On Reacting to the News

Children’s laughter goes from intense to silent, somewhere below my bedroom window a bike lock clunks. I roll over, grab my phone, see the BBC News notifications and the Guardian’s below it and I bolt upright in bed, exhaling the longest fuck.

One leg in a pant then two, shirt askew, flip flops in hand and it’s off out of the bedroom to deliver the news. Having heard the door, someone is already sprinting to the bathroom, fresh off the first Zoom meeting of the day. Good morning from the Netherlands by the way, last night’s American horrors have been Europe’s breakfast for years now. I can barely keep my coffee down.

Being an American, I feel entitled to halting someone’s bathroom sprint. “Trump’s got the ‘rona,” I say. I don’t remember the answer or if there even was one, only the bathroom door slamming. Dutifully, I sit at my desk and measure my blood pressure because my doctor is making me do this for a week.

There comes the second endless fuck of the day.

Over coffee, I wonder what it all means and how many people are already mailing bottles of bleach and “Get well soon!” cards to Don and Mel, the celebrity couple off the telly who got to live the ultimate American dream, complete with tax dodging.

How can you not admire such success in a culture that primes you to want more than you need and encourages you to chase wealth by any means necessary until you get more than everybody else? The things Americans will do for money just to survive are often inhumane. Just look at the internet.

Perhaps if dignity were a basic human right affording everyone access to education and health care, we wouldn’t have to and we wouldn’t be so afraid all the time, so vulnerable to scams, so easily duped by con artistry promising us greater political, emotional, and financial ease while getting us to design and build our own illusions.

Is Americans looking at Americans with disbelief still a thing or is it just me? There has to be a better way than whatever we’ve been doing.

Whatever we’ve been doing isn’t working.

I’m not in America anymore but I can’t rid myself of the deep-seated sense of foreboding that took hold in 2016. It is enough to keep me in Europe indefinitely although I never intended to. As a result, my American life is exactly where I left it, in limbo.

I want nothing more than to shut up about it all, some form of closure that comes with knowing exactly where to stand, ideally closer to relieved than to shell-shocked. I emphatically do not want to be one of those people with foresight again. No one does. Much as I share the exhaustion and the precariousness and the defiant hope that decency will prevail at the eleventh hour, I cannot even begin to imagine what it feels like to be an American in America.

My reality is different yet similar, other yet familiar as it also involves death and dementia, albeit only at parental rather than institutional level. My life, in this ocean of chaos, is a raft is made of words, the ones I edit, the ones I read, the ones I write. They save me, somehow.

The page is my battleship, the storm is raging, but the shore is in sight regardless of what the notifications on my screen say. When all else fails, navigate by the calendar.

The moment is finite and it will pass. You will get through it, somehow.

At some point, we will compare notes. I don’t know about you but I want to look back and be proud of us, proud of how we held the line for decency with our every word and our every interaction. But my cell phone notifications already inform me this is unlikely to happen.

That Joe tested negative for coronavirus is breaking news and it feels icky because it shouldn’t be. Mike testing negative is breaking news: It means there’s alternative leadership in place, even though you may have just scratched your head and asked yourself who Mike was because the guy barely has a presence. Mike as in Mike and Karen? Mike and Mother? Them two. But Joe is still a candidate, electoral due process is still a thing, and voting is still a thing too. Please, let’s not take our eyes off democracy. We still need to hold ourselves and each other accountable for the message we put out else psychosis beckons, or mass hysteria, or both.

Getting coronavirus is no cause for rejoicing, not even if you’re the first one to point out that karma is a bitch. It must be great to have access to the best health care America has to offer though, not every human in America gets that, not even those who have health insurance as a ‘benefit’, a strange definition for something you must purchase every month. Sure, you get a group discount and your employer may chip in but you’re still paying for your ‘benefit’ unless you work for a visionary employer.

The difference between US health insurance and a Groupon deal is that you need to pay again before you can use it. If you don’t have the money, you die or you wonder how best to die. I did the latter for five years, hence the reason why I’m shamelessly using Trump’s illness to make a point. When Trump recovers, let’s hope he is struck by the same grateful clarity as British PM Boris Johnson, be it only for a hot minute, long enough to commit to making health care a basic human right for everyone in the US, forcing Joe to pledge the same unless Joe belatedly does a Bernie because it is time.

You shouldn’t have to move to another country or continent to get well.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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