What is ending?

I read this piece at December’s Desert Split Open Mic and some in attendance were kind enough to ask that I post the text. I have a funny relationship with this one – it came out of me in a rush, stream of consciousness, and I didn’t monkey with it much afterwards. I let it say what it had to say. I worry that it’s too dark, and it is, and so are these times. Thankfully, not every minute of them! There are good things happening all around, too, and today’s open mic was one of them. The quality of the work and the camaraderie among readers overwhelmed me with gratitude. I hope my work connects with those who need it. If you’re in or near Joshua Tree, California, come see us next time: Sunday January 16, 2022. 

What is ending:
The month,
the year,
the second year of Covid,
my hope that things will go back to normal.
What is ending is my ability to write a sentence like that while pretending “normal” is not a useless word and concept, that life was not chaotic and hard before, too hard for too many people. Unjust.
I guess what I mean is, I long for a return to the familiar.
I should know better. I wrote it myself, in a novel, six years ago: “No, there is no doubling-back. Life keeps scrolling forward, like a conveyor belt through a factory, but always in one direction, always forward.”
Life goes on, so I believed progress was inevitable. I was sure.

I am no longer sure.
What is ending is a year that began with a violent assault on Congress, the Capitol building, and our Constitutional process.
What is ending is democracy, maybe.
And safe, legal abortions.
What is ending is my tolerance for half-assed allyship, polite silence to keep the peace. Spare me that betrayal. Spare me the cowardice of casual bigotry and willful ignorance.
What is ending is my belief that progress will progress as quickly as I wish it would.
My little-girl fantasies of a feminist future, You and Me Are Free to Be…
a bit more free, but not equal, not yet. Be patient, little girl, wait your turn, wait for the pendulum to swing back again, again.
Hopefully in my lifetime.
Because I am no longer a little girl but a middle-aged woman who is tired.
What is ending is my will to keep climbing up onto my high horse
or even a soapbox
or out of bed, some days.
What is ending is my habit of pretending I am okay when
I am not okay and
have not been for a while.
January 6th is what broke me. I wrote about that in order to help purge the trauma – because that is what I do, the only thing that ever helps, I write – and, yes, it was trauma, our collective trauma and grief, shock and terror and also we are pissed off and that takes a toll, too, being pissed off every day for four years and more, and more.
It is terrible, what that man did to us.
What is ending is my patience with anyone who won’t admit that much, at least.
Who won’t admit that it was trauma when he talked about grabbing pussies and was elected President anyway.
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter,” said Christine Blasey Ford, who was disbelieved while Kavanaugh became a Supreme Court Justice.
It takes a toll, it takes a toll. Every woman’s pain is mine.
Empathy could save us, save the world, but all the empaths are writhing in lonely agony, holed up and holding themselves in desperate, self-imposed quarantine so that they might survive this, they might survive feeling everything that is ugly, unkind, selfish, and violent. Too many empaths are curled into fetal positions, inside, while outside, their mouths keep smiling through well-meant lies like, “I’m fine, how are you? I’m getting used to this now; It’s not so bad now.”
What is ending is my ability to smile when I don’t mean it. Maybe I am getting used to my mouth settling into a hard, flat line when it is hidden behind a mask. Come, look me in the eyes if you must know the truth. You will see that what is ending is everything, as it always is, for me and for you.
-Susan Rukeyser, December 2021