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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Murder, Mirrors and Money (and Jimmy Carter)

“How do you balance the budget, cut taxes and increase defense spending at the same time?... you do it with mirrors.” One of my favorite politicians of all time, John B. Anderson, said that back during the 1980 election. He was referring to Ronald Reagan’s voo-doo economic policies.
It just goes to show how little things have changed.
Lately I may as well be living in the 1980s. Economic recession? Check. Violence and instability? Check. I’m alone? Check. The only difference is now I’m alone with a baby and a three-year-old.
Okay, so I’m indulging in a little bit of self-pity here, but it’s been a rough week. Noah has been teething, which meant sleepless nights for both of us. Then, Wednesday morning I checked my cell phone, and saw that my mother-in-law, Natalie, left me a message during the night.
“Lucy, it’s Natalie. Have you seen the news? Did you hear about the murdered ambassador in Libya? Has Monty called you yet? Please let me know THE MINUTE you hear from him. Better yet, tell him to call me. I’m very, very worried.”
So I looked at the news to try and understand what she was talking about. Maybe it’s the sleep deprivation, but I’m still a little confused. Apparently a film by an unknown, supposedly American film maker, one that depicts Prophet Muhammad as both a womanizer and a homosexual child-molesting pervert, has sparked extreme outrage that led to the storming of a U.S embassy in Libya, the murder of an American ambassador and three other Americans, and now tons more protests and violence all over the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Monty’s not in Northern Africa, he’s in Ghana, which was in no way part of the Arab Spring, and he’s many, many miles away from the violence. Still, even his being on the same continent as all the conflict is a little unnerving, especially since it’s about anti-American hatred. But I’m trying to stay calm.
Wednesday morning I needed to drop the kids off at daycare and get to campus in time for my 8:30 lecture, so I texted Natalie and told her I’d keep her posted. Then I called Monty’s voice mail, because presently that’s the only way I can hear the sound of his voice.
“Hi,” I said. “Your mom’s worried about what’s going on in Libya, so please call her and let her know you’re safe. Then call me and let me know the same. Love you.”
It would be Friday afternoon before I heard back. In the meantime I heard all sorts of reports about how the violence was spreading, but hearing from my husband? Nope.
I heard other stuff. I heard about Mitt Romney’s misstep. I heard criticisms of Obama’s handling of the crisis, and his handling of the Arab Spring in general. I heard comparisons by the Republicans of Obama to Jimmy Carter. That one really gets me.
            Whenever the Republicans want to diminish Obama, they compare him to Jimmy Carter. But let’s understand something. Carter’s approval ratings were once as low as 21%. He almost didn’t get the nomination in 1980, and he certainly didn’t get the post-convention “bounce” that Obama seems to be enjoying.  In 1979 Carter did execute a rescue-mission for the hostages, but it was both unlucky and poorly planned, unlike Obama’s successful efforts to kill Osama Bin Laden. And, according to a recent poll by Esquire magazine, Obama would win in a fist-fight against Mitt Romney. Do you think anyone has ever favored Jimmy Carter to win a fist fight against anyone, except maybe Gerald Ford?
Anyway, the comparisons of Obama to Carter just do not hold up. I like Jimmy Carter. I DON’T like it when people rewrite history.
I’m also not a fan of trying to forecast the future, especially in alarmist mode. That’s what Natalie is doing. I talked to her several times on Wednesday and Thursday, and each time she told me how bad things are over there, how concerned she is, and that she really thinks Monty ought to just come home. I’d always answer that I haven’t heard from him yet, but I had no real reason to believe that he wasn’t okay.
Then on Thursday evening, Jack called me.
Before he could say hello I started in. “Your mother is getting on my last nerve. I don’t know if Monty’s okay. I haven’t heard from him, and he hasn’t returned my call. But even if he did, and if even I told him to come home, he wouldn’t unless he wanted to himself. I hold no sway. Why doesn’t she get that?”
“You hold sway,” Jack said. “At least more sway than anyone else has ever had. He might listen to you.”
I shook my head even though Jack couldn’t see me. “No. He’ll tell me that he’s safe in Ghana and that we’re all over-reacting.”
Jack sighed. “I know. But I bet Mom has called me twice for every one time she’s called you, so stop whining.”
For a moment neither of us spoke, but Jack broke the silence. “That was supposed to sound like a gently sarcastic teasing.”
“Oh. Well, you failed.”
I rubbed my temples. “I think we’re both stressed out and crabby. Let’s just erase this conversation from our memories, okay?”
“I wish I could. But actually…” and here his voice cracked a little, “I have a favor to ask you.”
“I need to borrow ten thousand dollars.”
I swallowed hard.
“Lucy,” Jack said. “I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t super-important. But Petra is all lawyered-up. I stand to lose both Mikey and the restaurant. And times have been rough lately, financially speaking. I’d pay you back…” his voice trailed off.
Monty and I are a dual-income couple, and he doesn’t exactly make peanuts at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Still, we have house payments, car payments, daycare bills, and all the other expenses that come with having two small children.
But Jack is closer to me than most real brothers are to their sisters, and having grown up an only child, that’s huge. Besides, I guess you don’t get a divorce, save your business, and keep custody of your child all at the same time simply with mirrors, either. So I said yes.
But doing so cost me more than just ten thousand dollars. Now, on top of everything else, I have that bomb to drop when I finally get to speak to Monty. I’m supposed to implore him to come home, and tell him I gave away our savings to his brother, all in one conversation. Like I said, I’ve had better weeks.
But as it turned out, I never got the chance to tell him anything. On Friday afternoon I left work early, and went to the gym to swim laps before I picked the kids up. When I got out, wouldn’t you know, there was a voice mail from Monty.
“Hey, Lucy. I’ve been travelling around to different villages all week and I just got your message. And all of my mom’s messages. I’ll call her now.” He paused for a moment, and I could hear the sound of traffic in the background. “I actually borrowed a car and drove for two hours just so I could find cell phone reception. I was really hoping to get you.” With that comment he lowered his voice, taking on a more intimate tone. “Isn’t it Friday afternoon where you are? Please tell me you’re not out for happy hour with some hot grad student who’s reciting for you the constitution, by heart.” He sort of half chuckled, half sighed. “Anyway, I’m fine, so please don’t worry. I’m nowhere near the protests. Tell the kids I love them.” He took a deep breath. “Tell yourself that I love you. Because I do. I’ll call again as soon as I can.”
I tried calling him back, but it went straight to voice mail. And those tears of frustration, the ones I had been holding back all week, started to fall. At least I had the cover of red-eyes from the chlorine, but the stinging only intensified.
How do you balance your life, locate your husband, and quell your anxiety all at the same time? Definitely not with mirrors.
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