You used to think brotherly love was like the old muni pool — the Athletic or the Mitchell — enormous and all-inclusive, teeming with the bobbing lot of us, overlaid with a joyful din like a pie crust crimped at the edges with mothers’ clucking and pierced only by the shrill whistle of some teenaged lifeguard, glaring down imperiously from his elevated perch like an Egyptian sentinel, a towel draping his head and shoulders, zinc oxide making an isosceles triangle of his nose.

He was scary to a 10-year-old, but even then, faintly ridiculous. You gaped at him, shrugged, and turned back to the joyful din.

Mary Sheehy Moe
Mary Sheehy Moe

Brotherly love was like that. It brought you together. It buoyed you up. It stayed with you, dripping from your swimsuit onto your mom’s freshly polished linoleum long after you got home.

Or it was like the river lining the quarter-mile strip of houses you later called home. After a long day’s work you’d pull on your swimsuit, stuff two cold Coronas down the bodice, and ease off your dock into the iridescent green waters, letting the cool liquid fingers lift your hair, numb your care-packed skull, and tote you to the infirm neighbor at the end of the line, who would be delighted to see the sleek brown nut of you, wading through the shallows toward him, a beer outstretched.

You don’t live by the river any more. It’s winter and the muni is closed. You swim in a different pool now, where you choke on the slurs of your puerile president, so predictably careless and crass, and then at the denial, so predictably implausible.

He is (sigh) making America grate again. Yes, he is scary and more than faintly ridiculous, but you cannot shrug and there is no joyful din to turn to — only panel after panel of detractors on cable news, each channel’s panel dragging the incident out to the last syllable of recording time, either with insights that are no-duh to any 10-year-old or with justifications that would make a sophist blush.

You slog through the comments at the end of blogs and online news on virtually any current issue, and the venom and bull-headedness cling to you like seaweed afterward. A “forgotten man” has the temerity to express how outrageous it is to be forgotten, prompting representatives of any number of marginalized groups to remind him that at least he was once deemed significant enough to be remembered before he was forgotten. Tribal warfare ensues and you escape by posting a few more photos of your grandchildren on Facebook.

Even what someone wore to the Golden Globes is worth fighting about. She did not wear black, you learn, but arrived instead swathed in a ribbon of red — in honor of her mother she said, who made her promise never to wear black. You suspect she simply could not allow something on which she had spent so much money (especially when calculated per square inch) and in which she looked so good to molder in her closet unseen.

Whatever. You are apparently the only one who finds it odd that she is being attacked for not complying with the expectations of a sisterhood protesting being forced to do things they didn’t want to do.

This is the pool we now swim in. It feels like a dereliction of duty not at least to be the clucking mom at the water’s edge. But like the old muni, it stays with you. Weary, you stare out your window, across the snowy lawns and rutted, icy road separating your house from that of your new neighbor, also infirm. And there he is, slouching at his dimly lit table, lonely, discouraged, afraid of falling (again), too proud to accept the beer you long to offer.

You wonder if he likes cribbage.

Mary Sheehy Moe has served Great Falls as a school board trustee and state senator. She is now a city commissioner.