The Best Worst Year

The Sikh gentleman behind the counter kisses the lottery ticket before he hands it to me. For luck. I worry silently behind my mask about germs, but I am already committed.

Once when I’d come in to get my daily dose of diet soda, he’d asked me how much I make an hour. At first I thought I hadn’t heard him, because, being from the south, one simply does not ask a stranger how much money they make. After I got over my shock, having inwardly collapsed onto an imaginary chaise lounge, fanning away the vapors, I answered him. I found myself awkwardly apologizing and telling him how grateful I am to be gainfully employed when so many people are struggling.

Because he is literally the only person I’ve spoken to in real life in months, I don’t hold his impertinent question against him. I even forgive him for charging me full price for my refill.

“Goodbye, my friend.” He says as I leave, from behind a gold bandana that matches his gold turban.

I slip the lottery ticket into my wallet and walk back home so I can login and start my work day.

I only ever buy lottery tickets when work is especially stressful. I took statistics in college. I know that I’m more likely to be struck by lightning than to win big. I don’t expect to win. But for $2, I can spend about 24 hours imagining that my life could be a dream.

Not that my life is all that bad. Since I’ve been working from home, I’ve lost 10 pounds. I’m running more, and snacking less. My workout from home seems to yield the same results I was achieving at the gym. I’m slowly fixing up my place. The biggest problem in my life is trying to decide whether to hire an interior designer to remodel my kitchen, or to attempt to coordinate it all myself.

I love being able to work from home. To sit in my room, with warm lighting instead of glaring, overhead fluorescents. To shuffle around in slippers. I love spending weekends watching bad TV, playing video games, and listening to the music I loved as a teenager. I discovered there is such a thing as single-player boardgames.

I love watching movies curled up in a blanket in my living room.

I love getting takeout and eating by myself.

I love working in sweatpants.

I love having a ready, and totally valid excuse to not have to see people.

As a completely anti-social introvert, my personality type has probably been among the best suited to deal with a global pandemic that requires the bulk of society to isolate itself.

Now I live in fear that with the vaccine, life will revert to the way it was. That I’ll have to go back into the office. That I’ll be obligated to be social. To sit in crowded bars with too loud music, struggling to hear inane conversations that I don’t actually care about.

I totally want companies to thrive, and the service industry to rebound, and the people who have lost their livelihood to be able to regain it. I want people to be able to go to bars, and concerts, and festivals again. But…part of me, let’s face it, a big part, has found this year to be the best year of my life. And I selfishly don’t want it to end.

So I find myself sometimes picking up a lottery ticket. Not with dreams of Scrooge McDucking into a vault of gold coins, but with the vaguest of hopes that I could live a life of comfortable leisure, isolated in pajamas in my living room forever.

Anger

When I was 19, I drove my college boyfriend home from school, and we kissed at a red light. Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw a police car stopped behind us.

“Uh oh.” I’d said.

My boyfriend laughed it off and said, “It’s not like we were sodomizing.”

At the time sodomy was still illegal in Texas, though only for gay people. After I dropped my boyfriend off and continued on my way, I noticed the police car was still behind me. The car followed me for several blocks, and then finally pulled me over.

When I asked why he’d stopped me, the swaggering, white cop had said, “Just a routine check to make sure your license and registration are in order.”

He made me get out of my car and hand him the aforementioned license and registration. After making me wait while he took my paperwork back to his car, he eventually came back and said that I was free to go.

He followed me the rest of the way home.

I understood he’d only stopped me to intimidate me. To exercise the power of his authority over me. To put me in my place.

I was just a kid then, and afraid of what someone in his position could do to me. If something like that happened now, I’d get a name and badge number. At the very least I’d file a complaint and at best sue for discrimination. I would not have any fear that a cop might murder me.

Having the luxury of not having to feel terrorized by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us should not be a privilege afforded only to straight, white people.

I have no idea what it must be like for people of color who have the legitimate fear that a routine traffic stop could kill them. I don’t know how the repeated headlines of yet another black person being murdered by police must affect their psyche. I can’t imagine the trauma that must cause.

But I think I have an inkling. The barest sliver of an inkling. Coming from a deeply racist small town in Texas, I have witnessed overt racism my entire life, but I’ve never understood it. The concept of it has never made sense to me. Human life began in Africa. We are all part of the same family tree. The idea of assigning value based on the amount of melanin in one’s skin is insane.

The times we are living through are insane.

I don’t know why the murder of George Floyd by police was the watershed for what I hope is radical reform of a deeply racist, authoritarian institution. It seems like every other week for as long as I can remember there has been a news story of someone meeting a similar fate. There’d be a flash of anger. A Facebook furor. But nothing ever changed.

This time feels different. Maybe the heightened anxiety of dealing with a global pandemic already had everyone on edge. Maybe outrage accumulates. Maybe enough was just finally fucking enough.

Even my mother back in Texas was angry. “They should round up all of those police that did that and shoot them.” She’d said. Of course, she’d also suggested that the people looting should be shot as well. True to her Texan heritage, her solution to most of life’s problems is to shoot them.

I get the anger.

I feel like I’ve been angry every day for nearly four years. I walk through town with my shoulders hunched. I clench and unclench fists. I’m angry at work. I’m angry at home. I go to sleep angry and wake up angry. My anger is a giant, red ball. A flashing police siren. Red. A splash of graffiti over the boarded window of a closed shop. Red. The spilled blood of another murdered black man. Red.

I do not know what to do with it.

I anxiously watch other people go to protests. Anxiety is an easy excuse when there is a deadly virus still rampant. But probably not the whole truth. If there was no virus, would I be out marching in the streets, adding my voice to the angry masses? Or would I still be curled up on the couch watching the last season of Supernatural, “liking” my friends’ posts to defund the police on Facebook?

In Seattle parts of the city look like a war zone. At 4:00am in my neighborhood, streets were fogged with teargas. The police station has been boarded up and abandoned. Tonight in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone people are calmly watching documentaries on a cordoned off street outside the empty station.

At 8:00pm the neighborhood cheers to support our healthcare workers.

I am at home, watching Sam and Dean battle wayward Angels. I respond to posts on social media with the red faced anger emoji.

I am angry in a general sense at the society that voted for the current white supremacist in chief who has used his platform to normalize bigotry.

I am angry at the machinery of institutionalized inequality.

I am angry about gerrymandering and marginalizing.

I am angry that the people who are supposed to protect us are often the biggest threat to our safety.

Then there are the little angers.

I am angry that having a middle aged body means that turning over in my sleep can screw up my back for two weeks.

I am irrationally angry at people who litter.

I am angry at people who don’t seem to know how to walk down a sidewalk.

I am angry at guys on gay dating apps who describe themselves as “chill.”

I am angry that my ceilings are so high in my living room that I can’t hang my mini blinds.

At any given moment, one or more of these big or little angers (or any number of greater or lesser angers in between) is fighting for dominance in my selfish, middle aged, white mind.

Most of all, I’m angry at myself. I’m angry that I have lived for nearly 44 years just accepting the status quo. Of allowing these atrocities and saying nothing. I may not know what to do with my anger or my anxiety. But I know the very least I can do is say something.