When my daughter was in middle school, she asked me to read The Fault in Our Stars.
“Of course!” I answered emphatically. As I remember the moment, it was about an hour before bedtime, also known as the hour I’m either the most agreeable or the most unhinged. My intention has always been to settle them into slumber as calmly as possible – whenever possible – but telling me about a research paper due the next morning, dumping nail polish in the sink to learn what the hell is making that clicking noise when you shake it, a meltdown over sexist dress codes and halter tops, and thrown brushes of the tooth and hair variety sometimes thwarted my stress-free sleep plans for them.
Nightmares, at that point, were still mostly my doing.
She handed me the book, right then and there, and nodded as if to say, Go on, then.
I should’ve known she’d stand there and watch me read as fast as I possibly could, gauging my progress by the emotions careening across my face, our hearts breaking at the same time. She’d done the same with Mulan, Wall-E, all the Toy Stories, and Kill Bill (don’t judge), and would someday soon do with the Twilight series (okay, now you can judge) and Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
Through the years, she taught me that two broken hearts are somehow easier to put back together than one. The process is quiet and oddly simple; one gathers up all the shattered bits while the other finds the roll of tape, and both work together to put everything right without a worry of whose pieces go where.
Anyway. It turned out to be a long night with a delayed arrival at school the next morning, but it was a very, very good book to share. And, as you can see, the memory stuck.
I will never rip that piece off my heart.
For the past few years, the first song I play on my hopeful walks is Outside by Travis Scott. On a handful of occasions, it’s fired me up enough to jog. I would’ve written run, but there are a few readers who know me in real life.
“All my neighbors outside,” I sing my version softly so that said neighbors don’t overhear me. “Ain’t goin’ in.”
It’s also the first song that comes to mind when I’m in a writer’s slump, just me and my empty screen, Get Off My Internets’ deliciously naughty forums and Mosheh’s smart Instagram stories luring me away from whatever content I’m supposed to be creating.
“We been hanging outside. Ain’t goin’ in.”
In 2019, I watched his documentary, Look Mom I Can Fly, with the same daughter I just mentioned. I don’t remember if I loved it because she loved it, or I loved it because it made me appreciate him as a person, but I loved it and have watched it a few times since.
“I’m going to his concert,” she vowed.
“You will not be going to his concert,” I vowed back. And then I bought her one of his sweatshirts.
“Balance on the beam, yeah balance on the beam, yeah. Do some shit I’ve never seen.”
If I’ve learned one thing as a parent, it’s that it’s important to try your best to like what your babes like, especially when you don’t initially understand. Pretty much everyone and everything is worth a second or third look, even if it’s one of those looks where the cartoon bubble above your head reads, “What in the actual %@&*?!”
Spend the time, read the link, follow back, watch their eyes, take the care. Because those are the moments when you really learn something about someone. Mostly yourself.
P.S. There are also a lot of things I haven’t learned yet about parenting. And myself.
“Hope you had a mattress when you sleepin’ on me.”
It sounds dramatic, but I haven’t slept since that horrible Astroworld concert in Houston. I didn’t want to write about it here because now it’s on my permanent record. I just can’t seem to shake it.
And so, I’ve started reading about crowds, and how they can kill you if you’re not paying attention. Actually, the last five words of that sentence are a little too simplistic and blamey. Crowds can kill you, and that is all I want to say about that.
Except for this.
Someone smart I follow linked to a Guardian article by Leo Benedictus, in which he masterly explains crowd accidents and exactly how collapses happen. He’s even got graphics. It’s fascinating, and you should read it, too.
He spoke to Professor Edwin Galea, an astrophysicist whose professional interests expanded from the fluid dynamics inside stars to post-disaster fire spreads, then the movement of crowds, and then crowd behavior. Again, I’m surely simplifying his expertise, but my brain shut down after “inside stars.”
My basic takeaway from his brilliance is that problems arise when crowds move like a fluid and not like beads. It’s the difference between spilling an iced coffee on your keyboard or a bag of Skittles.
I am not an astrophysicist.
When Professor Galea was asked about stampedes, a word that’s now oft mentioned in the same breath as Astroworld’s tragedy, his expert opinion is clear: “This is just absolute nonsense,” he says in the article. “It’s pure ignorance, and laziness … It gives the impression that it was a mindless crowd only caring about themselves, and they were prepared to crush people.”
But Leo Benedictus’ article was written back in 2015.
As a crowd, I think we’ve changed a lot since then, don’t you?
I live in Abu Dhabi, a city that gives real Fauci vibes. If he drove a Maserati. We rank third in the world on Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, and we’re currently ranked first in terms of vaccination rates.
“Pull up in a Lambo or just with the Benz.”
I’ve only been here a few months but, to me, it’s quite simple; Emiratis and the expats who live here seem to care about the crowd. No one wants to get sick, no one wants to get someone else sick, and no one wants to give up the lovely, lovely life they enjoy here. And so, everyone follows the rules whether they like it or not. (The “or not” part is important.)
Rules, might I add, that include installing an app on our mobiles that’s required for entry literally everywhere: grocery, restaurant, pharmacy, mall, hotel, or beach. It shows how many days since our last Covid test – strictly required every 30 days – as well as our immunization and booster history.
Florida could never. (See also North Dakota, Alaska, Tennessee, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, South Carolina, Arkansas…)
Crowd safety appears to be a running theme here. The hefty traffic fines alone keep everyone up to speed, and the accumulation of Black Points is an extra deterrent; earn more than 24 of those in one year, and your license is revoked.
The fine for jumping a red light in Abu Dhabi is a little less than $300 plus 12 Black Points on your license. What comes after, though, causes the real pain: The offender’s car is confiscated for 30 days, and there’s a $14,000 fine to release it when the time is up.
But wait. There’s more.
After all that, running a red light means your license is revoked for six months.
“Nobody’s gonna know.”
“They’re gonna know.”
“How would they know?”
Oh, they’ll know.
If you dare drive without a license, you’ll be fined the equivalent of $1400. Half that plus 12 Black Points if you’re caught on camera driving recklessly. A third of that if you don’t give way to emergency, police, and public service vehicles or official convoys. That last fine is the same amount assigned to driving a noisy vehicle, stopping on the road for no reason, changing your car’s color without permission, refusing to give traffic police your name and address when requested, and failing to keep pedestrians safe.
A fine for failing to keep pedestrians safe.
A fine for failing to care for the crowd.
I was in a book club a few years back, and one of the assigned reads was written by a Columbine shooter’s mom OMG WAIT I HAVE ANOTHER BOOK CLUB STORY FIRST.
Okay. Have you read Loving Frank about Frank Lloyd Wright? I read mostly all of it except the last, like, 15 pages. And so, when we started talking about it at book club, I opened the conversation with, “Meh. They were selfish. Book was boring. Didn’t care.”
I think I even shrugged.
You know that moment after you say something and people around you don’t do anything except blink slowly? That happened.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but it’s an old book and you honestly should’ve read it already. The ending is that HIS WIFE AND CHILDREN WERE MURDERED BY A WORKER FRANK REFUSED TO PAY. THERE WAS A FIRE. ALL IN THE LAST FEW PAGES OF THE DAMN BOOK.
I hope I didn’t spoil it for you. I’ve never enjoyed endings like that, anyway.
Back to the Columbine book. I walked into our gathering that afternoon, and a woman asked, “So what did you think? Who do you blame?”
I almost choked on my Ritz. “Blame? Who do I…”
“Yeah,” she continued. “Do you blame the mother or him or…”
My dad used to say, “Wash your hands before you point that finger.” I grew up on a farm, so I assumed his words had more to do with me playing with cow poo piles than life. But as I usually am, I was dead wrong.
Blame has never been my favorite thought process. I’ve never gained anything good from it. After tragedies, I realize it’s important to find the origin of fault so you can fix that, but blame games for the sole purpose of popping off don’t do it for me.
Guilt games, on the other hand…
If you’re anywhere near me right now, I am talking to you about crowds and how they can really muck up an otherwise great life experience. I asked my husband about them last night over drinks, and his eyes turned into perfectly round…umm…circles.
“Karey, don’t you remember when we met the Pope in Amman?!” he leaned so far over the table with his memory-panic.
No. I don’t remember. I didn’t go. It was 2009, my youngest was not even four, and crowds – especially religious ones – have never felt safe to me. He went with our two older girls, who had just celebrated their First Holy Communion. They wore their white dresses. He wore a suit.
“Pope Benedict,” he said, breaking into the chant. “Bah Bah! Benedicto!”
He even clapped.
“The gates opened and everyone around us rushed to get to him, and I had to grab the girls – ” He stopped his story to squeeze his arms against his chest, holding on for dear life to his phantom daughters like he’d done that day. “And, for a few minutes, I didn’t know how we wouldn’t be crushed.”
He sat back, shaking his head like he still couldn’t believe it.
“AND THOSE WERE NUNS!”
Recently, I saw a photo of my daughter, snapped during a particularly frightening moment for her. It was only a split second, as all captures are, but she looked like she didn’t know what was happening or why, completely lost, mid-gasp.
“Off the lean, it’s always better off the lean.”
Now, if you’ve ever seen a photo of this kid, she’s the very definition of life. Coming at the camera – through it, even – laughing, looking like an Abu Dhabi traffic fine. She’s one of those crowd controllers with the ability to make people better or, depending on her mood, much worse.
It all turned out fine, and like I said, it was a moment that is happily over. But I can’t push the look on her face out of my nightmares. It’s the face of someone who doesn’t know what’s coming next. Or how bad it’ll get.
It’s the face of someone who has lost her breath for a moment.
Thank goodness for all of us she found it again.
I’m a writer who gravitates toward endings completely opposite to the one in Loving Frank.
“You’ve got to be careful,” I warn my girls. “Life can turn on a dime if you don’t take care.”
(Hey. Do you know that phrase’s origin? Turn on a dime? A dime is the smallest US currency, so it’s used a lot when talking about the capabilities of a high-performance car or boat: “Oh, this bad boy? It can turn on a dime.” Apparently, that’s an important quality for a land or sea vehicle. It’s also a common description of someone who can change direction quickly in a very small space: “Whoa, they really turned on a dime.” More important of a quality in a person, I’d say.)
But my life advice doesn’t consider things like people who aren’t paid, fires, murder, and crowds. The last 15 pages of a life – or the last minutes – can’t be written out beforehand so that you might possibly be prepared to turn on a dime and get the hell out of there.
No matter how you try, no matter how careful you are.
From what I’ve seen, a lot of endings happen when it’s too late to turn on a dime. From what I’ve seen, a lot of endings look a lot like a gasp that you don’t realize will be your last.
“’Cause just last week I rest in peace’d a homie.”
I just read that the cause of death for most of Travis Scott’s unluckiest concertgoers in Houston was comprehensive asphyxiation. Do you know how much weight it takes to squeeze the air out of someone? I looked it up: 570 pounds. That’s if you’re a standard sized male in his 20s or 30s.
Imagine a 14-year-old kid.
The other night, in a text, my daughter called me her twin flame. She added a lol at the end, but I knew what she meant.
And if I’d been lucky enough to have her next to me, watching my face while I read it, picking up my pieces while I searched for the glue, she’d know exactly what I meant back.