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A Deadly Combination: Anger and Cognizance
“This is why people hate us.” Her finger pointed to the pretentious plant in the corner; up to the ceiling, hanging with a cloud of crappy night club music which sounded like kids playing the xylophone; and then to the menu, duck with some french sauce and $15 single scoop ice cream, topped with a blade of grass. I laughed and so did my mom.
“Let me get you a water.” My mom said. We were waiting in this strictly candle-lit bar before the Henry Rollins spoken word show. I didn’t want my mom to leave the table. I saw Colleen sporadically over my life. Her and my mom had been friends since they both worked in retail together after college. I didn’t know what to say to her. I was at that awkward age where I couldn’t avoid conversation with adults anymore, but at the same time, they didn’t take me seriously. I played with the candle on the wood table like an idiot, twisting the little glass jar in my fingers so the wax would spill over. I watched it turn white as it cooled in teardrop shapes.
“We don’t play with candles.” She snarled at me with her thin lips so cracked from smoking cigarettes in the cold. Luckily my mom returned.
I got a pen and started drawing on the menu while they talked.
“It’s was the anniversary of the Iranian Revolution yesterday.” She reported.
“Oh, really?” My mom said.
“Boy did we f*** up there! Oil thirsty America going in, paying people to start corrupt governments. Same thing in Syria.”
“Can we really blame America for Syria?”
“Yes! America had been in there since World War One, competing with the French to get that oil. We follow the money. We were going to get it. We have blood all over our f***ing hands.”
I’d actually learned about the this in my history class. I’d thought it was time for my adult debut right in the midst of this bar, in the middle of Pilsen, a neighborhood on the up and up, getting more vintage clothing shops and vegan restaurants. Last week, here, a woman was shot by a stray bullet while she sat in her car on the phone with her dad. And she continued talking to him for a few more moments. “My head hurts.”
I wanted to prove myself to Colleen.
“Did you read All the Shah’s Men?”
“No, but I bet I have read millions of more books than you.” Obviously. Wasn’t she like 60?
“How old are you? 17?”
“When I was 17 I had seen JFK murdered, Martin Luther King assassinated, the f***ing Vietnam war. F***ing think about that. I went to the library everyday after school. I grew up in a Republican town, but my parents demanded that we have an intelligent conversation everyday at dinner. They taught me to be critical of everything to see how many paths there were. They don’t teach you everything at school.” Her voice was raspy and croaking.
“That’s why at school I wish we learned more about the --”
“It’s your job to ask questions. You can’t wait for people to tell you things because they won’t. Have you ever learned about Fred Hampton?” She was yelling and the awkward xylophone didn’t drown her out.
“No.” My voice quivered.
“In your own city, a man, leader of the Chicago black panthers, was brutally murdered in his apartment, while his pregnant wife was sleeping next to him, for his civil rights activism.”
My skin felt hot. I avoided eye contact, yearning for the blistering cold, as I looked past her ears to the cars parked on the street. I everything I thought to be true was escaping by body in heat and smoke. I’d rather her just slap me in the face than continue.
“You went to Ireland and I bet you didn’t see the post office with bullet holes in it. You don’t know why the North hates the South, what the famine was about. The occupation. I hate England.”
“I have to take a smoke.” She layered up. You’re an asshole for believing anything you hear or believing anyone.” She went out to slowly kill herself. Sanctimoniously, she said thank you to the man who held the door for her.
During the show I wanted to cry.
The next day my mom apologized. “Her parents are dying. They both have Alzheimer's. They have been dying for like 10 years. She’s always angry. EVERYONE’S PARENTS DIE!” I was surprised my mom was yelling. Her own parents died when she was 16 and 20, and she remembers the hospitals and the anger.
“She needs to move on in her life.”
I thought it was probably both; she was angry and I was ignorant.