The Misery Index

We must be lost. As someone who grew up here, I should really know where we are. We walk around to get a sense of place and pass payday loan shops, the bloated carcass of a dog, streets with holes. A teenage girl writhes on the sidewalk, her right leg splayed at a gruesome angle, her face contorted with pain. Huddled over her are a couple of friends whose idea of help is to just yell, “C’mon! Stand up!” At this point I can’t even tell anymore what’s real and what isn’t. "If you see me,” the mass shooter says in the latest tweet, “weep.”


This part of the river is popular for suicide attempts. But if you go early, it’s not very busy. Just up the street, I encounter a wild-eyed woman, debt-ridden, detested, abandoned by everyone, walking in circles. “Please help, please help, please help,” she keeps saying. The air around us swarms with particles of ash and smoke, as if bodies are regularly being fed into industrial ovens. And, in fact, modern homes burn 8x faster. There are so many fires you can’t even see the sky.


Today I went looking for flowers for the funeral, but the shelves held only bottles, broken auto parts, a basket with plastic eggs. On the way home, I saw a young mom submerge her baby for a suspiciously long time in a galvanized tub set up beneath a cat’s cradle of clotheslines. Birds were darting here and there, making a noise like “Ha-ha-ha!” as if something in the situation was screamingly funny. I just kept walking. When I got to the corner, I happened to look back. It was like watching TV with the sound off, but you didn’t need sound to know what was happening to my country.

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