The Cobra in my Belly
Two Encounters with Love and Hate
barb howe
aka ~wave~

I dreamt last night for the first time this week. For the first time my own voice filled the black void of night again instead of the stunned restless silence. I dreamt I had a cobra in my belly.

I have replayed the events of the past week. Not so much the external ones, but the internal ones. There again was the cold apprehension, the nervous excitement, the confusion, the fear but most of all the anger and sadness.

I re-lived one scene over and over again.

We were taken to the Court building and there were U.S. Marshalls all around. I was with "Star", [not even her "real" nickname] and we were cuffed together. I was holding her hand while they clipped our cuffs with huge tree trimmers and joked about clipping other parts of our bodies. Then one of them yelled no holding hands in here and tore us apart. I resented that and quietly took her hand again and immediately he shoved me away and came at me threateningly. I was so scared I can't recall a thing of what he was saying to me. I just remember the noise of him screaming at me and me not hearing anything but staring hard into his empty eyes to try to say the words I could not spit out: "I am not afraid of you." It was a lie but I wanted to say it anyway and the one thing I regret most of all, the one part of this whole deal that I wish I could press rewind and do over was this. I wish I had said it to his face. I wish I had said it outloud and clearly: "I am not afraid of you". But I didn't. I didn't because I was scared. I was so scared that as soon as he turned away I felt this immense anger raise itself quickly like a cobra ready to strike from the the pit of my stomach and I burned with hatred and anger and indignity. I hated his bared teeth, his flickering tongue lashing out at me. I hated his military cut hair, and polished shoes and I would've hated his badge if he had had one but instead I hated the large anonymous yellow letters on his black jacket that spelled out "U.S. MARSHALLS" and most of all, I hated those brown machine-like eyes I stared down: eyes that were stone cold empty where his human essence should have been.

I forgot at that time in the heat of the moment to hate the sin and not the sinner. I forgot to think of him merely as an opponent and not the enemy. I forgot he is my brother too. The anger just swelled up inside me and I swallowed it and it poisons me. Only this --writing-- and telling the story is my remedy.

Some time later after I got out, I saw this man again outside the courthouse. A handful of us had left the 24 hour vigil at the jail and gone there to encourage a van of prisoners who were going to a bond hearing against their will. He was outside "protecting" the driveway. He saw me too. "Remember me?" he asked in a low voice. I asked his name. John, he said. What's your last name, John? Murray, he said. What are your intentions here? he asked (were we going to blockade the drive?). Nothing sinister, I said. There were only 6 of us. There was about 20 of them. I was holding some wild garlic I had picked from the lawn nearby. Suddenly, for some reason, I held it out for him to smell. It's wild garlic, I said. It's nice. He didn't answer and walked away.

* * *

I think "Star" knew I could not tell her how much I loved her. She and "Mirror" and I laid under the tarp outside the jail waiting through the rain listening to the drumming and chanting that never stopped. You'll come down this summer to visit, won't you? We'll sure try, she said and I sighed and held her tighter in the cold.

I learned a lot this week, I said to her, about fear and anger. I didn't say what I learned about love and hate. I think she knew. She knew I didn't hate John Murray but I hated the system he represented. A system that crushed any hint, however innocent, of hope and connection between humans instead of faceless greed and exploitation.

As for the corresponding intense love for "Star", well, I was never one to believe in love at first sight so I rationalize it by saying my relationship with her was the polar opposite of my relationship with this John Murray. I loved her as much as I hated him. Both were symbolic relationships. She represented to me the enduring spirit of people who remain human and who are willing to do whatever is necessary to keep their humanity and reach out to others around them in the face of injustice. She was to me the embodiment of all those people out there fighting for their hopes and dreams for a better world. He was the dehumanized machine, merely following orders. Here were two people, neither of whom I'd ever met before, and both of whom were intimately connected to me in an instant. They symbolized for me what the whole thing was about. Hope and fear. Compassion and anger. Love and hate.

If John Murray represents the system I hate so much I hope that anger never dies in me. I picture that anger as the cobra coiled in my belly, head lowered now, not in striking stance at the moment but still rattling its tail every once in awhile. The next time it is roused, it may strike. Having a cobra in my belly scares me but I already feel it's a part of me now. It scared me to see all that anger inside me, but there's a lot to be angry about in this world, from neo-colonialism and global injustice to police brutality. I haven't become the cobra, it doesn't possess me but I do recognize its existence now. I'll never be the same. I want to say thank you, U.S. Marshalls for putting a cobra in my belly.

gainesville--a16 Gainesville Iguana--current issue