Me and Anne Frank

anne-frank-annexe

If we’re good enough friends that I’ve slept over at your house, odds are, I probably already have a hiding spot picked out. It’s a thing I do, almost reflexively, when I start spending a lot of time in any house. I look for unused rooms, big closets, attics, false walls, spooky basements, crawl spaces.

I’m white, but I’m also Jewish. Some white people would be happy to revoke the white privileges I’ve accumulated through generations of my family assimilating into American culture, ever since great-great whoever washed up on the shores of Ellis Island around 1880. To grow up Jewish in the US is to always be aware that your homeland could turn on you.

In middle school and high school, public schools where I was Lone Jew, I read the part of Anne Frank at least 3 times, as the entire class sat with 30 copies of the stage play version of her diary. The part was always offered to me, and I never refused, while the rest of the class took turns being Miep or Fritz. I read Anne’s parts when I was younger, same age, and older than she was when the annex was discovered.

She’s been a constant presence in my life for longer than I can remember. A role model, an imaginary companion, a tragic sister. I discovered a book of her own short stories and poems when I was 18, and it strengthened my belief that if we had existed in the same place at the same time, we would have been friends.

And one of Anne’s lessons to me, something I’ve known for so long that I often forget I know it, is to know where the hiding places are, and know what I would bring with me.

Books, always books. I prefer reference books and non fiction now, to the swords-and-magic fantasies I read when I was younger. Blank journals and pens, to document my own life. 3 index cards in my estranged/ex husband’s handwriting, containing his vows to me on our wedding day. A wallet sized photo of my dad, dead since 2009. A few changes of clothes, my memory quilt, a stuffed animal if there’s time.

***

Last Wednesday I drove across the state of Michigan, to have surgery in Muskegon. Last week, the drive was long and boring, and I got some funny looks at a small town gas station in my leather jacket and pink hair, but nothing I wasn’t used to from road trips and small towns and dyed hair all over the country. (If you didn’t see updates elsewhere, the surgery was a success and I don’t have cancer.)

Today, I drove across Michigan again, to pick up the medical grade shoe inserts that allow me to walk without pain. And it was different. I filled up on gas around Lansing and didn’t stop again until I had reached Muskegon. And before my appointment with the orthotics and prosthetic specialist, I went to the local beauty college. I had them chop off my lop sided Tank Girl hair into a semi-respectable pixie cut, and dye it back to a natural-ish brown-black.

Driving back with my new hair and my new insoles was a white knuckle experience. Stopping for gas, I saw cars that had added to their “Trump/Pence” bumper stickers with hand-lettered signs reading “DONE” or “VICTORY.” NRA stickers stood out to me more than they usually do. Blue state trooper SUVs appeared more ominous. I walked quickly, spoke softly and politely, and got back into my van as quickly as possible.

I’m going to die. Probably not due to any of Trump’s more overt campaign promises or future policies, but at the hands of his emboldened legions of true believers. The KKK was on the march today, in North Carolina and who knows where else, celebrating. I am going to die.

Anne Frank didn’t even make it to 16. I’m nearly twice her age. And I have so many tools at my disposal – my own vehicle, the vastness of the internet, friends all over the US and all over the world. But right now, I feel like a very small child, tiny and weak in the face of a towering, tumbling onslaught of hatred.

There’s no point in me trying to scrub my existence off the internet. There’s no such thing as “delete,” really, and a cursory google search of my legal name brings up articles about my failed pie activism and my clearly socialist values. But I’m certainly going to be a lot less vocal going forward.

Expect this blog to stick around, but it will be limited to travel updates and cheerful pictures, little signals that I’m still alive. Same with social media. Conversations will be shorter and shallower. I need to focus my attention on local action, and friends I share physical spaces with. I’m traveling back and forth between Buffalo and Ann Arbor, so if you want to see me in person and really talk, that’s where I’ll be.

I haven’t finished my book. Between panicking about possibly having cancer for 2 months and moving across states and the election, I haven’t had the energy. I have a lot of material I’m planning to copy/paste in roughly chronological order, but that’s about it. And the conclusion of the book will be “And then 2016 happened. The end.”

I leave you with a poem, courtesy of my friend Jennifer, who helped find it for me.

A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.