Suszynski: No one is asymptomatic
I pulled up to the Elk Lot a minute before 1 p.m. on Thursday and rolled down my window to talk to the parking attendant. His face was to the sun, happily soaking up the warmth. I felt bad for disturbing him.
By way of trying to speed up the process, I asked if the lot was free after 1 p.m. even though I knew the answer.
“You’re a few minutes early,” he said. To which I responded, “Just a minute, right?”
We both looked at our watches and nodded in agreement that it was somewhere in the middle. But I was struck for a moment, how in many interactions I have had recently, these conversations can easily slip into defensive aggression. But the man responded to me kindly and alleviated my self-consciousness in possibly blocking the parking entrance, “There’s nobody around anyway. You just have to wait until 1 for the time to change on the automated ticket.” So we waited together.
I quickly put my boots on in the lot and sat on the bench for the bus to Beaver Creek Village. I tilted my face toward the sun, like the parking attendant had, and let the warmth sink into my every pore. When the bus pulled up, I hopped on, and awkwardly fumbled around for a seat. I didn’t want to crowd anyone, but I also didn’t want to raise my voice. Somebody piped up in the back: “Here, there is a seat right across from me.”
On the bus, I felt like smiling. Here are all these people kind enough to wait with me, kind enough to show me a seat.
My thoughts shifted to the endless scrolling on Instagram I was caught in an hour earlier. So much pain, related to the horrific murders of eight people, six Asian, seven women, brought that disturbingly familiar shock. Again, and again, I find myself feeling guilty, extremely sad, frustrated. All the kindnesses I had just felt in my own community made me angrier. How could these inverses exist?
I mentioned in one of my columns that I have been reading Ben Lerner. I finished his third book in his trilogy, titled “The Topeka School,” on Monday. The book gave this week’s events a surreal tinge. A lot of “Topeka School,” and the trilogy at large, is concerned with language. I have been thinking a lot about language this year: how dangerous and fickle it can be. The world seems so careless with words sometimes, not realizing that repetition has the ability to create pattern.
I can’t get one sentence from “Topeka School” out of my head: “If he had the language, he wouldn’t express himself in symptoms.” I think this line is integral to understanding the media surrounding the deadly shootings. Initially, law enforcement pointed to the gunman’s own words, that his actions were not racially motivated and instead the result of a “sexual addiction.” One officer said he was having “a bad day.” This was the same officer who advertised his purchase of a COVID-19 T-shirt with the words “Imported virus from Chy-na” on social media.
On the micro level, the gunman was expressing a symptom; on the macro level, the gunman himself is a symptom of a much larger societal issue.
In the end of “Topeka School,” the main character of the trilogy, Adam, gets mad at a dad for letting his son bully Adam’s daughter on the playground. The words of the 7-year-old bully are no surprise: “These girls are stupid, these girls are ugly.” Adam starts arguing with the dad, and the narrator thinks about the larger implications of this seemingly small playground argument: “The bad father, clearly startled by the mixture of passion and dispassion, the tangle of vocabularies, responded: Let the kids figure it out. … He’s seven years old, okay? No, I said, it’s not okay; the child is the father to the man, what the kids will ‘figure out’ is repetition.”
When language goes unchecked, is revered even if it is wrong and cruel, we create this horrifying pattern of repetition and propagation.
One might recall the scene from the 1987 movie “Full Metal Jacket,” in which the Vietnamese prostitute strides past the two American soldiers, the echoes of “Me love you long time” forever burrowing into how society treats all Asian women. Then you might think about how language can snowball and become part of an entire country’s consciousness. All of the violent thrashings of the past year have been fed by unchecked American paradigms of language that are derivative of a fragile institution that hasn’t come to terms with a lot of its foundational myths.
As I sat on the bus to the mountain, I thought about all the seats that I have been offered. And all the seats that people before me, and after me, were denied. It is imperative that I keep thinking about these offerings and denials. Important to keep re-imagining and re-instituting a language that doesn’t repress conversations and therefore deny the experience of a group of people. At the intersection of compassion, trying to understand, and the recognition that language shapes consciousness, we must all meet. Repetition, not of hateful, misplaced, misogynistic, policing language, but repetition of something good, of turning your face to the sun.
Anna Suszynski is a staff editor at the Vail Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Instagram at annasuszynski or on Twitter at anna_suszynski.