Nearly home, nearly home. Another mile. Another mile. One foot in front of the other foot. Poor little ghost of a girl.
The song, “Take These Chains From My Heart,” by Hank Williams comes on the radio. The jolly old cadence is at odds with the sorrowful lyrics, and it makes me ache.
I’m driving along the M-45 highway. It’s night, it’s misty, and I miss her. How it used to be. My name is James Harrow. I drive a black Ford Fairmont. The year is 1979.
I need new wiper blades. As it is now, they swing and smear the fallen rain in a thick and filmy coat across the glass. This, compounded by the refraction of the headlights on the shining pavement, and the lack of sensible lighting on this old road at night, and saying that it is hard to see becomes an understatement.
There are figures out there. People, in the periphery of the beams of light. They watch me. They haunt me. They want my baby. They’ve had their eyes on me for quite some time, a collective specter that spies through an eyeglass in the sky.
My wife, Cassandra, is pregnant. We’ve tried for a long time. I remember that night, when we “conceived.” She was passionate. She embraced me as I was, in that dingy hotel room. I remember looking past her bare shoulders as she straddled me, the moonbeams cast across the room, a pallid preservation of purity and pensiveness as we made love. There was a blue woman in the room with us, standing silently in the corner. She watched with empty eyes. In the moment of climax, she approached and caressed Cassandra’s belly and smiled, but Cassandra felt nothing.
It wasn’t long before we had the good news. My love was with child, and I knew it wasn’t mine.
[In 1913, the Michigan state legislature enacted a law permitting the state to sterilize “mentally defective persons.”]
Was this child true? Where did it come from? Certainly, this child is there for me to care for it. But who does it belong to, really?
I push onward through the midnight mist. I light a cigarette. The prostitute in the passenger seat asks me for a drag, and I comply, though somewhat apprehensively. She takes a long drag, and when I pull away, there is nothing there but a wisp of smoke.
I’m not sure what I did to deserve this. I know that I’m not right, that because I can see what others can’t, that it somehow makes me crazy. It’s not in my control. And now they want my baby.
|U.S. eugenics poster advocating for the removal of genetic "defectives" such as the insane, "feeble-minded" and criminals, and supporting the selective breeding of "high-grade" individuals, c. 1926|
What gives someone the right to take my life away? Is it not a human right to reproduce? My years in the ward should not invalidate me from enjoying my humanity. I have lacked enough of a normal life as it is, and now you take my future away from me. Who are you to make such choices? Darwin is not god, and neither are you, sir. You and your congress. You and your “laws” are no better than the ink on this paper.
My older brother leans forward from the back seat, putting his arm across my neck in a playful strangle. I haven’t seen him since I was ten years old. I missed out on our time together. And yet here he is.
“You have to do it, Jim,” he says.
“Do it for your daughter.”
It’s a girl? “What’s her name?”
“How should I know! She isn’t even born yet.” He gives me a big open-mouthed smile, then looks out toward the dim-lit road. “You need to go home.”
“How can I go home,” I ask, “when I know that it’s nothing but lies? This girl is not mine. This life is not mine.”
“Make it yours,” he says. “It’s in your control.”
I look into the rearview mirror to meet his gaze, but all I see is the red glow of the tail-lights over the steady roll of the wet road behind me.
I exit the M-45 and make my way home. I pull the Ford Fairmont into the driveway. The house looms in front of me, and baby’s cries echo in my head. No, they’re not real. I shake my head to dissipate them, to dissolve them from my mind. This is driving me crazy. I pause a moment before reaching into the glove compartment and gripping the .38 revolver.
What should I call her? What’s an appropriate name for a little girl? I wonder if she will look like Cassie, or if will she look like me. I wonder if that can even be possible.
I open the revolver and count the rounds. There are three in place, and I rotate the first to meet with the chamber and the hammer. I wonder about where the other bullets are, but my mind struggles to stray from the task at hand. Where are the other bullets?
I slump into the kitchen. There’s a single-bulb light hanging from the ceiling, the only light source in the room, and it casts a long shadow on my wife as I approach from behind. She is rummaging through the refrigerator, saying inane things, mumbling in indiscernible language, unaware of what I hold in my hand.
We’ve been trying for so long. I’m not sure if I have the heart to tell her. I’m not sure if I have a heart at all, anymore, not with some other part of me missing. My pride, my manhood, my right to life, my right to enjoyment, a sense of fulfillment, a destiny…
She closes the door of the fridge and turns to greet me with a smile. She embraces me, leans in for a kiss. I do not turn away, but I do not return this affection, either. She pauses, takes a step back, puzzled. She looks down at the gun, and then at my face. Her lips quiver as she starts asking questions. So many questions. And yet there is only one answer in my mind.
Cassandra is pleading with me, she shrieks and cries and backs away from me. She asks me why. I raise the gun to meet her gaze. Her fiery blue eyes dart around the room. She tries to step away, but I block her every move. She reaches out for me, but my hand does not waver.
“It’s the baby, Cassie,” I tell her, “This baby isn’t ours. It will never be ours.”
“I don’t understand,” she says, “Of course it’s ours. We’ve wanted a child for years. Why do this now? Please, Jim, talk to me.”
“Something wasn’t right about that night. There was someone in the room with us. She put this thing in you. I’m sterile, Cassie. We could never have a baby together.”
“Who else, Jim? You know it’s alway been just us two. And now we have our child.”
“We have nothing, Cassie. I have nothing. Left to give. I went for a drive tonight. A long one. And I’ve been thinking. I talked-”
“Talked. You talked to who? There’s nobody here to talk to except for me, dear. You know you can’t drive. You’ve been sitting out there in the car for hours. You can’t go anywhere. You know that.”
Of course I can drive. Of course I can. “I just drove to the end of the forty-five and back with my brother. I have friends, Cassie. You can’t take that away from me.”
I lower the gun to her swollen belly. She moves her hands to cover it in futility. Tears adorn her cheeks like shimmering creeks in winter. I know that I cannot do this. Not in this way. It’s the medicine talking again. That government-approved model of taking life, the future, the rights of its citizens. I know that I can’t go back from what I’ve done here. I retreat from my wife and bring the barrel of the revolver between my teeth. I tell her to stay back, and as she rushes to me, under that singular light, I squeeze the trigger and…
|Eugenics supporters hold signs criticizing various "genetically inferior" groups. Wall Street, New York, c. 1915. (wikipedia)|
James Harrow is an externalization of the struggle of mankind. It is in the nature of man to strive to better oneself, and yet it is also possible to give up entirely in the face of adversity. He is a character, and yet he is so much more. He is cowardice, strength, resolve, all of those things. He is raw emotion and torment. He is war and love and peace and life and suicide, wretchedness and forgiveness. Most importantly, he is human. In truth, he is more human than most of us. He feels more than we can ever imagine, and in response, he is more than a little bit “mad.” But in his madness, he has access to higher truths, ones beyond our comprehension, unfiltered by centuries of societal standards and the purification, the dilution of what it means to be human.
In regards to his role as a man who was sterilized against his will, just like many real people in this country and around the world during the 20th century, he is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he is seen as less than human in the eyes of society. His mental stability was never a handicap in terms of being alive. But when it comes to standards and systems and the need to “belong” in a world that otherwise may not accept you for who you are, it caused more than a few issues. The fact that the practice of involuntary sterilization continued well into the 1970’s in some states is an affront to American freedom and beliefs. This is nothing new, of course. In fact, it only compounds the notion that 20th century America was just the beginning of the downfall of true freedom. It’s an illusion, and always has been. There will always be superiors. There will always be standards. Fail to meet them, and you’ll be thrown over the cliff atop a growing mountain of bodies belonging to the degenerate population.
It’s not going away any time soon, either. Selective breeding, sterilization, eugenics, genocide, enslavement- it’s been around as long as people have been on the planet. It’s just in our nature. You can argue that things are getting better, but you’d be wrong. It just more well hidden than it used to be. Spend any amount of time searching the web for crimes and other sick behavior and you’re bound to get a rude awakening on the nature of people. Now, I know you think you know where this is going. Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. The nature and the acts of man are a very complicated issue, and the stories of people like Fred Aslin and his family are just the tip of the iceberg. Through a particular lense, a doctor tying someone’s tubes without their consent is not too far removed from a member of a Mexican drug cartel beheading someone with a chainsaw to demonstrate their power over rivals in the great borderland drug wars. That’s a bit of a stretch, isn’t it? It certainly is, but it also isn’t without its merits.
They are taking a life into their hands. Sure, one is horribly more violent than the other, but it’s the same idea. Control. A decision made for them as a means to an end.
The Michigan Forty-Five is not a real place. Well, it is, but not in this instance. It’s a real highway in the great state of Michigan, but it’s also a place where James Harrow goes in his mind to spend time with himself and his thoughts. These thoughts manifest as people, and his subconscious mind is able to bond with the conscious, and his thoughts aren’t easy to understand for everyday people. Who’s to say someone isn’t a genius just because you can’t understand them? Look at people like Albert Einstein. People thought he was mentally handicapped as a child, but he developed differently from us, finding a new way to express himself and communicate. Of course, he is still human. Everyone has their limits. But he is not so far removed from someone like James Harrow, who perceives the world in a different way, and no one else knows how to communicate with him. Who am I to say that anything he says is true, let alone reality? Because of this, he could easily be classified as “feeble-minded,” “schizophrenic,” “insane,” or even “retarded,” if he is not able to articulate himself right. Misunderstood doesn’t even begin to describe it. Who’s to say that their a degenerate just we can’t understand them properly? Explain it to me, please. I’ll wait.
Because of this, society has deemed them “unfit,” to participate in its normality. And so we hide them, tuck them away, sweep them under the rug to be forgotten about. Parents. People whose choices led to the creation of this “defect,” this blemish on society’s wet fur coat. And then you get situations like Willowbrook.
Some thoughts that might cross your mind after watching that may go something like this: “Oh, thank God they fixed that situation. Thank God one of the Kennedy’s said we should do something about it. I’m glad we worked that out. All hail the beautiful Geraldo Rivera for exposing such an abomination in our country, our own backyard. I’m so glad things have improved so much since 1972.” You’re not entirely wrong. Things have certainly improved, there’s no denying that. But have we really fixed the problem? If these people can’t participate in everyday society, then where do they belong? One the streets, homeless? Certainly not. There must be somewhere they can go, someone to turn to, someone to trust. Is that someone you? I’m not offering any answers here, I’m just exploring the possibilities.
But you know what? None of this is your fault. You’re not responsible, and neither am I. We have zero obligation to do something about it. We’ll just them rot outside, mentally and physically. There’s only so much we can do. They’re lost. They’re confused. They’re just suffering through life anyway, because they can’t fully appreciate life the same way we can, like normal people. Like civilized people. Like clean people. Like real people.
It is common knowledge (or should be) that lead causes harm to the human body whether you are a child or an adult. When lead is exposed within the body of a child at low amounts, it can be in association with “learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, behavior issues, nervous system damage, speech and language impairment, decreased muscle growth, decreased bone growth, kidney damage. High levels of lead are life threatening and can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and death.”
Even though adults are no longer really growing, lead can still be harmful and should be of concern. Since adults are usually larger than children, higher amounts of lead would be needed to cause injury, but the harm lead can do to an adult is serious. “High levels of lead can cause increased chance of illness during pregnancy, harm to a fetus, including brain damage or death fertility problems in both men and women, high blood pressure, digestive issues, nerve disorders, memory and concentration problems, muscle and joint pain.” I found these effects on kingcounty.gov.
An interesting aspect of the mentality that some people have in regards to eugenics is that it is perfectly acceptable for them to act in such a way. It’s totally okay for someone in your generation to decide what is best for the future generations. After all, the older is responsible for the younger until they can take of themselves. That is how the cycle of life is supposed to work, according to societal laws, at least in the United States. Eugenics is what happens when you realized you fucked up. “Oh, shit,” you think, “I can’t have any of these people finding out that I’m somehow responsible for the existence of these crimes, these travesties.” You can’t have that, now, can you? What better way to fix the problem than to wash it all away, just wipe your hands, clean your plate, dap the corners of your crooked mouth with your silk handkerchief and excuse yourself from the table, upon which lies a feast of fallacy, a graveyard of guilt that are content to just walk away from. That’s what happened with Willowbrook, and its still happening today.
Don’t you understand that you, the establishment elite, are the ones ultimately responsible for the mess we’re in? I’ll reign it in a bit here to focus on the issue of lead poisoning. It’s an oversight, plain and simple. You fucked up, you didn’t realize that there was lead in the paint and the toys your children were playing with. Now they’re fucked up because of your negligence. Congratulations, how do you feel? You should probably own up to your mistake like an adult and admit you did something wrong. Nope, hold on, we’re going to call a deflection on that one and blame the manufacturer of these products, not your lack of attention to detail and feigning of responsibility. That’ll just make everything better. Of course, they shouldn’t be using lead in children’s products in the first place, but what does it say about you if you don’t take the time to investigate what your kid is about to put in their mouth? Not only that, but how are you going to deal with a child who has been damaged by this? They might not ever be able to talk right or walk right. They’ll never be the same again, and neither will you.
The same logic, in some capacity, can be applied to powers that be in the United States of America. Whether they like it or not, it is their job to make sure the country runs in top form, come hell or high water. We the people put them there to do that very thing, and they fail to uphold that duty every single day. We elected our president, we elected our congress. We hold the power to hold them up and tear them down. We owe them nothing. They owe us everything. In a way, they are supposed to look after us and our best interest. They are supposed to communicate with us and represent our beliefs and goals, and strive to uphold those throughout their term in office. How many do you see doing that today?
Few, if any.
There’s a reason they were called The Founding “Fathers.” But no, they hold no parental responsibility to the child they gave birth to, the one they conceived and cultivated. It’s been handed down through the generations and increasingly abused and violated as time has gone on. Now we sit in the lap of our perverted Uncle Sam as he tickles us in inappropriate ways, feeling us up to find our most vulnerable spots. It’s only a matter of time before we’ll be locked in a battle for our very soul, before it is raped and taken from us by the very people we elected to protect us.
But I digress. What does this all have to do with fictional James Harrow, the very real Fred Aslin, and the eugenics movement in 20th century America? The advocates for eugenics see themselves as superior participants of the human race. The champions, the winners, if you will. They don’t think we should have to look out for or put up with degenerates dragging down our progress as a civilization. They shouldn’t be aloud to reproduce and further spread their seed of failed humanity. They are not aloud to stand along side us, the superior people. Either they choose not to admit it, to turn a blind a eye to the truth, or they really do believe that they are not responsible for feeble-minded and inept members of society. Did they ever stop to think about how they came to be here in the first place? They didn’t just appear as a bane to societal progress (in their point of view). They had to come from somewhere. Could it be that they came from… poor decisions made by “normal” people? Not even conscious mistakes, but mistakes in biology, made during and after conception. These are things we have no control over. But we want it. We want to have control over our mistakes. And so we cover them up.
It’s a stereotype for the family to keep their deformed, mentally handicapped kid locked in the basement out of shame. It’s a trope, one utilized in numerous movies and books. But it’s a stereotype for a reason. It’s a problem that won’t go away. There’s the usual arc of the “freak” being discovered by a naive and innocent kid that befriends him, sees the humanity in him, and they go on a journey of discovery, convincing the townsfolk that he is just as much of a person as anyone else, and that they have a place in society as well. It’s well-worn territory, and so my message here should be obvious. We are making slow and steady progress towards achieving something resembling tolerance. But there will always be people who think they are superior to others. It will never change. And there are a great number of people who spend their lives helping those who cannot help themselves. The thing is, they are spread out all over the globe. Of course, we all need help. All of us, in every country, every continent. In stretching ourselves so thin and helping out other countries with their problems, we have not taken the time or resources to adequately take care of our own problems. Corruption is spreading, and America is breaking down from the inside out.
I’m pulling out way too far on this message, as I usually do. I’m not going to apologize for that. I have big ideas and big problems with petty solutions. Most of my go-to examples here have long been resolved. I only highlight in this essay to bring attention to the fact that these problems are not new, and we always have opportunities to help out in various ways. Many of our institutions are closed, and people that need help aren’t able to get it. So they wander the streets, alone, confused, and desperate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed a homeless man talking to himself on the sidewalk. They seem angry, lost, unaware of how to deal with the reality of their situation. They are broken people, and they need help.
James Harrow may be a fictional character, but his problems are very real. The whole point of his tragic tale is to question what is real and what isn’t. If you are confused about which is which, then look again. Remember that you cannot trust him. The memory of his wife, the blue woman, the brother, the prostitute - can you tell who is real? The better question might be, can James himself tell who is real? Is his wife real? Would a sensible woman like Cassandra marry a mentally unstable man like James? Would you? Ever sense being sterilized against his will, he has had visions - vivid nightmares of children that don’t belong to him, and they are crying uncontrollably. He can’t cannot reach them to comfort them. He cannot comfort himself from that nightmare. And yet this nightmare is also a reality, because he will never have children. That light swinging overhead is much like the light from the camera within Willowbrook: a single source of clarity for him to face the harsh truth of his meaningless existence. The cold tile of the floor is like that of the asylum, and he huddles down in darkness, wailing, crying for exposure. His only company is the ghosts of memories that linger in his mind.
In a dark room, he trembles, left there alone.