In the powerful film Beasts of the Southern Wild, Hushpuppy says: “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece . . . the whole universe will get busted.”
I think about these words as I lie in bed, laptop open, watching episode after episode of Breaking Bad, a TV series in which nearly every action is a catalyst for depravity. The main character, Walter White, is a high school chemistry teacher, diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. He decides to “cook” crystal meth to provide financial security for his family. At some point, Walter says, “I have made a series of very bad decisions and I cannot make another one.” Yet he does. Oh, how he does.
Walter White’s world becomes disordered. His universe fragments, fitting together just wrong.
Laura and Erma, two thirds of the sisterhood, have seen Breaking Bad. We discuss it, obsessing on the characters, dialogue, and the devolution into destruction and egomania. Then, we turn to real life. On the anniversary of 9/11, I was reminiscing about living in Manhattan for a couple of weeks in late August and early September of 2001. Charles remained in Nashville, working at Vanderbilt, our house on the market. His employment in NYC would start in February of 2002. Son Hunter and I were in a sublet, a place I’d found near Union Square. He was scheduled to begin his sophomore year of high school in the next couple of weeks. One morning, I suggested we explore the Financial District. We arrived around lunchtime to an area crowded with people, so dense we could hardly move. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t like the family arrangement, the distance between husband and wife, father and son. I missed Charles. He was flying up on weekends, but this wasn’t enough. Just seemed abnormal.
Later in the afternoon, I said, “You know, we don’t have to do this. We can go back to Nashville and move here when your dad starts the job.” Hunter was fine with whatever I decided. I scheduled a flight for him to Nashville, and I packed. Two days after he left, I was on a plane for Tennessee.
“You must have a crystal ball,” people said to me. The towers were ash, twisted metal, and human remains. Our neighborhood (the sublet) in Manhattan was blocked to traffic, and the country was gripped by red-alert alarm that resulted in panic, nationalism, the PATRIOT Act, and the war of terror. Chain reactions.
“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.”
On September 11, 2001, events fit together for an imperial juggernaut. Sure, it had begun years earlier, but this was the coup. This was fear with a capital F, capital E, capital A, and a capital R. It continues still.
The entire US debacle depends on everything fitting together just right or just wrong, determined by privilege, circumstance of birth, job title, and health, among so many fulcrums.
This dovetailing, like the sequence of disasters in Breaking Bad, an apt fusion for the cataclysmic response to 9/11, was and is just right and just wrong for the perpetuation of immoral wars against our planet and humanity. We are beasts, wreaking chaos, unleashing bedlam, breaking bad.
Walter White says, “The blowfish puffs up, okay? The blowfish puffs himself up four, five times larger than normal. But why? Why does he do that? Because it makes him intimidating, that’s why.”
I think about this. Not just the blowfish but also this blowfish country of might makes right or wrong. Not just war agony but the process of life, too. I know that much of it is naturel loss, enough decay of the body from physical aging and death, without an ocean of tragedies resulting from decisions that fit together just right or just wrong to profit the few and impoverish the many.
As Hushpuppy says, “Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.”
Missy Comley Beattie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.