KING OF INFINITE SPACE OR; SURVIVORRESURVIVORSURVIVOR
Everything in the following pages happened to me. I probably got something wrong. But the following is what I remember from a season of bad dreams. O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Art by firstname.lastname@example.org. Edited by Ren Martinez.
Anyone looking for strict chronological order will be shot on sight.
Turner Youngblood Smith, 03.17.18
10.27.17 At Chimborazo Park
The first time the choir sang I felt a pain through the right side of my face and got up to leave. I let everyone know I needed a minute and I went for a walk away from the pavilion towards the long shadow of the Confederate hospital towards a tree. I stopped under the tree. I heard “John Brown’s Body” and stared at the Statue of Liberty that the Robert E. Lee Council gifted the city. I stared at it while the choir sang. A short blonde lady didn’t know I was there but her two perfect Aryan dogs did.
In the eyes of Lady Liberty and with John Brown’s ghostly procession marching through my ears, I thought about a single shot careening through my skull from a revolver tucked under my chin. I thought about my body sitting under that tree and a single red rose growing out of the wound and sprouting upward until they took over my body. My rib cage a trellis. The roses would continue to grow until they covered the city. Every monument to every racist, every monument to every compromise the city ever made with Michael Rao.
This would be my revenge. This would be the laughter of my children. It would have meant nothing, just another bloody run two months removed from a real martyr’s stoning.
I cannot remember 9/11. I will never forget 08/12. It won’t let me.
A Simple Twist of Fate
History is twists of fate piled on twists of fate like sticks in a fascine. So was my presence in Charlottesville. So I call it history.
As far as I knew, as far as I expected, like most right wing events it was going to be outnumbered 50 to 1, hate outnumbered by concern and I could tear away my eyes.
What changed is I saw the pictures. I don’t know the full numbers. But I saw all the pink faced men in white polos and I knew if I didn’t go I could never forgive myself ever. It would drain the color from every Edvard Munch; music into nothing more than a din.
I had never been to a protest before. Those men and their polos and tiki torches seemed like a practical joke played on the world by cruel party hosts, farces following the original tragedy of the Klan and Po Valley. They were figures in a dream I didn’t want to have and I should have ran away. But I did not.
And so I went.
On the morning of, I brewed a strong cup of coffee, wrote in my journal, and sat.
I went on social media and posted my bon mot about tiki torches: “Nazis with tiki torches proves the most prescient thing Marx ever said is history is tragedy first, then a farce.”
Only my best friend knew I was going. I didn’t tell my family or my ex. When my roommate woke up we started to get ready. I wore jeans and a plain black tee and a green M65 and a baseball cap. My roommate walked out in an organization specific shirt. I said he might want to change. He asked why.
He kept his shirt on.
I laced up my duckboots. It was going to rain that day.
We met at a Walmart. I bought a Timex Camper copy and a black notebook. A red bandana to signal my personal political beliefs, and ear buds in case they used whatever newfangled sound weaponry we all know they have., the kind of buds you use when you go shooting. Around the hunting weapon section I looked at knives and one of our marchers surprised me around the corner and scared me.
I bought Benadryl, a piss poor substitute for real anxiety medicine, specifically Vistaril, an antihistamine I took to keep me calm and to fight migraines. I had a prescription for Vistaril but I thought Benadryl did just as well and it cost a dollar a piece.
Walking out of the Wal-Mart to our red convoy I dashed into a car immediately. Everybody was wearing the org t-shirt. People tried to speak to me and I could not, I could expel frustrations to mask the fear I had and that was all. I wanted to throw up.
I popped four benadryl and sat in the car until we left, when my vale of quiet was broken.
What’s White, Weighs Three Tons, and Wants You Dead?
Across from the Farmer’s Market we stood at the parking garage and waited for somebody to tell us where we’d be meeting our marching party. It was hot and I realized I’d made a mistake wearing the M65. Out of the parking garage came a white Chevrolet S-10 with two up front, four in the back. They had on riot gear, some homemade shields with org insignia on them and white and black helmets on their head. I realized that it was a Traditional Worker’s Party battalion. They held clubs, some makeshift.
We froze and let them pass and one flashed an OK symbol at us so I flashed a middle finger. It wasn’t defiance or bravery. I just needed them to know I hated them. It wasn’t exhilarating. Just automatic actions of a cornered animal who couldn’t keep it together and could have gotten people hurt all for a gesture.
They had somewhere important to be that day. As they drove off I said to my mates: “They certainly fit the stereotype. They look like fucking nerds.”
They do and they are. These demonstrations feel like a costumed game of capture the flag. Kids in shoe-polish toothbrush mustaches, jackboots two sizes too big, the workers of the world blinded by thrift store ushankas. But the game takes up a whole city and there’s no trophy at the end and the air crackles, straightening your spine and putting your hair on end. These kids want each other dead. Politics quit taking care of people so the result is this chess match.
And they are maladjustants, pallid and prosaic monsters. I don’t think the far right can be understood as nerd jihad. But they see a society that won’t work for them and their response is to call for apocalyptic blood-letting based on shadow conspiracies born in DNA. The desires they cradle as their motivation are human ones: to remove the alienation they’ve toiled under and the black goiter named depression only they can see in the mirror, all in hopes of something that gives them meaning.
But too much is made of motivation and what they’ll do is what matters. What they do is wear battlegear and terrorize anybody that doesn’t fit their ideal, including leftists in bandanas and hats.
That was the first time they appeared as human to me and it all went away in the exhaust of a Chevy S-10. I saw what I always knew. They sold their right to tell their story. They sold their humanity.
Our regiment stopped at a church to get out of the heat, to eat, and to piss. After marching all day it was good to be safe for a minute.
As we left we saw people chasing away that S-10. The S-10 swerved off the road and onto the sidewalk and then away. Somebody closer to the church told us the truck tried to drive into the church parking lot where we were to attack whoever stood outside.
How many white S-10s were in Charlottesville that day?
We met on the roof of the parking garage. The dread came back to me as soon as I learned we were meeting our group on the top of the garage.
I looked up at the sky. That’s when I saw the helicopters, conspicuous as wasps crawling on a robin’s egg. They were circumnavigating the city and I guess it was nice for me to think they were here just for us.
We tied on armbands and walked into the city. I thought about black helicopters and white S-10s.
We stepped out of the parking garage a 100 deep company of lambs. Nobody armed. I dropped my knife in a fellow traveller’s car. Once we got on Market Street flanked we started chanting “A Anti Antifascista”. I felt as real as a civil war reenactor singing “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.
We sang “John Brown’s Body”. I found myself struck dumb and I couldn’t sing. I could weep. I kept marching. The brunching Charlottesvillians started applauding. All I could remember was a sign that got shared online: if Hillary Won We’d Be At Brunch. If they were God they’d have flooded the world two weeks after the rainbow.
We passed a group and chanted their name while holding up fists until we settled at a little park. The idea every side in the market of ideas gets an equal share proven best by the fact that at that point, with all the fury and terror of the 11th behind them, now they were out parading, walking up the streets with only choruses of boos to stop them.
We chanted and let them know we hated them. At some point I saw a fascist break away from the parade and attack someone at the edge of the crowd. I couldn’t tell how successful they were.
A smoke canister fell and exploded. We stood and watched as dark fog rolled to us and comrades went for balaclavas to cover their eyes. Those of us unfazed turned around and saw Richard Spencer walking on the opposite sidewalk. He was puffy and wearing aviator sunglasses with a bodyguard. If we all walked over and bumrushed him and curbstomped it’d have been the greatest bit of good any of us ever did.
Sooner or later somebody gave us marching orders another way. So we did, chanting. We passed under a bridge, railway or otherwise. I thought it’d be a good place to be shot to little shreds with semi automatics. I closed my eyes and kept walking, just thinking I was in a parade on a hot day.
By the time we got to the end of the road somebody informed us the communities were there protected. Two civilians were apparently outside walking around with black masks and bows and arrows.
Once we heard that it seemed like the parade was over. The day was done. A street close to our parking garage became the sight for a victory parade. Whose streets? Our streets. Someone flew the International Brigades flag and I smiled and thought about all the writers better than me whose hearts were swept away by the Spanish Anarchists, so much they were willing to die fighting for it against the Falange and Franco, how what hate kills never really dies as long as the spirit moves us still, how even if Rojava falls it joins the righteous somewhere, and how love for humanity cannot die, how the most probable form of reincarnation there is is our souls marching with John Brown and Salvador Allende until injustice dies.
Then the car came.
In high school when we could get the small grass field away from the pick up footballers we would play a field long version of hacky sack. Someone would stand far away and punt the hacky sack high in the sky and we’d chase it and try to keep it in play. We’d tackle each other, not meaning too, all in an attempt to keep that hacky sack up in the sky and our streak unaffected. I can’t recall the game ever getting more than one or two punts in where the ball would spin for a miraculous second or two.
When it finally came down from its extraordinary heights my immediate assumption was it was tear gas. And the glint I could swear I saw was the sun off the canister. I thought the big crash I heard were riot shields on marching skulls. I thought it was phalanx of fascists surprising marching counter protestors. It never occured to me what it may have actually been because I had no vocabulary for what a car careening through a crowd is. But now I do.
Charlottesville: the sound of a Dodge Challenger that failed to increase the length and girth of James Fields hitting 20 plus and killing one. A sound like a metal grasshopper rubbing its legs. The mirror ball: a concept invented by Turner Youngblood Smith to describe the car mirror knocked off of the Challenger into the crowd marching ever forward. A moment when the unfamiliar makes all space around it infinite forever and itself known to the normal until it changes its definition.
These are definitions written in smeared flesh and gore across a paved road now named Heyer Street. And they never end as long as the people who were there are alive. That space is now our kingdom.
The Woman I Saw
“We’ve gotta get moving.” We walked on the sidewalk to the parking garage, trying to stop a trample. A woman and her friend ran over to the sidewalk. She was drooling and crying. I saw her and I wanted to help her. Her friend goaded her to sit down and I realized there was nothing I could do.
People were running in whatever direction they could. I stood and rallied people together though I wasn’t a marshall. Somebody pushed elevator buttons. We wanted to send a party in advance to scope everything out. The elevators were out of order.
I looked back to the women and she was gone.
A Moment With the Guard
At the mouth of the parking garage stood a man in gear holding an assault rifle. I walked in front of him and closed my eyes one more time because I didn’t want the last thing to be a barrel of a gun.
Even near possible death I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle the facts that I was a coward who came here on a coin toss who just wanted to go home and write about it all. I thought about the records I hadn’t heard and relationships I could cobble together out of the mess I was.
All I had was the dumb animal will to live. If a coward had shot me, another coward, he wouldn’t have killed an ideology. Just a customer service agent who did a right thing once after years of inaction and mealy mouthed brandy soaked sitting room debate. And I can’t say that fate was scarier than dying.
We passed and there was no gunshot. We weren’t positive if the stairs were open or had been locked and our group fanned out in a line like ducks in a carnival shooting game. Finally we found the stairs and were able to get a look at the street.
Armored trucks drove by and there was something in the air you could feel but couldn’t see. An ambulance parked in the middle of the street. EMTs pushed a stretcher with a body on it up the street, the body quaking as they pushed. In the middle of all this I saw Cornel West walking up the street with more purpose than me. He was going towards the event.
Our heads poked around the corner and the top of the garage was still. We got in our cars and drove away, but I would have to stay in Charlottesville a little longer. My party was separated from someone.
We were parked for an hour or so but it felt like forever. When you’re presuming yourself dead in a sedan, you have a clam only to stave away what you know is on its way. YOu’re crushed under the weight of what may come. You cannot see a drooping star, smell lilacs as they bloom.
The news came in and we learned what that awful noise was. A man driving a car into a crowd of protesters, that sound of large punch hitting a bigger head, the thing that launched my mirror ball.
I sat in that a car. Every car in my periphery was an S-10 or Dodge muscle car on the prowl, coming to finish what my middle finger started. I didn’t pray. I just sat, wanting to close my eyes, but failing.
On our drive back we heard someone with a gun tried to go into that church we had refueled at. Days later we all recognized the parking garage in a picture of DeAndre Harris being beat by the Traditional Workers Party.
My ass in that car was just another twist of fate.
Teetotallers were drinking. I had one only because it’s all I knew I could handle and ordered a country fried steak. The server noted it was called The Big Appetite. No matter what you suffered and saw as soon as you hit shore a bigger person is subject to the casual analysis of menu copywriting and every meal that isn’t two lentils in a saucer covered in olive oil is a playground for scorn.
Outside I went to get my jacket and talked about anxiety medication with a friend. I went home, took four more, and slept for the rest of the day
I drove us over in my Buick playing Fela Kuti’s “Coffin for the Head of State”. I didn’t have a suit so I wore a denim jacket with a boutonniere and a blue shirt with jeans and some boots, which was as proletariat and respectful as I could manage without sweating to death. We parked a block or two away from the park and we walked passing and nodding to lookouts until we came to the small circle of candle light affixed around one man manning a bullhorn.
I stood and held a votive candle, my hands sweating from the fire. I stood and kept watch on the outside of the circle. I was waiting for a drive-by.
In the middle: we heard speeches from those who suffered from the attacks. We heard from a white girl who told us white people needed to do better and be on the forefront of these battles. I didn’t recognize her. I watched a pretty fiery sermon from a local political candidate. My roommate did his bit and made sure to tell everyone he wasn’t a straight white man and he gave a good impromptu speech and when he came back I hugged him. Someone suggested a march to the Lee statue. Everyone clapped.
At some point the megaphone dropped and I felt that pain in my head and excused myself. I was too overwhelmed and my friend agreed to drive me to their place. She suggested I put on some music I love so I played “I Would Die 4 U” until we got to her house. She gave me a glass of water and I drove home on the roads I knew where no marchers were, listening to “Purple Rain”.
I got home and took Benadryl and laid on the couch in repose like Lenin on display. I was trying for power over death and ended up not being able to sleep until my roommate got home.
The Hardest Sentence to Say
The lady who sat next to me at work saw me breaking down at my desk, not taking calls. I was wrenching my cheeks in my hands like putty and groaning in rage.
I sat that way, hunched over and tearing at myself.
I took a moment and gathered myself.
“I was in Charlottesville.”
“In all that mess?” She asked, shocked.
I nodded and sat there. “I’m not a Nazi.” I said. I don’t know why it was so hard to say.
I got more used to saying that sentence over the next four days.
Alt Right Security Guard
I can’t remember his name but I remember how he looked. He was lanky enough to imagine breaking like a twig and white enough to imagine him swearing revenge on the call center and spraying it full of holes. Mostly he just seemed lonesome every time he talked to team leads about the treachery of Zoe Quinn.
I kept waiting for him to realize my positions. We had a few conversations I kept as terse as I could. I kept waiting him to give me a pitch about the horrors of chain immigration. He told me he wanted to catch who smoked weed in the locker room and I knew then he had never had a real job. He lamented not enough people getting fired and rowdy so he could escort them out an I knew then he had never worked in a call center long enough to realize the reason nobody got rowdy was they were probably relieved.
I figured if I ever organized that place he’d be the pinkerton who murdered me but neither of us lasted much longer there. I resigned for “health reasons”. Who knows where he is. Maybe I’ll see him on the news.
Recover and Return
They asked me what I thought, what I wished I thought, what feeling came up when I thought of Charlottesville, where I could feel the terror. They asked me to describe it. My eyes were told to go back and forth and watch my therapist’s fingers go to and fro. It helped a little. This chapbook takes some of that structure: my thoughts, wishes, the experiences, and where it hurt the most.
I didn’t plan for having to see it again. Richard Spencer came back to Charlottesville. His cronies tucked polos into khakis and talked about heritage.
I prepared to drive back down, all alone. I was ready to die, I guess, or get hurt, but they left before I could even get in the car.
And this will be how it always goes. I am in an infinite space where the moments and sounds can reappear any moment, sometimes in my memory, sometimes on the news; players in the drama might be losing steam but the cause of white supremacy and fascism is alive and well. In this space my shadow ran away and left me naked. I’m unarmed as the day I was born because you can’t fight memory. If you did there wouldn’t be much of you left. So all I have is surviving and resurviving and surviving again.
This is land you cannot tame. The soil is rich but nothing but the grit of stomping over the fetishized objects of now lost causes, women disappearing in crowds and injuries that have healed at least physically.
But this is my land. I am its king.
I told everything but the thing that sticks with me the most. Right the moment that march began, it kicked off with the white girl screaming, “White people get over here!”
Two motorcycles stood awaiting, probably Harleys. They revved and sped right as we began to march. I imagined a body dropped there on the sidewalk. Right as we started walking forward I saw all the formations coalescing together again with no answers to the simple question, “What’s happening?” The motorcycles sped away and I bolted in the direction of my car, up the dark street. It was a still night except for my hyperventilating.
I wept and my friend walked beside me. “I’m a fucking coward. I’m a fucking coward.”
This is the song I played walking to my play death on the coach. All the other music was irrelevant, just that song with its simple refrain: “I’m a fucking coward.”
“John Brown’s Body” is lost. There is just the coward’s soul, marching on.