Nothing to Lose

Grieving my dog while white supremacists try to take Charlottesville, Virginia.

One dead, nineteen wounded as a car mows down anti-racist activists. I wrote my senior paper in high school on non-violence: in the film Gandhi, I had seen non-violent protestors standing before British soldiers on horses, willing to put their bodies on the line. And trampled.

My skin and bones feel ready. My dog has died and my heart aches. I am walking alone in the woods, able to cry only a little in these scattered showers. I feel like a stray dog.

I want to make the ache in my chest about anything else—things I can fix or analyze or pursue. I call people, post, message, asking where the movement is today.

Give money to bail people out, is one reply.

The absence of my dog, Hippolyta “Ipo” is a loss of purpose, of a regular set of service commitments that have helped me hold off anxiety in these newly dangerous times.

I had not realized. At first, guiltily, I felt freed of responsibility.

But it became necessary last year to have her come to work, where I teach history. Where I have been targeted by white supremacists. And received a volume of hate mail and even a death threat.

Ipo helped. Helping Ipo helped me.

I think of how hard it is for me to be comforted. I disqualify people for being too—something.

Aside from a rare few, Ipo only let me pet her. Then, as she aged, she disqualified them. Sometimes even I wasn’t allowed.

But in a thunderstorm, she came close by. In the end, I carried her frail body in my arms. On walks that went too long. To the beach in Trinidad, to say goodbye at the edge of the known world. It was time to let go of her brown eyes looking on me, of total love, of her jaunty walk.

As the sedative went into her body, she resisted sleep, worrying about me, with her left eye brow going up and up, still looking after me. I put my hand under her long soft chin and I rested my forehead on hers and I said, It’s ok. you can go. I can take care of this now. And she believed me.

I can still feel her and find her always in the corner of my eye. The house is not empty. What I did for her body and spirit, I can do for mine.

It’s ok to be wild and choosey, I tell myself.

I was reading a beautiful essay by Jeannette Winterson this morning, “The Night Sea Voyage.” She was going mad, then meeting her inner monster, conversing with this split in half child who muttered only mean, nonsensical things. We were never held she says to that monster, “nobody had cuddled us when we were little. I said ‘us’, not ‘you’. She held my hand. She had never done that before; mainly she walked behind shooting her sentences. We both sat down and cried. I said, ‘We will learn how to love.’”

I am studying the history of love and shame in the context of Gay Liberation. Of the young trans street hustlers of color who started rioting at the Stonewall in June of 1969, an observer in a recent film said something along the lines of, “these street kids have nothing left to lose.”

In this and other such films, we see scene after scene of police brutality and gay bashing. In juxtapostion, the riot seems just. It is cathartic. It is an act of self-love. Pride is the word we use for love.

A body is something to lose.

This makes me think of Coates: how he described American history in terms of the “plunder of black bodies.” He mentions women, speaks of the plunder of their bodies. Confesses to his own plunder of queer bodies. Is transformed by love of a queer woman from a queer family. It is Coates who made me think this…and James Baldwin.

Baldwin: “I know from my own experience that the macho men…They’ve created faggots in order to act out a sexual fantasy on the body of another man and not take responsibility for it.”

Throughout the interview, Baldwin expresses “impatience” with the term “gay,” saying “It answers a false argument, a false accusation…which is that you have no right to be here, that you have to prove your right to be here. I’m saying I have nothing to prove. The world also belongs to me …Best advice I ever got was an old friend of mine, a black friend, who said you have to go the way your blood beats. If you don’t live the only life you have, you won’t live some other life, you won’t live any life at all. That’s the only advice you can give anybody. And it’s not advice, it’s an observation.”

I feel like a stray dog today.

I was Ipo’s person. My phone was full of pictures of her. She had a bed in both rooms and the car, came “with,” had plenty of good food, treats, and she was my “wolf pup”, “my cashew nut”, “munchkin”—magnificent and beloved for exactly who she was. I was so proud of her. I loved even the things that were hard: the wafts of hair.

I cannot recall what else was hard.

Her refusal to be petted, I called “excellent boundaries.”

Hippolyta

Just an absence…almost the same as when I don’t pay attention. When I didn’t
And a racing ache
Like fear
A big rock on my sternum
The burn. Heartburn
A ratcheting
A stick dragged across the bumpy asphalt
Something unsoothable
Toys she loved, all emptied of cotton
I said she made them skinny
To match her
For a long while she was removing herself
Sleeping in the other room
And so I feel how we both walked out
Out of the woods.
She took me this far
And now I take her everywhere.
It is just that
The time of our bodies is over.