You don’t know me. And you will never see this. I don’t know if you can see this. I don’t know if you can even read very well; close to a million of your fellows can’t.
My boyfriend and I stepped around a used needle on our way to the Hyatt the other day. Old needle, empty. We passed the stone doorways made into ragged nests. The old man staring through his cataracts. The latticework gates encasing the liquor stores.
I thought of this as I tried to piece together my broken window. I wondered which one you were. What the drug was that you needed so much, to ignore the CDs and the iPhone charger and the official documents and even the warm blankets in the back seat, favoring instead a fast rummage through the broken armrest, your rapid hands clutching at fistfuls of sticky pennies and dimes. I think there were some video game tokens in there. You won’t be able to use those. I’m sorry.
I was calm on the phone with Brian, checking out of the W just across the street, waiting for me to come back with the car so we could load the things we had bought, the things I had labored to make. I was calm with the 911 dispatcher. Calm as I carefully gathered the green safety glass into bags with the strewn receipts, orphaned pen caps, a tampon or two.
It must have been half an hour in the wet Atlanta heat that finally broke me. Or five days without more than four hours’ sleep in any one night. Nearly 400 miles of travel. Months of planning. A chaotic weekend in which I was glad to exchange my own freedom for the fun and fulfillment of others who had traveled further still. Maybe it was the residual exhaustion from the night before, when I wept for an empty city suddenly bereft of magic. I think it was when I realized I wouldn’t make it to my old college town in time to hand a favorite professor a copy of the first book I’ve been published in. I wanted to see his face. I wanted to have that moment.
Whatever it was, I eventually broke down. “I’m sorry,” I said to the police officer. “I’m crying all over your car.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Don’t cry.” I cried harder.
Did you wonder why there were no quarters in the armrest? I’d given them to a beggar outside Goodwill the week before. I wondered whether that would make a difference to you. Whether you would care about the charities I give to every year. The clothes and goods I donate. The thousands of dollars I’ve raised to fight mental illness. Probably not. Maybe you’re right. Some privileged white girl gives her shit away so she can buy better shit? Fuck her. She can spare a few pennies from the car her daddy bought her for college.
I want you to know I’m not angry. I would have been if you’d broken all the windows, if you’d slashed my tires, if you’d written BITCH or CUNT across the doors. But you weren’t some vindictive teenager acting out of malice. What you did was abhorrent. You destroyed my property, you violated my space, you cost me hundreds of dollars, you upset the balance of my emotional well-being. But you did it for a handful of change.
You did it for a handful of change.
And that’s the thing, isn’t it? You are so consumed by your addiction that you cannot even conceive of the effect your actions have on another person. It’s not that you don’t want to care. You literally can’t care. You don’t have object permanence. If you don’t see me, I’m not there. How can I blame you when the rest of us live the same way?
I thought about what it would take to make me so desperate, I’d give up basic human empathy—how dire my circumstances would have to be for me to pick up a chunk of concrete and smash it through a window. You’re not some alien creature, some inconceivable animal. We belong to the same species. You and I were born naked and unknowing, eager to touch and absorb and expand. What happened to you could happen to me. That is the heart of the horror. What would it take to turn me into you?
I thought about it. And then I tried not to think about it anymore.
I would have given you the money, if you had asked.