Hope For Haiti

    And then there's a white pickup truck right behind you. It's a beat up Ford, and the driver is wearing a baseball cap. It's 7:32, almost dark. He's driving about twenty feet behind you. You turn left at the light. So does he. Ok, fine, just one turn. You stop briefly at the red light and then turn right. He does too. That's a little strange, but it's all right. You're not worried. This time, you wait and put your blinker on just before you turn right. He does the same thing. The sun is going down; you run over the long shadows of trees and telephone poles as you drive.

    You slow down, and he does too. Maybe he lives near you. Maybe it's just a coincidence. Maybe he's following you. Maybe he's waiting until you stop, so he can jump out, cover your mouth before you can scream, and drag you into his truck, or just get in your car like Biff in Back to the Future. Will anyone notice? Surely he wouldn't do it in the well-lit apartment parking lot. But he's been following you for a while; he has your license plate by now. He'll probably follow you to your apartment to see where you live and wait. How long will it take for your friends and family to know that you're gone?

    On your right, an old man in really small shorts walks his dog as darkness swallows the world, oblivious to the crisis passing by him.

    And then you think of all the people you need to say goodbye to before this guy gets you, and suddenly death is not just what happens to the Spartans in 300, and it's not as romantic as Leonardo DiCaprio dying in Titanic. It's right in front of you (well, behind you). And you wish you'd taken your life more seriously, been better to your brother, visited your friend when her dog died, and not spent so much time avoiding your mom. You never left your mark, really, just bought a lot of clothes and went to Outback way too much. It's too late now, though, and you think that if you had one more chance, you'd do it all different. You'd volunteer at the animal shelter, and give money to charity instead of watching TV and eating potato chips on the couch.

    You turn right. Your blood pumps and your head pounds. You brace yourself and look in the rearview: the pickup continues straight. You see it pass by in your mirror, and he's gone. Nothing is behind you now, except the shadows of street lights. Two more turns into the parking lot of your apartment building, both left. It was silly to get so worked up, you think. Of course it's all fine. You're embarrassed that your heart's still racing. It's 7:38. You get out of the car, not too fast, trying to be casual. Once inside you turn on the TV. You see actors and actresses killing, fighting, dying, making love. You've never been burglarized or been caught in a gun fight or witnessed a murder, and you're a little disappointed.

* * *

    You're in line at Albertson's. You flip through a Marie Claire, out of boredom, not because you believe in any of that trend shit. You're confident, assured, secure. Look at those models- they haven't eaten in weeks. Inside is a quiz about friendship- a pathetic waste of time no doubt. "Super Chic Looks: From Luxe Utility to the New Pretty." Are you the old pretty or the new pretty? You slouch a little in your black yoga pants and old T-shirt. You remind yourself that it doesn't matter and flip to page 112, just to check out "The Psychology of Sex." They do it a lot different than you do. The woman in front of you looks like an ice cream cone in her tapered blue jeans. She's probably the old pretty.

    It's your turn at the checkout, and you go ahead and buy the magazine along with your milk and Bisquick and cat litter, just to have it- just in case you have guests who like that sort of thing. You drive home, interested in spite of yourself to read the article about the woman who agreed to a threesome for her husband's birthday.

    In your apartment you head for your closet and try to find some pants like "the boyfriend trousers," an essential to the spring wardrobe. "The girl who embraces her inner animal is a girl who is not afraid to take a walk on the wild side"; you really need to pick up some leopard print shoes like those. You don't want people to think you're afraid to be wild. "Does your volume measure up?" Of course it doesn't- you're not trendy at all. It's a wonder you managed to get yourself friends, let alone a boyfriend- will he be upset if he doesn't get a threesome for his birthday?

    You rip through "Exactly what to wear this spring," so that you can move through society without being laughed at for your outmoded keyhole orange shirt and your whiskered blue jeans. You "Discover the secret for beautiful hair." You find out that it's acceptable to go bare-legged in cold weather, and that "You can never go wrong with a statement necklace." Now you just have to figure out what that is exactly, and once you do, you'll be chic, glam, gorgeous, like those slender women in the ads. They don't put on yoga pants for morning grocery runs. You must be the only one who doesn't wear heels with straight pants when you leave the house. Actually, you see a lot of yoga pants at the grocery store- not enough people have bought this magazine.

    You get to the quiz: "Are you a GOOD FRIEND?" You tick off your answers. Your blood pumps and your head pounds. You hold your breath and look at the answers section: "Mostly B's: Golden Girl." Your muscles relax. You don't believe in this stuff anyway. This magazine is shallow, a waste of time. You're embarrassed that your heart's still racing. You flip through a few more pages and set the magazine next to the Vanity Fair on the desk. You put the groceries away, get your laundry out of the dryer, and fold the orange keyhole shirt. You'll still buy some leopard print shoes. After all, "It pays to be a social beauty." You'd know what the payoff was if you were one. You turn on the TV. Is the actress onscreen wearing boyfriend trousers?

* * *

    At Starbucks, you open the New York Times: "Haiti Lies in Ruins; Grim Search for Untold Dead." There is a picture of a woman, walking around the rubble holding a hand to her face. A row of bodies covered in sheets is behind her. A survivor pleads for his wife's corpse. A woman cries for someone to save her daughter. Homes, hospitals, schools, and government buildings lie in an indiscriminant pile of wreckage.

    A woman giggles at the next table, batting her eyes at the man across from her. The baristas yell out orders. You feel incensed: no one seems to care about the Haiti earthquake. You take a bite of your morning bun, log on to Starbucks WiFi and type "Haiti" into the search bar, to find out exactly where and what Haiti is.

    The next day's Times features a man's body, gray and dead. "Hopes Fade in Quake-Ravaged Haiti, and Anger Rises." You look at images of children screaming, mountains of gray rubble, piles of the dead. Your blood pumps and your head pounds. You feel a little sick. You remind yourself that they're just pictures. You set the Times down and sip your hot chocolate casually.

    Someone's caramel macchiato is ready at the bar. You're embarrassed that your heart's still racing- Haiti is a million miles away.

    At your apartment, you fold laundry and watch Anderson Cooper report from the wreckage; 150,000 dead and more injured, aid workers struggling to help everyone in need. You read about premature Haitian babies in Marie Claire while getting a pedicure. You watch the Hope For Haiti Now telethon and concert- you read that Robert Pattinson will host, and has a new beard. You buy the Hope For Haiti Now CD and a "Hope for Haiti" bumper sticker to prove your devotion to the cause- you keep your eye out for "Hope for Haiti" bags and T-shirts. The blonde barista at Starbucks now has a "Hope for Haiti" pin stuck to her apron. If only you had one, everyone could see what a humanitarian you are.

    The tragedy drags on. You open the Times at Starbucks, and it has new pictures: a father washing his son who's missing an arm and what's left of a building burning down and hands outstretched to aid workers. You don't feel sick looking at them anymore. You flip through the photos of women crying and of rubble and food camps. Haiti may be in a "Seismic Hot Zone," but you're not. You continue to drink coffee and listen to baristas yelling orders. UN workers and charity organizations have been in Port au Prince for a few weeks, but nothing new has happened. The Times features picture after picture of slums and tents now, colorful dots of pink, blue, and white seen from a helicopter. You stop looking for a "Hope for Haiti" T-shirt.

    You open the New York Times: "1.5 Million Displaced After Chile Quake." This earthquake was stronger than the Haitian one, with two dozen aftershocks. Over 100 people are buried under a building in Concepción. There are no bodies in the picture, just a woman sitting among rubble, wrapped in a blanket and petting a dog. In the background, a car sits under a pile of bricks that used to be a house. The man across from your table sips his coffee. The baristas yell out orders: someone's breakfast sandwich is ready at the bar. The blonde barista doesn't have her "Hope for Haiti" pin on anymore. You log on to Starbucks WiFi and check your Facebook page. Earthquakes are old news.

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Julie Harris
for my grandmother