My heart. That brilliant, bruised, wide-as-sky organ that beats in my chest.
My father always said it would be the death of me. But I don't believe that, never did believe that a gentle heart, a caring soul was inferior, inadequate.
Dad certainly felt otherwise. To be softhearted made me deficient in some way, defective.
When I was 10 and I cried at the scenes on C.N.N. of families stranded and children starving in the flooded slums of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he shrugged and said they should have been better prepared.
"Just look at those people," he'd muttered, "How they live, what did they think was going to happen?"
When I was fifteen, with a fresh learner's permit in my mom's old, gold Plymouth Minivan, my dad screamed at me for swerving into the gravel on the roadside to avoid hitting a dog in the road one afternoon.
In the sun-dappled shade his face was purple with rage.
"Jesus CHRIST, Alicia!" he'd yelled. "If there is an animal in the road, you hit the gas, not the brake. You gun it, do you hear me? You could have killed us both! It's just a worthless animal!"
When I was seventeen and he barked at me - a skill he learned from one of his drill sergeants, I'm sure - for getting pizza with a half-black boy I met in my honor's English class, I ducked my head and took it, but I knew there was something twisted inside him when he jeered "No daughter of mine is going to be branded a nigger lover. If you think you're ever going to date another black boy, I will disown you and hang him!"
He hated the blacks, hated the gays, HATED Muslims, HATED OBAMA, probably more for being an uppity nigger than merely because he was an African American president.
He couldn't see the harm in anything our government did, couldn't see the hurt in the dialogue that ran in his head - in the heads of his friends.
"Waterboard the ragheads! Hell yeah! Make 'em pay. Maybe we'll finally learn where Bin Laden is hiding!"
"Why am I working to pay for lazy black bitches to pop out 15 babies and sit home on their fat asses eating fried chicken and watermelon? They need to cancel welfare permanently and sterilize the whole race."
"Did you hear the one about the Mexican who died of starvation? Yeah, someone hid his food stamps under his work boots!"
Of course he loved Trump, ate up every word of the White Nationalist, disenfranchised middle-class, faux-sympathy that he spouted, sent a hundred emails during his campaign that hollered "HILLARY FOR PRISON" in all caps, swore he'd LOVE to pay a little more in taxes if it meant we could build a wall to put the Mexicans back where they belonged.
I was in college by then, and at first I tried to meet the emails and my father head on, like an adult, with facts and logic, but after a few months I just shook my head and deleted the hate-filled crap nuggets he'd send out. It disgusted me to see them, but when many of his friends would reply, affirming the dark words, I also felt fearful of what this meant for our nation.
And then Trump was elected, a man known for grabbing pussies who was still supported by deeply devoit Christian women, a man who made racist and sexist jibes at journalists and soldiers, who encouraged violence against every variety of brown people and liberals at his rallies and who made fun of disabled folks - just the icing on the cake.
A nightmare. It was like that ignorant voice I'd heard all those years at the dinner table was suddenly speaking from the Oval Office. How the fuck had my dad been made the head of our great nation?
For months after Trump was inaugurated I watched marches and demonstrations, cheering on the participants, but I didn't have the nerve to go myself.
Until Charlottesville. My home.
It had made the news that a herd of angry alt-right crazies were planning to gather in my little college town, were planning to spread their fear of change and their hatred of anything outside their whitewashed, hetero-normative worldview like fertilizer all over my community. My friends are here, black, white, brown and all shades in between. My life is here.
I owed it to the people I loved to stand up for them in the face of the nonsensical hate.
And that is how I found myself on a narrow, side street a few blocks off Emancipation Park. The White Nationalists and Neo Nazis had shown up bright and early and ready to party, armed with guns and batons and Confederate flags with poles to use as weapons.
The Anti-Fascist folks were soon on the scene, with their own weapons and camo and righteous anger.
The two sides clashed in the park where children played, angry waves beating against one another in the early morning dew.
How had we come to this again? Hadn't we evolved as a nation beyond this lunacy? It was horrible to behold.
My little group stayed on the sidelines chanting and singing "This Little Light of Mine" with a group of clergy - Christians and Muslims and Jews - together lifting our voices against the cacophony of hatred. A lone man stood near us holding a sign that offered "Free hugs." No one was taking him up on his offer.
We wanted peace, we wanted order restored, we wanted the racists and the hate OUT of our town.
Before us violence was breaking out everywhere.
Punches and tear gas were thrown with equanimity.
Around 11:30, just three hours in, the cops finally declared the assembly unlawful, not peaceable by a long shot and crowds began to disperse.
My crew of singers and chanters made our way back to our homes, avoiding the main street because of all the frustrated people causing one hell of a snarl of road rage.
We didn't mean to block the avenue, but at a time like that, who was paying attention to jaywalking? We marched happily, feeling like this one was a win for our side.
And then from behind me, screams, tires squealing. I turned at the sound and watched a girl, a girl who could have been me, disappear beneath the bumper of a car that was plowing down the alleyway, mowing down bodies like a thresher in a field.
There was nowhere to go when the car reversed and then used the clearing it left to accelerate toward us. We tried to press to the sides of the buildings but I couldn't quite get out of its path.</i>
As that car bore down on me, as I stared at the face of a vengeful driver, for a moment I could only think of my father, yelling at me to speed up if an animal was in the road. Now I am the worthless animal, Daddy.
When I woke, kind people were putting me on a stretcher, and kind people took me to the hospital to treat my broken leg.
My father called my cell as I lay in recovery. Said he saw a video on Fox News and saw my face in the alleyway.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" He yelled. "Going out there in that mess with those damn hippies and blacks? You're lucky you aren't dead. Didn't I raise you better than that?"
I took a deep breath and lay my hand over my heart, my strong, determined, passionate heart.
"No daddy," I answered. "I'm afraid this is exactly how you raised me."