LAND, Part 1

The following is one essay in a series of nine written in the week following the March 16, 2021 Atlanta shooting that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent - all spa workers. I wrote these essays to chronicle my thoughts, emotions, and struggle with mental health in a year of largely unreported violent attacks against elderly Asian Americans, that culminated in this rampage in Atlanta and the March 17th attack of a 75 year old Chinese grandmother in the Bay Area. It is a part of my continuing practice to unsilence my voice after a lifetime of silencing my minor feelings*.

*With gratitude to Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings, which everyone should read.

I have searched months for land to buy. To build on. On what was once land stewarded by the Munsee Lenape people who nonetheless did not claim ownership over. Am I, in my quest to have a home, a place to cease nomading, also playing colonizer?

Is power over the land, our Mother, requisite for being a “real” citizen? For belonging? To what?

I read about the Alien Land laws enacted in the 1800’s prohibiting Chinese immigrants from owning land, and other laws preventing even the American-born children of Chinese immigrants from ownership of land. This, after my ancestors were recruited as a source of cheap labor to replace recently freed enslaved black people.

We visit a parcel of land in Kingston near the river and I'm glad for the distraction from my sadness, a grief that has submerged me this Saturday, after several days of blinding rage. I am a bipolar molotov cocktail - equal parts leaden crippling grief and volcanic rage - one that I alternatively want to hurl or drown in. The excuse to leave the house and indulge in our fantasy of a new home together - a future to look forward to - is a pinprick of brightness in a black hole day, and the gravity of the last year, 2020.

The parcel is wooded land with trees teeming with the birdsong of the spring newly budding. It's the Spring Equinox. Day is equal to night and the season of hope begins after a long winter.

I feel dead inside.

I'm grateful for the blonde older realtor who is not so familiar or friendly that she brings up the news and offers pity, which would tip me easily back into tears. The milk of any human kindness poured on this raw wound stings nonetheless.

"It truly is peaceful here" the realtor notes, gazing out onto the river in the distance from the mound of high ground we've climbed to.

"It really is," I reply, lost to whispers in the breeze.

Her enthusiasm for bushwhacking through the thorny overgrowth cheers me. It's nice to see joy in someone. She seems carefree and content to wait as long as we need to look the land over. I have a moment of envy. I am a thin, thin sheet of paper that wants to evaporate on the wind over this vast and sylvan land but there’s a slab of concrete weighting me down the last few days, trapping me in this sadness singed with a constant low-level alarm, an anxious vigilance.

A teenager rides by along the power lines slung overhead traveling through the western edge of the lot. An easement follows the power lines and perpetual access to it is deeded to the electric company - a reason this acreage is a relative bargain. Because the electric company keeps the land below the lines cleared of brush or any trees, there is an informal trail on the parcel, which locals like to use for biking, walks, and snowmobiles in the winter.

Our plans for the land include building a studio in which we can record our music without outside noise so we ask:

"Could we put a fence around the property for privacy so we don't have people riding across our property?"

"Sure, but then you'd be the bad guy and the locals probably wouldn't like it", chides our agent.

The anxious urgency gnaws a little further and I think Chinese lady buys land, fences it off from public use, alienating neighbors. I might as well put a target on my back.

Today, I don't think I'm being paranoid.

We pick up bourbon, a pie, and fries before returning to the cabin. I eat half the pie and all the fries for dinner, washing it down with bourbon. Profound despair reading about the victims' lives, the infuriating news reports that show how little we matter in the country's collective consciousness, and endless social media leeches the life from me. I am exhausted.

The next day, we don't wake up until 1pm. I never sleep this late unless I am sick. The sun is brilliant springtime sprouting green of the trees. Our teeming creek chatters by, its shining teeth sparkling flecks of sunlight upon the windows. There was so much hope last week as the mounds of snow receded, unveiling the face of the brown land beneath and warmth enough for aspiring outdoor gatherings. Maybe even a gathering of music.

This world is a lie I think to myself.

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