Swallow

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Breathe.

The simple act of pulling the world in and swallowing. When I was a kid I used to hold my breath underwater for 74 seconds. I remember that number clearly because it was the neighborhood record. It was a feat to balloon my chest and deprive my body of the very thing it needs most.

Breathe.

When I had my daughters, the doctors had to put me to sleep. It was predetermined that I would have a cesarean, I don’t remember being asked or offered an alternative. The epidural didn’t work. The nurse tapped something against my spine and I jumped. He did it again, I jumped. Twice they tried. Then, they laid me on my back and slid a mask over my face. Breathe deep, a voice said. The lights were stars, the doctors were magicians. I was so passive. I so easily turned my body over to strangers.  I didn’t even know what agency meant. But I knew how to fill my chest with air.

Breathe.

There are nights when I wake up breathless. I have somehow pushed the air from my lungs, extricated the oxygen from my body. In my dreams there are kids- six, seven, eight years old. The same age as my twin girls. There is a gunman. They don’t know that he’s coming, but they know that something is sour. There are people screaming. Then, a door opens.

 

There is a space here-a pause.

 

Between the moment of knowing and the moment of dying. I sometimes imagine this space as a breath. A long, 74-second breath like the one I treasured as a child of their same age. I wake gasping for something.  I want to suspend these children in that breath, and I cannot. The air runs low. My daughter falling down the stairs when she was three years old. That scream. The one that woke me from a daydream. The one that cut through the air like a siren. I imagine a classroom full of those screams. How the walls must’ve ached with their echo. The air runs lower. The swallows in my chest fade, collapse, die.

Breathe.

The shooting happened on a Friday. My daughters were six. One was home sick. The walls could not contain my grief. I pressed my spine against the molding of our kitchen door and sobbed. The building could not hold me. The world could not hold me. Not tight enough. I wished for a jar to pour my heartache into and seal away. There was no shelf wide enough. My breath tasted like vinegar-it foreign in my mouth. I mourned the obvious-lives cut short, parents devastated, and the collective heartbreak of a community. But I obsessed over the terror in that pause. That 74-second exhale of air. The swell of life leaving their lungs.  That’s when the swallows moved into my chest. They’ve never left.

 

*A poem for the children of Sandy Hook.

To donate to the wonderful people who work tirelessly to prevent another Sandy Hook shooting in our country, click here.

An Open Letter to Millennial Voters

Dear Millennials,

I get it. I get you. As a student of generational dynamics, I’ve studied your generation quite a bit. I know, for example, that you’re pretty pissed off at me right now because you resent me telling you that I know you because, you can’t be known. You’re unpredictable, rebellious, you are custom-your own person. How dare I suppose to know what you’re thinking or feeling? Part of this knee-jerk reaction to conformity is the fault of my generation, Gen X. We raised you, and for the most part, we hovered. We were latchkey kids, raised with minimal supervision, and we vowed never to do that to you. We went to all of your soccer practices, trotted the entire extended family out for gymnastic competitions, argued with teachers when you were unjustifiably held inside during recess, bought you cars when you turned sixteen, gave you our credit cards willingly, and pretty much guided your lives along a track, rather than letting you forge a path.

Now, you’re pissed off. You want to buck against the status quo and what better way to stick it to the rest of us than to vote for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson? They’re outsiders. They’re not the “institution.” And I get that. I am the child of Baby Boomers, the quintessential provocateurs, and that resistance to conformity has been baked into me as well. In sixth grade, I flat out refused to support the first Gulf War, I held walkouts to protest the use of Styrofoam trays in the cafeteria, and as a high schooler I dumped out all of the testers at the Estee Lauder perfume counter because they tested on animals.  While I’m certain that none of those actions resulted in change, it felt damn good to be an agent of chaos, even if only for a fleeting moment.

But now, I’m a mom to two beautiful nine-year-old girls. I’m a teacher, a wife, and a citizen in my community. I pay taxes and attend school board meetings to see how those tax dollars are spent. I have a husband who equally supports our family with a union job. I worry about the economy, carry a mountain of student loan debt, and vote in every single election, especially the primaries.

My point is, I have a lot riding on politics now. When I was your age, I didn’t. If the government was running at a deficit, legislating against labor unions, or rolling back women’s healthcare, it didn’t affect me greatly at 18, 19, even 21 years old. At that young age, I cared more about feeling heard than I did about actual policy. Well, I’m here to tell you that we hear you Millennials, we do.

You are one of the greatest generations to have lived. In the short time you’ve been adulting, you have helped lead this country to some amazing milestones. You’re the least racist, most inclusive generation to have come along. You’ve legalized same-sex marriage, questioned gender roles, and advocated for mainstream education for all. You’ve connected us through social networks, transformed mass media, and showed us all how to express anger through emojis. But perhaps your greatest accomplishment, at least for you older Millennials, is that you gifted us the election of Barack Obama.

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So, I beg of you this- don’t let all the awesomeness you’ve helped create be destroyed.  If Trump wins this election, he has promised to rollback same-sex marriage, dismantle LGBTQ protections, and will appoint one, possibly two, Supreme Court justices. Why is that latter point so important? The religious right in this country is chomping at the bit to defund Planned Parenthood and to overturn Roe v. Wade. Trump will help them do so. Think about that for a second. You-the independent generation who wants complete autonomy from the government- will live in a country where the government will tell you what you can and cannot do with your body. Could you live with that?

I understand you don’t like Hillary. She’s charged outrageous speaking fees for private engagements, she deleted a whole shitload of emails, and she appears stiff when she should be laughing or relaxed. But she is the candidate your generation has created. Those of you who worked so hard to support Bernie Sanders helped make Hillary the candidate she is today-way more progressive and to the left than she ever was. She’s not pandering, she’s evolving. And she’s evolving because of you. You want to be heard? Hillary has heard you. She’s evolved on same-sex marriage, on public education, on trade, and even on the drug war. And we have you to thank for this transformation.

So, this November, I beg of you to do one thing: think of Bernie. Think of the legacy you’ve helped him create, the work you’ve done together on social reform, and help him get those policies and promises into the white house. I get the appeal of a third party, really I do. And I’m with you that they should have more of platform and voice than they do. And if this were 2008 or 2012, when a reasonable, not-so-scary republican were on the other end of the ticket, I’d say go ahead! Vote your conscience. But, I’m afraid Millennials, that this time is different. We need you now to help us. We need you to once again give us the president we deserve, not one that will erase everything you’ve worked for.

Simply put, you gave us Obama. Please don’t follow that act of graciousness with the delivery of President Trump.