The Man in the Highcastle

It was quiet in the city this morning — quieter than usual. The day did not dawn grey and cold. Instead it was a warm day in November, not an uncommon occurrence, but an unexpected one. Everyone looked about the same to me. I can’t tell anymore who is here and who is just a shade of themselves, floating around. A late night of feverish television and NyQuil dreams still lingered. I watched my phone, other people did theirs. What we were looking for is anyone’s guess.

How many of us had unproud moments of crying in the shower? How many people thought about just staying home instead? Who did? Who went anyway, their heads untethered, up somewhere in the atmosphere, dragged into reality by sheer force of will or by habit?

The train came, it filled, we moved on.

I moved through the day in a chemical haze, the taste of nicotine and coffee and chewing gum all lingered in my mouth. The news was all the same. No one could understand. Everyone could understand and here, if you looked beneath their ink-stained finger was the reason. I looked. I kept looking.

It was all a jumble. It’s a little clearer now but still nothing has congealed. The what is obvious, the why a little more so. How is plain to see. I didn’t spare myself. There are no days off for the privileged classes looming above in the glass castles and crystal palaces, we haven’t earned that right. I cycled through the usual suspects in my mind. I had done this to us. We had done this to ourselves. Someone had done this to us and now we would suffer the consequences.

I had considered going away for good at the end of this year, traveling out to find some other place. A distant shore where some Green Eden awaited if I could just discover it. But it all seemed so empty now. Those promises of self-discovery and understanding came up hollow against the reality of what we’d done. We’d locked ourselves away in our little enclaves, our Liberal bastions and we’d closed our eyes and left the world to rot.

Thing was, people still lived there in that rotted-out world.

So we’d denied ourselves the reality that America had not ever really changed. Sure, we’d admit it to each other after a couple of drinks, “America was never great” or “Post-Racial America is a pipe-dream” or whatever it was. I’m usually too drunk to remember much in the mornings. No one ever thought to put voice to those doubts in the cold, clear light of day. Too inconvenient, that. We put space between ourselves and our Republican hometowns and families and friends. Distance was enough to let us think that it wasn’t inside of us. If we didn’t internalize it it couldn’t be real. We were so much better than that. So much more enlightened.

The map doesn’t lie. Dive deep into the blue states and tiny islands of blue float in a teeming sea of red.

Everyone in the office stayed home or never planned on being there anyway. I cleaned the workbench and played “Born to Run” and checked the news and did inventory and stared into space. I brought a grinder and we made coffee. My manager brought cold cuts and we had sandwiches. I was catatonic. The day did not pass, it hung suspended from a tenuous thread, always threatened to snap, bring the whole thing crashing down. A dream within a dream.

I walked around and waited for something to happen. Nothing ever did.

From my office I could see clear out across the Charles and the city. Prudential, Hancock, Zakim, Beacon Hill. It all arrayed itself out before me. Usually the evenings break red and gold, a wash of light and brilliance across a city I’ve never properly loved except from certain angles, only at certain times of day. Instead today the day ended how I had expected it to begin: glum and grey. A pallor hung over the city. Everything was muted and dull.If it was November or February I couldn’t have told if pressed. I felt dull and stupid and useless. People down in the streets were happy I was sure.

I boarded another train. It was quiet. I felt hostile and gentle at the same time.

I could cocoon myself in my whiteness. I could go somewhere else and pretend that if everyone else just got their shit together that things like this wouldn’t happen. But I saw the map. The map doesn’t lie.

I was going to go, to follow my friends into the neon-glow of distant cities and enclaves of pseudo-hippy resistance. But something is slipping, getting further away from us while we pretend that it isn’t moving at all. Scales are tipping under the weight of an unscrupulous thumb.

I was going to go but I’m not any more. While there’s a corner of the world that can last we should make it last. A place where Peace in our Time isn’t a throw-away gag played for a cheap laugh. A world where things like this don’t just happen. I’m discouraged but not in danger. How can we know what anyone else feels? This is their America twenty-four seven. This is a taste of the fear. A whole Kingdom sewn of hate and we only glimpsed it as from within a dream. How can we even know? How can you go away at a time like that?

I know you’re out there, in some distant Republic, reading this. I know you think you’re safe and you’re free and you’re so far from all of the things that you’re not but you’ve never been so wrong. If you’re out there you need to remember that there’s a place that made you and that needs you. Our tiny Empire of ice and snow is frail and it will never last. If you’re out there and you can see this, make haste.

Come home.