ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She was 10 and already she had the weight of the country on her tiny shoulders.
And her tiny wrist.
Last week, Ava was home from school on a snow day in Gainesville, Va., and having fun sledding.
But the fun didn’t last.
“She came up in the air and came down the wrong way,” said her grandmother, Debra Aragon, who lives in Albuquerque. “She put her right hand down to brace for the fall and injured her wrist.”
Injured, as in fracturing her wrist in two places.
Ava said nothing. She couldn’t tell her parents.
Weeks before, they had sat her and her two sisters down for a family talk, one likely echoed in hundreds of thousands of homes across the country where the breadwinner is a federal employee not receiving paychecks because of the government shutdown.
Ava’s father, Aragon said, works for the Department of Homeland Security’s cybersecurity division. Because he is considered an essential employee, he still goes to work in Washington, D.C., about 40 miles away, but he receives no pay.
“The kids were told that because their dad wasn’t getting paid they would have to scale back,” Aragon said. “There wasn’t enough money for extra things.”
Ava knew that her broken wrist was an extra thing. So she went home, went into her room and sobbed as quietly as she could.
“She didn’t want to cry in front of anybody,” her grandmother said. “She was stoic as she could be.”
But Aragon was less than stoic when she learned what was going on. She was angry. She was frustrated. She was like a majority of Americans who want to shut down the shutdown now and get people back to work, get workers paid.
“This is a burden a 10-year-old is willing to take on, and for what?” she said. “It just broke my heart, and it got me even madder at the dictator who is holding Americans hostage.”
By that comment, she is clear on who she blames.
And she is not alone. According to the latest poll, conducted by PBS NewsHour and Marist, 54 percent of U.S. adults say President Trump is most responsible for the shutdown.
But this untenable situation – now in its fifth week, the longest U.S. shutdown ever – has gone beyond blame, beyond a wall or steel slats or a border crisis. The crisis has seeped into the homes of roughly 800,000 furloughed employees, the untold number of contract workers also affected by the shutdown and the millions of people affected by their pain.
People like Aragon, far away in Albuquerque, who weeps for a little granddaughter who believed she had to hide her broken wrist because her daddy isn’t getting paid.
“What if somebody dies because of this shutdown?” Aragon asked. “Should working people and their families go without heat or insulin or glaucoma eyedrops? How does one ‘adjust’ for that?”
Those of us not affected – yet – are trying to find ways to help. Through social media apps such as NextDoor, we are reaching out to neighbors in need. Activist and community groups such as Indivisible Nob Hill are collecting items for workers. A search of the word “shutdown” on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website brings up 10,909 results, 81 of them listed in New Mexico.
Read some of those heart-wrenching stories. Better yet, donate a few bucks.
Banks and utilities are helping by delaying billing or offering payment plans to affected workers. Food pantries are serving people who likely never dreamed of standing in bread lines.
Places like Meow Wolf and most city and state museums are offering furloughed employees free admission. Piñon Coffee House offers free coffee. At Rock and Brews, they can dine on free pork sandwiches or salads. At Angel Fire Resort, they can ski free.
But ask the average federal employee and they’ll likely tell you they would trade all the free coffee and lift tickets just to go back to work and earn what they are due.
This shutdown strains the economy, the way America runs. It stresses people trying to make an honest living. It made a little girl named Ava hide her broken bones to save her parents some money.
It’s shameful what is happening.
Eventually, Ava couldn’t hide the pain. She had to tell. “She thought it would just go away, just get better,” Aragon said. “It wasn’t.”
Her mother took her to the emergency room when she found out and asked for deferred billing. Aragon said she and her husband will pay those bills.
Ava’s mother sent Aragon a photo of Ava at the ER with tears streaming down her face. It’s hard to tell whether those are tears of pain or of relief. Maybe a little of both.
So far, Ava and her family are making things work. Her mother has a new job this month. They have a roof over their head. They have friends who bring them groceries, They have the Aragons.
“They’re getting by,” Aragon said. “But they feel helpless. They’re angry like me.”
Morale is low where Ava’s dad works, she said. But just like his little girl, he is trying to be stoic, hoping the shutdown will just go away, just get better.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.