Coming to Terms

Long Beach, NY, August 9, 2014

Long Beach, NY, August 9, 2014

It’s 10 PM Wednesday night, and I’m trying to put words to the numerous high points from another lovely weekend. It should be easy: it felt like a perfect beginning to the end of a pleasant summer.

The words aren’t coming because when I look outside our tiny bubble, there’s another summer swirling around us that I can’t reconcile with ours. That summer is menacing, intrusive, and insistent. That summer is also very near, just a tab away. As I write, in another tab the Missouri paramilitary has given a “second final warning” to peaceful protestors in Ferguson. In another tab, 49 years ago, the Watts riots rage. In a rectangle to my left, citizens of Gaza are offering tear gas advice to Missourians. This is how it’s been all summer, tab after tab, grisly realities from a beach in Gaza, a Syrian war zone, a Staten Island bodega. Presiding over these polygons is me, powerless, able only to give attention. The best I can do is hit RT over and over and over and over.

11 PM, I decide on a photo to use for the post. The photo of Charlotte on the beach evokes both summers for me, both joyful and haunted. Long Beach and Gaza, connected by an image of a kid on a beach—a summer of stark contrasts and uncomfortable connections. As I look at the photo more, I struggle to come to terms with these contrasts, to figure out a world where the beach represents both joy and death.

This is the best I can do: I admit that I’m very, very late to this “two summers” realization. The world’s lousy summers have been going on for years. And I acknowledge my powerlessness, even from a position of privilege, against a tide strong enough to span generations. I see now that these will be Charlotte’s problems, too.

Now it’s midnight. Charlotte wakes up and pads out here, rubbing her eyes, confused that I’m sitting alone at the table. She’s taken to wearing an old tank top of Maggie’s to bed because it feels like a fancy dress. She’s thirsty, so I get her a glass of water and walk her back to bed. I assure her that the glass was on the windowsill next to her bed if she wakes up thirsty again. I tell her I will stay with her until she falls asleep, and I do.

As I watch her breathing regulate, I remember our day at the beach. I feel her weight in my arms as we waded out—she can’t swim—and I feel the undertow trying to pull my feet from under us. We wade out farther, the water up to my armpits. The surf is as high as I’ve seen; we toe the line between fun and fright.

Charlotte turns over and lets out the little sigh she makes right after she’s shut her eyes.

The ocean suddenly feels bigger. And still, I feel lucky to be in it, to witness the waves, and to hold Charlotte above the break while salt floods my eyes.

4 Responses to Coming to Terms

  1. Wink says:

    I was so struck by the restraint of this post- the Campbell Raws in Brooklyn juxtaposed with tragedy in Gaza, Ferguson, MO — all the unspeakable sites of violence and ignorance of the moment– is an demanding feat to pull off. Likely this is why you fretted over this as much as you described. This is the nature of human experience, and your post encompasses the delicate/ robust growth of a young family while maintaining a steady gaze at your family’s place in the world. And, it feeds me in an analogous activity. The stuff of the life that comes to me, that I seek out, and that surrounds (overtakes and overwhelms) me, is what I attempt to invest in my drawing. That every image is armatured (not a word) on a personal archive of beauty, memory, wonder and pain without literally rendering the merging of these resources is my goal. Take all this as a bit of information to and advice to take a look at Andres Serrano’s “Residents” (of New York City) series of photos. Both his images and his writing inspire a respect that I did not feel for this artist who gained so much notoriety at the end of the 20th century. Thanks for your writing. It is a seasonal, weekly gift that I treasure.

    • Matt says:

      Wink! I’m so glad you commented. Your reaction and perspective are always welcome, both help me understand what I’m doing in a way I’m usually unable to articulate.

      I will absolutely seek out “Residents,” and I’m glad to be able to provide a little bit of fuel for your summer. Home stretch!

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