A Sickness

*** As I attempt to create new material, I’m simultaneously sifting through old stuff. I wrote this in 2016 during my second semester of my MFA; I was also pregnant with my second son. It’s not Pulitzer-winning writing here, but it’s interesting how much has happened and come to fruition. Despite the election of President Biden and the Democrats regaining control of the house and senate, there’s a deep sickness infecting society. Many of us saw it four years ago. Here was my take on it:

A Sickness

A party flares around me like a silent film. Several faces from my life smile in greeting as I look at them. My vision is a camera lens. Moving through the sea of people laughing, grazing on hor’derves, milling arm-in-arm, something in the back of my mind wonders what this gathering is for.

“Oh my god, look out,” a voice shouts.

My camera vision pivots in the direction of the voice. I recognize it as my mom’s.

Focusing outside a large picture window, I look up into an inky sky. Through the blackness, torpedoes whistle towards earth. Lights flash across the city scape as explosions roar.

I jolt upright in bed, breathing hard. My limbs are tensed. Silence settles in my ears as I take in my surroundings. A dream; just a dream. Is it just a dream? Or something more prophetic?

Reading a New York Times article about Donald Trump supporters, I’m shocked by how many declare they will not only demand change but will enact it by force if this 2016 presidential election does not favor Trump. Several worry about the country splitting, about the actions fellow supporters may take. Several more openly incite revolution. Some go so far to imply they will take any means to rid this country of the opponent Hilary Clinton. Most refuse to accept her election into office if she wins because they are dead sure everything is rigged.

While being interviewed on CNN, a Trump supporter twangs on about Crooked Hilary, a phrase Mr. Trump has coined. He’s neither logical nor rational as he vows to take out Clinton should she win the election. He rails on about rigging, confident in his claims, serious about his plans for action. As a proud American, he will take any step necessary to rid this country of the likes of Clinton.

The Des Moines Register reports about the arrest of a woman who was caught voting twice for Trump. She voted early and later, passing a satellite voting station, she decided to cast another ballot. When questioned, she said she was sure her early vote would be changed into a vote for Clinton. She’s so sure, so terrified rigging is real, she felt it necessary to break the law and do the very thing she’s fearful others are doing.

This has gone on for months. Perpetuated by Donald Trump himself. A little boy in a man’s body, playing a game. I don’t think he gets it. I don’t think he truly realizes how dangerous some of his supporters are. How dangerous his rhetoric is. He incites bullying and violence at his rallies, encouraging latent anger, stirring up frustration, and to what end? A possible civil war?

Reading articles and listening to interviews, hearing people openly admit they want revolution, the guns and artillery kind, terrifies me more than any potential threat of election rigging. Reaching deep down into the dark surface of my being, I smell fear, like the first tinge of smoke as it rises before an inferno. Our world has grown wild, and the far-right are bellowing, a chorus bent on destruction.

I never paid much mind to politics. It’s not that I found the subject boring, or that I didn’t understand, I was just naïve, youthful ignorance unaware how anything outside my immediate sphere affected me. My parents had strong opinions during campaigns, but they weren’t particularly political outside of election years. We did not discuss world events or legislative issues at home, so it was not a part of my vocabulary. I frequented newspapers, but mostly to peruse the Lifestyle and Living section.

The first time I truly started forming opinions about what was happening in the world was after 911. We were all so effected by these events, who didn’t have an opinion? But I started paying attention, directing more focus on politics and the world around me. As it did with anyone old enough, 911 had a huge impact on me, and still does.

The sky is clear blue, not a cloud around. The day is warm, but a crispness tints the breeze. I’m standing still when I hear a jet engine. Lifting my gaze to the sky, I see a large plane cut through the clear, autumn sky, leaving a trail of jet stream behind it. Alarms ring as I notice it head towards a tall building.

My eyes snap open as my brain acknowledges the ringing of the phone. Wiping crust out of my eyes, shaking my head to rid the images of my dream, I lumber to the phone and answer.

“Bridgit?”

“Yeah, Kara? Is everything okay with the store?”

“Yeah, do you have the news on?”

“No, I was sleeping since it’s my day off.”

“Turn the TV on now.”

“Why?”

“America’s under attack.”

“What?”

“Two airplanes just flew into the Twin Towers. It’s all over the news. The mall is closing, so I’m shutting down the store. No one knows what is going on yet, or if more attacks will happen.”

Brow furrowed, I stare at the wall.

“Bridgit, did you hear me?”

“Yeah, yes.” Fumbling with the remote, I click the TV on.

The first channel shows an image of a plane jutting out of one of the towers, debris fluttering in the breeze, flames igniting the building. It flips to another image, an earlier one, I assume, of one of the planes flying directly towards a tower.

Covering my mouth, eyes wide, I’m transfixed by what loops on the TV. My dream flashes. No, just a coincidence?

To this day, I see that dream vividly. Difficult to dream about a plane flying into a building, only to wake to find out it’s really happened. Some people believe me, most don’t, thinking it a narrative I’ve spun around these events, giving me a good story to tell. I don’t really care what people think. For me, something weird happened, something not completely logical or rational. Perhaps I’m no different than the far-right dissenters demanding civil war.

But my fear is real. A growing unease spreads in this country, a mist enveloping each of us. Dread chills my bones to hear the words so many speak. Violence seems the only answer to some.

The above New York Times article also features a man ready for a purge-like landscape, similar to the movie by the same name. People taking up arms against neighbors, defending themselves against the coming storm. This man is an avid gunman, sure Clinton will come after everyone’s guns if voted into office. He claims he would never provoke violence, but if revolution happens, and he’s sure it will, he’s ready with his personal arsenal.

I picture barricades in neighborhoods. Tables and China cabinets blocking entrances, curtains drawn, reminiscent of a 1940s blackout. Guns peeking through windows. Is this the world we are creating? Will bomb shelters go up in rapid succession like during the Cuban missile crisis? Desolate streets, grey and silent, bread lines crowded with hungry families, worn faces of children, much too old for their years, shells of buildings dotting the skyline—these images muddy my thoughts often lately.

When President Obama ran for president the first time, I became invested in politics. My world view broadened; I grew up. Papers became more than just sources of entertainment for me. Research was an invaluable tool as I sifted through facts and information. Presidential debates were engaging for me. Learning about issues a causes stimulated my intellect. I discovered a new part of me opening up to new ways of thinking, new experiences. The world was robust and exciting, and getting outside of myself and my tiny world view expanded me as a person.

I’m no political expert. I certainly don’t understand every issue and policy. But I’m eager to learn, to grow, and accrue knowledge. News outlets have become a steady stream of political information in our house. The New York Times and Washington Post are frequented newspapers. I smirk at myself as I flip between Keeping up with the Kardashians and CNN. Funny how life changes as you get older.

People are frustrated; they have been for years. I’m frustrated. Good has happened, but more change is necessary. And after becoming blind, certain disability-related issues have become incredibly important to me. Disability rights are things I actively campaign for. Equal and fair treatment for all people should include those with disabilities. Like millions of us, I’m tired of promises that never come to fruition, legislation sitting dead in congress, policies doing little to nothing for a majority of Americans. I get it.

But the vibes issuing forth at this moment in time send shivers through me. Shouts of rigging and corruption and revolution thunder across our nation. Trump has taken this frustration and constructed a rage machine. At rallies, he whips up frenzied responses, calls to action. People are literally ready to take up arms against fellow Americans. Who needs a zombie apocalypse? Our own end-of-times is at hand if the correct door is kicked open.

I wonder what kind of world I have brought my children into. My instinct is to protect, but when fire rages around us, a hot breeze waiting to ignite, I can’t help but to go into preservation mode myself. Fear grips me around the edges, cold hands pushing, and a weight inside me. It seems easy to fall into this dark pit, an endless descent into the chaos swirling about.

Rarely do I post political comments on Facebook, but of late, the rhetoric pumping through our culture has me concerned. When I post comments or share articles, I’m greeted with mockery and disgust and rage. Tongues lash out at me, whips of anger. I’ve been accused of supporting a baby-killer when I post about how awful Trump’s Access Hollywood comments are. When sharing an article about election rigging being a ghost created by Trump, I’m told the media is biased, and if I believe what they are feeding us, I’m stupid. When questioning how anyone in their right mind can support Trump, a family member no less, tells strangers on social media to have no respect for me.

It’s grown ugly. Dissention creeps into our brains, digging a hole, boring through us. It’s no longer about politics. We are no longer a nation of Americans; we are individual cells ready to destroy those around us. Swallowed whole by fear and anger and ignorance, people are armed, refusing to see reason, refusing to be American, despite what they claim. Patriotism is not warring against neighbors, fighting with family, assainating leaders because you disagree with them, dislike them. This is not patriotism; it’s destruction.

This is evident to me: Clinton’s supporters are not militants rounding up weapons in the event of losing the election. They are not suggesting violence against fellow Americans. And they are not adamant the election is rigged, adamant the government, presidential campaigns and the media are all involved. No, most of them are appalled by this display, as shocked and worried about threats of revolution as I am. You can support someone and still not agree with everything they stand for or do. But at some point, doesn’t reason and rationale have to rule?

Even intelligent, seemingly logical people are resolute in their belief that nothing and no no one can be trusted. This idea of corruption and rigging has become such a part of the narrative of this election. A relentless dialogue perpetuated by so many, seeds pollenating our country.

The afternoon is warm but with the hint of fall around the corner. My son’s TV show bounces and jingles in the background. Legs up on the coffee table, I rest, hands placed on top my growing baby bump. Mom sits across from me, reclined and sleepy. Our conversation drifts in-and-out. For some inexplicable reason I can’t recall, we begin to discuss the current election.

“We need to be led by faith when it comes to political elections,” Mom says.

“It depends on where a candidate really stands,” I respond.

“I haven’t heard much substance from either candidate.”

“Did you watch the debates? It’s difficult to discuss issues when one candidate doesn’t let you.”

“No, I didn’t bother.”

“But if you don’t watch the debates or listen to them speak, how can you judge anything?”

“I don’t really need to listen to them to know where I stand on things. Abortion and the death penalty are the most important issues because they deal with human life.”

“I get that, but there are a lot more issues our country face. Honestly, more immediate issues that both candidates will address if elected.”

Trump is a despicable person, but Clinton stands for things I can’t abide by.”

“But doesn’t a person’s character count for anything?”

“I don’t support either candidate. I don’t like either. And nothing you read about them can be trusted.”

“You can go to the independent fact checkers, like NPR or CNN. That’s where you can learn a lot.”

“No, all media, liberal and conservative can’t be trusted. They all push agendas. They are all biased.”

“I give you some of the media are certainly biased, but a lot of the media just want to present facts and truth. And even the biased media still want to provide factual info even if they give it a biased slant. At least the reputable sources.”

“None of the media is reputable.”

“If you don’t believe the candidates or the media, then how do you know what positions a candidate truly stands for and will fight for?”

When so many are sure corruption coats politics and government, a slime oozing from all the cracks, it’s difficult to ignore the threats of revolution. The chants are no longer distant. They grow in intensity, a fever pitch too hot to touch. The chatter about rigging feeds it, fuel for a fire already blazing.

My dream crouches heavy on my mind. Bombs raining from the sky, splitting the world around me into a million pieces, smoke choking, flames consuming, shattering human bodies, I have to turn away from my own ponderings. But it’s a determined itch. It wants to be viewed, displayed and analyzed. Fear is a very real thing in our world. Plenty of scary things already exist. Those thinking civil war is a necessary solution are dangerous and do not deserve to be labeled patriots. No matter who leads us, division solves nothing.

Eight days away from what? What will happen on November ninth? Will shots ring out? Fear is a palpable thing. Reason dictates a true violent revolution is not possible. The crowds only seem giant because they are so loud. But quivering in the back of my mind is the real, present danger so many say they will invoke. When one person spews revolution, we have to take notice. It’s a sickness.

By LitMommy

Bridgit Kuenning-Pollpeter is a mom and writer from Omaha, Nebraska but recently relocated to Urbandale, IA. When she’s not chasing children, picking up messes or reorganizing the house, she enjoys yoga or reading to relax. In her spare time (A.K.A. her dreams) she’s a Broadway star. Kuenning-Pollpeter is a freelance marketer during the day, a creative writer at night. Her work has appeared in the Brevity blog, The Omaha World Herald, 13th Floor, Misbehaving Nebraskans, Hippocampus, Emerging Nebraska Writers and Random Sample Review. She has her BFA and MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her essay “The Body” was a McKenna Fellowship finalist, and her essay “Imperfection” was a 2020 Best of the Net Nominee. She is blind and writes frequently about disability. She’s working on a memoir about the disabled feminine experience. With the kids though, expect it in stores in about a decade.

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