This story is by Ava Mauriello and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I jumped into the lyftline I slipped my hand into my purse to make sure I brought a can of pepper spray. I lugged a backpack full of snacks, water, and poster board to create signs for the cause. Tonight was a huge rally in Chicago in honor of the tragedy in Charlottesville. The first thing that I planned on doing when I arrived was giving Nathan, my wonderful boyfriend, water and snacks; he’s been protesting all day.
To me, Nathan is one of the most inspiring people that I have ever met. Very few people demonstrate a true compassion for humanity the way that Nathan does. When I first moved to Chicago he drove me all over the city, taking me to interviews so that I wouldn’t have to go alone in a new city. Not only would he drive me around, he would also go the extra mile and print out resumes for me. He was one of the few people who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. I never had a fan until I met Nathan. Indulging in my art softened his heart. The causes that he worked towards drained him at times, but watching my short films, or reading my poetry gave him an escape and an outlet to love freely.
Nathan’s mission in life has always been to make a difference by leading organizations that defend the disenfranchised. Running organizations is only a small part of his rich, multifaceted life – he also owned a small business. After developing an app that helps people overcome addictions, he has been able to maintain a flexible schedule. Addictions have played a large role as to why he is so passionate about contributing to causes. Addictions caused the sudden end to the lives of his grandfather and even his father.
“I know that the oppression that we’ve faced is the real reason they are dead,” he would explain to me. “Addictions are just the symptom of a bigger problem.”
I cried when he told me about the horrors that his grandfather and father were forced to go through living in ghettos and barely scraping by. His grandfather was framed and jailed for manslaughter because a white man had a better lawyer. Being beaten became a way of life for his grandpa, if not by the police by his own father. The true tragedy lies in the fact that his grandfather wanted to advance the less than ideal education system we are all forced into as children. He spent years riding in slummy buses to the library in his spare time just to absorb everything he possibly could about physics. Being a poor African American man he knew he would never become a scientist, but he thought he could at least become a teacher and distribute the textbook he spent years writing. He couldn’t even get a teaching job. He went on to teach Nathan his first lesson, the lesson of conviction, when he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.
Nathan told me the story about how his father wanted to run for political office. Without an Ivy League background and the concern of a young, newly pregnant lover, his father was forced to drop out of school and bounce between minimum wage jobs just to support his blossoming family. He felt guilt over his father’s failure to fulfill his dream. He believed his birth was the burden that caused his father’s suffering, and wanted to alleviate that pain. The empathy Nathan had for his own family melted my heart.
I do want to have children and it pains me seeing what Nathan has had to go through. What if I had a bi-racial baby? If we had a child, what would he or she have to go through?
Nathan truly made the best of a sad situation with his positive attitude and intellect. Would our child be able to defy the odds the same way? Or would he be forced into a harsh world with less opportunity and more hatred?
The lyft driver dropped me off in the middle of downtown Chicago. I paced around the Chicago Theater, where he told me to meet him. Suddenly there was so much pressure in my chest. I felt like I desperately needed to take some deep breaths before seeing Nathan. In front of me were two giant groups: one consisted of white nationalists armed with torches and weapons, the other counter protestors armed with posters and valor. My hand floundered around my purse as I reached for my phone to call Nathan. I waited as I heard the phone ring for what felt like an eternity, but to no avail. He promised he would find me. We had planned to meet at the theater at seven and it was 7:05. Seeing that old building reminded me of when I would go with my family as a child. It was one of the reasons I wanted to become an artist. But now the unnerving red glow gave the theater a sinister demeanor.
I waited anxiously, tapping my feet. Loud sirens blared as people hollered hateful chants towards each other.
Suddenly I saw Nathan running over to me. He picked me up and kissed me like he had just come home from a long war, excited to see me.
“Wow, I’m glad you’re so happy to see me,” I said, a little overwhelmed.
“This is so much bigger than I thought it was going to be.” He explained with a disturbed tone.
“Are you sure this is safe?” I inquired.
“Thank you for being here for me.”
“I brought you sandwiches and water. Are you hungry?”
He snatched a sandwich out of my hand before I even finished the question.
“Is this chicken salad? Damn girl, you didn’t have to. Thank you baby,” he exclaimed.
Daylight dwindled quickly. The full moon peeked out from the wispy webs of thick cloud cover. As I watched Nathan eat the sandwich I obsessed over this morning, I saw that same faint, eerie red glow appear across Nathan’s dark face.
“Let’s go!” he said, pulling me through the crowd. Sweaty bodies rubbed past me. We jumped into a group chanting “No fascist USA!” It was obvious that Nathan was tight with this group because they lifted him up as if he was a rock star at a concert. Chanting loudly and proudly he brought the team spirit alive. In that moment I had wished that I were a part of something that fulfilled me half as much. We marched ahead fearless and blinded by the belief justice triumphs over all. I couldn’t help but imagine kissing him in that moment; he was beautiful.
The pace rapidly quickened. I grabbed onto Nathan’s foot so I wouldn’t lose him as we plunged ahead. Suddenly, the oppressively vulgar “Unite the right” sounding in front of us muffled our group’s mantra. The glow of the fire extinguished the autumn cool atmosphere once galvanized with humanitarianism. Instead the cool air turned into heat radiating off the white giants like they were igniting the flames with their loathing. The white nationalists hollered harder as they moved in on our group. One of their towering white phantoms thrust a gun against Nathan’s face. Panic overcame me. I trembled as I tried to muster the strength to overcome my fear. Could I be brave like Nathan? I’m soft. This is not what I signed up for. But Nathan needs me. With a shaky hand I pulled out the pepper spray I was so reluctant to use. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a police officer.
“Please, help officer! They have guns!” I shouted.
The police stormed the area, pulling their guns out, ready to annihilate. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, until I looked up and saw whom the guns were pointed at.
“Nathan!” I screamed out to him. I turned to plead with the cop. “Please don’t shoot. They’re unarmed!”
“She said they’re armed!” one officer yelled to another. “Take your hand off the gun sir!” the same officer demanded.
“I’m unarmed! You’re pointing your guns at the wrong side!” Nathan yelled.
“Calm down sir! I said don’t move!”
The blood bath seemed to transpire in slow motion. I couldn’t move fast enough. My screams nearly drowned out the sounds of the unending eruption of gunshots. After all of the times that he saved me, I had failed to save him. All I had left to look upon was his limp, lifeless body lost in an expanding red ocean. I just held his head in my lap, tears lost amidst the growing red sea.
“Nathan, I never got to tell you how much I love you. I wish I could have been half of the person you are. I’m so sorry I couldn’t save you!” I wept and screamed as dizzying flashing lights seized the night sky and the sirens of ambulances drowned out my futile cries.