When I was six, I had this neighbor. He showed me a dirty magazine and wanted me to kiss him. I was repulsed and horrified. I said that I heard my mother calling and made my escape. As I went to track down my mother, I knew that she would be furious, and I paused, worried that if I told her, she might murder the guy.
Then I had a worse thought. What if I told her, and she told me that I was wrong? That I was rude to have refused to kiss the guy? I pictured her sternly ordering me to go back and kiss him.
Was this the world I lived in? Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me that an adult would think that it was okay to kiss a child — like that. So what if my initial instinct was wrong? What if this was just the beginning of being asked to do something I didn’t want to do with someone I didn’t want to do it with?
The thing is, if I had told my mother, she probably would have murdered the guy. My first instinct was correct. But that was when I started living in duo worlds — a world in which justice is swift and merciless, and a world in which it never comes.
As I grew up and learned about slavery and rape and genocide, the world in which justice is real became smaller and less realistic. The other world became my whole world.
After I graduated from high school, I was agoraphobic for 10 years. I just couldn’t face going out into that twisted and corrupt world. I knew that I didn’t have a place in it — or maybe I was afraid that I did. One day, I woke up, and I was twenty-seven, and I realized that there weren’t two worlds.
We all live in a world in which people hurt and kill other people, for no reason. We all live in a world where children are put in cages, and that the majority of the population, myself included, just let that happen. We’re not happy about it, but we don’t know what to do about it, either.
How do you explain to someone who thinks that it’s okay to hurt children, that it’s not? If someone doesn’t inherently know that, is there even a conversation we can have with them?
We also live in a world in which people actively fight to save those children. We are surrounded by people who rescue children from fires and car wrecks and human trafficking. We live in a world in which young people become politicians just so that they can call out the corruption of the system that we operate within.
Every time I feel so weak that I’m not even sure I’ll even have the strength to draw in my next breath, in that same breath, someone else is using their words or their hands to help someone else.
It doesn’t seem like one world should be able to hold the depths of depravity and the heights of generosity that it does, but it does.
When I was young, I thought I’d be one of the Good Ones, I’d make the world a better place. In my heart, I was a revolutionary. Now, I’m a member of the Banal, a person who throws up her hands in the face of evil.
It looks like I’m a productive member of society, going out and working and cracking wise with my coworkers and friends. In reality, I’m hanging off of the edge of a cliff by my fingernails.
What can I do? is a question that can either have a million answers, or none. Right now, I’m ashamed to admit, I have none.