Hello America. It’s been awhile.
You haven’t heard from me for some time because I had gone out into the storm to reacquaint myself with you, trying to rediscover—or, maybe, discover for the first time—what you really are. Perhaps it was foolish, but I couldn’t help myself.

I don’t know you like I used to, America. My consciousness has been split where it once was self-contained: I now carry both an American and a foreign consciousness, never to be unified again.

This yearning is what pushed me as far as Fredericksburg, Texas, before I figured I’d exhausted as much of my funds as I was willing to burn. Turning back north onto that thin tongue of country road and speeding through those baked, shrubby hills, I’m positive that, in that ball of fire that slowly sank beneath the landscape, I felt the presence of one of your angels of Freedom.

Oh, but I found so much more than that, America.

I had to see something more than your TV evenings with flashes against the living room walls of apocalyptic hospital wards, gas masks marching down the hazy city streets, cardboard presidential overtures and never-ending food lines. I knew something else was still out there, which I had to find while I was still on your mother soil this time around.

I had to go find once again your promises, your myths and your abject failures. Despite the reported danger, I wanted to go brush my hand over your frayed edges.

That is how I stumbled onto the childhood streets of one of your slain angels down in Atlanta, not far from his stately tomb where recordings echo the moment when he dreamed aloud from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial so many years ago about how Americans of all stripes would one day cry, “Free at last! Free at last!”

Which timely hero will you send forth now to stitch together these political and racial divisions? Anyone? You must have some potential star tucked away somewhere in your bowels, awaiting their shining moment. That moment is here, America. Yield us your gems.

I now know the sur
realness of strolling along the nearly-dead streets of Boston around Independence Day, no less.

I also know the exact shade of green that carpets the Shenandoah Valley and their surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact, I know how much more lushly verdant is the invasive kudzu vine that beautifully strangles much of the South’s landscape, and how that emerald green contrasts with the reddish earth from which it arises.

You must forgive, America, the ignorance of your son who really was only passing through. I drove my parents’ car through the cradle of the Civil War without much fancy for the battlefields where men died in your name. I got a taste of Youngstown’s former industrial glory that helped build you up, but just a taste. Even at the millennia-old ceremonial earthen mounds down at Poverty Point, in Louisiana, I surely failed in comprehending the steadfast resolve of whatever ancient civilization that raised them up.

So many stories, so little time.

But there was many a time that I felt close to your soul, such as in all those small, time-forgotten towns that still contain traces of the grandeur of your erstwhile self. Those old boarded-up storefronts and theaters and houses where ghosts must linger, ghosts I’ve only seen in pictures and heard about in songs from long ago. The Ghost of American Greatness that so many promise to resurrect.

Yet, also, there are those famished ghosts that must lurk in the broken poverty shacks I constantly drove past, something struggling in those unkempt shrubs strewn with leaves and trash. Those lost souls stumbling down those dead-end streets are as much children of yours as I am, America. How great does the ocean of anguish expand within your borders? How many graves populate your hushed cemeteries of broken dreams?

And your cities are dialed down low now; indeed, ghosts of past times must also roam their streets. I feel lucky enough to have seen their eerie silence and know how mutable your reality really is.

How long will this pandemic make a mockery of you to the rest of the world, America? How long will we be arguing about face masks, about the nature of personal liberties?

Who am I speaking to, anyway? Some set of polished ideals or the actual hundreds of millions of faces that compose this nation? I guess I’m not so sure.

I’ve long questioned what it means to be one of yours. I still am.

Contact Andrew at at.wernette@gmail.com.