Vanished Flags, Invisible Dead
Updated: Jul 20, 2020
So my story today, I fear, will be a bit unsatisfying, if only because it has no real ending. Rather, it comes at long and winding last to a series of speculations, possibilities, and vague aspirations for a stranger’s well-being...a stranger I have never met and with whom I do not even remotely agree.
But, all the same...I hope they are not dead.
Here are the details. Each morning in the summer, when I can, I walk the neighborhood. I try to get in a mile, at least, before nine o’clock, when it gets really too hot here to exercise. That is, in summer. (It’s been over a hundred the last three days. On Monday, my weather app said it “felt like” 111° Fahrenheit, which would be, what? Around 43.9° C.)
I have several paths I take. There’s the one up the way, that leads through the neighborhood across Wagon Wheel Trail. I like that one. The people there tend to be a bit younger, and there are more children. It is also, frankly, more working class, and often more Hispanic. But not always so.
I remember, one day, walking along Algerita Drive, and there was a little girl out in front of one of the duplexes. It was early in the morning, and she was still dressed in her nightclothes, specially a bear costume, complete with a hood and ears. She was riding a hover board around and around in her driveway, while her mother watched. It was pleasant, in its strange way...to watch the little bear, gracefully and gleefully propelling herself in linked circles, tracing the symbol for infinity on the concrete...
Other times, I go the opposite direction. The neighborhood there is older...that is, the residents tend to be older. Though, that is rapidly changing. People are moving out. Younger people are moving in. Already, you see children playing, again, in yards, and couples with strollers. I suppose, soon enough, we’ll have the hover boards and bears there as well.
One house that I pass is around the corner, almost exactly half a mile away. I have never seen the inhabitants, but I have noticed the yard and garden. They are well kept, always in trim. The house is in good repair, but somehow, it feels old. I don’t know why the house feels old, but it does. It feels like someone senior lives there. Someone who takes pride in their home, but getting on a bit.
Most recently, I paid particular attention to the yard because it sprouted Trump signs. There were two, one near the driveway, the other in front. I did not, of course, approve. I’m a liberal. And, more important, my team is the Democratic Party. The family’s been that way for ages. (I think the last time a Tucker voted for a Republican was Lincoln. Well, okay, that’s not quite accurate. But, certainly, the clan never forgave the GOP for cheating Samuel Tilden. We have long memories, and hold grudges with a grip of purest steel.)
Anyway, the signs attracted my attention, but...well, if the residents wanted to vote for a man I felt to be malevolent ass, that was their business. Not mine. So I walked on, and days went past.
Then, some time later, we had the BLM protests and statues of Confederate heroes began to vanish and/or be thrown into harbors. And, shortly after that, I was walking past the house and I realized something new had been added. There is a flag pole on the driveway side of the house, and for as long as we’ve lived in the area, there has been an American flag on it. I didn’t think anything about it. After all, why not demonstrate pride in your country?
But, that morning, there were two flags. The American flag was on top...and below it was...something else. At first I thought it was just a Texas state flag. Texans are proud of their state, and rightfully so. But...but...then I looked again. It was the Stars and Bars. The first official flag of the Confederate States of America.
Not the red battle flag with the blue Cross of St. Andrew laced with white stars (which, as I understand it, was never the official flag of the CSA). Rather, the flag in question was the first Confederate flag -- a flag with three stripes, two of red, and one of white between them, a blue square (a canton) next to the flagpole, a circle of white stars in the blue.
I will give the residents their due. They selected the least offensive of the Confederate flags to fly. The Battle Flag, of course, would have reeked of racism and the Ku Klux Klan. This earlier flag, however, does the same, but somehow more quietly, perhaps because fewer people are familiar with it.
Still...the flag was unpleasant, and it disturbed me.
But what could I do about it? I couldn’t very well ring the bell and say, “I say, do you have any idea how awful that looks?” Nor could I really get away with providing a quick lecture. I have, after all, two Master’s degrees in history, and would have had a Ph.D. if I hadn’t gotten kicked out of graduate school. Perhaps I could knock on the door and tell whoever answered, “Did you know that flag was abandoned by the Confederacy because it looked too much like the Stars and Stripes? Maybe you should consider the Gadsden Flag instead? You know? The yellow one with the snake.”
But, of course, that wouldn’t have helped. It would have made no difference. So, I did what we all do in such situations. That is, nothing.
More time passed. Covid-19 continued its relentless march through the population. We learned that Putin had put a bounty on American heads. The economy plunged into darkness. There were riots in cities across the nation. There were storms in the midwest and fires in grasslands. People began to talk about Disaster Bingo, and asking who had Murder Hornets on B7.
One day, early last week, I was walking by the house again, and...there were no more Trump signs in the yard.
I hoped it hadn’t been something unpleasant. I hoped there hadn’t been a fight with neighbors or with family. Politics makes fools of us all.
But the Confederate flag was still there. So, I assumed everything was status quo and went my way.
Two days later, I walked past again. This time, the Confederate flag was gone. The American flag was still there, but it hung listlessly at half mast. Oh!
That afternoon, I deliberately drove past the house, but this time came from a different direction. From this angle, I was able to see into the yard. That was when I spotted the Trump signs. They were still on the property, but they had been thrown roughly on the ground next to the trashcans. It was as though someone had not even wanted to give them the dignity of rubbish.
That was when I began to wonder and worry about my invisible, Trump-supporting neighbors. I saw them as an older man or woman or a couple. Maybe much older. I envisioned them voting for Trump because they saw in him some memory of another age, when the world seemed to them pure, and their future was bright.
What could so dramatically change their opinion of the Orange Emperor? Well, there is a best case scenario. In it, they woke up one morning and realized that, by God! this man has not returned to our nation to power and greatness and innocence. Rather, each day he has been in office has been another step toward irrelevancy, national humiliation, and even death. Maybe...I tell myself..they realized this, and with fury, they hurled the signs into the garbage, as they would also consign his administration and his memory to oblivion.
That is what I hope.
But, alas, we know that such conversions are rare. More likely, something else, something worse, was the motivation. Like illness. Like death. Like they were old to begin with. Something happened. Something sad. And then the children or the heirs or the caretakers came and removed them. These people, whoever they were, were not of the same opinions as were their parents, grandparents, or other...and so the signs and the flag went by the wayside.
And there is something terribly sad in that. Not that I object to the end of the signs and the flag, but I would rather it be some other way...I would rather the neighbor I’ve never met not be ill, or incapacitated, or...frankly... dead. That is not what I wished. And more... much more! I am put in mind of our universal frailty. Of how rare a thing is living, and how easily that gift may be withdrawn.
Of course I’m being overdramatic. I am playing the detective when I have no evidence and no power of deduction. There is no real indication that anything bad has happened to my unseen neighbor, other than the absence of signs and portents, or rather flags. It is perfectly possible that I am a victim of my own overactive imagination.
Still...still...I am concerned.
Particularly as there is a worse possibility. To wit, that he or she or they did not give up their support of Trump willingly. Rather, one terrible day, they discovered they could not breathe. They could barely make it to the phone to dial 911, or call a relative to do so for them. And the ambulance whisked them away. And now they are somewhere in an ICU, if they were lucky, or the morgue if they were not.
And somewhere along the line, somewhere in a moment of horror and shame, as Covid struck them down, the disease which Trump first denied and then neglected...they realized that this is what their loyalty to him has brought.
How terrible a thing it would be to know that.
For, you see, it is bad enough to be wounded by an enemy. It is worse to be betrayed by a friend. But to be fundamentally harmed by someone you thought to be your hero?
That would truly, and utterly, be beyond forgiveness.
Follow up, July 20, 2020: This morning I went past the mystery house again and was able to (finally) speak to some of the neighbors. I’m relieved to report that to the best of everyone’s knowledge, the residents are fine. They are, I gather, a mother and a daughter, and they’ve been seen recently coming and going. So, I guess, they just had a conversion experience and dumped Trump.
It is a less dramatic ending than that what I envisioned, but a far happier one. I’ll take it, then, without complaint.