Melissa didn’t sleep. Which means I didn’t sleep. She wasn’t up waiting for the results. She was lying awake in grief and fear. A lot of women cried today. There’s a room at her high school called the Harbor, a sort of permanent lounge for those having trouble coping at school. Madame Albert went to the Harbor. Her students called on her late in the day. Was Madame Albert really in tears?
She was, and she is. Now she is standing before me, shaking her iPhone. “Did you see the principal’s email?” Yes, I had, and I had spoken to Joey about it when I did. “What did he say?” she demanded. I should have just explained that Joey was nonplussed, but instead, I said what we say in this house: “Go ask him.” In my defense, I also wanted her to calibrate my own response to our son. She chokes back the tears and scurries up the stairs to Joey’s room.
The middle school principal had emailed to tell parents that someone had painted swastikas on the bathroom walls. They had held an assembly headlined by a “survivor of the Nazi invasion into Eastern Europe.” Joey told me what he remembered: that the man was from a country that began with an R, that he was in the Holocaust, that he wasn’t in a concentration camp.
Melissa pulls all of this hatred together as a rod pulls together lightning bolts. It strikes at her heart and breaks it. I try to rally the troops. I have her friend in Oakland—the only one I know who said, “Eh? If it happens, we’ll deal with it”—get in touch. She’s gay, she’s married, she drives an electric car. She’s our coal mine canary. My crunchy friend’s hippie wife is in a similar state. I hurry them over so the girls can talk, can process. “Welcome to the shiva,” I say. “Were you friends of the deceased?” They snuggle, get wine and whiskey. They process.
Usually I process with just a few very close friends. We talk about why our team lost in the playoffs, how they would have prevailed in the final. There’s nothing to say this time around. The gallows humor isn’t even funny. So we talk about other things and I process alone and I write.
I keep coming back to the clown and the swastikas. The liberals in town blame the clown. My mother blames the media for the clown and the clown for the swastikas. He has made the hate of the Nazis okay. So the survivor will tell the children what he saw and we will exorcise the hate. The children really do listen and learn. I’m thankful we have professional educators here in Marblehead. Still, it’s not the clown or the Nazis. If adolescent anti-Semites were not so clichéd they’d have thought to paint the stars and stripes on the wall.
The Spirit of ’76 hangs in the Marblehead town hall. Even if you don’t know the name, you know the famous painting of the wounded fife player and the two drummers leading the rebels. We love to celebrate the revolution here, and the founding fathers. About why those men created the electoral college, we’ve never thought.
Marblehead was once restricted, parts of it well into the 1980s. It has a WASP yacht club and a Jewish yacht club. Jews are allowed at the country club, but not encouraged. There was a “gentleman’s agreement” for generations, and many of our town’s families have been here for generations. Some shook hands with a wink. Others stood by and did nothing. Chris Rock would call them “sorority racists,” more subtle than the burning-cross racists. “We like you, Rhonda, but you’re not Kappa,” he punched to uncomfortable laughter in Hollywood. They are clowns with better makeup.
The radio lies quiet; the paper unread on the stoop, but the filth seeps in. Melissa doesn’t like living in filth, so she will shut it out. She’s planning to get reacquainted with her Kindle. She’s put her Facebook feed to sleep for a while, so text or email if you need her. It’s my job to stay strong. Crying’s for girls anyway. Now I am in tears.