Climate Anxiety Counseling: Sankofa World Market/Knight Memorial Library, 8/8/18

Weather: Hot & steamy, with showers. The sun is almost unbearable.

Number of people: 3 stoppers, 2 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 2

People who got the Peanuts reference: 1

People I’ve spoken with before, back for more: 1

Dogs seen: 4

Dogs pet: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.25

 

Observations:

Another light-traffic day, with permission to post only one conversation. The market was slowish until about 4:15.

I also took a few shade breaks away from the booth, and may have lost some interlocutors because of that.

I recommended that a guy who thought there was “some debate about the science” start with the NOAA website.You can do this, too!

 

A conversation:

Instead of uniting us, it seems like [the President’s] trying to divide us. Whether you’re using color or economics, or because of your race—I don’t like what he’s doing with Spanish people.

Why do you think he’s doing that?

To keep our eyes off him and what he’s doing—a lot of underhanded stuff … All these kids in cages, I don’t think that’s right. They’re leaving their countries for a reason.

I also got opinions about the football players and all that. They’re just taking a stand—they have the right to say that they don’t want to stand up for the flag. These young Black men are getting killed.

 

P.S. I spoke with The Revelator about the climate anxieties counseling booth. Funnily enough, “revelator” is a role I invented for an alternate history.

Some Alternate Histories and an interview in Reckoning

Michael DeLuca interviewed me about the Climate Anxiety Counseling booth, and published three of the alternate histories in Reckoning (the other writing in there is great too).

“Everything I see, both firsthand and reported–not just predictions for the future, but observations about the present–says that we are in the middle of a hard time that’s going to get harder, more painful and full of loss and grief, falling unevenly according to who’s already suffering or exploited. I don’t feel better about anything, ever, anymore, except in little tiny patches,” I said.

“But those tiny patches matter to me and I want to nourish them,” I said.

I also said, and 100% meant, that I would LOVE it if other people want to do a version of the booth in their own city (this has always been true) and if you want to, I will help you. Just saying.

Climate Anxiety Counseling: 5/14/15

Weather: Sunny, breezy, pleasant. Little gusts like a cat knocking things off a table.

Number of people: 8 stoppers, 3 walkbys

Number of hecklers: 0!

Pages of notes: 5

Alternate Histories: 1, sort of, in a great way: see below

Dogs seen: 1

Ducks seen (and heard): 1

Pictures taken with permission: 1

Pictures taken without permission: 1

Flyers for other concerns, accepted on a previous day, passed on to someone who seemed interested: 1

Instances of hat appreciation: 3

Money raised for Environmental Justice League of RI: $0.35

Observations:

Lots of police activity in the bus station, and some in the park, today. One officer walked past the booth and asked what I was doing.

I made an effort to look up more today–not spend quite as much time drawing or otherwise looking down–and once again saw a lot of what appeared to be warm, genuine smiles.

One more resounding thanks to Dorinda Fong for recording (with permission), astutely observing, and coining the phrase “hat appreciation.”

Some conversations:

I went to the Climate March in New York and it was incredible. I’m starting to cry just thinking about it. My mom’s first protest was here, my grandma marched for the Civil Rights Movement, and my great-grandma chained herself to the White House–she was a suffragette. And my daughter is the president of SAGE at URI, she’s a junior. I was part of Occupy here … the Climate March was so amazing, so beautiful. I went with some people from here, it was a little Occupy reunion, we took the $10 bus down. We thought there was gonna be maybe 40,000 people and all of a sudden we see all these people coming out of nowhere [sic]. We didn’t even make it to the end, we were carrying this huge banner. I’ve done a bunch of Wal-Mart actions in the last three years. I’m in love with public speaking now, activism, speaking out. I think ’cause I saw my parents protesting–when they were doing it, I didn’t see change. My mom was protesting nuclear power plants when we lived in California. But they actually got a lot done. I used to sit here and do an info booth, I’m still an admin on the Occupy page.

What do you think you can do, activists can do, to keep grounded?

Like to keep from feeling defeated? I think I always feel slightly defeated. Especially with these Wal-Mart actions, I’d go to them and there’d only be a few people there. I always feel like one is better than none. If I stop, then who’s gonna be there? But I do think there’s been a lot going on. I’m trying to concentrate on mental health care, ’cause lack of mental health care can lead to drug addiction, homelessness, cuts to mental health care cause more violence–they cut back on the one thing, well not the one thing but a main thing, that would help. … There are 4 of us–the other 3 are over 60–we get together every month and read things. We just read the Communist Manifesto, we watch documentaries–we just watched a documentary about putting in a pipeline, the man who let people go climb in the trees to try to stop them from cutting them down. We need to get together, bring DARE together with Jobs With Justice… I think we’re moving towards that–I’ve seen it with the police marches, just a group of people coming together. If we all stand together–

*

I’m anxious about everything. I guess I’m anxious about the next big storm. We invest in stormwater management issues and infrastructure with the Coastal Resources Management Council, and given the rising sea levels, residents have really built too close to the water. Especially when hurricane season starts, I think about it. We bemoan the fact that Sandy hits and costs us billions of dollars and in terms of infrastructure and human lives. We need a long-term strategy as opposed to avoiding it.

What do you think would shift people, get them to stop avoiding it?

There’d need to be a change in the public sentiment that it only happens once in a blue moon … After the initial incident, people regroup and forget about it. And then that change would need to translate into political will, social will, to find the money to invest in long-term planning. Increased awareness in everybody’s mind, more particularly in people who are most impacted by that … And eventually it would have to become a priority for taxpayers. The type of housing, the money spent–people will say, “You choose to live there, so it’s your problem,” and it is a combination of all those things, the wisdom of choosing to be near the water, near the coast, wanting to live there. We’d need to rethink whatever zoning or regulations that determine that. Getting people to see that, to be that selfless.

*

To get old–no, to get adult.

What worries you about that?

Restriction of freedom. Freedom to have other possibilities–to be open to other possibilities.

*

[I’d talked with this person before and given him an alternate history.]

You didn’t finish that story–I noticed it doesn’t really have an end.

Yeah, that’s because I don’t really know how it ends. It’s made up, you know, it’s like a “what if” people did this or that.

Oh, I thought it really happened. So how does it end? ‘Cause there was some crazy shit going on. Are you gonna write more? It’s the one about F and O.

I honestly don’t know! You know what you could do, is you could write an ending for it. You could write what you think happens. Email it to me, or bring it back.

*

Cop: What are you guys doing here? Five cents, huh?

[I explain.]

Cop: No, I’m good. Thank you though.

*

The climate has changed a lot since I was a kid. Winters are a lot colder and summers–it’s like winter’s going into summer and summer’s going into winter. I’m 47, I’ve lived here all my life, I’m from Burrilville. [I give him a dogtooth violet card.] Oh–I love lady slippers.

Pink or yellow?

The pink ones.

*

I’m anxious because I’m graduating tomorrow, and my family’s driving up to see me, and they can’t drive, and I’m anxious about being nervous tomorrow, and I’m anxious about my dress being cute enough, and I’m anxious because I don’t have shoes. My sister’s bringing me shoes.

*

I didn’t write a poem for this day.

Alternate Histories: 5/31, 4/19

5/31/14

Yeah, I would say I’m definitely anxious about global warming. It’s an interesting problem — there’s a dichotomy of being really concerned and the knowledge that the horrible things about it are probably not going to affect me, so I want to enjoy the state that the world is in now while that’s possible. I mean, according to the predictions that scientists are making–I live in the first world [sic], so it may have dramatic but not life-threatening consequences. I’ll still be able to enjoy life in a way that most people aren’t going to be able to. I do have a fear of getting old and having a lot of things become huge problems around the time that I get old and can’t take care of myself. A fear of not being able to do anything about it — not being able to enjoy the world because you know this horrible thing is coming.

What if it was going to be sooner? You know, what if in the paper you read that instead of fifty years, it’s going to happen in thirty years or whatever?

I hate to say it, but I think that would — rather than wanting to immediately do something, I would be in the mode of trying to enjoy the world and [didn’t catch it] as much as possible. There’s a way to slow but not stop it, and I think a lot of people are like, “Well, fuck it.” If it did look that imminent, there are all these things I would want to do and see.

Do you really hate to say it?

A little bit, because I think it’s a reflection on my weakness as a person, where everyone’s out to have a good life, which got us into this — why should we stop it now?

What do you see yourself doing to look out for people in this harder world?

I think it’s going to require a radically different way of looking at resources that I don’t think anyone in the U.S. is at all used to. I’m a planner, and I try hard to live off not a lot, so that’s a skill I could maybe give to other people — like how not to use an obscene amount of water. I’ll be the jerk who’s like, You can’t take a 20 minute shower, you just can’t.

Are you the jerk now?

No, not really. I try to be mindful of what I use, where my food’s coming from, but Americans are conditioned to not pay attention to that because we don’t have to.

*

4/19/15

The next day, DD thought: the future is where everything bad happens, like the breakdown of ecologies and supply chains, like getting old and being helpless. It’s also where everything good happens, like seeing things and trying things. She thought, I’m good at doing with less, but I want more.

DD thought about places she would like to have seen. Seeing is having, she thought. She said goodbye to each of them, using the feathers from part of a pigeon wing she picked out of dead oak leaves and Dutch Masters wrappers blown against the side of her apartment house. She gave each feather the name of a place, laid them out on the windowsill, watched the wind lift them. When the last one was gone she washed her hands three times.

Two years later, tourism was down, way down, the bottom. People were still flying to see their families, to do science, for work sometimes, but almost no one, then no one, was flying to devour anyone else’s place. This was difficult for places that had built their living around influxes of expensive strangers. It took some people there a long time to unclench their fists. Skies got quieter, the water cleaner. The sand, too, was cleaner at first (not so many people to pick up after) then dirtier (no one paying money for picking things up) then cleaner again (when everyone got sick of it being dirty). Some of the fish, some of the birds, some of the mosses, and some of the santos started to come back, and then there was more to eat. Others were gone forever. People said goodbye to these in their own ways.

Back at the airports, a few families tried to live in the grounded planes but it turns out that the things that make airplanes good for flying make them bad for almost everything else: not enough light, not enough ventilation, plasticky, weird-shaped, cramped. Mostly people broke them down for materials and parts. The frameworks of wings made good roof supports and squash trellises. Kids took flotation devices to the swimming holes.

Some things we’ll never see because we killed them. Some things we can allow to flourish by never seeing them, letting them rest, secret from us, but not from themselves.

 

Alternate Histories: 5/27, 4/15

5/27/14

Speaking for myself, I have huge climate anxiety. It’s the biggest problem we’re facing, and we should be devoting huge amounts of resources to it. Instead, they’re still having debates about whether to give oil and gas leases in national parks. We’re putting the earth, the country, and the climate at risk by looking for oil and gas. It won’t be helped by a piecemeal approach. And I’m not hopeful. I don’t think governments have the guts to face up to oil and gas interests. I think we’re doomed. And my biggest concern is not so much for humans–I’m worried that we’ll make it impossible for anything else to survive. We don’t begin to take this seriously enough …

Do you talk to people about this?

People I know, or people I don’t know?

Both.

I have conversations, but about small stuff, like recycling. To people I know, I talk about it a lot. I go to a Unitarian church, many of whose members are left-leaning. But the church can’t even get recycling right. I’m discouraged on a personal and political and countrywide level. They say gas is cleaner, but if getting the gas requires the kind of stuff that’s going on in Canada — I think if we devoted sufficient money to alternatives, in 10 years we could prevent a catastrophe, but we don’t have the will.

*

4/15/15

The next day, U signed up to work with the Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Earth‘s divestment branch. She begged for donations from people and from businesses, citing black lung and exploding oil rigs; she helped congregations run the numbers for reinvestment programs like Ceres Investment Group. She took over secretarial duties while the church administrator went to an interfaith conference on sustainability. She talked with the Department of Health about setting up the church, with its thick brick walls shaded by large trees, as a daytime heat shelter as well as an emergency shelter. All motions seemed slow. The winter came down like a hammer and the congregation stepped up its work of helping people survive from day to day.

In spring, she read of the plan to expand a gas pipeline running through southern New England. U said to the congregation, “The emergency is now.” The Providence, Fall River and Newport churches became training sites, childcare centers, clearinghouses for bail funds, food banks. U worked with the Parks Department to get camping permits for the Little Compton and Tiverton land where Spectra Energy wanted to build the pipeline; camping stores donated tents; nearby homes opened their doors so that people blocking construction could use their bathrooms, and shower; the University of Rhode Island’s horticulture department helped plan to restore, as best they could, damage to the grasses from people camping on them or standing on them or being dragged across them by police officers.

The summer wore on, flaring hot, cooling slightly, flaring again. Donations of food and blankets, groundsheets and water bottles poured into the two churches, who shared them with ordinary homeless and suffering people as well as the protestors. Representatives of other churches and a temple led services, broke up fights, offered counsel. The days grew shorter, wetter, grayer. U wondered what would happen in the winter, when people remembered what the pipeline could bring them, when they needed to stay warm. Sweaters and gloves and boots–all useful, all wonderful, but not enough to keep anyone alive outside in another winter like last year’s.

I don’t know what happens next in this story, either.

Alternate Histories: 5/24, 4/12

5/24/14

[Small girls to whom I gave a snapping turtle card and a blue cohosh card yesterday]

Can we use your chalk?

Yes.

 [They take it into the park and start drawing. Later they’re joined by 2 other girls, around the same age. Later still, girls and chalk are nowhere to be seen. I mentally bid farewell to chalk. A man comes up and we start talking.]

I don’t know that there’s anything we can do to help. We try to think as human beings that we have control over certain things, but we really don’t.

I think we’re talking about different things. I’m talking about like, if there was bad flooding, would you give someone a ride in your car?

No. I’d like to say I’d like to help all these people, but I think when it’s in complete survival mode, it gets to be every man for himself.

So you don’t think people depend on each other.

No, I do think people depend on each other … It’s something that needs looking into, and we’re not doing enough about it. There’s enough methane on the ocean floor–you know about this? What happens when the ocean warms up and releases that methane into the atmosphere? It’ll be a global catastrophe that–[he looks over and sees the girls drawing within earshot]–we’ll all be in trouble.

[About an hour later, one of the original girls brings the box back, chalk sticks well used.]

*

4/12/15

It is the responsibility of adults not to frighten children.

We talk about the ocean floor, like it’s the floor of a house, but it’s a field.

Around the methane vents deep in the sea, the methanophilic bacteria are at pasture, transforming what’s available to them into what they need.

The floor of a house is also a field, shared, full of inhabitants.

A human can’t throw his body in front of a methane vent, between a pair of children and a methane vent. If R throws his body between a pair of children and, say, a prime minister, who’ll be wise enough to see the line between them, to calculate the trajectory, to understand what he intersects, what he wants to interrupt?

What kind of present do you want for your children?

The methanophilic bacteria would be so happy, fat and full if the methane in the oceans emerged. It would be a rich time for them. Sometimes you have to choose who will get what they want.

Those children weren’t even R’s children, but he wanted something for them.

The best way to not scare someone is to get rid of the things that scare them.

Yes, and while we’re doing that, we can also teach them how to be scared. To be while scared. To not be frozen.

Alternate Histories: 5/21, 4/9

5/21/14

[These come from two different conversations, with two different young men.]

I’m not worried about RI, I’m worried about the earth. We’re supposed to be these great beings of light … We are the potential to change the world, only a few are in control and they have lied to us to get us to serve them. We all have to serve each other.

*

Just take the precaution! I have a son, he’s turning three in a week and I worry about what kind of life he’s gonna have. I don’t have time to put any thought into my future, I’m too busy thinking about his future … How do you not at least care not to make it worse?

*

4/9/15

In this story, everyone, not just J, is thinking about J’s son’s future—that everyone knew about this little boy, including me, including T, who spoke to me earlier in the day, including every other person who spoke to me, including everyone who passed by me, and their mothers (if living), and their employers (if any), and the guy who sold J his hoodie at the flea market, and J’s son’s pediatrician, and J’s son’s mom, and the bank clerks at the downtown Bank of America branch, and the people in charge of Bank of America’s hiring policies, and the people in charge of Bank of America’s corporate sponsorships, and my husband, and the Nature Conservancy.

What do we want J’s son’s future to be? Normally, when you want to know what someone wants or needs, you ask them, but J’s son is three. If you ask him what he wants, he might say “Ice cream!” or “Spider-Man!” He might whine, “I wanna go home,” or yell “Poopoo!” and run around in a circle.

Until he can figure out what he wants, we want J’s son to be able to walk strongly and calmly, living and lovely. That means no one can be waiting to hurt him—which is not a problem, because in this story, everyone’s focused on J’s son’s future, on fostering him in the larger sense of that word. We need trucks that will bring him food; we need the food to be grown with fertilizers that won’t poison his water, and those trucks to burn a fuel that doesn’t poison his air. We are here to serve J’s son. The plants and trees that make the oxygen he breathes, the water that washes him or cools the land he stands on, the buildings where people make decisions that benefit him, also serve as places for him to exercise his curiosity and his courage, so the people who own or tend these things must continue to do so, and make sure he can get to them. He’s welcome in most places. Adults are eager to answer his questions, to keep an eye out for him and other kids, to arbitrate and mediate, to wean them away from their tiny jerk tendencies and power trips, to teach them to wait and be calm.

We want J’s son to be kind, to be a carrier of kindness rather than damage, so the people around him have to model kindness, especially toward those who are weaker than they are—which includes him. That means J, too, needs room to be kind. The people with whom he works, the people who see him on the street, recognize that he, too, is alive and lovely. His safety too, his sustenance, is important to them, and they will protect it. They will help him separate his work from his survival—they will see what they can spare. They will make no room for people who want to destroy him.

64 years later, J’s son serves his turn at the reparation meetings, where he and two other people decide what is due from someone who’s wronged someone else to the person that they have wronged. J is dead. J’s son’s mother, too, is dead, and so are most of the older people he learned from when he was growing up, including T, who had been a prayer leader all his long life, helping people find each other’s strength and mourn each other’s losses. The people in charge of Bank of America’s corporate sponsorships are dead. My husband and I are dead. Many of the trees that J’s son played under when he was three, and four, and five, and nine, are still alive—most trees live longer than most people—and J’s son still wears the hoodie his father bought at the flea market, much mended, much faded.

Does it seem strange to you—to place yourself in the service of J’s son like this? Who do you serve now? Who serves you? Follow the lines outward from the center of your chest, or wherever you keep yourself: where do they go?

Alternate Histories: 5/20, 4/8

5/20/14

[This conversation started with two people who know each other and me, and was joined by a third person who didn’t know any of us.]

C: After I read the blog, I was thinking about this, and I was thinking about it from a parent’s perspective. I can imagine that change could happen slowly and humans adapt to it in ways that will become normal. Like my daughter, maybe she’ll wear a mask when she goes outside. It happens slowly–things that weren’t factors a hundred years ago are factors now. People have flood insurance. And it’s freaky, because who knows what sacrifices will have to be made.

Do you try to imagine it?

I do. I try to think about history, the way that we adapt–there’s a status quo that wasn’t always the status quo.

S: There are these cultural narratives that are stories but feel like truths.

C: And they’re carried through generations.

S: Are there things you notice about [your daughter’s] life in the world that seem different to you?

C: Small things, like she knows to recycle. I was born in 1968–in 1975 we had those pull-top cans…That’s improved, that’s a better way. She’s more aware of her impact on the world … Travel makes me feel small, there’s all this waste throughout travel, like you have to throw out the water bottle you bought, you can’t take it on the plane with you, but there’s no recycling, only trash cans.

I think a lot about that, how to make it easier for people.

S: And how do you add benefit or pleasure into that way of being? What might make people willing to go out of their way?

C: People often won’t go out of their way. “I’m gonna lose my place in line.”

S: When I was in high school, part of my family’s land was taken by eminent domain for a power line. It was a big emotional thing for our family. Part of it was, “We don’t want a big unsightly thing on our land,” but part of it was “This is mine and I get to decide what happens here.” And it was a turning point for me …

C: You went from what to what?

S: From a naivete, a lack of awareness–I mean, I loved the woods, I didn’t throw garbage in them–to understanding what it meant to be the steward of the land in a directed way. Something that feels really intimate to you and you have no power over. My family couldn’t even protect it with money–they tried throwing money at it, hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that makes me feel jaded and scared: what is that kind of power, how do we traction our nice conversations into something that can make a difference?

D: I got plenty of anxiety about the climate, but I doubt humans can do anything about it. I’m a defeatist about it. I don’t know if it’s the end of mankind, but …

What about the end of other things, plants, animals…

Well, that’s been happening, the sixth big species die-off is already happening. If it’s the end of mankind, maybe that’s a way of righting itself. It’s a good idea to stop using fossil fuels. Conservation, energy saving, those are good to some degree, but I’m not gonna give up my car. Everyone needs a car.

Actually, lots of people don’t have cars, and not because of the environment, because they’re broke.

Maybe, but if you live in the suburbs there’s no way to get away from it. I could take the bus, but it’s completely inconvenient. It’s good if you’re poor. And convenience will always trump–if it means going tremendously out of my way, I won’t do it.

S: What would be the right amount of incentive?

D: I don’t know. I’d be willing to pay higher taxes–you don’t have to do anything. But if you have to go out of your way …

What about when things change, what might you be able to do to make things easier for the people around you?

The people around me … I don’t know, it depends on the situation. As far as helping other people? If it meant having days in the summer where you don’t use electricity, to conserve electricity for the neighborhood, I might do that … I think for a lot of people it’s something out there, it’s not concrete enough–it’s abstract to a certain degree.

*

4/8/15

Over the course of the next year, D became poor.

It happened gradually. He didn’t lose his job or his home, but his sister in Oklahoma lost hers to storms and flash flooding, and she and her two sons came to stay with him, filling up the house–you can’t say no to your own sister. She was used to running the A/C all day and he had to say look, no, the house isn’t really set up for that. The kids signed up for summer ball, that cost money. Food was getting a little more expensive and the amount that teenagers eat is really incredible–he would never have expected it.

Some things were actually cheaper–the short-order clinics were free, but the lines were long. D wasn’t used to having to wait in line for things he needed. And then Terry next door had a stroke and all of a sudden D’s sister was over there part of every day, helping him out. “You can pick the kids up from practice or you can go help Terry get to the bathroom,” his sister said.

“He isn’t even paying you,” D said. His sister gave him a hard look. “The kids can walk,” D said. “It’s good for them, they’ll be fine.” It was true that there were more people on the street, just overall, especially in the evening on low-charge days, when the street felt like it was floating. It made D nervous. When he came home and saw that she’d put a clothesline up and was hanging clothes out on it with the boys, he started swearing: the birds were gonna shit on it, it was gonna stretch out, what did they have a dryer for… The other three stood still, not rigid. “You look like mom!” he blurted.

“You sound like dad,” she said, still calm. When you’re poor, what are you poor in? Where do you feel the strain? “Make sure you check yourselves for ticks,” she called after the boys as they fled inside. “Everywhere, even under your balls. Don’t ‘Mom!’ me.”

The following year, D’s household joined the subdivision’s mortgage strike.

The year after that, one of the boys got Lyme–more waiting in long clinic lines, more stress, more weariness. Terry died, and they all went to the funeral.

The year after that, the bank declared a jubilee year for the subdivision–all debts cancelled. It was a low-charge day, so the dance party had to wait till tomorrow. The nephew with Lyme drank what he called “some herbal bullshit” for his joint pain, and he and D sat on the front steps breathing the thick night air, which they could afford.

Alternate Histories: 5/16, 4/7

5/16/14

Traditionally the solution to the “tragedy of the commons” is to privatize it, so to have the land be privately owned and the owner protects it, but you can’t privatize the earth. And the other way is to have more structure, more organization. We were studying the problem of care for the elderly, you know, as the baby boomers get older, and we were like, “So since we know this, why isn’t anyone doing anything about it?” and our professor was like, “Basically, people don’t care until it’s too late.” So all the arguments that are like, “What kind of world will your grandchildren live in?”–people don’t care … How could you get people to be more connected to the earth? I need to get outside more–I want to get to where I can go running in the woods.

*

4/7/15

 

The next day, B sat in the university library and wrote out a set of questions. Who owns the land around here? Who uses it? What for? Who takes care of it? How?

 

B wrote, What kind of world do I live in, right now?

 

B crossed out I and wrote we.

 

B looked out the windows of the university library at the giant, ancient beech tree, the fungus seaming an old injury, the bark like the skin of an elephant’s foot when it hits the ground–something we might call “an engineering miracle” but it’s really neither. It’s more contingent, more awe-inspiring, than anything made on purpose or by magic. The tree is a host, B thought. He wrote, Who protects the land around here? Who does it host? He crossed out us and wrote me.

 

All that summer, B ran on Blackstone Boulevard. He took the number 51 bus to Lincoln Woods to run the loop there. When he ran he thought about nothing and saw almost nothing, so sometimes he walked. Once or twice he got semi-lost. He saw a fat round brown animal he later figured out was a woodchuck. They looked at each other.

 

Nearly a year later, B read about the proposed natural-gas pipeline expansion running through southern New England. He wrote, How can I help? in his notebook, and then in one email after another. When he stood in a rocky field in Burrillville, his arms linked with strangers’ arms, he saw himself as though he were another animal looking at himself. In his mind he wrote, How did I come to be here? He didn’t remember ever asking that question before.

 

You will do things you didn’t think were possible for you, but you will also do things you didn’t think had meaning, things you didn’t believe had power. You will have a kind of power you didn’t think was power. You will recognize yourself.

Alternate Histories: 5/13, 4/6

[Note: I took 2 days a week off during the first round of Climate Anxiety Counseling sessions, so this is an alternate history from a day I’ve already visited.]

5/13/14

I’m worried about the financial situation … I’m embarrassed to say this: I work part time so I can qualify for food stamps so my son and I can eat. I was working full time, but I couldn’t afford food. Daycare was $800 and I was taking home $1600 after taxes, health insurance, everything, but my rent was $600, and then utilities. So I would pay a little rent each month and buy food … I went to college, I wanted to be able to sustain myself.

Can I ask why it’s embarrassing?

I just feel like I should be able to support myself. Everybody struggles, but people just don’t talk about it.

 

*

4/6/16

The next day, F and her son O had a quiet conversation.

 

Three days later, at their parent-teacher conference, O’s teacher asked, “What do you need, F? What would make your and O’s life easier right now?”

 

“Actually,” F said, “we could use a bodyguard for O.”

 

The teacher blinked. “A bodyguard? Why a bodyguard?”

 

They both looked at O’s round, deep-brown cheeks and his long legs stretched out from the school desk.

 

(In this version of history, when this conversation happened, Michael Brown was still alive. Akai Gurley was still alive. Eric Garner was still alive. Writing about the past as though it were the future makes for strange times.)

 

“A bodyguard,” the teacher said again.

 

“And they have to like Percy Jackson,” O said, holding up his copy of The Sea of Monsters.

 

“Or be willing to give it a try,” F reminded him. “We agreed that would be okay if they haven’t read it yet.”

 

The following week, when O and his bodyguards had left for school, F’s landlady asked her, “What do you need, F? What would make your and O’s life easier right now?”

 

“Honestly,” F said, “about a hundred dollars off the rent would be good, if you can afford it.”

 

“I think so,” F’s landlady said. “I think we can short the bank a hundred a month for a while before they get feisty. What about the toilet—is it working now?”

 

“Yes,” said F, “it’s working.”

 

About a year and a half later, O and his friends, one of O’s bodyguards and their friends, O’s teacher and her friends, and F’s landlady and her friends sat together in the house, filling the living room and the kitchen, while the police banged on the door. O’s bodyguard read out loud to O and his friends from The Message, which is the Animorphs book where the human kids meet an Andalite kid for the first time. He did all the voices.

 

Outside, O’s other bodyguard and a ring of witnesses were watching and recording the police from as close as they could manage. Two of the teachers were sending social media updates, and two more were trying to get in touch with their pro bono lawyer. Everyone had picked up fire extinguishers, food, and toilet paper on their way over, and they were all glad the toilet was working. F’s niece, who had been asleep on the couch, woke up and started wailing as the door began to splinter.