On Message: Women’s March, Pt. 2

This is my response to the most popular post that has been circulating in opposition to the Women’s March. I’m sure you’ve seen it making the rounds on Facebook. It’s the post that begins by declaring, “I am not a disgrace to women because I don’t support the Women’s March.” I’m going to go ahead and break this post down line-by-line.

I am not a ‘disgrace to women’ because I don’t support the women’s march.
Correct. No one said that you were.

I do not feel I am a ‘second class citizen’ because I am a woman. I do not feel my voice is ‘not heard’ because I am a woman. I do not feel I am not provided opportunities in this life or in America because I am a woman. I do not feel that I ‘don’t have control of my body or choices’ because I am a woman. I do not feel like I am ‘not respected or undermined’ because I am a woman. I am not a ‘victim’ because you say I am.
That’s nice. I’m happy for you. The purpose of this march was not to tell anyone that they are a victim. The purpose of this march was to support the women who actually are victims. It’s important to remember that your experience is only your own. It’s wonderful that you have lived such a blessed life. Other people, however, are not so fortunate. As one meme aptly suggests, “Saying no one should protest because you, as a woman, do not feel victimized, is like saying no one should go to the hospital because you feel fine. It’s not always about you.”

I AM a woman. I can make my own choices. I can speak and be heard. I can VOTE. I can work if I want. I can stay home if I want. I control my body. I can defend myself. I can defend my family.
A “thank you” would be nice. To the ones who went before you, who could not vote. Who could not work if they wanted to. Who did not have control over their bodies. The ones who went out and marched, and protested, and vandalized, and screamed, and waved banners, and put their very lives on the line to give you those rights of which you so callously boast. You can work, but you will only be paid 79 cents for every man’s dollar for doing the exact same job. You can work, OR you can stay home and raise children, but you will not get proper paid maternity (or paternity) leave. You can “control” your body, if control means struggling to maintain coverage for medication to regulate your periods, clear your skin, prevent cancer, and ease endometriosis and PCOS. If control means paying luxury tax on feminine products. You can hope that the justice system will defend you if you are raped—you can hope. You are fortunate to live in a country that even gives you that much, while many around the world have less. The fight is far from over.

There is nothing stopping me to do anything in this world but MYSELF. I do not blame my circumstances or problems on anything other than my own choices or even that sometimes in life, we don’t always get what we want. I take responsibility for myself. I am a mother, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a friend. I am not held back in life but only by the walls I choose to not go over which is a personal choice. Quit blaming. Take responsibility.
The ability to make your own choices is, once again, something to be grateful for. It is great that you have made your own choices in life. Others do not have that option. The men and women who marched are not trying to shirk their responsibilities. It’s true, we don’t always get what we want. We don’t all get mansions and private jets and tropical vacations. That is not what this march was about. This march was about justice. This march was about what is right. Sure, there are stories of slaves on plantations who were uncomplaining, hard workers who accepted the lot they had received. But enslaving human beings is not JUST. Sure, there were women who were satisfied to let their husbands cast their political votes for them. But denying citizens the right to vote is not JUST. Sure, with a high-enough paying job, I could afford to live, even if I made less than my male co-workers. But it would not be JUST. Furthermore, this march was not organized solely for those who are merely inconvenienced by inequality. This march was organized for those whose actual safety is at risk. An estimated 36,000 people could die PER YEAR if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Irresponsible immigration reform will result in families getting torn apart left and right. Just listen to the story of Diane Guerrero, who came home from school one day to find that her parents (who were desperately trying to become legal citizens) had been deported without notice. She was a minor, alone in an empty house, and no one came for her. No one explained to her what had happened. No one found a place for her to live. This is the reason for the march. It is not about you, or the choices you have been able to make, or the “walls [you] choose to not go over”, whatever that means. It is about SO MUCH MORE. These men and women are not whining or blaming. They are looking you in the eyes and asking for your support as they strive for peace, love, mercy, and JUSTICE.

If you want to speak, do so. But do not expect for me, a woman, to take you seriously wearing a pink va-jay-jay hat on your head and screaming profanities and bashing men.
These women did not march alone. They marched with their husbands, their fathers, their brothers, their sons, and their friends. One of the important goals of the women’s movement is inclusion and intersectionality. Organizations such as HeForShe seek to engage men and encourage them to join the fight for gender equality. This movement is for everyone. Man or woman, dark or light, Western or Eastern, we welcome you. Calling the participators in the March harpies who enjoy “bashing men” is just buying into an ignorant and harmful stereotype. And as for the pink hats, refer to my post “On Medium“.

If you have beliefs, and speak to me in a kind manner, I will listen. But do not expect for me to change my beliefs to suit yours. Respect goes both ways.
Please explain to me how marching is not “kind”. Not one. single. arrest. was made in D.C. that day. Not one.

If you want to impress me, especially in regards to women, then speak on the real injustices and tragedies that affect women in foreign countries that do not that the opportunity or means to have their voices heard. Saudi Arabia, women can’t drive, no rights and must always be covered. China and India, infanticide of baby girls. Afghanistan, unequal education rights. Democratic Republic of Congo, where rapes are brutal and women are left to die, or HIV infected and left to care for children alone. Mali, where women can not escape the torture of genital mutilation. Pakistan, in tribal areas where women are gang raped to pay for men’s crime. Guatemala, the impoverished female underclass of Guatemala faces domestic violence, rape and the second-highest rate of HIV/AIDS after sub-Saharan Africa. An epidemic of gruesome unsolved murders has left hundreds of women dead, some of their bodies left with hate messages. Or the 7 year old girls being sold or married off to 60 year old men, Or the millions of women sold and bought into sex trafficking. And that’s just a few examples.
We ARE speaking about these injustices. We DO march for these injustices. Renee Contreras De Loach, in her piece written for Women You Should Know, specifically cites forced abortions in China as one of her main reasons for marching. “I marched for the 30 million aborted Chinese baby girls that the government decided didn’t deserve life because they were less valuable than boys. I marched for their mothers too.” This post ignores the fact that the Women’s March is a GLOBAL event. Millions of men and women marched WORLDWIDE. The fact that 500,000 of them happened to be in Washington, D.C. does not in any way mean that the issues in foreign countries were being overlooked. As a sign from one of the many marches stated, “If you do not march for ALL women, you do not march for ANY women.” This post assumes that those who marched, marched only for themselves, because all the author saw in her limited view was a crowd of people in one location, standing around with picket signs. If she had only raised her head, she would have seen the whole world. If she had only looked for longer than one day, she would have seen those marchers return to their action plan and their lives as doctors, aid workers, mothers, counselors, volunteers, teachers, advocates, writers, and friends… doing everything they can to help those in need.

So when women get together in AMERICA and whine they don’t have equal rights and march in their clean clothes, after eating a hearty breakfast, and it’s like a vacation away that they have paid for to get there… This WOMAN does not support it.
I’ll let the succinct and powerful words of Dina Leygerman speak for me on this one: “Estonia allows parents to take up to three years of leave, fully paid for the first 435 days. United States has no policy requiring maternity leave. Singapore’s women feel safe walking alone at night. American women do not. New Zealand’s women have the smallest gender gap in wages, at 5.6%. United States’ pay gap is 20%. Iceland has the highest number of women CEOs, at 44%. United States is at 4.0%. The United States ranks at 45 for women’s equality. Behind Rwanda, Cuba, Philippines, Jamaica.” Did you ever think you would hear America listed behind those countries in anything? How do you expect American women to be an example and a light to those in more dire situations if we have nothing to show them? Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist the person sitting next to you.

If you’re just not a fan of protests, or women, or whatever, fine. My intent is not to tell you that you are wrong. I only hope that I cleared up some of the misconceptions and false statements being made about the March. Thank you for reading.

On Message: Women’s March, Pt. 1

In the wake of the Women’s March there has emerged a swath of anti-march memes that seem to have little or no grasp on such details as what the march was for, who marched, or where the march even took place. I certainly never thought I would find myself devoting an entire blog post to meme rhetoric, but these images link back to a broader misunderstanding that I might be able to shed some light on. I thought I would just take a second to address one meme in particular as an example. It depicts a female drill Sergeant leading a group of women in uniform on a march. The captions reads, “The news seems to forget women have been marching for years.” What is interesting about this meme, and many like it, is that it creates a diametric imbalance between two otherwise harmonious things. We have a powerful and inspiring image of women in the military, paired with words that dismiss the recent Women’s March as unimportant or less important. The fact that women are allowed to serve in the military is a wonderful thing. And it is partially due to the efforts of some of the same men and women who marched in the Women’s March that they have that option to begin with. Similarly, women marching in peaceful protest of inequality is a wonderful thing. And again, it is in part because of the past efforts of the United States military that they have the ability to protest to begin with. The two groups rely on each other and work together. And yet, the implied message of the meme is: women in the military matter, women in the Women’s March do not.
I have seen a handful of memes or posts in this vein, that unnecessarily pit two un-opposing ideals against one another. Posts that imply that the military does not support the Women’s March. That men do not support the Women’s March. That people of faith do not support the Women’s March. I believe this stems from a simple ignorance of the complexities of the goals and people groups that were represented in the March. Far more beliefs, genders, colors, political views, and walks of life came together to be a part of the Women’s March than many people realize. The best way to illuminate their stories and their reasons is to let them speak for themselves. So, I’ve compiled quotes from interviews with participants of various backgrounds, particularly those which might come as a bit of a surprise. These were taken from many different sources. I’ll list the links below.

VETERANS

“In the military, if you’ve got a good command, you can see it reflected in the people who serve under them. With our commander-in-chief sort of condoning sexual assault and even bragging about it, I’m not going to have my daughter grow up in that cultural environment.” -Mickiela Montoya | Army, 2002–2010

“In the Marine Corps, we called women Marines ‘WMs’ or ‘walking mattresses.’ The culture is very misogynist, very sexist. So as a veteran, pushing back against that I’m pushing back against misogyny and patriarchy, and sexism to make sure that women are treated with dignity. And not because they’re anybody’s daughter or mother or sister, but because they’re human beings.”  -Ramone Daniel Mejia | Marine Corps 2001–2004

“Under Trump, I think we’re looking at another war, and I think the military community is tired of being deployed without any real purpose.” -Matt Howard | Marine Corps, 2001–2006

“Folks have tried to create a false narrative that Islam is inherently misogynistic and inherently sexist, and I and other Muslim veterans are here to dispel that notion by standing with our sisters. The oath that I took to uphold and preserve the Constitution of the United States is a big reason why I’m here, because within the documents and tenets of our founding is equal justice under law. That means everybody. On Nov. 8, my mom and I were watching the election together, and when it became obvious that Trump was winning my mom, a naturalized American citizen, asked me, a veteran, ‘What are we going to do if Trump does what he says he’s going to do and comes for us?’” -Nate Terani | Navy and Air Force, 1997–2006

“This is what I fought for, or at least why I joined — for freedom of speech and the rights of every citizen of this country. I feel right now that a lot of those rights are in jeopardy. A lot of people who are in the most vulnerable positions are at high risk right now of losing basic rights like healthcare and just a general sense of decency. So I think it’s important that military veterans step up. Why should I stop serving my country just because I took off the uniform?” -Garett Reppenhagen | Army, 2001–2005

“I’m here today to support the people whose lives will be directly impacted by the policies of this new administration. We need to focus on people of color, women, immigrants — they’re not just going to feel the impact of what’s being done in policy, they’re going to feel it from everyone in the country whose ideologies are fed by those policies.” -Ramond Curtis | Army, 2003–2009

RELIGIOUS AND/OR PRO-LIFE

“1 in 3 women are victims of sexual or physical abuse. Most girls are abused as GIRLS/minors. Women around the world are being mutilated as part of tradition or religious rites. Some women in the world are killed when they are raped. Even in the U.S., women have been punished or kicked out of college for being raped. Around the world and in the U.S. child brides and polygamy still happens. So they have been victimized and they are victims and they don’t need people shaming them for acknowledging it. I marched for them too.” -Renee Contreras De Loach

“I was very concerned about the fact that in 2017, our presidential candidate was such a diehard misogynist. I get that he applied this pro-life label, but I don’t know very many people who genuinely believe he’s pro-life.” -Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa

“We’re here in light of our charism of mercy. We’re here because we stand for justice for those who are most affected by the kind of divisions and racism and inequalities that we seem to be more and more aware of and more and more affected by in terms of who’s being left out. We want to be faithful to Pope Francis’ call in this new year to act with nonviolence, to be peacefully gathered, to stand in unity, to stand in prayer, to stand based in our belief in the gospel and what Jesus calls us to be. Pope Francis, in his letter to President Trump, called all of us in this nation to claim our deepest values, respect for human dignity and freedom. So we want to stand in that place with women and with all people who in any way experience inequality or the lack of opportunity to live their God-given dignity.” -Sr. Deborah Troillett

“Christ stood with the marginalized. His work was rooted in social justice and equity; I try to live my life in such a way that it reflects those values. The act of marching is materializing my theological values. Trump ran on a platform built on every single system counter to the doctrine of Christ. White-supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism, heteronormativity, were the war cries of his campaign. Not only do these systems enforce the polarization of power and oppression, the policies that are birthed from those systems threaten the physical and psychological safety of millions of Americans.” -Mica McGriggs

“My neighbors in Washington D.C. who are immigrants tell me they are very afraid. They are harassed in the grocery store, in the taxi, on the bus. Our churches are organizing in immigrant communities in anticipation of increased ICE raids and the repeal of the DACA/DAPA executive action. I’m very concerned about what will happen to police accountability, training, and oversight under a new director of the Department of Justice. And I don’t want my nieces and nephews to learn behavior from a president who insults, bullies, harasses, and is vindictive.” -Rose Marie Berger

“My faith calls me to speak out against oppression, when it is done to me or to anyone else. Trump’s rhetoric and promised actions are threatening to me and other vulnerable communities who I want to be an ally for. What concerns me about Trump is the entire package. His gross classism while he pretends to cater to the working class; his hate speech and action items against vulnerable communities, including Blacks, Muslims, Hispanics, the differently-abled, refugees, women, you name it; the way he has made hate speech and violent hate crimes acceptable; his disregard and disdain for nuance, sophistication, intellectual thought, scientific fact and considered reason; his appointment of cronies who will forward his own business interests…I could go on.” -Dr. Noor Hashem

MEN

“I’ve had strong female role models my entire life and couldn’t imagine being where I am without them. It made me angry to see Trump and his ilk boast about not only assaulting women, but treating them as if they were nothing but objects.” -Adam Khalid

“Human rights is for all of us, and we have to constantly defend everybody, not just men for men or women for women.” -Jason Leider

“I supported my wife and my daughter in their fight against prejudice against women. I wanted to support women in their fight against uninvited advances and harassments inflicted by perpetrators like Trump. I am aware that a lot of the marchers are young people. I am not young anymore. When I was, I was in China. I did not have opportunity to voluntarily participate in marches that opposed the government. There was no freedom of speech. But now, as a U.S. citizen, I want to exercise my right to a voice, and to enjoy the freedom to openly express my opinions against Donald Trump.” -Li-Cheng Gu

“While I reject the brutal nature of the incoming administration, and I reject intolerance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, and lies, I’m here first and foremost to show my support for my daughters, my wife, and the countless women who I’m so very fortunate to call my friends and colleagues. Like most anybody who gets to be my age, I’ve seen and heard stories about countless individuals who’ve suffered at the hands of bullies, including those who get elected to office.” -Glenn Timony

“I went to a protest at Trump Tower before the election, shortly after the ‘grab ‘em by the pussy’ tapes were released, and was inspired by these incredibly passionate women standing out in the cold and railing against this man who had said and done so many deplorable things. I thought, if I have kids someday, and they look in their history books and ask what I did when all this was going on, I want to be able to look them in the eyes and say that I did something.” -Walker Hare

“When I woke up on November 9, I was shocked and dismayed. But being a white guy, I hadn’t been the target of months of misguided anger and frustration. I actually match the demographic that gave Trump the widest margins. Outside Israel’s Holocaust museum, there’s a Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. It honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save others during the Holocaust, like Oskar Schindler. That sums up my motivation for being here. While I may not be immediately victimized by Trump’s most corrosive policies, I have a duty to stand in solidarity.” -Dylan Lewis


Veterans 1  Veterans 2

Faith/Life 1  Faith/Life 2  Faith/Life 3  Faith/Life 4

Men 1  Men 2  Men 3  Men 4  Men 5

 

On Medium: Women’s March.

Hi, everyone. First things first—this post, and the two that will follow, are written with the intention of focusing in on specific dialogues circling the recent Women’s March that I find concerning. They are not meant to address the broader issues at play such as Trump’s presidency or feminism as a whole.


To start, I’d like to talk about a common critique I’ve been noticing that questions the methods of the March. The general sentiment is one of disgruntled annoyance at seemingly any kind of protest tactics.

“If you’re screaming at me, I’m not going to listen.”
“Protesting just turns people off to your message.”
“Find another outlet.”

I’m not buying it. Because, let’s be honest with ourselves here: if you make those kinds of excuses, you will never listen. The truth is that the women’s movement has been speaking in an “inside voice” for years and years and years. The same goals and principles that were chanted during the March have been shared in blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, television interviews, documentaries, petitions, you name it. And yet there are those who were surprised and affronted when the Women’s March started saying those same things in a louder voice. And they tried to shush and placate with the lie, “I’d listen if you just talked a little quieter.”
People don’t like protests. They’re loud. They’re messy. They interrupt our clean, carefully curated spaces and barge in with their bright colors and their righteous indignations and their open, bleeding wounds. They make us feel uncomfortable. They make us feel guilty. No one likes to be removed from their cushy comfort zone and presented with the world’s list of hurts and grievances. People do like to offer unhelpful advice, though. “Just protest some other way.” No one ever has any specific suggestions.

On a chilly night in mid-December, a small group of men crept their way on board a ship that did not belong to them and destroyed over 92,000 pounds of property that was not theirs. They were protesters. Vandals. They created a huge, costly mess.
They were the Sons of Liberty, and together with their leader Samuel Adams they threw 342 chests, or what would in today’s money be $1,000,000 worth of tea into the Boston harbor in an event that sparked the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Protest is woven into the fabric of our nation. We are built on a bedrock of liberty and justice, of speaking our minds, of calling out our government when it does not match our ideals. In the words of Howard Zinn, “Patriotism is not obedience to the government. It is obedience to the principals to which the government is supposed to stand.”
While the Boston Tea Party eventually contributed to the greater fight for freedom, in the moment, the act was inspired by one simple thing: taxation. Not human rights. Not unjust war. Not sexism, not racism, not xenophobia. Just taxes. And the people gave their full support.

A second common thread linking the critiques of the Women’s March is the use of comparisons to the Suffragettes. The Women’s March is deemed “improper” and the Suffragettes are deemed “proper”. “Why can’t today’s women be more like the Suffragettes?” “The Suffragettes did not resort to such cheap ploys.” Alas, as it so often does, time has made fools of us again. Dust off the window panes to history and a more accurate image of the Suffragettes will be made clear.
As with the contemporary women’s movement, the Suffragettes began their campaigns in a calm, quiet voice. When Millicent Fawcett founded the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, she discouraged rash acts and maintained that the case for votes for women could be made with well-thought arguments and rational discussions. And no one listened.
On the first of March, 1912, the Suffragettes launched an attack with bricks and stones and smashed the front windows of 270 shops and businesses. From there, the violence continued. They burned down churches. They fire bombed the homes of politicians. They snuck on to a golf course at night and burned their rallying cry into the ground with acid so that the grass could never grow back. We look back at them through our rose-colored glasses and praise their forward-thinking and gumption, all the while scorning our own modern-day protesters. And all our women did was march.

The third criticism, and the one that irks me the most, is that the Women’s March is “unladylike”. Because “ladies” should act a certain way. Because they should not raise their voices too loud, or have opinions that are too strong, or deviate in any way from what society has decided a “real woman” should be. They should know their place. They should be sexy but sweet. Confident… ish. They can be the boss as long as they aren’t a “bitch”. They can have sex as long as they don’t enjoy it too much. And on and on and on and on. Women do not fit in that mold, and they have never fit in that mold.
The Suffragettes were called unladylike. An excerpt from History Extra reads:

The bedrock of the anti-suffrage movement was an appeal to women’s femininity and the ‘natural order’. Suffragettes supposedly fell foul of the ‘norm’ and engaged in ‘unladylike’ and public activities. They were presented as women who had failed to reach the ultimate female goal in life of marriage and motherhood. They were depicted as bitter spinsters and caricatured as masculine, plain and ‘unnatural’. Their presence also apparently ‘feminized’ men, too.
The suffragette represented a figure outside of the order of society; they supposedly lacked ‘womanliness’; were seen to be sexually repressed; and were even against ‘God’s order’.

Protests have been peppered with “impropriety” for as long as there have been protests. Let us not forget Lady Godiva, who rode naked through the streets on a horse, also to protest taxation. On the morning of the Women’s March, a group of Catholics gathered at St. Peter’s to receive Mass and a commissioning from Reverend Jordan Kelly, O.P. Kelly noted that the day of the March fell on the feast of St. Agnes. At the tender age of twelve, Agnes was martyred after she protested her betrothal by walking naked through the streets. “This little girl shows us the dignity of womanhood,” said Kelly. The dignity.
Perhaps when we call someone “unladylike” it is because we secretly fear the true power of her womanhood. Our society has done everything in its power to police the female body, right down to shaming women for feeding their own children. Let’s face it: breasts are just sacs of milk to feed babies with. But somewhere along the way, a man woke up one day and decided that breasts were sexy, and therefore they deserved to be objectified, and women deserved to be punished for exposing them, even just to use them for their intended purpose.
Of course, women were not walking around topless during the Women’s March. But this brings us to our final point of contention: the pussy hats.
In each of the examples I’ve used so far, the form of protest has matched the occasion. The high taxes on tea were representative of Britain’s oppression of its colonies, so the Sons of Liberty attacked the tea. The right to vote required ownership of property, so the Suffragettes attacked the mens’ property. Agnes’ body had been promised to someone against her will, so she took ownership of her body and took it to the streets.
I have to concede that I find the idea of wearing vagina-inspired accessories to be off-putting. If men were roaming the roads with penises attached to their caps, I would see it as crude and rude and lude and all the other -ude words. (Are there more?) But take into consideration the words of the President of the United States:

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

The protest matches the occasion. Our nation has just elected a man who treats women the way Augustus Gloop treats chocolate bars. Women are taking ownership of their “pussies”. They are taking them to the streets. Agnes walked around stark naked, and she is a Saint. A literal Saint. These women are just wearing pink knitted hats. If you are going to be shocked at anything, you should be shocked they aren’t doing more.

Prologue

This is the first completed section of the novel I’m currently working on. 

Sarah gazes at the trees patiently, waiting for their agnate green to curdle and disperse. The blue of the sky seems cold. She stands behind the screen door and closes her eyes. She breathes the air and it feels like Fall. She thinks of her acceptance letter from the University of Virginia, tucked into the front cover of The Inner Game of Tennis on the shelf above her bed, where it has remained for a year and a half. Maybe this year she’ll go. Maybe it will be as if she had just graduated high school. She’ll stand in the driveway and slam closed the trunk of her car, brimming with pillows, books, and a new racket. She’ll look down the street at all her former classmates and share with them in all the excitement and entitlement of fresh young academics. This past month will never have happened. She won’t be angry, she won’t be trapped, her brother won’t leave her.

She opens the screen door and steps onto the concrete. A window shade snaps shut in the house across the street. Two doors down, the Allens shift uncomfortably on their lawn and make as though they haven’t been staring at the house. Trini Parker turns abruptly and disappears behind her garage. A door slams. Smoke rises from behind the other houses, where the neighbors have relocated their festivities. On the front lawns are trashed streamers torn from picnic tables, abandoned children’s toys, silenced speakers. Through the sublime calm drifts the nascent smell of barbecue. It isn’t autumn, after all, it’s the Fourth of July, and the understanding that two full months of summer stretch yet ahead of her thrusts Sarah downward. She finds herself crouching on the front step, gulping hard. Hasn’t June been enough? Hasn’t she loved enough to fulfill a summer fling, hasn’t she worked enough days to compile a summer montage, hasn’t she punched through enough walls to constitute a breakthrough. Hasn’t she sweat enough drops in fear, blinked enough tears in betrayal, lost enough blood in hospital bags. Hasn’t it been enough?

At the foot of the stoop she notices the glass shards and dark liquid stains from the pitcher of sun tea. She selects the largest pieces one by one and sets them in her palm. Tea winds down her wrist. With the tips of her fingers she gently scoots the smaller pieces into a little pile in the center of the puddle. Among them is a rounder something, the color of ivory, crusted in blood. A tooth. She rears back and vomits on the step.

When she raises her head, she is five years old, and she is watching from across the kitchen as her mother extracts a wee incisor from the crust of a bagel. Behind her, Sarah’s four-year-old brother reveals his mint gap-toothed smile. Earlier that day, Shayna Faris had just lost the fourth collective tooth of Sarah’s kindergarten class. She stood in front of the red and yellow tooth chart beside the chalkboard, holding her accomplishment in a Ziploc bag, and in a newly discovered jealous depth of her soul Sarah swore the greatest oath she could conceive: she would never, ever, ever name one of her hamsters Shayna. Standing in the kitchen, faced with the evidence of her brother’s betrayal, she marches to the table and with uncanny strength breaks the first chair leg of her illustrious career. As the older sibling, she should experience all of her firsts first, and this conviction inspires her to lose her first tooth directly and by any means available.

After serving her punishment for the chair leg incident, she seeks out her brother to enlist his help. With an unsteady hand she affixes one end of a string to her bedroom doorknob, and the other she wraps around her right front tooth. She paces back until the string is taut. Her brother has been instructed to pull the door shut with all his might but as she feels the slight tug of the line in her gums, her mind immediately changes, and she begins to quake. “Bryan!” she calls, “Nevermind! Don’t do it!” It doesn’t occur to her to step forward, or to untie the line. Bryan peers around the frame, and a strange light sweeps through his eyes. He yanks the handle.

She should have known right then.

She grits herself to give another look to Bryan’s tooth on the tea-blackened concrete. Then she rises from her crouch. The same window shade snaps again across the street. She turns into the house and throws the glass fragments into the trash. She returns to the stoop with a dustpan and scrapes up the rest, and the tooth. She gets the hose and sprays the vomit into the grass. She picks up the grill from where it lies upended near the sidewalk. She rakes the charcoal and ashes into a pile and shovels them onto the fire pit. Then she goes into the house, sits down on the couch, and waits.

Minimalism, The Powerball, and Many Funerals

My husband is obsessed with minimalism. In the evenings he sits on the back porch with a cigar and listens to minimalist podcasts. They tell him what to keep and what to throw away. They tell him to count his belongings. When he comes back inside he smells like tobacco and determination. Boxes pile up around me. They are filled with books and clothes. “I’m never going to read this,” he tells me. “When was the last time I wore this?” he asks. The boxes are packed up and carted off, and my possessions spillover seamlessly into the spaces his have left.

I collect things. I have two bookshelves stocked with books and journals. I have a third bookshelf for movies and CDs. I have a chest stuffed with extra pillows and blankets. I have two boxes of teacups in storage in my parent’s attic.  I have five shoeboxes of letters and postcards. I have nineteen spare lip balms. I have twenty colors of nail polish, five sunglasses, a drawer full of fuzzy socks. I have two back up shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and facial cleansers and scrubs. I have too many perfumes to count. I have fiesta ware, sketchbooks, pens, bags, and six blue dress shirts.

The minimalists say that you shouldn’t keep anything on hand that you could purchase if necessary for under twenty dollars. For example, a roll of duct tape. Why burden yourself with a roll of cumbersome duct tape that you only use once in a great while? “Jettison it!” they cry, and I can picture them tossing their half-used duct tape into the air, and celebrating their newfound freedom, and buying another roll of duct tape, and using half of it, and getting rid of it, and buying another roll, and using half, and getting rid of it over and over and over again in an endless cycle of waste. Minimalism strikes me as a folly of the wealthy.

In mid-January the Powerball reaches an all-time record high jackpot of 1.6 billion dollars. The entire country is manic. Kim K tweets about it. I hear about it on the radio on the way to work. My coworkers can’t stop talking about it. “My dad bought like sixty dollars’ worth of tickets for me,” my manager says. “What would you do if you won?” is the topic of the day. Most answers involve tropical destinations, private jets, and extravagant purchases. All I can think about is all the things I would be able to get rid of. I wouldn’t have to hold on to poorly made clothes because I couldn’t afford nicer ones. I wouldn’t have to stockpile every little thing for fear that if I ever ran out, I wouldn’t be able to buy more. I wouldn’t have anxiety about student loans or car payments or rent or emergency funds. I wouldn’t have to worry.

During my shift I watch customers heap items on my counter. They pick up odds and ends as they stand in line. Hair ties, combs, lip glosses, other things that they might need. A girl buys a bath sponge because it matches the sweater she has on that day. One woman buys camisoles in every color available. Another woman buys five pairs of black leggings. “I’m always losing these things,” she says. I can’t help but think that she might keep better track of them if she limited herself to only one pair. My lifestyle doesn’t look so appealing when I see it on other people.

When I get home I decide not to live in fear. I tear apart my bedroom and find six identical headbands. Why do I have these? In case something happens to the first one. I chuck them in a box. What else do I own just in case? A stack of spiral bound notebooks (in case I go to grad school) go sailing into the box. They are followed by a pack of basic white v-neck tees (in case of stains) and a large duffel bag (in case I take up a sport). I rifle through my closet and pull out a drab stone-colored dress.

In case someone else dies.

In the past four years I’ve worn this dress for four deaths. I wore it to my cousin’s funeral and my aunt’s viewing. I wore it to my friend’s memorial service and my classmate’s tribute. The fabric feels stiff and thick as though it’s been saturated by a buildup of repeated grief. I need this dress. Just like I will always need more bobby pins, or pairs of underwear, or toothbrushes, I will always need this dress, because someone will always die. It occurs to me that a dress cannot prepare me for death. I drop it into the box, pack it up, and take it to Goodwill.

The next day at work I discover that the Powerball has gone down. Three winners in California, Florida, and Tennessee have split the jackpot. No one seems disappointed or fazed. No one really counted on winning. On the sales floor, customers shop as usual. A woman asks for my help detangling a necklace. I focus on the task and hold it up for her when I’m finished. “Thanks,” she smiles. She’s wearing my dress.