My teenager saw it first. Pointing across the street to a handwritten cardboard sign, she was speechless. Somehow I had missed it earlier, when I was out walking. I had been staring straight ahead, listening to a podcast of a famous person interviewing another famous person.
But there it was. Three blocks away from our house in San Francisco. White Lives Matter. I told my daughter I wanted to rip it down and she said she did too. It was too high to reach.
My daughter went home with the foster dog who was the size of a chipmunk. I stayed on the street, staring at the sign.
I called 311, the support line for non-emergencies.
“Hello, this is Ron.”
I spoke quickly, trying to stay ahead of my emotions. I told Ron I wanted to report a White Lives Matter sign in my neighborhood. He said it was freedom of speech and unless the owner of the house was presently threatening anyone, there’s nothing to do. I told him I felt the sign in and of itself was threatening, particularly at a time like this.
“Freedom of speech ma’am. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No. Thank you Ron.”
As I knelt on the ground to tie my shoe, my stomach began to hurt. My anger felt like a contraction, painful and purposeful.
In a moment of panic that would be more accurately described as a moment of spiraling insanity, I concluded that Ron hadn’t heard me correctly.
I called back.
“Hello, this is Nicole.”
“Hi Nicole, my name is Rebecca. I just spoke with Ron. Do you know Ron?”
“Yes. We work together.”
I rambled on and on, explaining that I had called before and I understood freedom of speech, but I wanted to make sure Ron knew the sign said, White Lives Matter.
“The sign. I called about a sign that someone posted on their house. And I wanted to make sure Ron didn’t think I was calling to complain about a Black Lives Matter sign. Can you tell him this?”
“There are just so many crazy people out there right now. I just – .”
“I’ll tell him. Thanks.”
I was nuts of course, for calling back a helpline operator in a frantic, defensive, drive to explain myself.
Hours later, in the middle of the night, I had a nightmare where I was trapped under ice, and I woke up trembling. The moonlight streaming in through the shutters lit up a black and white photo on our bedroom wall. In the photo, I am eight months pregnant with my first child and my husband is laughing, trying to touch my belly. Something about that photo and the thought of the sign up the street made me cry.
In the morning, puffy-eyed and groggy, I rolled over and asked my husband, “What is the opposite of jogging?”
“What are you talking about?”
I was still half-asleep and wanted to know if the opposite of jogging was running or walking.
“Standing still. The opposite of moving is not moving.”
I put my arm over his bare chest and pulled him close. I had always liked the way he solved problems. Not that this was a problem that needed solving. There were much larger problems to solve, looming like demons.