparent end of philosophy, one compelling thought to disturb the complacent pseudo-religions and redirect all that gleeful academic venom. You know it’s got to happen eventually. Or anyway I know it.
Ruth thought she’d found the answer. Still does, for all she’s gone coy now, concealing the grandiosity. She’s essentially uneducated, of course, but she managed to bestow a thoroughly enjoyable fillip to the towering zeitgeist, to those dedicated professional thinkers and their clever reasoning against life. Visualizing herself on some cloud-wrapped mountaintop, some unique edge high above all us pedestrian sheep.
And the beauty, the confounding slipperiness of it! That by the very logic of the argument she didn’t even have to be right! So what if her thesis was wrong, therefore it remained perfectly valid! The most ingenious defense possible, this indissoluble theory extracted from ill-defined notions of virtue and truth. Precise definitions weren’t worth bothering about for the Ruth who operated, so she often claimed, on instinct and grace, delivering breathless revelations to the adoring masses.
“You have to break through the wall you never knew was there.” Very eager and excited, with a metaphoric encouraging hand on my shoulder. And I suppose when people are in this state, happy to explain the universe to you, the best you can wish for them is a spectacular failure.
A very sharp recollection even now: a dozen rows of folding chairs blocking a city sidewalk, a contradictory ambience combining funereal solemnity and official celebration, with a familiar face painted huge on a city wall, transmuted into an artifact.
If you’re from the Philadelphia area you undoubtedly know the basics and are reasonably familiar with our local politicos and our mafia relicts and the more recent City Hall scandals. Looking at it prosaically, which is to say assuming money carries final authority, the plot revolves around the endlessly contested question of development along the Delaware waterfront at Penn’s Landing. Maybe that’s something to do with history and destiny: centuries ago our first settlers huddled in caves above that same riverbank, warming themselves on the seemingly infinite potential.
Ruth, who started it all with one lunatic outburst and kept right on spouting more illogical crap, ultimately talked too freely about everything except herself. That’s a strange reversal for an age mesmerized by the personal yet terrified of profundity. As it happened I had the advantage of an affectionate acquaintance with Councilman-At-Large Thom Askew, and when I offered to do a profile of his wife, secretly a risky if purportedly inadvertent expose, he was cautious but amenable, while of course she was nothing short of ecstatic. So during those months she was an occasional theme through my life, and I sacrificed a few days recording her practiced spiel. This character who envisioned herself a figure of great genius and extraordinary courage, who walked like Joan of Arc. Blithely inserting universal dictums into inappropriate conversations, haphazard shards of philosophy gleaned from the great books and reassembled into a grotesque whole without benefit of formal argument. Scorning reason not as impossible but as pedestrian, as a dull, archaic methodology.
Therefore joyfully embracing her own lack of erudition: “What people consider a good education leaches any originality right out of you. It’s literally teaching you what not to think, narrowing your possibilities. It bullies.”
I figured this for academic envy. “You’ve read Foucault?”
Then there was the confusion over politics, the partisan rush to interpret what happened as evidencing some extremist political position when in fact this was only incidentally the case; in fact the whole political thing was largely unimportant and none of it’s going the way you think anyway. The real issues were much more fundamental and everyone sensed that. We were only surprised because Ruth was obviously an enlightened woman.
Now about what did finally happen.
First, understand the Philadelphia Folk Festival as a forthright exercise in Liberal musical theatre as much as a celebration of peoples and their endurance and joys. Taking place, as might be expected, in an aesthetically pure venue, typically under a blazing sun on drying August fields embraced by unremarkable trees and lots of suburbanites absolutely behaving themselves.
When there came Ruth Askew, taking that venerable stage to address that staunchly progressive audience. Standing rigid there, thin and broad-shouldered, a pale, unfathomable giantess on the twin Jumbotron screens.
That night was odd from the start. Behind the bright box of the stage those generic trees formed a black stockade against a threatening universe, and endless tattered, shit-colored clouds streamed past a gibbous yellow moon with exceptional speed. A shitting sky but no one really noticed.
I suspect Ruth walked out onto that stage in a rage of frustrated arrogance. For one endless minute she simply stood behind the microphone and stared out at us, the thousand dark humps under blankets, the bouncing neon glow sticks, the luminous haze at the line of food concessions, the smokers tapping off ash by the Porta Potties, and the awkward, restless shadows moving up and down the roped-off aisles or carefully stepping over the confusion of tarps and blankets.
DECLARATION OF RAY VASHON
(as translated from the French by Bob, his volunteer interpreter)
My grandfather is George Vashon the famous writer. When he was at Oxford he studied mythology, and eventually he began to notice coincidences that were too specific to be explained naturally. For example, it makes sense that all cultures around the world have flood stories, but it’s not plausible that so many of them, from so many different parts of the world, have stories where one good person is warned before the catastrophe and told to save a pair of each type of animal, or all the valuable animals and the seeds, either in a boat or in a tree. But this same story is everywhere.
Because of this interest he went to visit certain sites in the Middle East where these legends started or came down to us, and he became interested in the monoliths. There are so many, but no one has ever explained the monolithic cultures that encircle the earth. No one can explain how these were assembled, moving massive piles of stones into incredible structures as if by magic, without mortar or modern equipment or even the wheel. Throughout history we’ve made up stories about these things because we have no real explanation.
At length he came to Egypt and there underwent his great epiphany. He saw the connections between great events and legends, great truths that remain hidden from most people, that are still largely unacknowledged. Eventually he formed his theory that explains how humans were once taught by the great serpent gods of Sirius the Dog Star, the great binary brilliance of the ages, there and in other places, in Mexico and in Peru and everywhere. Of course it took some years to investigate all the clues, to work it all out.
During this period he was living in France, first in Troyes and then for a brief while in Renne Le Chateau, pursuing researches into the Knights Templar and certain vital connections between the Ark of the Covenant and the technology given to the ancients. At that point he published his first book which revealed all this truth, and it was a great success. But at the same time, and actually because it was so popular, he was widely mocked. Reviewers, and especially scientists and archeologists openly insulted him and impugned his motives. Finally he determined to take his family, which at that time consisted of my grandmother and their five teenage children, and relocate Ile St. Vincent, a tiny but beautiful island off Cannes. This is a beautiful but desolate place of sand, rocks, umbrella pines and eucalyptus trees, with also some villas and a few scattered stone houses, a small marina, and steep footpaths. It surrounds you with the wonderful scents of pine and eucalyptus under the hot Mediterranean sun. It was here my father spent his teenage years.
Since that time my grandfather’s theories have become celebrated, and there are television programs and magazines and many, many books. After all, what does science really know? Or archeology? Look at Gobeckli Tepi, only recently discovered. It is so upside down: the ancient carvings of animals that don’t exist there, the immensity of it, the way peoples still today never imagined mere hunter-gatherers could build such monuments. And then why? Then there is the matter of farming, agriculture. All this time everyone was positive religion developed when people were farming and living in villages or communities. But now it’s the other way, and farming was perhaps necessary to support the religious site. So this proves how science can get everything backwards and all the dates wrong.
The truth behind religion is the Sirians. The Others from out there are real, but why they came is the great mystery. They helped, yes, they gave language and science, building and mathematics and astronomy. They inhabit everything we consider human; their presence is systemic. But there is also evidence that they wanted a slave race, workers to mine for them. And there are terrible legends, ancient memories of times of great violence and destruction that seem to occur without meaning or justice.
So this is something we don’t yet know.
When I was fourteen I went to stay with my grandfather. I thought I was old enough to make my own decision. He lives on a small island off Cannes. It’s just a rock, there aren’t even any good beaches. There are some resort cottages, all very quaint and pretty, and some shops, and fishing, but not a lot of tourists go there, mostly only the people with houses on the island. My grandparents and my aunt and an uncle and their families all live there, and there are also the people who come discuss my grandfather’s theory and his investigations.
So my mother’s family, through the authorities, they brought me back, and they put me in a place where they try to deprogram you from what you think yourself. They keep you from sleeping, and from eating, and keep talking at you until you get sick. And then when it doesn’t work they hit you until you feel dizzy and I passed out. I mean, I’m not stupid, so eventually I just pretended to think what they wanted. Not obviously, just enough. I was allowed to go home and I ran off again, not to my grandfather but to the country, and it was fine for a while, almost half a year and then I was caught again. This time they were not so nice to me. I tell you, I was beaten in the jail, and then with the new deprogrammer, and they made me do other things I will not speak of.
When I turned eighteen I went back to my Grandfather’s; actually I escaped, I planned it ahead and I left from my school, because I knew my mother suspected I would try to go back. And I remained not exactly hidden but quiet. I applied to study in the United States, at Drexel University here in Philadelphia, where I could learn more about engineering techniques. But first I have to take English classes. So I thought, I’ll go to university and still be safe to say and think what I want.
At about this time, in the spring, the refugees started to come, the Syrians. It was terrible. These poor people who had suffered so much and now they had no home, no way to return home. We all tried to help them. We watched the beaches and when we saw people trying to come in we helped them and brought them hot tea and blankets and there were people in all the houses and we built some shelters and latrines. And the aid workers came and helped them on their way to the mainland. But I cannot describe how heartbreaking this was. It was like an entire country was running away from itself.
But the most terrible part was the people trying to stop the refugees from landing. Some were residents of the islands but more than half from the mainland. They watched the beaches too and if they saw a boat first they shot at it to turn it away. They all have very expensive hunting rifles.
So then there was this incident with the boys trying to shoot the boats away. It was always the same ones, these troublemakers from the island families but just kids, my age or even younger. They were shooting at the boat and it was dark, no moon, and I could hear the people on the boat screaming. There was only screaming and the shots and the water moving and everything else black and silent but all in pieces in my mind. There was a struggle over the gun and it went off, the man tried to take it away from the guy shooting and the kid was killed. But I wasn’t involved, it was an older man, or anyway a man in his thirties, an adult. I don’t believe in firearms, and neither does my grandfather.
The next thing is when I am already here in the United States and I hear from both my uncle and my grandfather that the police have brought this charge against me for this death, and this is very serious. It makes no sense, because the man responsible, he came forward at once and said so to the authorities so there was no question about this. That’s how I know this was my mother’s family trying to bring me back to France and put me in jail where they can try to deprogram me again.
So I cannot go back to France and that is why I have applied for asylum in the United States.
“You really believe this shit?” Bob asked after skimming through the boy’s original French version. It was a week later and they were momentarily alone in Helen’s decidedly happy yellow kitchen.
Ray faced him and sighed, looking pissed. “I have the right to say what I want.”
“Okey-doke,” Bob said.
Copyright 2018 JAM Publishing. All rights reserved.Then she spat at us.