A Lost Small Town

I live in a picture-perfect region — the Hudson Valley, memorialized by painters and poets; a patchwork of autumn reds and yellows, majestic hillsides, storied waterfalls, and little homesteads dotted picturesquely on the slopes of sleepy hamlets.

Towns in our area look like Norman Rockwell paintings: there is Main Street, Millerton, with its white 19th century church steeple, its famous Irving Farm cafe with the excellent curated coffee beans, its charming antiques mall, its popular pizzeria.

When you drive to Millerton, it looks like you are driving into the heart of archetypal America; everything that Woody Guthrie songs memorialize, everything of which American soldiers dreamt when they were far away — everything decent and pure, is to be found in Hudson Valley towns.

It sure looks that way, anyway.

But these days, I am obliged to maintain a fervent inner monologue, just so I can pleasantly go about my business in the local hardware store, in the local florist, in the post office.

Because an emotional massacre has taken place in these little towns. And now we are expected to act as if — this never happened at all.

But psychically, emotionally, there is blood flowing in the streets; and bodies are stacked up, invisible, in front of the candy stores, the high end wine stores, the pretty memorials to the World War Two dead; outside the farmers’ market on Saturdays, outside the tapas bars.

So my quiet internal mantra, is: I forgive you.

I forgive you, Millerton movie theatre. Your owner, who was interviewed just before the pandemic, saying lovely things in a local paper about how the revamped theatre would enhance the local community, posted a sign in 2021 saying that only vaccinated people could enter. You needed to really look for the fine print to see that you could walk through those doors, if unvaccinated, but only with a PCR test.

I forgive the young ladies who worked behind the popcorn counter, for telling me that I could not enter further. That I could not sit down, with other human beings in my community, to watch a film alongside of them.

I forgive the young ticket taker for telling me that I had to go back outside, onto the sidewalk. I could not even stand in the lobby.

I forgive these young people who just wanted jobs, and who had to discriminate in the most heinous and scarring way — scarring to me, and to them too no doubt — just to keep their jobs. I forgive them. I forgive them for the mortifying scene they had to cause.

I forgive the movie theatre owner for shouting at me defensively when I questioned this policy.

I forgive the elderly couple nearby in the lobby; the woman who started shrieking at me alarmingly that she was glad of the policy and did not want me anywhere near her. I forgive her. I forgive her silent, embarrassed husband for his silence.

I forgive the employee of the Millerton flower shop who demanded, “Are you vaccinated?” when I walked in – when I just wanted some nice-looking flowers, some artificial olive branches, perhaps, like those I had seen in a decorating magazine, to arrange in a vase in my study.

I forgive this employee for having to follow a script that must have been set out by the town, for all the small businesses to follow, in some bizarre, coercive methodology, as this out-of-the-blue, un-American and inappropriate question was posed all at once somehow, in store after store, in my little town, in the nearby towns, even in New York City, during a certain moment in the bad year of 2021.

I forgive these store owners for stripping me of a great benefit of a free society — the great gift of liberty, of America — that right to be dreamy, to have some privacy, and to be preoccupied with one’s own thoughts.

I forgive this employee for intruding on my privacy in a way that was startling, ill-mannered, and entirely beside the point, given the fact that she was simply selling flowers and I was simply trying to buy them.

I forgive her for the way this demand made my adrenaline levels jump, as they do when things are unstable around you; in 2021, you could not tell which stores would confront you, or when, with that urgent, bullying question — when you happened to wander in, just wanting some toothpaste, or a slice of pizza, or to look at some antiques.

Not — expecting an inquisition.

I forgive this flower shop employee for presenting me with this startling question that each time made me, with my clinically diagnosed PTSD from a very old trauma, feel ambushed, violated and humiliated. Surely this sense of ambush was felt by trauma survivors everywhere.

Are you vaccinated?

Are you? Vaccinated?

Are you vaccinated?

Are you naked? Are you helpless?

Are you mine? My possession?

The viral clip of the Pfizer marketing rep, admitting to the European Parliament that the mRNA vaccines never stopped transmission, should make every single one of these moments, into a source of deep embarrassment and self-criticism for all those people — all of them —- who inflicted these violations of privacy on others, or who excluded in any way, their neighbors and fellow countrymen and women. They did so, it is clear now to all, on the basis of arrant nonsense.

But meanwhile, I forgive them. I have to. Because otherwise the rage and sorrow would exhaust me to death.

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