By: BW Ellis
Originally Published: May, 18th 2014
Note: This is a speculative fiction short story based on the lives of several people, their names and the specific circumstances of the events have been either omitted or altered.
He sits across from me, the “representative of the people” who tells me that what I suggest is Marxism and a “violation of the capitalistic model that has made this country great”. At this point I no longer hear him, I only hear the echoes of the cries of pain my daughter felt upon her long and arduous death. I hear the suffering of my son who even in this moment fights for breath in his 8 year old poisoned lungs.
The platitudes and religious dogma that spills forth from the mouth of this conservative family congress man is belied by the torrent of toxic fluids he voted to allow in the dumping on my home. The poisoning of my entire family, and the family of so many of my friends, neighbors, and strangers who are no more deserving of their fate as this man is deserving of his position of power or luxurious life.
I felt the attraction of the violent act in this moment. The will to burst from the confining boundaries of civilized society to take my revenge, but this well paid and polished pawn does not hold enough responsibility for his death to make any difference. My family will still die, I will still die, and the unending well of our sorrow and suffering will barely cause a ripple in the way they contaminate our lives.
I never attempted to be a warrior on the fight for Social Justice, to wield the sword and hack apart the bodies of the men and women who seek fortune over the lives of people they do not know. In fact, before this happened I detested violence and could not, would not, understand the reasoning behind the wars and the terrorists actions.
I believed, as many do, that the plight of the victim was nothing to use as justification for the violent attacks on those who had victimized them, but now that our stars and stripes protect the vile polluters who have killed off everything that I love I am beginning to see why they fight. My eyes were covered in the rosy lenses of patriotism and the full throated support of an economic system that now renders us infirm, racked with unendurable pain, and promises to take every inch of us while leaving nothing.
This has become the defining event of my life. An unknown moment in an anonymous board room when one suit convinced another suit that my life and the lives of every one I love were dispensable to their bottom line. That the people in our representative block of power would be easily castrated into impotence with the application of a few campaign contributions. That the will of the people would be made docile and willing to undergo intolerable violations with the application of the appropriate amount of patriotism and capitalistic fervor.
There was life before that unknown moment in the boardroom. There was hope and love and inspiration and a vision of a future as clean and beautiful as the past that preceded it. I had a life before the energy companies discovered their latest technologies to extract millennia old pockets of power from within the Earth’s crust, a life that involved love and the promise of beauty.
I lived a simple life in the beauty of the coastline. The waters rushing into the beaches that I grew up upon provided my father with his livelihood and my mother with her inspirations. I swam in the waters, baked my skin to a golden brown on its shores, met the woman who became my wife and the mother of my children on these waters.
I built up a way of life catering to the throngs of people who used my beloved shores as an escape from their plains and mountains and cities. They all exclaimed how life affirming the experience of being here was while consuming foods that made them fat and drink that made them stupid.
For me the quest to explore the waters around me became my passion and profession. I dove under her surface and explored her depths with bankers and accountants and contractors and secretaries. People from all walks of life who strove to escape the doldrums of their niche in society, to see what a slice of life in another part of the world looked, sounded, and felt like.
They peer into the depths to find themselves hiding in the darkness. While the soul search reveals nothing in the practical they all seem to leave with a sense of wholeness that in a very limited way I envied. I discovered the absolute wonders of my realm at a very young age and therefore expect the feeling of awe and greatness in my underwater kingdom when I go down into it. The feelings these visitors take with them resided within my heart daily and therefore could not be so easily identified, except by their absence.
I can tell, while sitting in my dive shop during the season of vacations and excursions, the people who will fall in love with the oceans, with the sea. I can see the looks of anticipation versus the looks of fear or compliance with the spouse or loved one who dragged them along. They look at the pictures I have taken and adorned my shop with as either windows into a wondrous kingdom or portholes into a hellish region they do not understand.
The ones that are overcoming fear are the worst to teach, or to dive with. They are compelled by an outside force to return to the ancestral ocean home of our species and they do it with disdainful displeasure. The credit card is passed to me with a reluctant hand that has long since filed the transaction in the segment of their minds marked “regret”.
These are the people who make the decisions that doom us all. These are the people who seek to crush under the jack boot of unregulated capitalism all those who live and breath and exist in this 3/5ths of the planet they do not understand. These are the people who have killed me and mine.
They take the qualifying classes to learn how to survive in the alien environment and are motivated beyond their deep misunderstanding of the world due to the unending requirement they have to breath.
Encumbered by the weight and awkwardness of the gear I have strapped to their pudgy frame they descend into the local community pool to get a chlorinated simulation of the salt water experience they have just paid so handsomely for. Fumbling with regulators and combining crude gestures into the sign language of vital communications they find their way sufficiently for me to sign off on the paper card that declares that they are not complete and total idiots.
We schedule the time for the actual expedition and a solid 20% drop out for fear or faking of injury so their precious vacation time can remain positioned in the bars and dining establishments with “authentic” and “cultural” flavors that are just as available down the street from their own homes should they ever shed their class and race barriers for long enough to try them.
On the boat we discover the effect the waves have on the stomachs and constitutions of the intrepid travelers and for fear of vomiting in their masks several others avoid the dive. In this moment I am reminded of how Coleman’s mustard made more money off the condiment left on the plate than that eaten by the patron.
I remember feeling a smug superiority over the people who had paid me for nothing more that the approach to the awe inspiring event. In a large way I feel the acts perpetrated against us sprang from the will of these people to pay me back for the perceived slight. I would’ve given back the money if it would’ve prevented the caustic poisons from ripping my life apart, but something tells me that anyone that vein and fickle would have killed us none the less.
The waters I dive in are warm and tranquil, free of predators or ill will. The only animosity that exists within these tides are those brought with us so I tell my remaining squad of divers that we are all brothers and sisters in the dive. That we must pay each other every respect and watch for each other as if we all shared the bonds of genetics and romance that most securely fasten us all together.
My younger brother goes out with me to assist the fledgling explorers and avoid the dire consequences of ignorance while brushing your belly on the bottom of the sea. He demonstrates with practiced ease the backward drop into the water our father taught us decades before and the others look on with worry. I reassure them that the euphoria of the drop and the surprising buoyancy of the equipment will become the beginning of the story they tell friends and family in a week when they return safely to their cubicle or fluorescent illuminated cage.
The brave step up and are followed in by the few that require a gentle push and again I am ensnared in the question of what they expected when they walked into the shop. Like they would be magically transported into the depths, experience the wonders, then whisked away into a tropical hut with fruity drinks complete with the ridiculous umbrellas.
At this point the pessimism and snark usually reached a zenith and I myself discovered a great need to enter the water and become the person I would rather be. Transformed by the cool blue liquid into a better man who felt fellowship for these people who illicit such blunt disdain. To care for my fellow man in a way that I usually mock with scorn and derision.
I plunge into the depths and see my brother waving the wondering and chaotic mass into their buddy pairs, knocking on skulls to get their attention and waving them into a line behind me. I turn toward the reef I discovered with fins and a snorkel during my childhood exploits on the water and all the darkness in my heart fades to light at the sight of it.
The fantastic colors of the sea floor erupt into the spectrum of life seldom seen by the land locked primates and my heart swells in my chest for the fantastic beauty of it. The schools of fish almost seem to greet me in their playful dances of shimmering silver, yellow and blue. The endless waving of the nearby kelp forests providing a dull green backdrop to the elation of color before us.
I look back to the squad of clumsy divers attempting to control themselves in the irregular environment and instead of scorn I look upon them like I did my own children when they learned to dive with me. I take their hands and show them how to move in the water without throwing themselves off balance, how to use the overpriced underwater digital camera I rented to them to create the photographic evidence they would carry on their cell phones for years to come.
My brother signals toward a segment of the reef and as I approach I realize that its changed since last I was in these waters. A large barrel has crushed a section of the reef and by the labels on the container I see the reasoning.
This kind of dumping has become so regular in our little slice of heaven that we installed a winch and line to the boat for recovery. This metal drum with its mysterious contents will create another visit to the local Coast Guard authorities with the same empty platitudes that the fat cat politician delivers to my cancer ridden body. Only the disgust in the eyes of the Coast Guard officer is in line with my own, and she at least has a will to help. Investigations of these things generally go nowhere but there is value in the attempt.
With the help of some of the vacationing divers we use the cable to raise the recently discarded drum out of the depths and load it onto the boat. For the divers the distraction is part of the heroic tale that will entertain the co-workers around the water cooler or even become a collection of images on Facebook. For my brother and I the drum adds raw weight for the hatred and anger we feel toward the people who do this, or worst yet, allow it to be done.
The dive ends with a group photo taken at 75 feet floating just over the reef. The smiles that cannot form around the mouthpiece resonate in the eyes of the people in the shot and they all feel an unmistakable joy at being there and accomplishing the adventure they set out to experience. While nothing in comparison to being out here under water, the joy of a satisfied customer is a highlight of the day.
We return to shore and offload our exhausted crew, unload the equipment to be soaked overnight and cleaned in the morning. Once the hotel shuttles pick-up the adventures my brother and I take the boat several miles up the shore to the Coast Guard station to turn in the drum we found with coordinates and pictures.
The Captain on duty offers the same measure of rage and disgust that she had several times before when opening the cases that never seem to end in prosecutions. Our part was finished since we cleared the debris we could find from the sea floor, yet they now had to go looking for the dozens or hundreds of other drums in the area that these criminals spread.
Once again I wonder if it is the Earth they pollute or my family, the sea or the massive amount of life that exists both under the waves and off of the life that feeds us here on dry land. A passing thought at the time transformed into an overwhelming concern now.
A word he says, the bloated politician in the comfortable office, awakens me momentarily from my memories of a life gone to understand a fundamental truth to the situation I am caught up in. Consequences.
I and everyone I love is paying the consequences for this man’s apathy, for his failure as a representative of the people, for the low price it cost to buy him and his colleagues off. We pay with our blood, our money, with our pain and suffering, with our hopes and dreams for a brighter future.
The Coast Guard Captain used that word as well, consequences. From her lips the word came as a promise while the politician uttered it in the context of an excuse. “You do not understand the consequences to the economy of the region if we prosecute these people…”
Funny, because me and mine are living with the consequences of the previous decade of not holding them to account. I can’t help but wonder what the present would look like if in the past we prosecuted the c-level dough boys in the expensive clothes and finely appointed board rooms. Would they dump their poisons on us if they knew, not thought but knew, that they would be thrown into the maximum security prisons with the rapists and murderers.
If they were given the punishment that fit the crime when they committed it, rather than my son and daughter paying the price of their crimes going unpunished. The consequence of this man’s greed is not felt amongst the country club crowd that he would rather be with, it isn’t felt by the people whose homes escape being transformed into toxic waste dumps.
Again the feeling overtakes me and I find myself envisioning fishing hooks in blubbery cheeks, of acidic oily solvents eating away at the genitals the way they did my daughter, of black sores of rancid skin that mark both my son and my own bodies. My body holds to the norms of our ”civilized society” while my minds is at play in the fields of nightmares I would visit upon this man and those like him given five minutes in the same absence of consequences that the polluters of my world inhabit.
The sicknesses cause by this man’s apathy cannot be cured by getting politically active, they cannot be healed by protesting against the waste and destruction. Admittedly neither will the evisceration of the fat cat’s plentiful gut nor the torture and mutilation of the corporate officers who perpetrated these crimes, yet the heart wants so bad to visit upon them the horrors and agonies they dumped upon us.
I want them on their knees praying for mercy the way I was when my child melted into a painful puddle of blood and puss. When my wife held in her decaying arms the remainder of the life that once sprang from her womb so healthy and vibrant. I could think of no religious or intellectual parable to balm my burning heart or to quell the vicious hatred I have for the greedy men and women who murdered my family.
I remember the barrel and hundreds like it that I and others recover from the depths and deliver to the proper law enforcement attempting to stay within this broken system. My younger brother telling me that we need to patrol these waters, since the Coast Guard will not, and find the people responsible. To make them pay in ways that are beyond the cruel and unusual restrictions of the authorities.
I use tempered words and pacifistic reason to calm his rage while desperately trying to subdue the pit of hate within my own chest for what was happening, and I must admit that I myself did not believe the things I was saying to him. I too wanted to eat their hearts in the marketplace, but with my family to support and a civil society to maintain I was not willing to take that step into the chaos and black.
When my brother died it was far worst than anything he planned for the corporate polluters that he was so intent on hunting. The hooks and knives and tools on our boat could never deliver the depth or degree of torturous pain that the chemical wastes wracked his body with. I stood by in utter shock and horror at the way his limbs seemed to liquefy with each and every scream of agony that erupted from his lungs.
The echoes of those screams provide soundtrack to the look in his eyes the moment his body turned from vibrant and living to still and dead. In his case the end of life came in the form of relief from the hell visited upon him by our energy industry and in that microscopic way I was happy for him that it was over. The eyes I had seen throughout my life expressed something I never thought I could ever see, for the suits who poisoned him sent him directly to the only hell we could ever know. A hell of being trapped in a body left to their whims and profit motives.
Looking at the suit that cost more than my now repossessed boat, looking at the plump roundness of a sedentary lifestyle, the manicured fingernails and soft hands of a life spent in luxury I realized in that moment that he is not my representative. He may have purchased his seat with segments of his soul but that transaction did not include me or my family, especially after the dereliction of his duties that led to this end.
In my weathered and scarred hands I hold a file of images that are meant to shock him into action. Images of my family’s pains and suffering. Reports that’s scientifically proves beyond a shadow of a doubt the names and actions of the butchers who did this to us. I realize that the pages might as well be blank for all the good it will do in this office.
This is not pessimism, but realism. Not the failings of one putrid and disgusting man but of the system he plays within, a system without consequence. Of all the thoughts resonating within my mind as the pudgy hands gesticulate the thoughts of violence and retribution rise to the surface, and I have to grip the sides of my leather chair to stop them from reaching out and exhibiting my emotions upon his larynx.
It’s the same measure of control I used to stop myself on the day that it happened, the day the chemical release doomed my entire community. A measure of control I feel slipping away, day after day.
Perhaps it’s for the best that I will die soon, best that I don’t live with this simmering hate too much longer, best that I don’t have the time or the ability to act upon the violence in my heart. The more I think about it, the more I think not.
The patience, the willingness to accept what I can’t change, the urge to forgive what was done to my children, to my brother, to myself and my wife, maybe those are the problem.
We have a right to our rage, we have a right to feel betrayed by our government for failing to protect us, we have a right to seek a resolution. Not for us, it’s too late for us, but for the next family to swim in that paradise, for the next child to potentially be exposed to the poisons they dump.
We also have a responsibility to act on that rage. To demand by whatever means we can muster, a change in the ways things are, because for me and my family, things are pretty bad. That is what I see as Social Justice.
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