An American Pulp Fiction
Tracey Barnett ©February 2011
If you remember nothing about the mass shooting in Arizona that wounded 13 and killed six, including a nine-year-old girl who wanted to see her Congresswoman for the first time outside a grocery store, remember this: Christina-Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001.
She was one of 50 babies born that day, one representing each state, who were included in a book published shortly after 9/11. These 50 children were to symbolize the promise of America.
Like a sad parenthesis bookending the American decade, this girl’s short life began and ended on a day of national terror, in what was to become America’s Decade of Terror.
In one rare, over-indulgent rhetorical flourish in what was otherwise one of the most eloquent speeches of Obama’s career in front of 13,000 Arizonans and millions of Americans, the US President said he hoped Christina would fulfill the wish written next to her 9/11 book entry. She will jump in rain puddles—in heaven.
Nobody can write fiction like America lives it in reality. It is too impossibly clichéd, too supersized—a pulp fiction.
At one point the First Black Lady—once an impossibility when Christina was born—reached out to hold the hand of the husband of the fallen 40-year-old three-term Jewish Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. Giffords’ husband is a space shuttle commander and astronaut. His twin astronaut brother learned of the shooting while up in space.
Today media outlets update the condition of the Congresswoman who was shot point blank in the head, gesture for gesture, like a play-by-play of healing she has to win. She opened her eyes for the first time when three close friends, all Congresswomen, came into her hospital room and joked about getting pizza. It was the semi-conscious patient who tried to comfort her husband. She massaged his neck as he leaned close to speak to her, he reported this week to large headlines.
If Astronaut and Congresswomen couples weren’t American mythic enough, the murdered child’s grandfather and father work in professional baseball. Christina wanted to be the first girl ever to play in the major leagues.
Most unbelievable of all; Americans find a way to renew their belief in their country’s innocence, despite the pain it inflicts upon itself.
Eulogizing Christina in the closing minutes of his speech, Obama said, “I want to live up to her expectations…I want America to be as good as she imagined it.”
When Obama’s voice rose and he told Americans they must do everything they can to make sure the country lives up to our children’s expectations, the crowd stood and cheered for 51 seconds.
If you watched the cerebral, ice-cool President’s body language closely, you would have seen him stop and very slightly compose himself. He took a deep, sighing breath and his shoulders visibly dropped as he waited. When the crowd wouldn’t stop cheering, he nodded almost imperceptibly, as if acknowledging; This is how it should be.
America’s “better angels” don’t get much press because Americans first and foremost don’t see them. Americans write about a grotesque fundamentalist Baptist Church that protests during fallen veterans funerals with signs that preach that the dead soldier deserved to die for our sins.
Arizona officials scrambled to pass a law that would create a physical buffer from the same group threatening to protest at the little girl’s funeral. Hallowed free speech got too ugly to bear against a dead child, its most undeniable innocent.
It is the depth of American contrasts that feel pornographic from afar. America is the country that brings us a television show about a serial killer who kills serial killers; while in reality, its’ richest man is spending the rest of his life figuring out the most effective way to give away his Microsoft millions. America is the country whose guns sales in Arizona spiked by 60 percent after the shootings; while straight-faced pundits wrote, “Public life can reflect our best selves.”
Just when its national profile reverts to caricature, we listen hardest to a comedian, Jon Stewart, not a politician, tell us in faint yet damning praise, “We haven’t lost our capacity to be horrified” and then add in wishful, fragile self-esteem, “and please let us hope we never do.”
The un-ending irony of the American promise is that it is as ugly a fiction as it is a tangible, audacious, rubber hope.
My America is Jared Loughner, another mass murderer whose name we never wanted to know. My America is Gabrielle Gifford’s hand against her husband’s neck. My America is the audience who stood on their feet in that Arizona arena and wouldn’t stop clapping for 51 seconds. My America is a local Mariachi band that stops outside the Congresswoman’s hospital window each day to play because they believe music heals. The first decade of a new millennium is over and my America is afraid of itself.
My America is six dead, and 300 million wounded—again.