Boneshaker author Cherie Priest writes a heartbreaking, unsettling essay about the Gulf of Mexico disaster, and the responsibility we all share.
When I was about nine years old, I moved to Texas with my mom and sister. Our new home was in Orange, about six miles from the Sabine River, and maybe half an hour from the ferry to Galveston Island - where we day-tripped from time to time.
Although we'd moved to Texas from Chicago, I had very firm and fond memories of living in Tampa, Florida (where I was born). I remembered the ocean quite vividly, and the sand that looked like sugar, and the weird little things left in pools or tangled up in the sea oats when the tide went out. Therefore, I had some fairly high expectations tied up in the idea of "beach." These high expectations were, quite frankly, not always met on the Texas beaches. At the time, I was a snob about this as only a fourth-grader can be.
When my mother announced our early beach-visiting intentions to the locals, we were warned. They told us to, um, beware. Don't bring your good towels, they told us. Don't wear expensive bathing suits, they added. There's offshore drilling and whatnot going on over there … and the beach isn't so much … well … clean. Whatever you wear, bring, or tote is likely to come home with tar on it. Yeah. Sorry.
But in truth, I don't remember it being that bad. I recall a ruined towel or two, and one particular tar-blob that was positioned at the unfortunate nook of my lower butt-crack, leading my little sister to tease me about having pooped my suit. Such is life.
Eventually we moved back to Florida and then I moved away from Florida, though I still considered it "home, over there." It became that place I go on breaks from college, to visit family, and beach-comb, and shop, and body-board and sunbathe. (Yes, I was always kind of terrible at being a goth.) I've lived in Illinois, in the Texas panhandle, in Indiana, and Kentucky, and (for a rather long time) Tennessee. But at the end of the day, and in the back of my head … the Gulf Coast is my home. It's where I was born, and where I always return.
I liked Tennessee a lot, and I'd half-planned to stick around there for a while; but always I've assumed that one day I'd go home.
* * *
So I'm finding it hard to talk about the BP oil spill. It is horrible in the most literal sense - it instills within me a sense of true, deep, abject horror. It is creeping and (for the moment, at least) unstoppable. It is killing everything it touches, and it is huge, and it is trying to touch everything.
Jesus Christ. We broke the ocean.
(Yes, we. All of us who drive when we could walk or ride our bikes or use public transportation; those of us who pick up the marginally cheaper product when it comes to these things and many others when there are often more responsible options available. All of us who haven't been paying attention while the protective laws and regulations have been gutted, eliminated, and ignored. We did this. We made these oil companies rich. We gave them the power to do this. And therefore, we too are responsible – and if that sounds terrible, good. It ought to.)
The spill is leaping up and down on a whole host of my sensitivities. Besides the obvious - that it's attacking my Gulf - it's also tap-dancing on the same psychological nerve that compels me to be on time for everything. If you've ever met me, or had any occasion to rely on me for something, then you know it's true: I'm ludicrously and insistently punctual. This applies to deadlines, too. I'll stop eating and sleeping to keep from missing a deadline. It's just one of those things I don't let slide.
I can't explain it any better than this - I feel like every moment that the spill goes unchecked, a deadline is being missed. The fix isn't just late, it's too late. It's one of those nightmares where you're trying to catch a plane, and things keep getting in the way, and you're never going to make it - it's going to leave without you - but you keep struggling toward it. I hate those nightmares worse than I hate the nightmares about having loose or broken teeth. I hate them because they trigger this same almost-physically-painful hysteria I experience when I'm going to be late for something. Is it irrational? Yes, totally. I don't deny that for a moment.
But this fear. This hysteria. This horror. It is not irrational.
It is fair, and that makes it even worse.
* * *
Nobody knows what to do - that's the real killer. There aren't any ideas, at least not any good ones. Nobody knows how to fix this. Nothing is working, though God willing, by morning maybe the most recent management attempt will ease the situation. I pray. But I know better than to hope.
And even if it were fixed tomorrow … then what? How do you clean up everything that happened between the break and the fix? I've been wracking my brain, for all the good it does anyone. I've literally been losing sleep over this, because I keep wondering, what can I do? What can anyone do? And it's not bad enough that I, personally, don't know. It's much, much worse that no one else does either.
I appreciate the internet's attempts to crowdsource, though. I like that everyone from LiveJournal to CNN is asking for suggestions from everyone - from us all - and taking them, and posting them, and talking about them. On the one hand, they're asking the wrong people. We aren't experts in this kind of thing. But on the other hand, maybe that's good. Maybe we're exactly the right people to ask, because we don't understand the limitations - and we know how to think past them, because we don't know how not to.
I lie awake and fantasize about the things I know that pick up oil. Corn starch. Hair. Fabric. Hay. Bounty - it's the quicker picker upper! And I dream of fleets of tugboats with nets that are weighted down and trawling with blankets of hair, filtering and flushing. I imagine them coming in waves, arcing behind one another until every drop is sopped. And I don't have the faintest idea if anything like that is even possible, much less likely or useful.
But shit. It's not any dumber than some of what's already been tried.
* * *
Bobby Jindal says that the marshes on the coast of Louisiana are dead. "There are no bugs out there. There's no marine life out there. It is absolutely still. You cut the engines on your boat and it is the most deafening silence you have ever heard." And the oil is still coming. Coming for Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Coming for the Caribbean, and for Mexico. Coming for the Atlantic coast, too.
It makes my soul hurt.
But it does not care. And it is still coming.
This blog entry by Cherie Priest originally appeared at her blog. Images by AP.