I have been heartbroken before but never like this. I thought the death of my mother would be the end of me, but it seems like the universe just keeps on dishing grief out in buckets, without an ark, or oars, or swim paddles, or life jackets, or even a fucking umbrella. The election. This election. When I began Tell Me How This Ends Well back in January of 2015, I had no idea that what I was writing would actually play out in real time. It was a fictional experiment but one with a foot firmly planted in reality. Through the fictional lens of my invented family, the Jacobsons, I set about creating a near-future America in which hatred, intolerance, xenophobia, ignorance, racism, and anti-Semitism ran rampant and unchecked, in which a malignant demagogue rose to power and unleashed upon America all that was base and evil. Though it's a satire, a darkly comic novel full of black humor, the story and plight of the Jacobson family now resonates on a deeper and more terrifying level for me—because now I am part of the narrative of which I created.
When I set out to write Tell Me How This Ends Well, which takes place in 2022, I was always quite hopeful that by the time my fictional universe caught up to the real one that the benighted forces at work, both here in America and abroad, might have receded and returned to whence they came. It's clear to me now, with what is happening not only here in America and abroad but also all across the globe, that I had no other choice than to write the novel I did, for I had been thinking for years about hatred and intolerance and wanted to explore both the permutations and machinations of each—Why do people hate?
Much literature has been written on the subject and most of it ends up reducing it to fear. Fear of difference, fear of the other. But I don't think that's it exactly, or it's only one tiny piece of a much larger picture.
When I was growing up in San Antonio, Texas, in the 1970s and '80s, I was often picked on and bullied. Was it because I was a chubby, uncoordinated book nerd who often got chosen last for kickball? Or was it because I was a minority, one of only a handful of Jews in the entire school? Did it have to do with my appearance, my dark hair and eyes and olive skin, that made me look more exotic and thus different? I still have no answers to these questions and perhaps they aren't even the right ones to be asking. Perhaps a better question might be (would have been): What did I ever do or didn't do to deserve the bullying I got? Or even better, What existed in my tormentors that made it okay for them to call me names and push me around? Why did they think it was okay to trip me in the halls and shove me into my locker?
It's funny to think that what I and many others experienced microcosmically is now being played out macrocosmically with the election of Trump to the White House. Now it's not personal but political as well. And though I'm no longer the same boy who was taunted for his weight, for wearing a green shirt when I clearly should have worn a blue one (duh), for succumbing to peer pressure and dressing myself up in labels (I was a big fan of Polo), thinking I was shielding myself from further abuse, when in reality wearing the uniform only made me stand out more and look more desperate to fit in, all of this merely to survive, it feels as if that boy has awakened and it's 1980 all over again.
Except of course it's not.
If it hadn't been for my mother, I probably wouldn't have survived any of it. It was she who suggested I join speech and debate and in the end that's what saved me. Speech and debate. I took up acting and loved it. Not only loved it but thrived. I made good friends. I stopped trying to fit in and be popular and embraced the very faults and defects that the bullies hated about me and tried to use against me. I fell in love with words and the invisible power they had to move people to tears, to move them in different directions. I did a duet, an acting duet, with a beautiful blond girl named Leslie Hamlett, who, though a cheerleader and very popular, felt herself an alien among her own kind and turned to drama to express her alienness. We were amazing together and won several contests.
Though my mom is no longer here to give me advice, I can still hear her in my head. And she's telling me that now, more than ever, it's time to stand up for myself as I hadn't been able to do all those years ago. The bullies have returned perforce and are now armed and bloodthirsty with revenge and power, but what they don't know is, I've been sharpening my knives and honing my knife-throwing skills for years and that this time when they try to come for me, I won't back down. This time, I'm ready for them because this time it's clear who and what they really are—the ugly, ignorant, self-loathing creatures they've always been. To have put a man like Trump into the highest office in the land only proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt. And while the Jacobson family runs the gauntlet of a horrifying and invented future, full of terror and terrorism, I am slowly building an army of my own in a little corner of the world known as my imagination.