All We Are Saying: Part 3 “Four More Years”
Let’s get back to here: you, Sophie and Mike are sitting outside your tents. The President is going to make his speech in less than an hour. The conversation now centers around: do you three join the remaining protestors who are going to try and form the human blockade outside the convention center doors as planned, or are you going to just call it a night. “We have to go. This was the whole point of the trip,” Mike says. You and Sophie are not quite sure anymore. Is that really why you came down? Did a human wall really do the same as a march through the streets? Or just provoke more animosity? You aren’t so sure anymore, if you were sure at all to begin. It isn’t a question of fear. You are prepared to be temporarily blinded and concussed. You understood driving down was an act of complicity, that you were (to some extent) okay with potentially kissing the rude end of a clubbing apparatus. There was a real possibility of an inflection point where things might turn ugly, and you are prepared. You believe you have always been ready for the violence, but not for something you don’t believe in. The aggressive protesting just feels like the kind of thing you are fighting against. Why succumb to violence and aggression, why not rise above it all? You try to explain this to Mike. He doesn’t seem to appreciate, or accept it. Sophie is just tired. Tired of the protesting, beat from the sun. She doesn’t think she can properly handle what needs to be done tonight. “You both can’t stay here alone anymore. It’s not safe.” Mike is referencing a series of bad news that has developed over the past hour or so.
Apparently a zippie was walking along the outskirts of the Land when a van pulled up. Two guys said they just drove down to support the movement, but couldn’t find a place to park, they wanted her help. They asked her to hop inside the van. She kept trying to direct them to a place they could park, it was just around the corner, but they kept insisting she get in. The passenger eventually got out of his seat. He went up to her. He asked her to get in again, but when she replied, “you don’t need me to get in, I’m telling you the parking is—” he yanked her by the arm and started pulling her towards the van. She screamed and tugged, called for help. He was trying to control her and get her in the van. The driver was shouting: “Shut that bitch up and get her in the van!” The passenger managed to get the door open, but partially blocked himself which is when she kicked into his groin. He howled and dropped to the ground allowing her to wrestle her arm free. She ran as fast as she could to the center of the Land. Some vets went to the area but didn’t see any van. Now everyone was encouraged to walk in pairs. Not that it helped the three gays who were walking back from a bar last night. A group of “hicks” were said to have jumped them in an alley and beat them senseless. A few of their friends and members of the gay clan were looking for them earlier today you remember. It wasn’t until one of the friends ended up in the hospital from a Young Republican’s (“Nixon Youth” as you like to call them for their adulatory celebration of the man is rival only to something you might see in old Nuremberg films) sucker-punch that the three were found. Then about twenty minutes ago two separate reports came in that someone in either a yellow car, or a taxi, was circling the Land trying to run people over. The driver (or drivers) already succeeded in hitting a YSA as she was crossing the street and a group of veterans a few blocks away. But some were saying that the driver, one taxi driver, got frightened when a large crowd of protestors encircled the car because some convention-goers were sitting in the back seat. The protestors were pounding on the car and so the driver took off, hitting the YSA. But a growing fear was that there was a concerted effort by the Miami PD, through the guidance of the Secret Service, to round-up Cuban emigres and pump them full of anti-protestor sentiment by leaning hard on a narrative that the protestors were really pro-Castro saboteurs. To Mike and many others, the air was fraught with a dangerous tension. But it was this same tension that broke rank from the fear and instead formed a frenetic excitement, the tipping point might be just around the corner. The Revolution was at hand, you just needed to stay the course and push a little further.
“We’ll be fine,” Sophie says. She put her hand on Mike’s arm. “Of the two, you know which isn’t safe.” “We have to show our solidarity.” Sophie’s eyebrows get really high on her forehead. (You love her facial expressions. It’s perhaps what drew you to her in the beginning of your friendship. She liked to make you laugh and get in trouble in class with her Groucho Marxian physiognomies.) “Look around you,” she says. “We’re in the middle of it.” The conversation dies a little. You pick up your guitar and start strumming some chords. “Besides,” Sophie continues. “They have that place bordered up now. You saw it. They got like five hundred buses out there surrounding it like it’s a fucking castle. The only way in is through the cops, the FBI, the Secret Service, they’ve probably got the Marines hanging out around the corner ready to go. There’s no way we can break in. They won’t let us.” “That’s not the point.” “It’s not?” “The point is we have to be there to protest. All the cameras are going to be there. All the nation’s attention. This is our one chance to show the world what is going on with all of us together, to show there is an equal opposition to the war. This is our last chance to do that now. We have to do it.” This strikes you. You find yourself agreeing with him that this is the last opportunity during the convention to show the rest of the nation that there is another way. A better way. That this does not need to result in violence. We can work together to make changes in the world that have positive effects. It doesn’t have to be this way. “It won’t be a protest if they call in the Marines,” Sophie says. “It’ll be a massacre.”
You’re sitting in your tent. Your only company is the guitar. It’s maybe been an hour or two since Sophie and Mike went to the convention. They compromised. They will attend but not participate in the blockade, only hold anti-war banners and call for Nixon’s resignation. You decided to hang back. Despite Mike’s arguments and the compromise, you could not bring yourself to attend. Alone, you wonder if perhaps you have made the wrong decision. The events of the past three, four days are running through your thoughts as you play the progression of “All La Glory” on your six-string. If you came down to stop a war and start a revolution, if the point of the convention-long protest was to spark a shift in the paradigm, had you failed by not participating? Or did you try to come down and change minds, not through coercion but conversation? If your purpose was to end violence, then how could you justify accomplishing this by way of provocation? At what point did your agency become more justifiable than that of the attendees when utilizing the same level of aggression? Where was the line drawn that helped distinguish you from them?
You were stuck, tangled in the pathologies of rectitude. What wove you together with those who wore bright happy faces and held up two fingers in the symbolism of peace, who sought to end the butchery of young men and help mend the fabricated division of a national people, was the same tether that harnessed you to those who walked with cheery-cheeked faces, wide grins and shining eyes, as they proceeded to the convention center arm-in-arm, fingers raised in the “V” pattern (reminiscent of the bygone days when your father returned home from the gruesome reality of Europe) to hear their President talk about the way things are supposed to be and they must spill blood to save a foreign people, and how people like you and your kind are a threat to an entire way of being that is so natural and true. You cannot tear yourself away from them, or they from you.
You had imagined it all happening in a vastly different way. Driving down from Detroit a few days before, that pink poster flapping in your hand, you had envisioned a different future. You saw it unfolding when veterans from your father’s war came down and met with your veterans. When the elderly sat at those colorful benches and listened as you explained what this gathering was all about. You saw it all there in the park in those waking hours, in the brief march earlier today. If there was just some way to harness that magnetism and forge a lasting cohesion the way that you saw it, to expose everyone to the reality that the two were one, and any pain delivered was also pain felt. That there could be no way for one side to be victorious without both sides sharing in the loss.
You smoke and play guitar a little more and think back to three years ago when you decided to join your friend Patti-Gay and Reggie on a road trip to upstate New York. You were joining a coalition of mirthful youngsters and musicians in an effort to stage a massive non-violent force that would rival any kind of militancy or aggression or bullshit establishment rhetoric to the contrary. This would be a gathering of an army of lovers unmatched in the world. For a few days, you would show humanity what it meant to be humane, an entire collective there on some farm with no other motive than to enjoy life and show the world how a community can form on the basis of good will and egalitarianism. You didn’t need the market or aesthetics of a consumer society—those were the false realities you sought to reject through your actions.
You had your guitar, and a backpack filled to the brim with clothes and the money you had saved. Your friend Patti-Gay had the tent you two would share, you would help pay for the food and gas, and Reggie had the van. You also gathered a collection of songs and learned to play them to perfection so when the radio dropped out, or no good tunes could be found, you’d be able to break out the music for the van. Reggie was saying how a few of his other friends were bringing guitars and percussions with them on the road trip, too. You were all going to take turns driving and jamming while you made your way east. You and the Troubadours were all set to go that Wednesday before. You shot out of the door with your backpack thrown over your shoulder and you were all smiles as Patti-Gay slung open the door to the van. “Get on in!” You saw the group crammed in the back of the van, some six or so, and three in the front. Who knew where the hell you were going to fit but you were all going to make it work. You were all going to work together to make it happen. That was until your father came chasing after you at a speed you had not seen before.
“Where in the holy hell do you think you’re going?” he said as he grabbed the backpack over your shoulder and you two wrestled for it. “You get your ass back inside that house. If you think I’m going to let you go off with a bunch of goddamn bums to some fucking place in New York I’ve never heard of, you got another thing coming.” Being about twice your size and double your weight your dad had no problem hauling both you and the bag back towards him, grabbing your arm and twisting it. You shouted in pain. “Hey not cool, man!” Patti complained from the van. “Mind your own business and get the hell away from my house before I call the cops!” “This is bullshit,” you screamed in his face. “Bullshit!”
For your father, this was a simple matter of familial uprightness. Your actions were a clear breach of his patriarchal authority. He may have given you autonomy to go out and return as you saw fit, but that freedom did not extend past the city limits. Beyond there was an entire untamed land that was still under his parentage. You tried to explain to him that there were “boys” your age serving over in Vietnam right then being subject to and perpetrating atrocities, that at your age he was enlisted to sail to Europe to expose himself to many similar brutalities, that your efforts to attend this “weekend in the countryside” was with the explicit purpose to change minds about the nation and the war, and you thought if you could explain to him that the horrors he experienced in the fields of France and Germany, watching his buddies burn alive inside a tank at Arracourt, were the same ones your peers were experiencing but for no good reason, that the memories he carries with him can at least be pacified with the rhetoric of morality and justice, something your generation will never have, you hoped he would see the connections too and permit you to help end the war. That did not happen. You stayed in your room and did not speak to your father for the entirety of the festival. At meals he told you about how the hippies “overran” the fences and forced their stay, and musicians refused to play until they were paid upfront in cash: “How’s that for anti-establishment?” (a hot new word he heard of earlier that week). He told you of the food tents that the hippies burnt down, which led the governor to declare the festival a “disaster area”—he really liked telling that story—and how “they” over-filled the nearby hospitals because of the squalid conditions “they” lived in putting local lives at risk. There were rumors he heard from his colleagues of widespread chlamydia and tract infections as a direct result of hardcore nudity and wanton sexual misbehavior, stories of rampant drug abuse and knife fights because the only security was a hippie threatening to throw pies in peoples’ faces. He dropped a newspaper in your lap that told a story about a poor teenager who was ran over and killed by a tractor in the night, his finger pressed down on the words: “cops think it was probably some dope fiend who ran him over in the middle of the night, didn’t even realize he just murdered someone… and you wanted to go to this mess.” He did not care about your protests or intentions. He did not bother to be influenced by such Panglossian viewpoints. He wanted you where he could keep an eye on you.
So when you woke up early in the morning on your clandestine counterculture hejira down to Miami, you imagined there might be no home to return to, but it was of little consequence to you at the time. Now, as you strum away on the guitar, transitioning back and forth between A-minor and D-minor, trying to wrestle out some lyrics from your mind, you begin to question what your fate will be. You left a note on your pillow explaining where you had gone, and why. You thought in some way this might assuage any anger your father might bear. That the lack of your physical presence might help the words break through in a new way. That as he read them in his own mind, with his own voice breathing them, he might somehow ingest your knowledge and come to see the world differently through his own eyes. You wanted to explain yourself in person, but your experiences had taught you the distance was too wide to bridge, attributed to a linguistic failure. You two were bound together, inseparable in both your genetics and history, yet there was nothing either of you could say to one another to end the misconceptions. You were to continue on in your own ways, different and opposed, like and assimilated.
A thought occurred that he might come down to find you. After all, he did race out of the house to steal you away from being part of the other children of God, the stardust. What ends would he not go to in order to bring you back home? But by the second day you you began to worry less about him appearing. At some points you almost wished for his face, standing along with the other veterans of his ilk, or across the street, just staring at you in that yellow polo he’s so fond of and his thick black-rimmed glasses. You wished for him and your mom when you got lonely, like now. He was back home probably, waiting for you to call. You really should call, you know, but you’ve been so busy—and right now you’re too stoned. He’s just sitting in front of his television right now, waiting for a sign of life. Perhaps that was why you refrained from joining the blockade tonight. You knew all the cameras would be there. You knew he would be watching, looking for you. The thought of him sitting in his chair watching as some sweaty, fat-fingered pig grabbed you by the collar and proceeded to club you to unconsciousness was more than you could handle.
You stop playing guitar, the last image is inescapable. You sit in silence.
The watch around your wrist tells you its been at least an hour or more since Sophie and Mike left to protest Nixon. Worry floods into the tent like poisonous fumes in a bad action movie. Images of protestors you’ve lived with over these past four days are pushed back by police in riot gear. The translucent shields form a line similar to that of the ancient testudo formation and begin a slow march forward. No one instigates this reaction, it is almost as though it were commanded from on high. The line moves forth in steady motion and your generation of veterans and students, peaceniks, and acid-heads give more and more ground. This happens for a handful of tense seconds until some SDS and VVAW and a few others decide to lock arms and block the policemen’s advance. Somewhere in all of this you can picture Sophie and Mike standing on the sidewalk with their signs: “Peace not War!” and “US = Nazi Germany” they can see the inevitable. Sophie probably tugs on Mike’s arm. She wants to run. “We gotta do something,” Mike says, eyes fixed on the closing gap between the heavily geared, well-funded crypto paramilitary group and the unarmed anti-war crowd. “Do what?” Sophie cries as she tries to pull Mike away from the street. Law and Order is slowly approaching them now. Neither streets nor sidewalks are safe. They are coming.
Back in the tent, you shake the thoughts from your head and blame it on the weed. You make your bed, which is just your cover and thin pillow. The cover acts as your mattress. It is too hot even past midnight to need a blanket. The ground is uncomfortable, so any padding between you and it is welcomed. You don’t know how your “neighbors” Trent and Dallas manage it without anything to protect them from the elements, and the pests. They were covered in all kinds of bruises and mosquito bites. Yet, they still managed to sleep without problems. You can hear Trent on the other side of your tent. He snores so loudly he must be dreaming well. You’re almost to that point. Eyelids grow heavy. That sense of levity that lingers towards the front of your brain just above the eyes comes on hard. You let your body follow suit. Tomorrow, you think, you’ll emerge from the tent to find Sophie and Mike unscathed. The three of you will get some breakfast and all go your own way. Then the long trip back home to meet your fate.
Eyes closed, you’re trying to construct a speech in your defense, trying to find the words to finally break your father. But you are having trouble focusing because there is a noise in the Land that is distracting you. It started off in the distance, but has continued and only become louder. At first you thought it might be the students, veterans, Sophie, Mike, and the rest returning from the convention, triumphant and wanting to wake all those in the Land and celebrate their grand victory. This sound, though, is not ebullience but resembles more of a mourning. It reminds you of the whimpering and cries you heard at your brother’s funeral. It is black and sad. As it grows you begin to understand what is fast approaching and the danger you are in.
You pull down the zipper from your tent door. The shouts of men and women come from the staging area. A horrid amalgam of pleas for mercy and unintelligible screams in the face of irreverent rancor, feet racing in all directions, the ground reverberating from the manic stamping. The sounds of treading mix with heavy breaths, snarling and laughing, creating a hysteria and thick panic that spread across the Land. An abrupt blast of noise rips through your tent: “They’re here! Run!” Then intense struggle: “fuck!” “er” “grrr” then the awful screaming. You picture a man being skinned alive, tents set ablaze while the inhabitants remained trapped. You wait for the rhythmic doom of choppers to sweep overhead and shots of gunfire. Then a crash happens and the sound goes away, filled in quickly with the moaning and groaning of an ambush. You look over to Trent and Dallas, who are both wide-awake. They cling to one another as they try to understand what to do. You see Sophie and Mike’s tent is still empty. “Get in it!” you yell at them. They are petrified. A horse rides through the field in front of you with a dark armored man atop swinging his baton. He is chasing after a naked hippie. His baton connects with the back of the hippie’s shoulder at such force you hear the crack of the bone from halfway across the field. The naked man goes flying forward and the horseman moves on. You look back at the frozen Trent and Dallas and try to tell them again to get into Sophie and Mike’s tent, but your words fail you. Terror mutes you. Back in your tent you leave the door open. Maybe your neighbors will come in and huddle with you, or you will make your escape shortly, or you realize the inefficacy of such an act as closing your tent door to the outside world. Pale shades from the moonlight, park lamps, and moving flashlights dance on the fabric of your tent. A group of fleeing protestors run past you and a few policemen are in hot pursuit. You hear screams in every direction. “Christ,” you think, “there are children out there…” You try saying this out loud: “There are children out there!” You do it to try and end the violence. To also assure yourself that this is all really happening to you right now. The present is not a fantasy, it is an ugly truth.
Trent is telling Dallas to climb up in the magnolia. Someone is calling out for their friend or lover. The voices of Law and Order are hollering commands: “Don’t run!” “Come over here, hippie!” “Do not resist!” Screams of your peers hang and reverberate throughout Flamingo Park creating a fear so intense its definition cannot be found in any dictionary, only felt. Trent’s voice is yelling at disembodied threat somewhere: “Don’t come near us, man!” “Get down on your knees and get your bitch out of the tree, you get out of there! That is state property. Get out of there, you hear? You don’t belong!” You see Trent’s thin silhouette go to one knee. Three large shadows are on him quickly. He lifts his hands as if to meet any venom, but the act is misinterpreted as preemptive aggression. Law and Order gang up on him and strike his hands away. He tries to get back to his feet and meet one of his interlocutors face-to-face, but the other two beat him back down. Dallas is crying from a branch above: “Stop it! You’re killing him! Stop!” She screams as Law and Order continue to beat Trent down, as if they were trampling dirt on a grave. You watch this madness of shadowy movement work, and hear the breaking of body, the shrieking of pure terror and heartbreak. Then everything goes black. You lose sight. Your eyes close so tight you feel them pressing back into your skull. You cover your ears. The results of the enmity break through your guards, though, you cannot remove yourself from the dark reality of the night. You are shaking uncontrollably. You are waiting to be trampled underfoot by horse, or struck and kicked from outside your flimsy fortress, beaten into a pile of meat and skin. The cries continue, Dallas screams as you hear Law and Order climb after her. “Don’t come near me! Stay away! Please!” Then something snaps and a great thud sounds. The immediate excitement calms down. “Leave her. Come on, get down and let’s go.” You crawl into a ball and try to think of something, anything to remove yourself from the waking nightmare, but you are alive, this is all yours.
Time passes indistinguishably. Your eyes cannot focus on your watch. The noise of Law and Order has passed over and is working its way to the edges of the Land. What is left in the wake is an echo of dirges. You crawl towards the exit of your tent, protruding your head from its safety to see what justice hath wrought:
A fog of smoke and tear gas floating over the field,
Collapsed tents in every direction,
Torn up protest flags and banners,
Bodies curled up, rocking back and forth,
Bodies lying still,
People running frantically in no particular direction,
Friends helping their injured buddies walk off in the direction of the medical tent,
A lone child standing next to his mother as she tries to calm him with her broken hand,
Bloodied faces shining black in the evening glow,
A veteran running up to people asking them: “You got a gun?”
SCLC and Women’s Coalition members saying to look out for broken glass,
A gay picking up his buddy’s teeth,
A riderless horse grazes,
Dallas lies alone, motionless next to the tree,
Your tent stands enisle in a land of destruction, you unscathed.
It’s dusk when you finally reach the house. The facade’s commercial placation is foreign to you. Maybe it is the light, having never seen the house in this time of day, or it could be sleep deprivation, you only stopped once to sleep on your journey back from Miami, but you know it looks different not because it has changed, but you have. You park the Volkswagen, leaving your guitar and backpack inside—you gave the tent to a vagrant. You walk up the steps of the porch and reach the door. For the first time in your life you hesitate to open the it. You stare at the maroon paint, the eye hole reflects a smaller version of your face. You look at the door bell and contemplate. Slowly, you follow your finger as it extends and presses down on the button.
Within seconds, you hear feet shuffling towards the door. Your eyes fall to the floor. Your mother opens the door. “Oh!” is all she manages before bringing you into her body. You feel her warmth against you, it’s nice. “My you’re ripe,” she laughs. “Lawrence! See who’s here?” Your father is exactly where you might expect: reclining in his chair, the television on. “I see,” he says. He gets up and walks over to the door. You don’t remember him being so fragile-looking. The air around him is gone. Miami has eradicated it from your vision. He puts his hand on your shoulder. “You better come on in.” You walk past him and your mom, and directly upstairs to the bathroom.
You’re crying in the shower. The water washes you clean as imagines of smiling faces and broken bodies smear across the spectrum of your memory. The mundane scent of the bathroom mixes in with the humidity and rawness of Flamingo Park’s trees and lawn. Why were you spared? Where are Sophie and Mike? What happened to Trent and Dallas, the field of those casualties? How did it all come to that? Was there any other way? What now?
It’s evening now and you and your father sit in front of the TV. Mom went to bed early. A special report of the convention plays for you both. It categorizes both “sides” of convention types: attendees and protestors. You watch people who look like they’re going to church or the race tracks line up to enter the buses. Their faces look bothered by the heat, but their eyes suggest a discomfort instigated by rumors of “hoodlums,” “ruffians,” “hippies,” “cowards,” and “protestors” presumably lurking off camera who might strike at any given minute. You notice this, but they seem mostly conscious of the camera in their faces. They crack jokes, and try to sound as well-informed as possible.
You see inside the convention for the first time. A gross collection of supporters huddled together on the convention floor, an American mass holding banners with NIXON written all over them, like feudal soldiers of Japan, all cheering and shouting making their collective voice intelligible. The report switches focus to the Nixon Youth momentarily. People in their late teens and twenties running around the convention together, dressed in their best suits and dresses. “We’re here to support the President and show there are far more of us in here than no-goods our age out there. The nation is behind the President, and that includes the newest generation of voters.” You hear this sentiment from convention-goers again and again: “I don’t know what their problem is, but we’re having a good time in here.” “They spit on me. For all that peace and love, they just spit on me and my wife.” “They were throwing rocks at us and tried to slash the tires of the taxi we were in.” “Miscreants.” “You don’t see that kind of hostility from us.” “We’re just trying to attend this convention in peace. You’d think they’d appreciate that.” “They’re punks.”
You watch and try to understand this side of the movement. If you are to take these rosy-cheeked white faces at their word, then there was some part of the revolution that still stood on the same ground as those you were trying to oppose. You know some members who shared food with you, formed impromptu jam circles, connected with you on a personal level, and confessed the same fears and opinions on existence were the same who wished to strike fear in the hearts of these country club attendees and housewives. They wanted to open their eyes even if they had to sit on their chests and peel back their eyelids. But that wasn’t you. That wasn’t even the majority of you, you believe. You have to because you cannot possibly bear the notion that you are part of some malignancy attached to the nation. But who will know this? Who will tell your story, who will understand it as you do? Years from now, how will posterity respond to this moment, who will have the last word?
You watch these Nixon Youths run around the convention floor some more, cheering for the president and vice president, trying very hard to show not only their genuine enthusiasm for their candidate, but that they are the future. You wonder what was the degree of separation between becoming them and being who you are. How did their pasts lead to this moment and not yours? How did they end up inside the convention with their plaid suits, and not outside with rest of you? What were the fundamentals that separated your futures seemingly from birth?
The documentary shifts from inside the convention to the violence outside. Over the footage of police firing tear-gas into the crowds and spraying SDS members with mace, you hear the words of Nixon: “Our platform is a dynamic program for progress, for America, and for peace in the world.” It is a cruel art of juxtaposition played for dramatic effect, and you cannot help but succumb fully to it. Law and Order slowly make their way down the street, they are in full riot gear, helmets, shields, black pads, and batons, heading after the protestors equipped with t-shirts and jeans. The documentary plays Nixon again as one police officer sprays a veteran with mace while another beats his legs and back with a baton: “This nation proudly calls itself the United States of America. Let us reject any philosophy that would make us the divided people of America.” The footage plays on, random shots of violence all over the city spreading out from the convention center. A shot shows an old man washing a hippie’s face with his garden hose. It cuts to him after: “I don’t understand why they don’t just let them go. They’re running away. They’re not causing any trouble. Just let ’em go.” The next clip is shaky footage of the Land. A mixture of clad policemen and unarmed protestors in a dance of chaos. The violence plays out on the screen for you but you feel the screams and shouts underneath your skin. You see the field from this third party view. A tree line hides your tent, but you now have an out-of-body experience. You watch with a strange objective nonchalance and subjective terror as “Every time I am reminded that we have more freedom, more opportunity, more prosperity than any people in the world…” is spoken through the speakers. Tears fall from your eyes.
“When they first showed this,” your father starts. His voice is soft. “I was certain I was going to see you. I was certain they’d be dragging you by your hair and throwing you in some paddy wagon. I knew I was going to get a call that night. I was so angry, and so scared. Because…” His voice fades and when you look over you see his face wet with tears. He takes his glasses off and wipes them. “You’re my daughter. They don’t give a shit, but I do. I do.” You get up, and as the report continues to show the violence in the field and cut between it and the laughing and cheering inside the convention, you go over to your father and give him a hug.
You look back at the television. You see all those faces again, exultant and proud, in their formal attire and Nixon buttons, holding up their two fingers. “Why do they hate us?” you ask your dad. “What is it about us?” Your dad looks at you from his chair, then the screen, then away from both. “Because you tried to undo them.” He says it so calmly, but the words hit you hard. “What did you think would happen?”
The television growls a closed percussive burst, repetitive, hypnotic, incantatory, coming from a small group of huddled young faces, college-bound students and undergraduates, physiognomies obese with delight and knowledge of their predestined victory, holding up four fingers, chanting away those three words that beat against your chest and cause you to sink inside yourself, the knowledge of its calling will only spell more sorrow in the name of truth and goodness, the continuation of your misery and sustain of theirs too; these words, innocuous and few, drip with so much importance and none at all. You look at your father. You want to tell him about this, but how? How best to proceed when the very genesis of your expressions fails?
You watch the happy youngsters on display in that bright fluorescent arena, one of them will probably be doing your taxes one day, their rallying slogan blasts from their wide mouths as the footage cuts back to the Land, those three words play on and the camera pans over the aftermath in the field, it then stops and begins to push in on someone across the way, small, young, her back turned to the camera, she stands outside a tent looking down at a motionless body near a magnolia tree, she turns to face you, her face red from crying, you stare into her eyes and she back at you. The camera freezes on her and those victorious words pound over and over again through the speakers until the program finally comes to an end.