Summer '04 Issue 30
The True Cost of Things- Why Walmart S.U.C.K.S.
The Waking Up Game - A Treasure Map to Family Evolution
My 7 Weeks in the Chapel of Love. Diary of a Queer Wedding Minister
The Physics of Tea
The Priestess Path
Sabina and the Peaceful Nation
Grappling with Grief
Coming Back to Life
Physicians’ Perspective: Scientific Integrity
Sabina and the Peaceful Nation
Part the First: Introducing Sabina, Her Father, and the Peaceful Nation
Aaron Levins used to think of himself as a family man. That was before Noreen killed herself. Since then, he avoids thinking about things when he can. When he can’t, he drinks by himself in the living room.
The lights over the valley twinkle gently, just like when she was alive. It’s my fault, he thinks. I only stay alive for Sabina.
Her last real friend was in high school: Marta Hvorostovsky. Marta was a Russian immigrant who seemed to be drawn to Sabina for some reason. Maybe because she was a good student. She would find Sabina at lunch, and talk confidentially about her family. Sabina would try unsuccessfully not to eat all the extra cupcakes her mother always put in her lunchbox.
“My brother stole a thousand dollars from a cop,” said Marta, on the third day they ate lunch together. She leaned across the table. Gossip position, thought Sabina: the entire room knows we’re gossiping.
“From a cop?” She asked skeptically. “That doesn’t sound like a very good idea.” Marta nodded her head enthusiastically, up and down.
“It was drug money.” She looked both ways, then leaning in closer. “The cop took it from a bunch of drug dealers. He said he’d arrest them if they didn’t pay up. My brother picked his pocket. The cop never knew where the money went.”
“Picked his pocket?” Most of what Sabina said to Marta were skeptical repetitions. Marta enjoyed it…Sabina never thought of her as a real friend. She thought Marta just needed someone to boast to. But now she thinks she was wrong. Now that she has no one, alone in her cinder-block dorm room.
For Aaron, work is like a drug, a good drug. You go; you stay late; nothing happens. You talk to the vice presidents; you schmooze with execs at other companies; you look at the secretaries’ rear ends. You make occasional presentations to the board. Today, he is preparing a presentation about “corporate citizenship” marketing. The company, Gustavsen Apparel, makes the kind of new-age clothes Noreen used to wear: hemp, linen, cotton, natural fibers and dyes. So of course they’ve been losing market share to companies who are “Citizens of the Peaceful Nation”. It’s pretty dumb, but you have to stay on top of it. The guys at Taylor and Samms specialize in this kind of thing. They even have a logo from the Corporate Citizenship Alliance that looks kind of like the Peaceful Nation logo. Clever.
Third Thursday of the month, he sees a black call girl who calls herself Tamara. They have dinner, see a movie, and have sex. The day after, he assures himself that he is simply taking care of his needs in a reasonable way. He can afford it, and at his age, he’s not likely to attract a woman normally. Even if he had time to date, he wouldn’t know how to go about it. What would he say? He has his work, it’s enough. The day after is fine.
But the night is bad. Tamara kisses him goodbye: this may be the worst part of all. If only he could tell her to stop. Noreen used to kiss him goodbye…she was depressed, then she was manic. She spent $45,000 to open a bead store, but it was only open four days before she died. She said she was going back to bed. She looked tired. Later that afternoon she called and asked him to come home; he told her he was busy. She hung up and ate a bottle of sleeping pills with almost a quart of whiskey from the bar. He went to a strip club with some of the guys and came home late. Her body was already cold on the bed when he got in.
…After Tamara leaves comes the dark night of his soul. Memories of Noreen fill his vision, cajoling him to come to her yoga class, to try acupuncture, crying when he shouted at her, pretending she didn’t hear him, turning over in bed when she thought he wanted to have sex, complaining that he never spent any time with her and Sabina.
The truth is, Noreen didn’t spend much time with Sabina either: a heavy, bookish girl, Sabina didn’t much care for her mom’s new-age hobbies, and Noreen was a little disgusted with Sabina for being so overweight and obviously lonely…Her death had actually seemed to bring them closer for a while. After the funeral, they had clung to each other and cried in the living room. Since then, he’d tried to be a parent to her. Though he felt a little lost, at times, he had done a decent job. They talked once a week about her school. She got good grades. She seemed to be doing fine, though she was still lonely and felt bad about her weight.
Sometimes Sabina thinks it’s funny that she’s a citizen of the Peaceful Nation. Not because she’s ever done anything violent, of course, she’s way too shy. But she thinks violent things all the time. After she talks to Dad on the phone she has a kind of tradition: the first person that she sees, she’ll imagine them dead in a whole new way, a way she’s never thought of before. You see, she thinks, I am not just a gross, fat, disgusting bookworm with no friends on a Saturday night. I’m really, truly, sick.
Thursday, she almost killed herself, just like mom. She stole two bottles of Tylenol from a drugstorea kind of tribute to her “friendship” with Marta. Brought them home to the apartment. No one saw her. If I die here, it could be months before anyone finds me. She sat up all night looking at them and talking on the phone. She might have done it if not for Ami. He’s a philosophy professor in Israel. He finishes classes early on Thursday, so once a month he takes his turn to sign on to the Nation’s Listener Line. It was Sabina’s first time talking on it. She couldn’t imagine that anyone would actually bother listening to her. She thought it would last all of two minutes. He stayed on, though. No one had ever listened to her like that. She spilled it allMom, Dad, all her self-hating thoughts, even her stupid murder fantasies. He just listened. Sabina felt something new growing inside of her, a recognition. I wish I could have a friend like that.
…And then one day, work was not just work. After twelve years with Gustavsen Apparel, he’s going to have to get another job. It’s ludicrous. The shareholders have voted to have the company become a “Citizen of the Peaceful Nation”. This is not just a joke. As a “corporate citizen,” the firm will be required to follow some very unlikely rules and regulations. Environmental regulations, labor relations, fiscal responsibility, and God knows what, but of course the big one is that the highest-paid employee can make no more than five times what the lowest-paid employee makes.
They’ll move production onshore, so the lowest wage in the company will go up to at least $7.50 an hourbut five times that is still nowhere near what he and Sabina are accustomed to, never mind the question of what GA will do after production costs double. Well, it’s not his problem any more.
It’s not believable. At his age, to be pounding pavements again! Of course, this is something that CEOs do in the normal course of things. You have to retain mobility to maintain negotiating power. The way to move up is to move laterally. You know that. But he’s done OK at GA, he’s used to it. He doesn’t even know any headhunters. He thought he had a steady, dependable thing going, and all at once, because of some damned rabble-rousing shareholders, it’s gone. At least he doesn’t have to tell Noreen.
He goes home. He will get plastered, watching TV and drinking gin and tonic. But first, he’d better call Sabina while he’s still sober enough to pass.
The call comes a little early. She feels totally unready. She walks over to the phone, going numb, readying herself for Dad. Something feels off. She tries to shut down, but she can feel something happening inside her. No reason Dad should notice, she thinks, he has the sensitivity of a sidewalk.
“Hi honey, how is school going?”
“It’s fine, Dad, I’m doing all my homework.”
“That’s good, Sabina. How is your math class going?”
“Great. I never have any trouble at math. We’ve been going through a short introduction to goemetric topology, and I just had to get a book and learn the real thing. It’s fascinating, but you don’t really care, do you? You don’t even know what geometric topology is.” She stares at herself in shock in the mirror on the dresser. She’s never sarcastic to Dad.
There is silence on the line for a minute. He is going to kill me, what made me talk that way? But he doesn’t even sound angry when he responds.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Sabina.” He sounds like he is in a daze. For a while, they just both sit quietly on the line. Finally she can’t stand the silence.
“Sorry Daddy, I…” More silence. What the Hell? Eventually she asks, “Are you OK Dad?”
“Um…yeah, I’m OK. I’m sorry if I seem a little out of it. I’m going to have to leave GA, and I’m a little…I guess I am a little out of it.”
“You have to leave Gustavsen? Why? I thought you were doing fine there.”
“Oh, I am, I mean, I was. But things changed, I have to go. It’s just a bit strange, you know, at my age, you’re not ready to just jump off one horse and grab another like you might have been when you were younger. It’ll take a few weeks for me to find my feet, that’s all. I’ll be fine.”
She knows she isn’t supposed to ask any more, he doesn’t want her to. But some demon has possession of her tongue, and she finds herself speaking. Her heart is pounding.
“But what changed, Dad? Did they fire you?” Another pause. She hears him take a breath.
“They want to join your damned Peaceful Nation,” he blurts. “That’s why. The shareholders voted to have the company be a ‘Corporate Citizen’ which is going to be the ruin of GA, and I’m not going down with it. I’m going to get a job with a company that’s still in touch with the real world.”
She is sure he expects an argument from her. They’ve often argued about the Nation. He won’t sign the Declaration since he doesn’t believe in taxing the richor anything else that she believes in, basically. An argument would be normal, but the demon still has her tongue. Her face is flushed, and she feels prickly tingles in her arms. It’s almost a good feeling. So this is what it feels like to go crazy, she thinks.
“It’s funny you should mention the Peaceful Nation,” she says. “It saved my life on Thursday. I was going to kill myself, but I called the Nation’s Listener Line. I told a philosophy professor in Israel all about my problems, about Mom and you and everything, and he was a really great listener, and then I didn’t feel so much like dying. I’m sorry you can’t appreciate it, it’s just one of many things that we citizens of the Nation do for each other. I know you wouldn’t need anything like that, and of course, I understand that you need to make as much money as God, or at least Bill Gates, how could you possibly live on five times what a garment worker makes? That’s almost like being a garment worker yourselfor five garment workers. I understand, it’s OK, go head a real company in the real world, but Daddy, I want to live, and I’m going to stay in my world, my unreal world, because in your world I would already be dead, and I hope you join me before it kills you, too. Bye.” She hangs up the phone, gently, not believing what just happened. Marta would be proud of me, she thinks, a little disjointedly. Maybe I should try to look her up. She’s a citizen, she’ll probably be in the directory.
Aaron walks over to the balcony, noticing with irritation that he is drinking tonic water without gin. Noreen used to stand here in the evening with a drink in her hand, staring silently over the valley. What was she thinking about? He can almost see her again. She was so depressed, he thinks miserably, and for some reason he starts crying, holding onto the railing and sobbing. A rational part of his mind is thinking, what does this accomplish? It’s too late to do anything about Noreen. But it only makes him cry harder.
That night, he dreams of dark clouds blowing in a windy sky, and rain falling on his face.
Read Part 2 of this story in the next issue of Alternatives Magazine (Issue 31, Fall 2004).
Ness Blackbird lives in the Portland, Oregon, USA district of the Peaceful Nation. Since he realized that the “USA” is an outdated concept (a fact which has been understood by multinational corporations for some years), he has been devoting his time to global democracy. Ness is the webmaster of peacefulnation.org, which makes free online systems for nonprofits. Please visit the website and become a member.
Current PN projects include Money Is Not Democracy, which needs your help to get Petition 53 (campaign finance reform) on the Oregon ballot. Go to peacefulnation.org/?campaign=1 for details.
Site updated Spring 2010