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  • Jack London-Level by Ian Belknap

    I knew this guy. Outdoorsy type of guy – into hunting, ice fishing, that kind of thing. He was out snowmobiling one time. He’s on his own, out in the woods – the CANADIAN woods, so not like some punk-ass Forest Preserve. This is before cell phones. He’s out in the powdery hush, all by himself, tearing around, having a great time.

    Guy takes a jump, over this fallen tree, but his angle is off and he rolls midair.

    Snowmobile lands on top of him. His leg is busted. Compound fracture – his snapped-off femur is poking out the front of his snowsuit.

    A fucking spear. Of his own bone. Is jabbing out of a bloody hole in his leg.

    And he is miles from anyplace. His Ski-Doo is totaled – one its treads is shredded, so he is not riding that thing to safety.

    So his choices are narrowed to exactly two option:


    1. Die in the snow. From shock, or hypothermia, or blood loss.
    2. Haul himself out of the woods. With his arms. Like a wounded crab.


    Which is what he did. He scooched himself out of the woods. He planted his hands and dragged his ass for almost three miles. It had been dark for hours by the time he got help.

    I believe I do not exaggerate when I say that this is where we are right now. I don’t just mean those of us on the political Left. I mean all of us.

    I believe that we have – through our own deliberate actions – landed ourselves in a snow bank with a pike of our own bone protruding from our leg. We are hobbled. We are bloodied. We are nauseated and dizzy. We bit our tongue pretty bad and maybe cracked a tooth.

    We are hurt. Badly. Dangerously. Lethally, maybe.

    We sit, rattled and cold, in this snow bank, a claw of bone testing the air above our leg.

    And we are presented with a stark choice:


    1. Die in the snow in the woods.
    2. Haul ourselves to safety.


    I feel as though we are too dazed, still, to have made our decision.

    But this much I know: when you are injured and cannot walk, to remain where you are, in the snow, is to die.

    My dad killed himself in 1986. As a consequence, I have always held a pretty dim view of suicide prevention and its prospects for success.

    But since we are all of us plowed into the same fucking snow bank, and since all our fucking noses are stinging from the smell of spilt gasoline, it is not fucking suicide that your inaction represents – it is murder suicide.

    If you have concluded – understandably – that you wish to remain still and permit death from shock or the cold to overtake you, I can appreciate your position. I can. It’s rational, even, in its way.

    But your inactivity also consigns me to death. And my children. Because my arms are BARELY equal to the grueling job of dragging myself to safety and my kids to safety. My wife and I will be dragging till our shoulders are burning in pain. 

    And that effort MAY be enough. If we persist, and get lucky. We MAY be able to summon the strength to drag ourselves out of these darkening woods.

    Unless. You find yourself too defeated to contribute to the dragging. It is conceivable that we can drag ourselves. There is no way we can drag you, too. Your shock and disbelief – I understand these entirely & feel them myself. My wife feels them. And so do my children.

    But shock and disbelief also are feeling luxurious, to me. Shock and disbelief and the release of death that they bring in their wake – these are a GUARANTEE that we perish. All of us. All of us on the political Left. All of us on the Right. All of us who are apolitical. All of us.

    And maybe you’re like: “It’s different now. We’re not like your friend. We have cell phones. We can call and get rescued.” We’re in the middle of the woods. No bars, no signal. To wait for a chopper to airlift us out is to die.

    And maybe you’re like: “Hang on. This shard of bone won this snowmobile ride fair and square. Maybe we should give him a chance.” The shard of fucking bone has been telling you straight up for two goddamn years – “If you place your trust in me, I will bring you gangrene and death,” and now that’s what we’re getting.

    And maybe you’re like: “Whatever, man – you’re a white male. What possible difference can this make to you? You’ll stay safe.” NO ONE IS SAFE. Am I white? Yes. Am I male? Yes. But I am also left of fucking Trotsky, and am as lippy as I can get. The fact that I will follow you up the fucking chimney does not matter – my skin and my genitals will delay this, not prevent it. The sequencing of how we each perish doesn’t mean squat because we will all fucking perish.

    And maybe you’re like: “Dude. Your metaphor has really gotten away from you, here – you’re kind of all over the place.”

    Which is fair. But it is also true that we are STUCK IN A FUCKING METAPHOR THAT HAS SPUN OUT OF CONTROL. A dense thicket of badly constructed metaphor.

    But here’s the problem. As I attempt in vain to tamp down the fucking dry heaves that have been plaguing me since Tuesday night; and as I gaze into the eyes of my trans son who is old enough to understand with appalling clarity that half his fucking countrymen have deemed him unworthy and unequal; and as I have watched my social media feeds get clogged with reports of all forms of intolerant bullshit LESS THAN A FUCKING WEEK AFTER THE FUCKING ELECTION, MONTHS AWAY, STILL, FROM INAUGURATION – the situation is so fucked and so various in the ways that it is fucked, and will require so much to un-fuck it that it cannot be contained in a single fucking metaphor.

    But I stand by the essence of it:

    It is WE who drove ourselves out into these woods.

    It is WE who gunned the motor and didn’t stick the landing and got our fucking leg crushed.

    And it is WE who can either stare down at the femur sticking out of fucking leg and wait to die, or we can for fuck’s sake start dragging ourselves toward town. Speaking for myself: I have no fucking intention of getting claimed by the cold or the wolves or the shock. Fuck this femur. And fuck this hypothermia. And fuck this leg wound that is fizzing with infection. I’d sooner cut my own leg off and eat it than to succumb to this idiocy. I’d sooner dine on nothing but cannibal flank steaks from now until the midterms than lay down and die for this.

    I get it. I do. It’s fucking easier to lay back and watch the fog of your breath get carried away by the cold wind. It is seductive, watching your blood bubbling around the baffling lance-tip of your bone. There is an allure to the looming embrace of oblivion.

    And it may well be that the effort it costs us to drag ourselves out of these backwoods will come to nothing. Maybe we’ll give it our all, and still we will die. Maybe the expanse of these trees and the bitterness of this cold will prove too much for us. Maybe our wound is too cruel and our will is too weak.

    But. Even it’s futile, even if it’s pointless, even if my arms give out by the time I can get out of these godforsaken woods, I will by god die crawling.