It’s Complicated

by Jenny Forrester

I walked through town with my brother and his wife. Brian wore a U.S. flag on his baseball hat, had a flag on his shirt. Kelley’s shirt said, “Jesus is love.” They refuse to wear freedom-stealing, constitution-destroying masks.

Another relative invites me to Thanksgiving and tells the other guests, “Jenny hangs out with people who treat her like shit.” I laugh with everyone; I laugh at myself. You see? I laugh at myself with my relatives. I don’t defend.

For a long time, I followed the dictate, “Ditch your toxic family and friends,” but not anymore. I’m lonely.

And I also need writing material. Toxicity is a great source for that.

I think about being a human this way: It’s complicated.

It’s not that I only hang out with my relatives for writing material, especially at Thanksgiving, but there sure is a lot of leftwing-rightwing white people, microcosm as macrocosm for my brain to munch on.

It’s not only that I’m lonely. I miss my cats. My old busy life as all the things I’ve been.

And. It’s not that I don’t have a lotta U.S. flag love because I’m an idealist, a dreamer, love pluralism, love democracy, the ideal of progress for all and, despite knowing the many arguments against the symbol that is the U.S. flag, I believe the U.S. flag can mean all the good stuff, too. Ask a veteran. Like my brother. Ask a lotta people.

I’ve loved and hated the flag. I’ll continue to do that…put my revolutions in and against symbols. I’m only human. And symbols are powerful and claiming a symbol can be easier than destroying it. More effective. And with regard to hanging out with my relatives–it’s not that I don’t love Jesus but I don’t just want forgiveness or redemption, I want more, so Jesus and my relationship is super complicated. Jesus, for sure, doesn’t love me. And. I’m trying not to have one-sided relationships.

And to be clear…I’m NOT a waffler.

I’m saying: Walking through town in a pluralistic, complicated tourist town is tough with the purity of those symbols worn by purists who look the part and so do I. If you asked all the people walking by, they’d look at me and say, “Yeah, for sure, she votes Republican.” They just can’t know…they can’t know the contents of my brainpan. My lifespan.

So, Brian, my brother, his wife, and I went to a Nepalese restaurant. Brian and Kelley don’t wear masks. Kelley says, “All this about a virus. So stupid.”

Vaccine hesitancy is one of the 10 threats to global health, according to a 2019 World Health Organization’s 5-year strategic plan.

Brian and Kelley don’t have property. They live lives of poverty and service. Not an easy way to live. But they’re big into private property rights and despise public lands, government hand-outs, that sort of thing. You know what I’m saying, I’m sure.

Privatization…of basic services means that people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them and public health isn’t seen as a collective endeavor anymore, something we do for the common good.

At the store, the clerk says, “Why should I get vaccinated and put my own health at risk for people who don’t care about me?” So, it’s that, too.

My brother and Kelley are big into private property, private and personal responsibility. They’re against abortion, like Kelley says, “I sure hate that they’re killing kids,” in reference to late-term abortions, never mind all the heartbreak of that, Kelley is filled with internalized misogyny, you see. Queer rights in their minds are special rights and no one, they say, should have special rights, we should all be equal and have the same rights. They don’t understand the phrase Black Lives Matter, responding to it with All Lives Matter and my heart squeezes around history and reality and reason. I don’t say much to them anymore because they know where I land.

Kelley talks about our family. Our bellies. Our round bellies. Says, “It must be genetic.” We’re meant to be ashamed by our bellies, but excused by accidents of genetics.

Kelley says, “God has a plan for you still,” and I smile, “Yeah. I feel it, too.” I just don’t tell her the details of how I think that’ll play out.

And, yeah. My brother and his wife got covid and this isn’t to blame them or to say anything about anyone else who got COVID or will get COVID. It’s to be specific about a particular worldview that I’m critiquing. Skewering. Brian and Kelley said they got COVID from someone who’d just gotten the shot and now they’re immune no matter what THEY say, THEY being doctors. Immunologists.


So. Yeah. My toilet overflowed. A demolition crew will be here because no one wants mold to grow under the places where sewage, my sewage, seeped beneath the floor boards. There’s an ionizer, an air-sifter machine. One of two machine beasts, taking out moisture and bacteria. The air-sifter is attached by sheets of plastic to the window, the open window so it’s cold, cold, cold. The plastic flaps all night in the wind, like sleeping in a tent in the winter. I always wanted to try that so that’s cool.

During the night, the power goes out, my CPAP machine stops, my heart wakes me up. Squeezing its small squeezes. I’m pushing it, but I’m at peace, too.

When the power was out so I couldn’t sleep without the CPAP and the tent flaps were flapping and the thought of spending Christmas alone because it’s looking that way, I started to think the universe had it out for me.

I don’t hang out with people who treat me like shit, I just hang out with people. And people are people. It’s not that I only hang out with my relatives because that’s the only real way to be of any influence in anyone’s life even if it’s only a small shift, even if it’s the way we show love and love’s the world I want to recreate in as many ways as possible. I don’t know. Ya know?

I’m tired.

I miss my cats–Pip’s cuddly ways, Alex’s nose in my hair before holding them caused so much pain to their bones, bellies, lungs. Such pain aging is. Revolutions for every age, and if we’re lucky, we get to fight them.

The universe isn’t picking on me though, I’ve decided, because I found the blue battery charger for my phone just in time for the power outage. Seems like kismet. And because the power is out and I can’t sleep without the CPAP, I get to stay up, awake to witness the way the sky was before light pollution and the horrors of Christmas lights and power company rights and overly-excessive streetlights and such. I know light is complicated, too, but a dark sky isn’t.

I smile into the black and chilly, star-filled sky.

About the author:

Jenny Forrester’s been published online and in print. She’s the author of Narrow River, Wide Sky: A Memoir and Soft Hearted Stories: Seeking Saviors, Cowboy Stylists, and Other Fallacies of Authoritarianism. She’s the editor of Mountain Bluebird Magazine & Press. Find her at

Header photo by Samuel Branch on Unsplash

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