18 May, 2006

One Cold Weekend

I had been selected as one of four school representatives to the Mock U.N. at Butler University. It was an hour's drive from our cornfield-based college and it meant sacrificing a weekend. When I first applied I had been in deep like with one of the other possible delegates, and had envisioned us falling in love over the course of prepping arguments for the viability of the African National Congress. Unfortunately life is less romantic than Lifetime movies, and all we had learned about each other during prep weeks was that we would do best if kept a safe distance from one another.

You know that line of poetry that people quote when they want to sound dramatic? "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold."

This was the weekend that everything fell apart.

I was a good girl born in the cold war. I knew these things: I was a Christian, I was a Republican and I wanted to be a lawyer. Things like Mock U.N. look good on law school apps, and the boy I wanted to like would have been the perfect husband for a good lady lawyer. He wore blue blazers to class when everyone else wore sweats, and on the one date we had he brought the Wall Street Journal. So, yeah. Life was on pace.

Then I started to fall in love with the crazy guy who ran the dishroom. Nobody at our school really liked him all that much because he didn't fit the mold. He had an earring. He lived on campus and growled at everybody. I thought he was an ass, but he liked the Grateful Dead and didn't like anyone else. A human car crash from which I could not look away. The weekend before the conference he and I had one of those romantic all-night talk sessions where you discover how completely cool the other person is.

All of a sudden leaving town to play politics with Blue Blazer didn't seem like a good idea. But I had to do it. Law school apps. Four of us piled in a car and drove to Indianapolis, with a brief stop at Don's Guns. We didn't buy anything, but we had to see the place where Don "LOVED to sell guns". Blue blazer and his buddy talked about what gun they would get if we hadn't all signed a "no guns" thing upon applying to the university. Had I a gun at that moment, Blue Blazer would have been limping to Butler.

The conference went okay. I learned how rare a true conservative is in any university Political Science program. I did okay overall, and received a round of applause for my pro-Israel speech. Good oration, except totally out of character. ANC members are not generally pro-Israel. I remember a lot of windowless cinderblock rooms, name tags, coffee in styrofoam cups. I remember feeling completely out of place. All of the other people cared a whole lot more about world government than I did. (Looking back, I think this was also the weekend I realised I might be happier as a literature major. I wondered how that would look on the law school apps.)

I was completely confused. Everything I thought I was good at--everything I wanted--was a mirage. I was good at politics, but better at writing. I was in love with the wrong guy.

And we lost our enemy.

After dinner we went back to the hotel to crash and study, only to hear loud shouts and louder music. Pink Floyd's The Wall was playing on no fewer than 3 boomboxes, and cheap champaign was spraying everywhere. 80 wonk-geeks from all over the midwest were having the rarest moment possible. We were watching East and West Germans tear down the Berlin Wall in the most openly visceral display of the death of the cold war possible. And we were watching it together. Had we been back on campus with jocks and math geeks and computer science nerds it would have been a no-big-deal kind of night. But we were with the only other non-Germans who would care this much. Other poli sci geeks. It was the closest I think I'll ever come to the Ewok celebration on Endor at the conclusion of Jedi. I remember standing in a mauve-carpeted hallway with tears streaming down my face, watching people my age prize chunks of cement from that concrete scar in triumph. That wall had stood for death. It had stood for inequality. It had stood for division. And it was finally coming down. I was so proud to be human at that moment, and to see the cold war die.

The next day when I got back to campus, I discovered that the Wrong Guy had filled my car with balloons. When I opened the passenger door and watched them fly free, I realised that it was time for some change. I dropped my major, married the wrong guy and consigned law school to File 13. I was too free a spirit to do otherwise, and I had only one life.

And now we want to build our own wall. Americans. Here, in our own country. I realise there is a sort of need, but I can't help feeling a bit betrayed. I grew up with the blazing torch of Liberty's invitation to the huddled masses. We were the good guys who took in those who needed asylum.

Now we're the ones with a wall.

I know it isn't that simple on some levels. I know there is real concern about economic and health issues that arise from massive immigration. I do understand that and share many of those concerns.

But in my gut I hate walls.


At 7:34 AM, May 18, 2006, Blogger Amy said...

I love this. I love the way you write.

if you ever get that book written, whatever it is about, I will look forward to reading it.

:) have a good one...

At 8:48 AM, May 18, 2006, Blogger grandefille said...

Thank you, Ms. Coble, for saying so eloquently and with such heart what I was trying to say the other night when I heard Marsha "You Look More Like an Autumn than a Winter" Blackburn call for A Wall.

I cried.

If any other nation in the world said something like that, the bombing would begin in five minutes. But not us, oh no.

Do they really think A Wall is going to stop people who will walk across the Mojave, stuff themselves into a beer cooler in a stranger's trunk or swim across the Rio Grande with their children tied to their bodies to reach sanctuary in this country? People who are willing to DIE to get to a place where they can live freely and support their families?

I guess that's what the Guard will be doing, then -- standing on top of Our Wall and sharpshooting anybody that comes near. Kinda like in East Berlin.

Lord help us.

At 9:15 AM, May 18, 2006, Anonymous Shauna said...

This was just really nice to read. Thanks.

At 10:21 AM, May 18, 2006, Anonymous marci said...

I think it's sad we've apparently forgotten our own history. We may as well tear down the Statue of Liberty the day we erect that wall.

It was the closest I think I'll ever come to the Ewok celebration on Endor at the conclusion of Jedi.

That? Made me laugh out loud. Great entry.

At 8:01 PM, May 19, 2006, Anonymous Mac said...

An excellent sentiment. I greatly understand a lot of those facets - pre-law, very excited about democracy...But mostly I understand how, in public thought, we are often guided by our viceral reactions to things. We feel right and feel wrong more often than we see it or believe it. I was very glad I read your post.

At 10:35 PM, May 19, 2006, Anonymous tom said...

My knee-jerk reaction is to hate the wall.

People will do anything to get into this country, either to live here in peace or attack it for terrorist reasons. A fence (which doesn't even cover the whole border, not to mention the thousands more miles of coastline and the border with Candada) will not do anything except help get politicians re-elected.

The fence is a cheap band-aid that looks really good on the front page to help Americans feel safer. I don't think it will do much good against illegals or terrorists.

Israel isn't having much luck with their wall, by the way. It's been condemned by other countries and terror attacks continue.

In your entry, you omitted driving behind the iron curtain with our family. That was an experience that I won't ever forget.


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