I wait for the day I can sit in the sun again

The Last Normal Day Part 11 by Linda Tirado

I wait for the day I can sit in the sun again

Earlier this year I interviewed Linda Tirado about her experience being shot and blinded by police in Minneapolis while covering the protests in the summer of 2020. Today she writes for The Last Normal Day series about that day and everything that’s defined what normal has meant for her in her life thus far.

If you missed Friday’s Hell World Dan Ozzi wrote about his hometown of Staten Island which has been in the news a lot of late and not for what you might call “good” reasons.

This is the Staten Island mentality in a nutshell, a dangerous combination of willful ignorance and misguided arrogance that will eventually lead to its own destruction. Scientists and doctors don’t know shit, elected officials and newscasters are bums, and anyone trying take any helpful, preventative action that might be a minor inconvenience can go fuck themselves. It is a borough working as hard as it possibly can against its best interests and its residents are people who will cling to their misguided ideas of blue-collar “common sense” until it kills them.

Also below check out some reader responses on how they were feeling earlier this week after it started to finally look like Trump had lost.

I wait for the day I can sit in the sun again

by Linda Tirado

I was raised a Mormon girl in southern Utah, so when the pandemic hit I knew exactly what to do. I spent every penny in my bank account on food preservation supplies and seeds, I built raised beds in the backyard and had a half ton of soil trucked in from a landscape supply. I planted a hundred gladiolus in a cutting garden, because vases of colorful flowers are one of those subtle things that help people combat depression — Mormon girls are taught how to build a home through catastrophe. We can sew and decorate and cook and bolster morale, given the materials and the time.

I am lucky to have the kind of job where I can just fuck off for a month and focus on the garden; I’m an author and a writer and occasionally a journalist when a story breaks that’s in my wheelhouse. My beats are poverty and society and civil unrest, the latter of which was entirely accidental. (Honestly my life since 2013 when I said it sucked to be poor and became famous for my articulation of that particular bit of common knowledge has been weird. I don’t really understand why people pay me for thinking onto a page. I’ve always tended bars and worked overnight diner shifts, so thinking random shit at strangers isn’t new, but not having to physically serve them at the same time is.)

I embedded in north county St. Louis in 2014 after Mike Brown was killed, sleeping out on the streets for weeks with a bunch of kids called Lost Voices. I thought that was the worst of America, staring through tear gas at snipers in armored vehicles who were there to kill Americans for the crime of being Black and angry. I suppose it’s understandable that I was that kind of naive, being from a small mountain town in a state that prides itself on not being part of the wider world, but I was shocked to my core to see authority treating the citizenry like that. Where I come from, we’d have absolutely had an armed rebellion if they rolled MRAPs into our neighborhoods.

I embedded in the armed rebellion in 2016 as well. I hitched a ride from a farmer out to the Malheur wildlife preserve in rural Oregon when the Bundys took it over and had a standoff with the feds. I showed up in my Carhartt with a broken zipper in the middle of January in the northern mountains with five days’ rations, a sub zero sleeping bag and a bunch of hand warmers. I walked up to the fire and talked to the people warming themselves and said I was a journalist and would be living with them. Nobody knew I was from the southern mountains. The other journalists were so ill-equipped for these conditions that I gave them all my hand warmers to put in their shoes, so even though I was wearing good boots everyone thought I was going to die left to my own devices. A local ranch family couldn’t have that on their conscience, so I lived with them for weeks while we all got paranoid about the feds and ate tuna fish with armed militants. We drank a lot of shitty beer and ate a lot of really good elk, and I still use the honey they gifted me in a quart jar. It’s crystallized now but it’s still damn fine honey.

I was talking about fascism long before it became fashionable because I have watched America breaking in real time; I have seen the kind of history that most people will have read about. I flip it on its head so they can see it too. I share tuna fish and jokes about whether to add celery with men who are later killed by the federal government, and I have opinions on whether said men were reaching for a weapon or their pocket constitutions.

A pandemic, while troubling, wasn’t something I was unequipped for. I just planted my food and found a guy to buy beef from. I still don’t know the beef guy’s name, I just called local farms and asked if they sell half beef and one guy said sure, he’d add me to the list. I didn’t hear anything more so I thought he must have sold out until a lady who turned out to be his wife called to tell me they’d only managed a quarter but we should come pick it up three days later. I have “beef dude” and “beef lady” saved in my phone, and that’s about the level of formality you want when you’re dealing with farmers.

This is all by way of saying nothing has been normal for at least as long as I’ve been an adult, but there was a reasonable expectation of oddness in my life. The pandemic didn’t strike me as unexpected, I simply put my shoulder to the wheel. And then George Floyd was killed in absolutely brutal fashion one Monday.

I called around to my friends in the media, the people who cover the same things I do, the ones who have opinions on what brand of tear gas they’d rather get hit with. Nobody was willing to travel, because of money, or the pandemic, or any number of reasons. We don’t all show up to every event, we often coordinate to be sure there will be good coverage because we’re the fourth estate, but ten photographers isn’t necessarily more useful than two when everyone is a pro.

I was in a position to travel, and I was in a position to just go camping afterwards to quarantine. Honestly it’s best, after you’ve watched people being tortured, that you don’t go directly home anyway. That’s why they don’t let soldiers just fly home; you need to decompress and get ready to deal with civilian life. You need a transition. So I watched Tuesday roll by and I watched people protesting, and on Wednesday I decided I was going to be the one that went. I was available, I was capable, I had the resources. I was in Minneapolis on Thursday afternoon.

That night I jumped in and out of structure fires with the sort of wild glee that adrenaline gives you; it wasn’t the whole city of Minneapolis, but a lot of it was certainly burning. The thing about journalism is you watch transgression and destruction and conflict and you’re not a part of it but you’re still in the middle of it, and you have the same physical response that everyone else does. The difference between a journalist and a person with a phone is that you don’t participate, you don’t chant, you don’t engineer the outcome of an event. You keep yourself in check, and even if you have to clap your hand over your mouth you never say what you really think.

A young man grabbing wine from a looted restaurant asked me if I thought his girlfriend would like the shitty house red he’d picked or would she prefer the white. Most people in my line of work are men; he asked me because I was very obviously more well versed in what sorts of wine girls like than any man would be. He eventually picked the rose, which to be honest was the right choice.

The next night, Friday, I watched a car lot burn. I participated that time, because someone was stuck inside a vehicle and was too panicked to unlock the doors, or maybe the locks were stuck. I handed over a tool to break the window and get them out before the truck blew. I don’t feel bad about being part of that effort. I remember doing that, then I remember going to a Wells Fargo that was also burning, and then I remember being told there was a standoff not far away between police and protesters.

It was a standard line, standard procedure. It was a situation in urban conflict I’ve seen a thousand times. Protesters chant and yell and police push them block by block down the road, and in between everyone regroups and puzzles out what the other side might do. It would be mundane if it didn’t involve munitions.

I was taking pictures of the tear gas, because a fun thing you learn in this line of work is that most street lights and police red-and-blues operate at the same color and intensity, so tear gas appears differently colored depending on the manufacturer and type. There’s a wild rainbow of beauty in that kind of chaos. It lends itself to photography. I have always been the sort to see the beauty in the spiderwebs of shattered glass which are only ever an expression of rage or pain.

I remember a dull thud to my face and I remember stupidly thinking “Well, fuck. This isn’t good.” Then I remember the gas hitting my eyes and the wetness and swelling. I don’t remember pain exactly except from the gas, but I knew my face was growing. I could feel it by the millimeter. I thought I was going to have a black eye. I like mosh pits and UFC as much as the next aging punk chick. I know what a shiner feels like.

I woke up the next morning in a hospital and the doctors came to tell me that I didn’t have Covid, which they knew because they had tested me before they did surgery on my left eye, the one I’d never see out of again. I told the nurse it was hilarious that all I had to do to get a Covid test was lose an eye and she laughed but the doctors didn’t, because nurses are way funnier than doctors. I’ve learned that lately, because once one has been shot in the face one sees a lot of medical personnel.

I threw an absolute fit before my second surgery, which was medically necessary. The surgery not the fit, although in retrospect both of them might have been. Doctors don’t like to put people under general anesthesia because of the risk of death, but there was no way in hell or on god’s green earth I was going to let them operate on my eye while I was awake. I remember that I pulled out my IV and told them thanks but no thanks, I’d just heal. I’ve never had insurance in my adult life, I know how to heal on my own. I didn’t even have prenatal care with my first daughter. I like science but I’m not from the kind of place where you expect that anyone will use science to your benefit. And there’s no damn way I’d let anyone put needles into my eyeball while I was awake. They relented and put me under and now I have this interesting scar on my eyeball where they sewed it back together, which is disturbing to look at, but at least it’s something that happened while I was asleep.

It’s been a long road since May 29. It’s frightening. I am terrified of things like showers and gardening and pouring coffee. The whole world is risky now, because I have to relearn everything. I used to be the sort of woman who would jump into a car and go anywhere, and now I rely on others to drive me places or run my errands. I’ve learned to lived with getting the wrong brands of my favorite foods when they’re delivered because I don’t want to be too much of a burden on the people who go buy my groceries, even though I’ve never needed comfort food quite like I do right now.

I wasn’t allowed to have an orgasm for two months, nor to exercise or lift more than ten pounds. While my eye healed from the surgery I couldn’t put any pressure on it. Nothing that caused strain was the medical dictate. I still can’t be in bright sunlight even with the darkest glasses and I mostly live at night when I can control the light sources. Every day I condition myself to a bit more brightness and I wait for the day I can just go sit in the sun again.

My garden overgrew and didn’t produce much because I couldn’t tend the flowers and vegetables I’d so carefully nurtured. Even the gladiolus were lost. It’s a lost season.

I don’t regret a single thing. My job is important and I’m glad I did it. But I miss the early pandemic when all I had to do was be a loner in my garden. I miss when things like showers were easy, when everything wasn’t shot through with the frisson of terror of what will happen if I stumble, what will happen if I can’t see a threat coming, what will happen if what happens what happens if what happens if

What happens if I pour out pasta but I miss the colander and the sink and I pour it on me or the cat, what happens if I try to do anything by myself and I fuck it up and it hurts people, what happens if I don’t notice my kid running at me from the left and I startle and I slap her in the face, what happens if I misspeak, what happens if

Normal to me has always been about stability. In a weird sense I’m more stable than ever now because everything has to be put in its proper place for me if I’m going to survive. But for the first time in my life I don't feel confident I can take whatever’s coming my way. I don’t know what normal is anymore. I do know it was a theoretical question for me before I was shot in the face by the Minneapolis police.

Linda Tirado is an award-winning author, freelance writer and photojournalist. Her work focuses on politics, poverty, and civil unrest and can be found mostly in the US, U.K. and Australia.

I asked Hell World readers how they were feeling after it was called for Biden earlier this week. Here’s what they said.

  • My feelings reflect yours, essentially. Yes it’s good that bad orange man gone and we allowed ourselves some joy on Saturday. But my wife keeps saying ‘I just can’t believe we have a black female VP’ and my only response is ‘yes that’s objectively good but...’ I dunno. Feels like our shitty failing restaurant finally hired a decent back of the house manager but we still have rats in the walk-in and the prices are way too high for the bad food we sell so I’m not super confident in our long term prospects.
  • You know, man, I am very happy about all this, truly, but I'm having a lot of trouble with it, too. Four years is a long time. Once the key bump joy that comes from remembering how sad we've made that fuckface and from imagining a better and more just future that does not involve the Trumps in charge fades, I get real sad about everything we've lost, in both time and opportunity, and everybody we've lost. I have a kid that's three and a half who's never known another world, never known his parents to be anybody other than these constantly stressed out weirdoes we've become. He goes to K3 now via a laptop in our sunroom, while his older brother does K5 kindergarten via a laptop in our dining room, and it's become my job, in addition to being a stay-at-home dad, to be their teachers' hands and eyes and ears. To print out the worksheets, to make them do the activities, to keep them busy and "focused on school." (Again, they're 3 and 5). Their mom works from home as well over a laptop in our upstairs guest room, has since St. Paddy's Day and (thanks, bonus structure!) makes about half to two-thirds what she did in February. We've haven't been able to enjoy a night out together without concern since the first week of March, and we live in a state that's one of the worst places on earth for Covid, and has been for two months. Some days it's all I can do not to cry. Is 77-year-old Establishment Hero Joe Biden getting elected President going to help us out with any of this? I hope so, and I think so, but it's a long road back to where we were four years ago, and even that wasn't *that* great, considering it set the stage for everything that came afterward. This is a great big win, monumental in scope and potential, but I'm just so tired. I think we all are.
  • Cautiously optimistic! I'm coming to terms with myself as a normie shithead who found relief in Biden's speech and reverence for fireworks. It's nice to think that most things from the new president won't come from a place of mean-spiritedness. Low bar and perhaps naive of me, but I'll take it. I'm hopeful that there's some momentum behind progressive policy. I also have a tiny child now though, so maybe it's just collateral joy from that. I feel I must do absolutely everything I can to manifest a positive worldview for my own sake and some day his as well. I live a life of privilege however so understand that optimism isn't something one can just bootstrap themselves into. 

    Still, the country at large seems as foreign to me as ever. I was listening to a podcast, Brendan Walsh's World Record Podcast, which is a prank call show basically, and he called a gun store in Florida for some reason or another. During what turned out to be a nice conversation, the gun store guy was like "oh man you gotta get down here to Florida, everything's open again" but he didn't say it in a way that was like "the pandemic is fake" or "we just gotta get through it without interrupting our lives," it was just like "come on down, we're having fun!" I dunno man. 

  • My partner and I biked from Minneapolis to St. Paul to see the capitol building because we moved across the country to the midwest in August for work in the middle of a pandemic which was very fun and not stressful and obviously we don't have any friends due to the aforementioned pandemic so we do things like go look at buildings and trees and shit. The whole day was a constant barrage of old, white Biden supporters waving signs and celebrating at intersections and from overpasses, until we stumbled upon a big Trump parade and accompanying car caravan supervised very politely by two police cruisers following them as they marched/drove around town. My partner nearly got into a fistfight and my main concern was holy shit this MAGA woman is spraying covid into her face by way of calling her an ugly bitch at the top of her lungs at point blank range, which I also disagree with the ugly bitch part but the covid part was the main issue for me. A couple of guys in a pickup yelled "Stop the steal" at us,  and when I used my middle finger to make it clear we were not on the same side they changed their tune and made an impressively salient appeal to our common ground, saying "Biden stole the election from Bernie, that's your guy!" They seemed much more lucid than most of the deliriously happy Biden supporters waving signs at us and that does not feel great, I have to be honest! I drank approximately five drink units of gin for dinner that night even though I've mostly stopped drinking recently and that did actually help, I should also be honest about that. 

  • I’m definitely identifying with normie lib vs leftist angel/devil on each shoulder.

    I’m a public school art/journalism (?? idk how or why I teach journalism, except I guess no one else does) teacher in a town of 2000 in far west Texas. I did a mock election and writing project about said election in my class. My kids, generally, are 14 years old and hispanic and not fluent readers or writers. They don’t know anything about the government. They don’t understand or care that, when it comes down to it, the role of the government is to serve its citizens. And that really bummed me out! We’re failing to instill so much vital, practical shit in young people. I had to explain what health insurance is to my kids the other day, and that it’s weirdly only linked to salaried jobs, and I felt so...strange. I dunno. I don’t think the folks who voted for Trump, in my classes or in our country, did it because of policy. I think he embodied how to just complain without participating, how to feel bad and angry because of some entrenched systemic stuff that’s not going away. And I feel crazy that all these progressive things everyone can get behind like a $15 minimum wage and putting a collar on tech companies won’t happen with the party I voted for. I’m happy about our foreign policies being back on some kinda track, that an orange finger has been pried off a big red button, and the Paris climate accord and asylum for refugees, but I can’t help but think about how my students couldn’t be bothered to care about their next president, hardly, when all these white people were yelling that they’re the ones who will benefit, their generation, their race, their immigrant parents. Woof! I just feel strange that I/they have so little faith that the daily life of Americans will get better with a new president. 

    To be clear, I adore my kids and they make me laugh all the time, so much. It’s a joy. I’m not frustrated by my job or my students, we have a blast together and make art all day. 

  • I find it unsurprising and yet unhappy-making that brunch was so fully booked on Sunday because it confirmed my despairing hunch that libs were finna decide that the pandemic was gone once Joe won. More generally, I think that these sorts of elections lately have been extremely unhealthy for folks to experience in real time. Perhaps we could find a way to do them that doesn't require that? I went on a news media fast from last Tuesday morning until Friday evening and it was difficult due to muscle memory but ultimately kept me from wigging out at all, which is rare.

  • Some of my fellow sportswriters were complaining about treating the election like a game with winners and losers (we are all losers, imo), but the only time I could actually feel anything was when John King or Steve Kornacki were standing in front of the big map and the numbers with the red background were going down and the numbers with the blue background were going up. I felt a real tension and something close to excitement, almost like how I felt while I was watching the World Series. But once Saturday morning happened, it was back to feeling nothing and dreading everything.

    Biden 2020: you will always be a loser

  • I was legit happy for like 30 minutes, and I can still kindle a small flame of joy if I focus on Kamala Harris and her historic role as VP and what that will mean to women and little girls, especially black and brown girls everywhere, but for the most part I'm right back to being cynical and hopeless. The fact that 70 million of our fellow residents wanted four more years of Trump, the fact that McConnell and even fucking Lindsay Graham won re-election and the GOP will almost certainly retain control of the senate, the fact that Republican voters are reacting to Joe Biden, the poster child for conservative centrism like he's Karl fucking Marx, the fact that the GOP is refusing to concede and bowing to their mad king even now when their elections have been won and he has been robbed of all his power, the fact that we can expect 4 years of total obstruction from McConnell and government gridlock, the fact that people are preaching "forgiveness and empathy" as though Trump supporters have done anything to deserve either...It's all too fucking much man. And then I find myself getting mad at these people dancing around celebrating because what exactly are they celebrating? Do they realize that it took everything we have as a country to just barely defeat the literal worst piece of shit president ever and that unless something is done to change the electoral college, voter suppression, and gerrymandering we will almost certainly watch as the GOP death cult regains control of all branches of government despite the fact that they have and do represent a minority of americans? Are they listening as the centrist dems race to blame the progressives in the party for their own unpopularity and seek to abolish any and all progressive policies that could actually help people? Will all these happy revelers who are acting like Trump was the only thing wrong with this country be there to show up in twi years for the midterm elections? Enough of them to win elections against a GOP base that doesn't care about policy, only cares about owning the libs? If biden and centrism are the best we can do as a country, that's cause for mourning, not celebration.