It’s dark in Oregon. Sunrise was at 7.40 this morning supposedly. I have a cold and hit the couch with a blanket and a book after bringing Lily to school. The good thing about having a cold is I can do this rainy day couch time without guilt. I drifted in and out of a few chapters, a few dreams and woke thinking about guns, my current passion. The sun did not rise.
When we moved to America this summer I wanted to live in a mixed neighbourhood. Our lilac tree and the weeping birch are eerily naked. The view from the couch has widened. Our across- the-street neighbours’ house is painted pale mustard yellow with white trim. They have a small motor boat and a trampoline in the back. Hilda, the mother over there, is from Nicaragua. Her husband is from Mexico. They have three beautiful young girls who bounce and ballet down the sidewalk each morning to the elementary school a block up the street. The littlest girl has a purple umbrella. I doubt they have a gun.
Our back garden neighbors seem sweet. They are young. I would guess that they live a bit on the edge. They have a Billie Jean and a Granddad in their house. Hey you, new lady. Look at the fence! It’s me, Billie. I’m small enough to climb through your fence. And she did. She just wanted to look at my glass chair. She sat on the plastic chair from IKEA and made it bounce. We got a dog. It nipped me. Now we have another dog. I tell my mother everything. Then she disappeared back through the fence. My hunch is they don’t have a gun.
Our neighbour to the left is originally from the Ukraine. He came to America when he was a child. He has a few small, battered American flags in his empty flowerbeds. He was in Vietnam and later worked as a bartender. He likes women and is a charmer. He was probably a bit dangerous before the stroke. Now he is sweet and doddery. If he has a gun it is most likely locked up somewhere, I think he knows his limitations.
Next door to him is a couple with two teenage daughters who found us fascinating when we first moved in, but we haven’t seen them in a while. The dad is a welder. He made a potbellied stove out of a barrel; it has a long thin neck of a chimney and two pig-like ears on top of it. He and the Ukrainian neighbor sit outside by the stove each night. They drink beer and smoke cigarettes and have a laugh together. It’s sweet. But the welder is an Oregon redneck, and my hunch is that he has a gun or more than one. His wife works at the cafeteria at the High School and tends bar at a Chinese restaurant a few nights a week. When they argue in the back garden I hear her stand up for herself.
An elderly couple lives on the corner. They have dozens of bird houses, metal daisies, gnomes. And two yappy dogs who look a bit elderly themselves. I doubt they have a gun, but they might.
It’s a good mixed neighbourhood. It’s a slice of America. It’s the aptly named Forest Grove. We are now Grovers. Newbie citizens finding our way.
We helped with the book sale at the Forest Grove library in October. In November we went to a Presbyterian church and helped pack boxes of food for the Western Farm Workers Association. Many workers lost two or more months of work because of last year’s drought. When we loaded boxes of food, frozen turkeys and bags of apples into our car to deliver them, I thought about guns. Was I crazy to have Lily at my side as I knocked on the doors of strangers? A gorgeous woman opened the door at our first delivery. She smiled and showered us with Spanish words and guns became the last thing on my mind. We carried the stuff into her shiny house. A dozen chairs lined the walls and I was sorry that we would be missing the party that was sure to follow. We got hugs at each house thereafter. This is America and I like it.
And then I stupidly get on Facebook and see comments written by people I used to know in Alaska, old high school people. Some that I really liked and still do; and some who are just part of the gang. Other people, too. Guns don’t kill people, people do…as if I’m some dumb-shit who doesn’t get the connection! Poor baby-soft guns. It is there, on the screen, that I wonder what happened to America in my two decade absence. There must have been a hardening. Gun-loving, politician-hating, flag-waving people who wrap themselves in bizarre religiosity spouting off about their rights and my ignorance. This is America and I don’t like it. I know Sarah Palin happened. She is now, thankfully, off the radar pretty much, but the damage she caused with her hate speeches lives on. Angst and hate about having a president who is black also happened. The hardening, what is it?
I think of my Irish friends who give so freely to the world. My neighbors in Ballinderren who are helping refugees. My neighbour Joe who slept outside with the homeless to raise money. Ireland is not perfect, there are plenty of jerks there too. I’ve been heckled there more than once. They know about guns in Ireland, and they live just fine without them. Gangland criminals have guns, ordinary people do not. They know about terrorism, decommissioning; they know how hard it is to change and how awkward and clumsy peace can be when it comes. But even the biggest Irish jerk will wonder why America tolerates guns and all the racist drivel from Donald Trump. Ok, Mr. Trump did get a red carpet laid out for him when he bought a castle in Ireland a year or so ago…all hallowed commerce won in that instance.
My friend Debbie tells me not to compare and she is correct. It's the hardening that concerns me. And the quietness of good people.
I will not be quiet.
Helen Mirren, in honor of her 70th birthday, said that there were two words she wished she had used more frequently in life: fuck off.
We need someone like George Mitchell and Mo Molan, God rest her, (Ireland gets to keep Bertie Ahern and Gerry Adams) to help us reach a peace agreement. I have hope. We need to stop focusing on religions and focus on our own humanity and fix what ails us. The purple umbrella-ed girl gives me hope, as do two facebook “friends” who just today suggested that although they are pro-gun perhaps, erm, perhaps we could do without assault weapons. It's such a ridiculously tiny statement; and in this dark week in America, so huge.