That was the summer the NSA thing blew up. It was the first time in a long time that anyone could remember them coming out and saying they were spying on us, rather than doing the polite thing of spying on us discreetly, so we could pretend that they weren’t. Twenty-somethings stuck in Kansas City, far from D.C. or New York or California, or anywhere else things actually happened, slapped stickers on stop signs and telephone poles that read, “Big Brother is Watching You” and, “Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen.”
Most people, though, were indifferent to the whole situation, and those who weren’t were condescending to the others but just as ineffectual as the rest. I’d hoped that by now people would remember that time in history as the Great Awakening of the American consciousness to the reality of the surveillance state and terrorist government, but in the back of my mind I kind of knew it would end up in the same category as McCarthyism or the Japanese internment camps, you know, the kind of endearing bewilderment like, wasn’t that weird when our government did that? Or the more accurate category of things that go unmentioned.
And I thought just like that and I talked just like that because I was twenty-three years old, which, being twenty-three yourself you will understand is a very strange time period when you are old enough to start realizing just how fucked the world is day-in and day-out, but you are still young enough to have big thoughts about issues and a good bit of confidence that amazing things will happen. Also, you drink a lot of beer and have these sorts of conversations with other people your age, and it kind of seems like they give a shit about what you are saying, so that helps.
That 4th of July I painted my toenails like the American flag–my big toes were painted blue with six white dots of polish representing the fifty stars, and the rest of my toes were painted white with two thin red lines that I made by dipping a toothpick in red polish, which represented the stripes on the flag. It was something I’d done since I was eight years old, painting my toes in outlandish patriotic patterns, so I still did it even though I felt a general helplessness about the dichotomy between government and country as well as a sense of embarrassment if someone who knew of my present political views saw my toes and thought me childish–or worse–uninformed. So I wore flats to work and out in public, only allowing my toes to wiggle and the flag to fly in the privacy of my own home.
And by my own home I mean Grannee and Papa’s house. I lived with my parents that summer, that whole year actually, which I felt a bit ashamed of, but then I read an article in Reader’s Digest about how 60% of kids my age were living with their parents after college graduation due to the recession. In my mind I used the recession as an explanation for why I was sleeping in the hot tub room of my parents’ house, but the reality was that I had a full-time job that paid decently, no debts, and a semblance of a savings account (which perhaps could have been more accurately labelled “Tattoo Fund”). I secretly just liked living there. They cooked for me.
My dad and I battled pretty hard that summer, though. It was all due to that damn wreck, the one that made me move home from Denver and made my knee the way it is now. It probably doesn’t seem like it from the way I tell the story now, but the time lapse from the day that guy crashed into me to the end of all my doctor visits and physical therapy sessions and MRIs and consultations and surgeries and finally getting to a place where I was mostly healed was eleven months. Almost a year. That July marked the middle point of things, when I was right in the thick of being bounced from one specialist to another, doctors telling me nothing was wrong with my back even though I was twenty-three and in constant pain and couldn’t move like a normal human could.
It seems silly now, knowing how I am, but during the summer of 2013 I thought I would be in pain for the rest of my life. Each time a doctor called to tell me he couldn’t do anything for me or my damage wasn’t significant enough to fix or my knee would most likely hurt for the rest of my life I would want to give up, curl up in my bed and cry and take muscle relaxers and sleep through life. Clearly, you can see how this line of thinking would irritate your grandfather, who hasn’t relaxed a day in his life, let alone given up on anything. I would sob about how insurance companies are a sham and the medical system is corrupt and life is just. so. hard. and he would tell me to “girl up”–a play on “man up”, which demonstrated a remarkable amount of political correctness for him–and call those insurance agents and doctors and creditors who were giving me such grief and throw it back in their faces. My dad sometimes tried to scare me into caring about my own life by telling me that if I didn’t hurry up and get my medical issues resolved then the doctors and hospitals would come after me for payment due to them by the insurance company of the man that hit me and my credit would be ruined.
It was in these moments that I most fiercely wished the country would descend into post-apocalyptic anarchy spurred by local revolutions and a collapse of the government, so that way I would only have to worry about things like stockpiling food and making defense plans, not credit scores or health insurance or scheduling doctor’s appointments around my work schedule so I didn’t have to use a sick day. And some days it seemed more likely for the country to fall apart than to get a day off work.
All I can say is that it was a weird time, and you won’t know what old people mean when they say that until it happens to you.