The day after the Capitol was sacked, I walk through the sprawling federal park near my house. Through a clearing for scrimmages, around a wooded thicket where a deer family lives, past a chainlink fence circling a reservoir.
I walk over a ridge and see the broad-shouldered middle school. In the distance, the cupola of its sister high school. These empty bastions once provided both stability and confusion, reassurance and anxiety. Now they are barren.
I remember the crowded stages lit with song, the event night hallways flooded with faces, the teacher conferences where it felt like parents were graded, the alliances and skirmishes of adolescents. Like a dream, where I was never quite sure what was real, it has vanished.
At the highest point in the park, a plaque explains that this green used to be the largest, most heavily armed Union fort defending Washington. When it was abandoned, formerly enslaved people who had found protection around the fort, settled here in a neighborhood that would eventually include three churches, a dairy, and a cemetery. There is nothing left of that neighborhood, of that fort. The signal towers and canons that killed Confederate soldiers three miles away have been replaced by steel obelisks that beam radio waves. The houses that provided shelter, razed to give a park to people with lighter skin.
Up in a tree on Chesapeake Street, a tattered red kite blows in the wind. A ball is being kicked around. A girl sits under a century-old tree. The baseball court and soccer field lie face up to the sky.
I think of the men with beards and horns, tattoos and flags smiling and laughing as they trampled all over the Capitol and I think, this is our civil war. The president, now a cult leader, whistles for his dogs to come and rip out the heart of marble. And as the heart lies broken, everyone shouts traitor.
White people hate the brown people next to them, while emperors and corporate gods pass around chalices of gold. In the wild section of the park, vines drip over every tree and bush. Grandfather trees have fallen, breaking the saplings underneath. One day all that will be left of our civil war be a plaque, and everyone alive now will be dead.
I come home and begin to make a vegetable soup for dinner. I feel heavy with blood and fat and gristle. I want the plants, the broth to run down my throat, to take it all away.
There are no summer vegetables to make the recipe I know, so I begin on my own. My son helps me chop the carrots, potatoes, and broccoli rabe. I know I am part of this. I have turned away from what I didn’t want to see. I have pretended not to hear.
When the truth is painful, when it has been battered for so long, it rips and people start grabbing their own shining flags. The soup has no flavor, so I add a shake of red pepper flakes, a pinch of herbs de Provence, a handful of thyme from the garden.
The earth remembers. Under the fuzzy grass of a placid park, the wounds cut deep. A balance has been lost, and it unsteadies us all.
It’s still so hard to see deeper than the thinnest, most outermost layer of these human bodies. Color is how we’re sorted.
The pasta and the lentils I added have absorbed all of the clear broth. The light soup I needed like a medicinal has become a gloppy mess.
This trauma cannot be washed away. Difficult truths must be sought and received.
We don’t have to know how to fix it. We just have to listen — deep in our bodies. Without recipes. Without getting caught in the dream, the music, the crowds. Without trying to win.