Haunt Me, Ruth

by: Meera Rohit Kumbhani


Six months in, my friends. Happy quaran-versary.


Six months in and I've finally stopped dreaming of strangers sticking their fingers in my mouth or all my teeth falling out at once.


Now, I just dream of a gumball machine being placed on a gas stove. The burner is turned to HIGH, and the gumballs start bouncing around. Wow, these are no-melt gumballs! I think in my sleep. But they’re gathering a little too much speed and start to shoot themselves around in the little glass sphere they live inside. Well this seems dangerous. I call out for help. Nobody’s around and my hands are too heavy to move.


So I watch, my breath stalled - the pressure is building and the gumballs are now colliding into each other and bouncing off the glass walls at full speed. They’re getting faster and faster and the room smells like burning sugar. Something is going to shatter, I think. Something is going to explode. Any second now... SOMETHING IS GOING TO BLOW WIDE OPEN. I cringe until I become the size of a ferret. Please, god, let it just finally explode!


I wake up. I check my pants, my bra, my plate of room temperature cheese, and I sigh. Everything is still where it’s supposed to be. There is more to go. I force myself to pant 10 times to scare away the onslaught of a panic attack.


If you’re like me, these days, you lift your head up from the news app on your phone every two hours to scream out loud. Only your mouth is closed, so your voice moves inward, backwards, up into the back of your head. And, with nowhere to go, it decides to just bounce back and forth inside your brain for the rest of eternity. If you’re like me, your fury regularly collapses into hopelessness. Someone you love asks, “Why are you taking all of this so personally?” Your eyes pop out of their sockets in incredulity.


If you’re like me, your brain is the gumball machine now. On a gas stove set to HIGH.


At some point, something has to explode.


I’ve downloaded every meditation app on the market. I jazzercise in my apartment. I've joined 36 different political activism groups. I call friends from high school that I don’t really like, but force myself to stay on the phone with them until we’re besties. I check the news aga--


FUCK.


My whole body fills with anger and I mentally spin around like the Tazmanian Devil before he destroys something beautiful.


But if I get quiet enough. Shut my eyes tight enough. Reach my thoughts out far and wide, like arms grasping for serenity… Then somewhere, from the beyond, I can hear a small lady’s ghost telling me to not get angry. In her mesmerizingly calm, Brooklyn-accented voice, I can hear her telling me that anger is a useless emotion. To see the good in people. To go to the opera.


Mrs… Ginsburg?” I whisper, from my fetal position of despair. Oh, God, please, let it be you…! I squeeze every muscle, hoping and praying and wishing and dreaming... I open my eyes - and there she is! Nestling into a corner of my couch. The smallest package of grand magnificence.


She smiles that smile. That small ‘look at me, I’m a ghost...' smile.


“Ruth Bader Ginsburg!”


“Yes. That is me. Please close your mouth and let's begin - I have a welding class to get to.”


A bowling ball of grief falls into my stomach as I realize the last remaining “lady” of the world is gone.


“Um. Your Honor…” I scramble to sound intelligent. “I am angry all the time. I can’t sleep. I can barely breathe. They are-- they are grabbing power right out from under us! They are destroying any semblance of protocol and-- they don’t even represent the majority--! They are corrupt! They lie and lie and lie, and get away with it--” I compose myself, try to get to the point. “How did you do it, Ruth? How did you keep yourself from getting angry all the time? Tell me, please.”


“You get to work,” she says, flatly. “You trust in the baby steps.”


But the world is on fire, I think. We don’t have time for baby steps! We don’t have the luxury of --


“Don’t tell me you don’t have the time to be patient.”


Oh shit. RBG can hear my thoughts. Oookay…


“The world is on fire, Ruth -”


“No its not,” she retorts.


“Yes, it is!” I reach for my news app.


“No it’s not.” Full stop. “Many things are burning, yes. But you are sitting on a settee overlooking the mountains and eating watermelon delivered to you through an app. Do not tell me you don’t have the time to be patient.”


My cheeks flush with embarrassment. Wow, I thought RBG would be nicer to me… I guess I projected my need for maternal comfort onto her. How sexist of me.


I take a deep breath and start again.. “There are children in cag-”


“Not you.”


“Undocumented Immigr-”


“Not you.”


“Abortion ri-”


“NOT YOU.”


I shut my mouth.


“Good. Now get to work,” she says calmly. A lollipop appears in her hand and she licks it with delight. I wonder if her and Scalia eat lollipops together and play hopscotch. “Forgive people who make terrible decisions. They don’t do it on purpose. They’re just not very smart.” She is really going ham on that lollipop.


An unsolicited image of Ted Cruz pops into my brain and hands curl up into fists.


“I honestly can’t!”


“Then go home.”


Jesus Christ, RBG.


“Breathe,” she says, sternly. “You are not on fire, even if the world is. It is your responsibility to not be angry. Has your anger ever done anything for the world?”


“I think so! Because if we all get angry, we can talk about things! and people will start to-- in maybe a way that they didn't! cuz now it's... it's right in front of…”


RBG would like to hit me, i think.


“Sometimes I make memes…"


What a phenomenal waste of her eternal time I am.


RBG stares at me, waiting for something brilliant. I crumble under the pressure. My whole body is pulled to my iPhone sitting five feet away. If I could just zap my brain with more to be angry about.


“Do you know there’s opera 24 hours a day, 7 days a week up here?” she says. She seems to hover as she speaks. “Yes. It is quite transcendent. You sit on your own little cloud and a stage in your mind appears. The most beautiful lights you’ve never seen on earth dazzle your brain and music fills your entire body until you begin to fly through the sky, twisting and turning with each crescendo.


“And little birds fly next to you and kiss you gently, on the lips,” she continues. “If you pass by a rainbow, you get sprinkled with glitter. At some point the beauty is so overwhelming you cry tears of foam and your heart grows 22 sizes until it swallows you whole. Then you’re just a foam-covered beating heart soaring through the sky. And all of who you were, and are - all of your faults, your wishes, your longings, and your accomplishments - all the love and hate you’ve ever held - sit nestled inside that heart, purifying, concentrating. Growing smaller and smaller and yet even smaller until it is a perfect speck of dust. And you hold that speck of dust up to the sun, and say to the universe, ‘This is my joy.’”


She stares at me, unblinking. For the first time in 4 years, I am not thinking of what to say next.


“Don’t you see?” she presses. “This is what I could be doing right now. But instead I am summoned by millions of young fools, like you.


“Now, go look into the eyes of a baby. If you need to, google ‘eyes of a baby’ and look into those. Tell that baby that what you are doing is not for yourself, but for them. And promise them you will work. That you will never stop working. Tell them that being patient does not mean to stop working. It means getting used to working without reward. And then imagine how disappointed that baby will be if you waste your time on earth.”


And with that, Ruth Bader Ginsburg turns into a lizard and slithers off.


I get up, finish my watermelon in one bite, and find something to do.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



Meera Rohit Kumbhani is an actor and writer in Los Angeles, California. She currently spends most of her days looking into the eyes of her 6 month old, tomato-shaped baby. She is looking forward to the day when she can say, "To be honest, if it weren't for the pandemic, I never would have learned how to..." but in the meantime, you can see everything she's doing instead of learning to... on Instagram at @meertastic


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