Falling Awake: My great fight

Mary Lou Sanelli

Mary Lou Sanelli

I still get a stomachache from all the tension churning inside since the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, and it rises fast, this tension, like rum set aflame. I think defeating the ultra-conservative right is going to be the great fight of my lifetime.

And if that isn’t sad enough, I finally got around to watching “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I suppose I was being a scaredy cat about the whole thing because reading Margaret Atwood’s book was one thing, but seeing the show? Rotten men, rotten women, rotten patriarchal state. The possibilities for sleepless nights are now endless. The point of the tale is to depict how cruel and calculating theocracy can be, a theme that never gets old to me. Which probably puts me on some rival list of the Religious Roundtable Council, Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. But this doesn’t trouble me because they are on mine.

My growing, growing list.

These feel like such authoritarian times. More and more bans sponsored by our very own Morality Police posing as representatives and senators. To quote my friend Liz, “They are taking away our reproductive rights, banning books, guns are now the No. 1 cause of death for children and teens in this country!” And then — because nothing makes her angrier than liberal apathy so she works really hard to stir it up, and I mean hard — she adds in frustration, “We had an insurrection, people! FFS, what’s it going to take?” And don’t even get me started on all the bills in Florida. Now they are considering a law that would ban elementary school classrooms from talking about menstrual cycles and other sexuality topics before grade six.

Now wait just a minute. I got my period in the fifth grade. And it was my homeroom teacher, Ms. Smith, who gave me all the comfort and instruction I needed. And believe me, we talked about what was happening to me. This did not make her part of any woke agenda, like legislators like to rattle on about. It made her a compassionate, responsible teacher.

I really need to write and thank her.

I’m not sure how many more images I can endure of a man standing at a podium deciding what women can or cannot do, while not one of them stands up to ban automatic assault rifles. And let’s be real, our kids are not afraid of women who want final say over their reproductive choices; they are afraid of being shot (shot!) at school.

I feel exhausted with grief over this new reality. So much so, that lately, when something good happens, when someone does stand up, or even spring in the air — cherry blossoms raining down and tulips all over the place — I feel like it happens more stunningly in contrast to the eerie attacks on our rights. I think one of the fundamentalists’ major objectives is that women relearn the message that empowerment isn’t feminine. This is not only bad for grown women, it’s bad for our girls. We will have to start from scratch to ensure their self-esteem. When I listen to ultra-conservative arguments, it’s clear to me that in their eyes, women are still viewed as the domain of men, or the church, or both. This is what scares me the most.

Another ray of optimism is Trump’s indictment. My friend Sequoia is a history guru. “Remember,” she said, “the government was never able to get Al Capone on any of his mob murders. They nailed him on taxes.” I breathed a sigh of relief. But this hopefulness could just as easily dissolve. If upholding justice was once intensely in style, it can be just as intensely passé. Like toe rings.

Recently I got a text from a friend that said, “Hey!!! Have you watched ‘The Family’?” There were way too many exclamations for me to ignore. It’s unusual for this particular friend to send me a text in the first place, so of course I watched the documentary that night, only to learn how sneaky men have been in the name of Jesus, hosting the National Prayer Breakfast, for starters, which has become the hub for backroom fundamentalist lobbying. Even more difficult to learn is how, when these fanatics don’t get their way about things like banning gay marriage in this country, they try to win their “battle” in other countries, spending millions to propagate fear of homosexuals around the world like a gardener sows seeds.

Now, this may seem like an abrupt change in subject, but bear with me: Not long ago I was taken aback by what was happening in a doorway on Fifth Avenue. One young adult was injecting another. Let me describe some other particulars about that little scene: While the guy injected the woman’s forearm, his jeans were halfway to his knees. Now, for women on the street, the likelihood of being sexually assaulted is not really a question of if, but when. I wondered what any of us should do, other than call the police, which a woman standing in the doorway of Anthropology promptly did.

I bring this up not because Seattle has been described as a “new Mecca for fentanyl dealers.” And I don’t bring it up because downtown is not exactly the emerald of the Emerald City nowadays. I bring it up because when I think of how organized fundamentalists and Right to Lifers have been, I think what a better world this would be if their efforts were targeted at homelessness or addiction or mental health. Why not make affordable higher education the cause? Or health protection? Gun-violence prevention? Solve a crisis that impacts those already living and struggling beyond hope.

Because our bodies don’t belong to men who meet in backrooms. Things you have to steal never do. And all of the thefts lately, well, they are scaring the bejesus out of me.

Even if I’m pretty sure no one says that anymore.

Mary Lou Sanelli is the author of “Every Little Thing,” a collection of essays about living in Seattle that was nominated for a Washington State Book Award. Previous titles include fiction, nonfiction and a new children's title, “Bella Likes To Try.” www.marylousanelli.com.