That stupid dinosaur-crocodile hat is hanging right in front of me. “Hat” is a generous word. It is neon, and foamy, and cheap—much cheaper than the dollar I spent to be allowed to take it from the store. I pulled out my money and pictured the hat on my head, at work. I pictured any day suddenly like Halloween. I pictured calling it a crocodile when I need crocodile energy and calling it a dinosaur the rest of the time. I pictured the rest of me in dark colors. But instead it hangs near my front door, with the summer scarves and the extra totes, and it has not been Halloween once since I purchased it. Since purchasing it I have written on the days when I “feel” like writing instead of the real good thing that is writing on a daily basis, writing through the feelings, through their lack. Writing despite x, y, & z. Writing because you don’t need to be composed in order to write. Like today, stuck indoors because of the fires and the heavy smoke and subsequent hazardous air quality, and writing about the crocodile hat that fills me with rage because I know I will not grab it on my way out the door if I am told I must evacuate my home. I would grab other things, a few very clearly and fretting over many more. Rocks and seashells, some plastic trinkets I’ve had for 15 years or more, my sticker collection. I might forget my laptop, or one of the many bundles of instant photos we have lying about or tucked away. I’m stuck indoors because the state I live in is on fire and I’m trying to “write” without thinking “too much” of what I’m trying to write, trying to just “experience” the process and the act of writing without getting ahead of myself, and the crocodile hat upsets me because who knows what that dollar could do for a less selfish person, someone stuck outdoors and worried about getting ill or already ill and worried about growing sicker or maybe just done with being worried at all but really wishing they could buy a coke. A big fat cup of ice with sugar water to the rim. How cold and clear it might be in this difficult moment. There is so much pain in the world. In the store I had pictured myself walking through long beige and blue hallways with my hat on, pretending to be none other than myself. As if it mattered. As if authenticity pursued head on could dismantle anything. I’m too busy thinking about myself to be myself, which was where my mind was when I purchased the hat.
I heard that the Almeda fire that burned northward from Ashland to Central Point was started by a homeless gentleman. I heard that when the police arrested him, he said he was hot, and he was tired of being hot, and he thought if he started a fire maybe someone would take him somewhere with air-conditioning.
I slept much better last night, my mom said, though she’s still sleeping on the couch, which allows for a better view out her largest front window. I only woke up a few times looking for smoke.
Some people live whole sections of their lives awake at night, wishing there was a window between them and their worry.
Nobody’s sorrow is better or worse. Nobody’s fear. Nobody’s trauma.
Those statements above are true, but only if you look at them in the right direction. A sanctioned direction.
Look at my face through the window I sit behind and you’ll see it plain and true: worry. A girl’s affliction.
The chickens across the street don’t look worried. Not the squirrels or the cats, either. I worry about them all. I sit on a large purple chair, more expensive than any piece of furniture we’ve ever purchased and only inside our home because it is second-hand, and look outside as if hunting for concern on their little animal faces. I don’t find it. Which little animal faces am I most concerned about? I don’t find worry on the faces of the crows and I don’t find it either on the face of the woman with blue in her hair and earbuds in her ears, walking down the sidewalk, smoke billowing, everything dangerous, walking just like how I picture she walks on a normal day. The day is not normal and yet there she is. Nor do I see worry on the face of the man in the navy blue t-shirt smoking a cigarette and walking like his muscles told him not to stop no matter what. He looks upset. They always do, really. People like him and the woman don’t have their priorities straight, I think to myself in one of those pre-language thoughts, just learned instinct curdling in the areas of my chest not specifically occupied by a heart. Neither of them are wearing a protective mask, smoke virus or otherwise. The man and then the woman enter and then exit my view, and soon enough I am looking again at the black and white cat across the street, a giant cookie made of fur, grooming himself on the front porch just like I’d picture him grooming himself on a normal day. Are you gonna be alright, cat? The feeling is like a light beaming out of my chest.
The window I look through gives my day the much needed semblance of a container and a routine. It makes me feel like I belong somewhere, and that somewhere is not out there.
All people have voices, and some people have the space in which to use them, the default public setting of being heard. Some people are empathizable. Easy to feel across the distance.
Which comes first: the chicken, or my worry about the chicken? The feeling of crossing a distance in order to empathize with you, or the sense that you’re already close enough for my empathy to make it over there?
The chicken is on the fence now, one of them. The other one has taken to sleeping precariously in a tree. More reasons to worry—I basically manufacture them in my spare time. I care about the chickens with no effort at all, a bursting feeling.
Some people sleep in their cars every night. Some of those people are even the “lucky” ones.
If you are well, and you encounter a traumatic moment, the city might rally. Especially if you’re white. You might be greeted with opportunity and given access to resources. The community will likely “feel” your “pain.”
If you are not well, your life a string of traumatic moments, then it sounds like this is actually just your baseline and you will be difficult to empathize with. What did you do to end up here, anyway?
I get used to the repetitions—that’s what repetition does: primes me. Deludes me and the outer world right along with it. As if pattern diffuses a thing’s maliciousness. As if form trumps content. Normalized expectations sing, and I’m sad to confess I get used to the background music, just like you. I would like to expect a less patterned, imaginary world, and trace it until it is a real shape. I want to be shocked by the shocking thing that continues to greet the daily sun. I want to “do” “something” “good.”
The cat across the street is a very big cat. But the problems are bigger than the big cat.
The chickens are the only two chickens I know, so they constitute the place where my worry pools: on the fence, in the tree. “Ignorance is bliss,” except this is only true for the beholder. What about the chickens I don’t know? There must be more than just these two. How will I know to worry about all the others?
The gray chicken has leapt into the tree now. Before tucking himself into the safety of an inner branch, he floats on the outer leaves and flowering parts. He looks like an apple. He looks like something to pluck. He is a guitar, and a whole barnyard, and the entire ocean in a single drop of chicken. He is gray, with the requisite yellow and red parts. The white one, always anxious being left behind, only gets as high as the mailbox and then stares at his ascended partner. There used to be three chickens, actually. These bird-dinosaurs are the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more plucking and leaping and breathing and walking and sleeping and wishing out there. I notice what I notice. And what I don’t notice? I don’t notice it. Which doesn’t mean it isn’t there, hovering, maybe camouflaged, scared or hot or looking for a window, maybe even something near a breeze.