This is an excerpt from “Comrade Desmore,” the novel I’m writing.
Jack had been hearing the most chilling news stories he’d ever encountered. Children in migrant detention centers were being forced into filthy and overcrowded conditions, ones which had caused at least seven of them to die from disease since the start of this year. Jack had read accounts of children as young as seven having to be the sole caretakers of infants they’d just met, with the garments of the babies soaked in snot and tears; of teenage mothers wearing clothes stained in breast milk; of toddlers without diapers soiling their pants while children were held in standing-room conditions for days or weeks. Thousands of the older children had also been saying that they were sexually assaulted while in U.S. custody, and that they had been deprived of food or forced to stay in the cold.
Today Trump had tweeted: “If Illegal Immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detentions centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!”
While Jack sparred with Chris and Ricky in Mike’s field, thoughts of these facts continuously passed through his mind, along with images of the similar events taking place around the globe. He had visions of the Palestinian children who were being mutilated by Israeli cluster munitions and barrel bombs; of the tribal children in Brazil who were having to flee from the shotgun-wielding gold panners that Bolsonaro was sending into the few remaining non-colonized parts of the Amazon; of the Yemeni children who were being starved because of the Saudi blockade that Washington was enabling; of those who grew up in Syria, Libya, and Iraq prior to when the empire tore their nations apart throughout these last two decades; of the eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kashmir who had been raped and murdered last year while Washington’s fasctst partner India occupied the home of her people; of the Syrian children who had been driven from their homes by U.S.-funded terrorists, then used as propaganda images for Washington’s regime change war; of the children in Honduras had had to flee north with their families since the U.S.-installed dictatorship made their home too violent and impoverished to remain livable.
“You were right when you explained your reasons for starting these fights,” Jack said to Chris while he blocked an attempt to punch him in the mouth. The more they had sparred, the easier it had become for them to converse during the training sessions. “There’s a threat that’s coming for us, a threat that’s already there for millions of kids who aren’t as lucky as we’ve been so far.”
“This is just the first part of the warm-up,” said Chris, blocking a counter-punch from Jack. “There’s so much more you’ll need to prepare for.”
“What more do I need to do?” said Jack while he pulled back around for another strike. “I’ve been through so much already.”
Chris didn’t answer, and Jack suddenly felt foolish for saying this. What he had experienced so far was nothing compared to what the children he was thinking of had endured, to what he would likely have already endured if he were to be born here a few decades later. The task he had taken on involved new levels of pain that never stopped revealing themselves, and that were magnified if a person was especially neurotic. He studied this pain because he knew that even if he chose to remain asleep to the encroaching horrors, one day he would encounter them in the form of a nasty surprise. The horrors were coming for him all the same.
He noticed that his mother had come into the field, walking past Ricky and Mike while they sparred alongside himself and Chris. No car was in the driveway besides Ricky’s, so she must have jogged here.
“I’ve come to start training with you,” she said, still slightly panting. “I’ve learned a lot of martial arts techniques in the last few months, and you need to learn them too. But first I want to tell a story.”
“A couple years ago, after Trump’s team had done their initial rollbacks of the protections for immigrants, a mother from right around where we live was taken into a detention center. They locked her up after a routine immigration check-in in San Francisco. Until she was allowed to return seven months later, her children would have to survive in poverty, their wi-fi getting shut off and their food options getting limited to tortillas and eggs. And while this was happening to her daughters, the mother got driven to a mental breakdown. For two full weeks, she was unable to get out of bed or communicate. She would say that ‘that place changed me.’ That no matter how strong of a person she considered herself, there she couldn’t be strong.”
“I read about that story too,” said Chris. “This mom was a refugee, right? I think from El Salvador.”
“Linda nodded, then looked around the clearing as if she were checking for some imagined threat. Turning to Jack, she said, “I have limits as much as that mom does. I have a psyche and body that can be broken. But the sacrifice of these things would mean nothing compared to what this sacrifice could help create.”
“How am I supposed to believe this cost is worth it when there’s no way to see what the payoff will look like?” said Jack. “From what I can tell, everywhere looks the same: more and more poor people, more and more people having to flee, more and more wars, more and more pollution. Then there’s the government that’s so ready to crush us if we try to fight back. Dad has told me that when they’re done building the surveillance state, it will go way past looking at our texts. There will be towers along the borders and the ports that can track anyone over a seven-mile radius, and streets blanketed with cameras.”
“Those things are only what you’ve seen so far,” said Ricky, walking over along with Mike. “In other places, civilization is progressing towards a beautiful future. In Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, and the other countries that have broken free from imperial control, poverty keeps getting smaller and a post-carbon society keeps getting closer. This is the case even in China, despite the bleak picture Americans are shown of that place. Did you know that China is years ahead of its carbon reductions goals? Or that it’s just a couple years from eliminating extreme poverty? These things shouldn’t be discounted, no matter how much the imperialists try to convince us otherwise.”
Ricky’s words made everything Jack had learned in these last two years meld together. Images flashed through his mind of vast slums, and refugees fleeing wars, and hurricanes, and drought, and Ukrainian militia members with Nazi insignias marching to enact terror. Then he thought of the liberation fighters who had won in China, Vietnam, north Korea, Cuba, and elsewhere. Russia was painful to think of, since its revolution had been destroyed. But after hearing and seeing all of these things, it seemed inevitable that this loss would one day be undone.
“Cracks in the dictatorship,” said Jack.
“Big cracks,” said Ricky. “The system they’ve built is more vulnerable than they want you to think. So remember Mao’s advice: don’t fear hardship, and don’t fear death.”
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