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It's Nelly's World

Flag-Wrapped, Afraid

alec vanderboom

This morning the rain falls from steely skies, the thunder rolls off into the distance. Fear runs through every member of the household, and like all fear, it walls each of us off so we are alone with it, unreachable. You don't really hear anything but that white rushing sound in your ears; you can't talk sense to yourself in this state. [Another powerful reason to forgo coercive training methods that use the fear of punishment to shape behavior: ability to learn is at its lowest ebb when the subject is afraid.]

This morning, Nelly glances frequently at me, nervous: she does not like this thunder business, though she has it in far milder form than the millions of dogs who pant, tear things up, sweat from their paws in this type of bad weather. I make a move, and she runs to the bottom of the stairs: Are you going up now? To that safe place, the bed? No, my pet. I need to clean up my boy's breakfast dishes. OK, now, let me get my pen and these books and, yes, up the stairs we go.

Earlier, before we went out to wait for the school bus, my son suddenly looked afraid. Then, it was out of him in a spill: what happened yesterday at school, the boy who teased him until he saw red and retaliated in a particularly ill-advised way (though, of course, retaliation is never well-advised: but I know what the urge feels like, oh do I ever, the heat that burns from inside until you don't know what to do, and you start swinging madly; my boy has alas learned from a master, and what a hypocrite I am now to have this discussion with him about turning the other cheek, the fact that getting back never gets you anywhere, the ways to be bigger than your nemesis and gain the respect of your teachers but, more important, also yourself). He fears failing in school because of this; he fears the lingering anger of the two teaching assistants who reprimanded him. He fears, period, and cries out his fear in my arms. Then he tells me he feared I would be angry, too.

As for my fear, waking me at 4:30 in the morning, so that I lay in the dark totting up all the things I have to do in the next four days, an impossibly long line of items parading steadily through my head to an oompah-oompah beat for an hour or more until I finally fell back asleep, only to be awakened again at 7:00 by the bass thudding of a computer game being played (against general's orders) in the room below my bed. Sometimes I really hate computers, you know? Lots of reasons. Go into later.

But there is an underlying fear in me now, the same one that afflicts every American with both a brain and a heart: the fear that the awful duo, McCain and Palin, could actually be allowed to finish off the ruination of this country (next: the world) started in earnest by you-know-who. When he was elected, I remember all too well--the body retains the imprint of these aversive experiences, cringing at their remembrance ever after--I found myself curled up on the floor of a hotel room, watching the TV screen in horrified disbelief, until tears of frustration and anger fell onto the carpet. (Non-stain, of course.) There was no one there to retaliate against, only my overnight bag.

Now I fear I couldn't live through something like that again--and I wonder, secretly, if I would really follow through with my threat to move to Europe--but what I fear most is Sarah Palin. Because she, as I wrote in my letter to Women Say No to Palin, represents the ugliest tendency of humankind: the desire to conquer and control all others. (That goes for wolves as well as wayward people, in her view.) In other words, the will to fascism. She brings to mind Sinclair Lewis's dictum that "When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."

(And reminds me, non sequitorially, of the line in Billy Wilder's 1948 A Foreign Affair, "If you give a man a loaf of bread, that's democracy. But if you leave the wrapper on, that's imperialism.")

She makes me so afraid. Deeply, shakingly afraid. The worst part of my fear is that so many look at her and are not afraid. Contra Roosevelt, in this case, the thing I fear is not fear itself, but rather its absence.

Brrrr.