Thursday, September 01, 2005

Battered Nation

There's a certain hollow feeling you get when you're trying to earn someone's approval, a faintly desperate determination to claw your way back into their good graces. It's like this: you can't figure out what you did to make Dad so furious, but you know if you just try hard enough you can ease his temper. You're so certain that if you're really really super good, if you can be on your very best behavior, you can through sheer effort make him happy with you.

So you creep quietly down the hallway and clean up your room. You share your Barbies with your little brother without whining. (If you're really desperate, maybe you even get out your crayons and write a cheerful little "I love you Daddy" card in a last-ditch effort to earn a smile.) You play nicely all evening, and help set the table for dinner, and then you start to wash down a too-hot bite of chili with a swallow of milk and Dad abruptly snarls at you, "Goddamn it, don't be such a pig! Finish chewing before you take a drink."

And that's the moment the bottom drops out of your belly in despair, that moment when you realize that you tried as hard as you could but you couldn't be good enough, and you believe with all your heart that it's your own fault. If only, you think. If only I could be a little bit better, he wouldn't hate me.

From there it's a quick trip to thinking, I hate myself. I am a bad kid. I will never be able to be good enough. And from there it quickly makes sense to say, "Fuck it." If you're bad you get punished; if you're good you get punished anyway. Why bother with the extra effort to be good?

That's the memory that swept through me when I saw this quote:

"The people are so desperate that they're doing anything they can think of to impress the authorities enough to bring some buses. These things include standing in single file lines with the eldery in front, women and children next; sweeping up the area and cleaning the windows and anything else that would show the people are not barbarians."
I don't know what to tell you, but that broke my heart right there. Oh, you poor huddled people. Senators and governors and the director of FEMA himself are ready to blame you, to say that if only you weren't so stupid none of this would have happened. So you line up and clean up and try to convince them you're good enough to be rescued, good enough to live--and when the messages keep coming, maybe you think, "Well, the hell with trying to impress them, then."

Oh, you wonderful people, this is not your fault. Powerful people are having their criminal level of negligence and exposed and questioned, and they want to blame someone else for their ineptitude. But if I have learned anything I have learned this: the name for a person with more power and influence than you, charged with protecting you, who rages and belittles you when you need their help, is abuser. There's no other word for it but abusive, whether they're a dad with a drinking problem or a politician with an accountability problem.

They've diverted the money that was supposed to protect us, and they viciously attack us when we ever-so-meekly dare to point that out. I just wish I knew where the battered nations' shelter could be found, or how to take out a restraining order against them.