The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo, contributor
On the news, images of men carrying flames flash on the screen.
I am hated again. They want me to die. They want to hurt and kill me. Again. I am not hiding in an attic. We haven’t been moved to internment camps. Yet. I wait to hear the sounds of dogs barking as they chase me. I haven’t been hunted. Yet. Still they sniff for my blood.
I think of my grandmother. Is this what she wanted for my life? Was the land of opportunity all that she hoped for?
I think of your grandfather. Were the trenches cold? Did he fight for our freedom?
I think of Moses, our teacher, the Egyptian prince. Did he fight against brutality and slavery? Did he escape oppression and stand at the edge of the Red Sea?
My grandmother, she leads me back to the man they call president. She cared for his children. She was a nanny, domestic help. She cradled his babies. I’ve been thinking about all my grandmother did for us. Those babies she held are not her legacy. I am.
Your grandfather fought in World War II. He fought and killed. Killing was the thing that made him a hero, but he came home shell-shocked and scared. He kept his battle scars secret until he died. Even then he knew that hatred had a price and killing killed a part of you. Your grandfather fought against tyranny. He killed and he died. It was for me and for all of us. It was a different kind of fighting and different flames.
He did not die so I could be hated.
Your daughter fought in Afghanistan. Your son in Vietnam. Your uncle in Korea. Your great-great-grandfather held a musket. They told him to fight. He didn’t completely understand the reasons. Neither do we. We don’t understand. No one told him both sides could be wrong in a way. I’m not liberal, I’m not conservative. But hatred is not right. What makes us rage? What make us fight?
I want to look away from the news. Instead I watch men carry flames in the night.
Your grandmother picked cotton. She was white. You know from oral history, not school, that white people picked cotton. You know that Koreans came to Georgia a long time ago. You know that Jewish people help build Atlanta. We have all been on our knees. Every one of us.
We all know lack and wanting. Fighting and flames. We don’t understand hatred.
They want me to die. I am hated again. You are also hated. Your skin, your religion, your love is so dangerous. Again. They want to destroy us. We ought to die.
I ought to die.
I’ve been thinking about it.
Maybe I shouldn’t be here. My grandmother sacrificed her whole life, so I could have more and do better and still be hated.
They want me dead. They want my friend Christian dead. He teaches kids math. They want my friend Dina dead. Her God has a different name.
It’s not just hate. They want to kill us. Free speech is important. I don’t mind angry words. They want to be free to hurt and free to kill. You need to know this. They won’t be happy until the attics are empty, the fields and factories silent, and the whole world is underground.
Maybe I should die. You bristle at words like abortion and suicide, but accept the kind of hate that leads to murder. They are coming for us all. You forget, if given the chance they will kill you, too.
If they killed me would you say it was wrong? I am asking for a friend. The friends who are silent.
I am asking those eyes filled with rage, hate, anger. What do they want? I would give it to them. I would listen to them if they said anything other than rage. If they had a request other than me beaten and dying, I would help them. I would take their hurt away, even though they hate me. Even though their eyes are already dead. All those dead eyes, silver mirrors for the flame.
Who decides who should live and who should die? The soldier, the mother, or the men in firelight. Who decides to carry the flame?
I want you to say, “This is wrong.” I am asking the ones who’ve never said it. The ones who feel safe and distant from both the rage and the fear. The raging ones will always rage, the protesting ones will always protest. I need help from the ones who have never raged and never protested.
Sometimes the protest happens in the boardroom and across the dinner table. You don’t have to go out into the night with fists held high to fight. I want you to say, “This is wrong” in the face of those who say it is right.
Silence is also contagious. It has an echo that cannot be ignored.
I will end up dying.
Some days I don’t mind the thought. Don’t tell me this is wrong when you won’t denounce the hate that causes it.
I am guilty of many things. I long for death. I long for change. I long for peace. I am not more worthy of this life than any other person. I know the privilege of happiness. Every day I go on my knees and pray. I give thanks to this God and those ancestors who sacrificed everything so that I can suffer less. I am guilty of optimism. I am guilty of hope. I am guilty of having a voice of ink on paper. I don’t apologize for the things I am.
On Sunday I should have been in church, but I sat in bed thinking about Moses and fighting and flames. Those men holding torches are blocking the Red Sea.
Maybe I should be forced to leave this country, put back into slavery, I should be whipped and killed.
I think of Moses. They would have hated him, too.
They can’t take my flag, my worth, my life. It is my flag. I want it back. It is my fire. I know how to blaze.
Hate me. There are so many reasons to despise me. I enjoy picking apples and making homemade apple pie. I like to dance. I hold the door for strangers. I can catch a firefly, but would never put one in a jar. I have tasted honeysuckle and tears. I have stood through storms and not blinked for lightning. I have worked and worked and worked to make this city better, this country better, this planet better.
Now I think about flames. And Moses. And fighting. I think about all our grandparents did for us. Optimism and hope are not enough. I need your voice in the quiet hallways of your church and during lunch with your friends and at family reunions. I need every kind of warrior and every kind of fight.
I want our hearts to be healed. But maybe I am wrong. If everything catches fire, maybe everything should burn.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the back roads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays.