Monday, July 20, 2015
When the Charleston shooting occurred a few weeks ago, I was wrecked. I cried. I couldn’t focus on my work. I called my most politically vocal friends and we talked out our sadness, fears, anxieties, and desperation for justice. I called Dylann Roof a murderer and terrorist. I dubbed everyone’s explanation of his “mental illness” unconscious racism. I was furious at those who did not vocalize remorse for the shooting.
I am a military veteran. I am from Chattanooga. That recruiting office that was gunned down last week was the one that enlisted me. This should have hit home even harder than Charleston. Yet, I was numb. I was well aware of how fucked up my indifference was. It made me reevaluate myself.
I’m going to be brutally honest about this.
I do not have good memories of Chattanooga.
Chattanooga is the city where my stepfather took my mother and I away from my family, where the full effect of his mental and emotional abuse and manipulation. When I think of Chattanooga, I think of self-loathing and isolation. The name “Chattanooga” brings memories of eating disorders, teenage drug abuse, and my social circles of self-destructive, wayward youth, many of who are now either in jail or dead. Chattanooga is where my mother and stepfather reside in the suburbs, happily attend their megachurch, immerse themselves in its social functions, and bury my memory. I have never known homesickness or comfort zones.
I cannot lovingly call Chattanooga my “home” because it harbors nothing but memories I am desperately trying to forget.
That is not Chattanooga’s fault.
And it is not their fault that I cannot emotionally connect to their post-tragedy unity.
I do not regret my military enlistment. It got me out of Chattanooga. It made me stronger and more interesting. It paid for my education. And I am still very close to many of the people I served with.
But I do not have many good memories of the military.
When I think of my time in the service, I think of an outdated good old boy camaraderie that glorified the men who fell into their masculine society and crucified anyone who stepped outside the lines of their conventions. I think about women being told in boot camp to keep our legs closed because the men would rigorously pursue us and permanently dub us whores once they pegged us and assured that half of my female basic training division would be pregnant within our first enlisted years. When I think about the military, I think about a country that war mongers for oil and corporate greed. I think of a system that manipulates teenagers into becoming America’s body bags by luring them in with benefits that other developed nations already provide their citizens so that they can be trained to fight, kill, and dehumanize to survive the violence that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. My experience with the military was it bringing out the worst in everyone. I am close to my veteran friends because we bonded from the ugliest parts of ourselves.
So, no, I do not get warm and fuzzy at the sight of an American flag or the tune of the National Anthem.
I am a sucker for the underdog. My emotions do not resonate with the establishments I’ve been part of, but the people who have been rejected by establishments. I simply care more deeply about the poor, the abused, the wounded, and the broken. My heart identifies with those who society has ostracized, not honored.
The day my hometown was attacked by a terrorist was the day I realized how truly biased I was.
I found myself spouting out the same sympathetic cop-outs for Mohammod Abdulazeez that so many white southerners had for Dylann Roof. I caught myself referring to him as a mentally ill “boy”, analyzing his background and any possible bullying he could have influenced him to turn him in a violent direction. Just a few weeks before, I’d been calling Roof an evil murderer. I was a complete contradiction of myself.
The day of the Charleston shooting, I was enraged by the fact that the most patriotic people were so silent about it.But when Chattanooga was attacked, the people most silent for Charleston were vocal for Chattanooga. The people most vocal about Charleston were the most silent for Chattanooga.
I posted about Chattanooga, but my actions were robotic and absent of the fire in my belly that erupted for Charleston.
My veteran friends contacted me as heartbroken as I’d been the day of the Charleston shooting. I tried to feel something. I felt nothing. My brain told me that I was a horrible person. My heart remained stoic. I felt like a sociopath.
Both incidents were terrorist attacks. Both were racially motivated and committed by deeply disturbed young men. Every single life taken holds just as much value as the others. All the victims deserve an equal amount of compassion and mourning.
I know I’m not alone in my indifference. We all have unintentionally selected emotions. And even if we are the fiercest human rights supporters, we are all on some level contaminated with trauma that has carved weapons we use on one another when we feel threatened. We all have grudges that evolve to prejudice if unmonitored.
I have a grudge against men, the south, conservatives, the military, Chattanooga, and everything else that has hurt me. And I have to check myself before I become my own worst enemy.