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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

the other shoe

 

As soon as the news arrives, I check in on a friend that lives in Brussels. A father, a husband. He is safe, telling me he was in that airport just a week ago. We send messages back and forth. I am working, creating animations for news stories that people read on their smartphones. I have the images right in front of me, with the names of the photographers who took them, the blood and smoke, the giant gaping wound that was once a window. I see hands lost in empty gestures, the faces of stewardesses tight and pale.

Just then a new wave of news arrives, about the metro bombs going off.
I tell my friend there is more going on.
He pauses.
"Not good." He replies.
He signs off, to begin a day I cannot imagine very well.
My phone rings.
E is telling me they are evacuating her school.
A pit rises in my stomach, instantly sour and biting against the walls of my chest. Maybe they are just being paranoid, I tell myself. Her school is just across a small bend in a river that snakes around the White House. They are sending everyone home, that's all. I tell myself.
But really, this is the sound of the other shoe dropping, the one I am prepared for, the one I will not be surprised by. It hangs inches above the ground for months, even years. It looms in shadow, but I go to sleep knowing it is there all the same.
She sends me a message.
"Never mind." She says.
I call her.
There is no evacuation, just a conference of teachers and they did not tell anyone about it. The classroom is going to be used to store their coats or something. Nothing more. It is a false alarm.

E hears the tension in my voice, my words choking out.
"What is it Pop?" She asks me. "I can wait for you in a different room to get me, like normal."
"Nothing." I tell her.
My instinct is to keep this story quiet. Let her live a day longer without a blanket of dread wrapped around her thoughts. Let her breathe quietly, laugh at some little something, look out a window, daydream. Anything but this chewing on the news, this gristle and bone of ugliness.









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