I get far too into American history and I can’t figure out why. When I read Supreme Court decisions, I find myself tenaciously battling for one side in my head. As I study the Revolutionary War, the bravery of our founding fathers never fails to strike me. My blood itself is angry when Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle illuminates the filthy meat packing industry at the turn of the century. I find myself positively swept away by the cast of characters American history presents (my earliest celebrity crushes were Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth, the most paradoxical love triangle I’ve ever been a part of). Maybe the reason that I love history so much is because it’s solid. There’s no moving backwards in history and rearranging things. I’m constantly trying to figure myself out and I’ve discovered that I’m generally uncomfortable with change. It’s nice to have something that you can rely on, something that will always be there when you delve back into the pages of your fat, glossy textbook, something that will be stamped on page 213 forever and will never leave it. Something like the photograph of Leon Czolgosz, presidential assassin.
Leon Czolgosz, an out of work laborer, murdered McKinley in 1901. The man was obsessed with Emma Goldman (famous anarchist and lecturer) and shot McKinley in the breastbone and stomach as a political protest for the “good working people.” It’s easy to cast Czolgosz aside as a monster and not give him another thought but after researching more about the man with the empty eyes on page 213, I can reach further into him. Czolgosz was forced to help support his family at the age of ten by working at the American Steel and Wire Company. Czolgosz was diagnosed as mentally ill after his death. Czolgosz hated his stepmother so much that he would skip meals to avoid her, sitting alone in his room and drinking a glass of milk. I can see him, head bowed, tears dripping into his milk, just a little boy thrust into a big, angry world filled with sheets of steel and sharp wire. I’m not saying that Czolgosz was justified at all but it’s fascinating and heartbreaking to think about him, the little man with a little caption on page 213. He’ll never leave the page because he can’t. He is as concretely stuck in history as the Constitution and the Cold War. History is done. What scares me is the future and my quasi-control over it, the chance that I have to get in a history book and all the things I can do to put myself there. The fact that everything is swirling around and that, while I can paw through pages of the past, I can’t scoop the future in my hands. That maybe God is hanging low over my head and mapping out my every move. That maybe Leon Czolgosz and I have to same restless look in our eyes.
I run to the bathroom mirror with a stack of history notes in hand, in order to check the likeness between McKinley’s killer and myself, and am relieved to find contentedness (with a shot of fright) rather than blistering frustration over the two half-moon bruises that show I haven’t slept enough. I study my face like flashcards, watching each naked part blink and twitch. It’s a good face, it does everything a face is supposed to do. I touch it and find it pleasingly tangible, which makes me glad that at least one thing will be traveling with me into the future. I sit on the edge of my bathtub, which still has a few inches of milky water in it, and watch the windows of my eyes. It’s raining outside. In the back of my head I hear the sound of snow falling on snow or fingers on a leaf. I turn to the side and see the my notes are falling into the bathtub, soaring facedown and drowning like little white dancers with bleeding ink hearts. Each note makes a sigh as it hits the water, a little whimper to show that the world is ending, but it isn’t. Nothing is concrete, these notes will become pulpy dregs, my face will get weathered and worn out, and the future is happening all the time but I like who I am better than who I used to be and my grandmother is still beautiful so maybe change isn’t all that bad.