I had a diary. I wrote nothing in it that day.
I wrote in it on April 22, 2010, about how I’d put on my cheap, black suit and walked to a building on campus (one of the three I lived near) to read aloud an essay I’d written about police batons and the things cops used them for. The audience was mostly politicians. They included then-US Senator Claire McCaskill.
I didn’t know who she was until the reading. When it was over, she took me aside and said she liked my essay.
Ten years on, police still do awful things with their batons, pistols, tasers, cars, and tear gas. And that’s not all.
I didn’t know the extent of it at the time. It’s hard not to know the extent of it now.
You can live in denial about it. I lived on Richardson Street.
I lived with Stefanie. We’d gotten married that May. We had no kids.
Now we have kids.
We wanted kids. We didn’t want to wait too long. We knew we didn’t have all the time in the world, but then again we had all the time in the world.
We could do whatever we wanted.
I could walk outside and keep walking. I could walk for eight hours, return home partway through hour nine, sigh, and think about how great it is to walk for eight hours.
Sure, I had to work. I had classes to teach. I was a grad student.
I was paid next to nothing for the work I did, but I didn’t think how wrong that was. I didn’t know about the small-time robber barons who did a fraction of the work I did but had much more to call their own, for they and their friends had raided higher education and sold everything that wasn’t bolted down, like tenure lines in humanities departments.
US Senator Claire McCaskill didn’t save the school from them. Maybe she couldn’t have. Maybe she didn’t want to. I’m being reductive.
But I think about this stuff all the time, now. I didn’t think about it then.
Today, I can’t go for an eight-hour walk. I’m ten years older and my legs would hurt. I would have to call Stefanie and ask her to come get me.
But it’s not even an option to take that walk despite the pain, to keep my legs moving as I forge ahead through the hurting and creaking. If I took such a walk today, I’d commit several sins against my daily life.
I’d neglect my obligations to my children. I’d miss picking them up from school or dropping them off there. I’d leave it to Stefanie to do that work—and fetch their snacks, field complaints about dinner, and get them ready for bed. It’s a lot.
If I took the eight-hour walk, I couldn’t do the work I have to do for money. I’d fall behind. I’d miss a deadline. We need money.
And I might miss the chance to do what I’m doing now, at 9:30 p.m., when the household has calmed and the kids are in bed. I’m doing the work that matters to me. I’m writing a real-life essay!
I write novels and short stories, too. I’m only more committed to them, ten years since 2010.
But I find my constant writing is less an aspiration, now, than an effort to hold onto something I’m scared to lose. I may not have had a clear image of myself as a writer, on September 23, 2010, but I have one now, on 9/23/20: I am a desperate idiot who’s trying to claw his way out of an open grave. He wants to save himself, to make it all pay off, the hard work of digging that hole in the ground. He can do it if he can only climb out. He claws. He slips. Dirt rains on his stupid face.
I’m in too deep! I’m wholly committed to writing. It’s all I know how to do. But I’m not really all that smart.
It’s my fault I’m down here in this grave. And of course I’m being dramatic.
My first novel comes out next week. I’m doing great.
But I’m in an odd place. I don’t know myself anymore. I don’t know what I want.
I mean, I want money. I want time to write. I want to sell a lot of books. Aside from that, though?
Ten years ago, I wanted to publish a book, be a professor, and have kids. Now I have kids, I’ve been a professor, and I’ve published three books.
I want to take a day off, now. Just one. I want to find out what the hell I’m supposed to be doing here.
And I want to look at birds and trees. I want to breathe air that smells good. I want to go for a nice, long walk. I want my friends to come with me.
I want to see them all again. It’s been so long.
Robert Long Foreman's first novel, WEIRD PIG, comes out October 1st from SEMO Press. Order or Preorder here. He's published a short story collection, I AM HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS, and a collection of essays, AMONG OTHER THINGS. More info is at www.robertlongforeman.com.
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