Rather than do an ordinary post, I want to take this opportunity to write about these extraordinary past couple of days have looked in our community. We are, in some ways, very much like the rest of the left-leaning part of this country, after all—and in other ways we are probably very different. This is a little long, so I’ve divided it into three posts. They are ALL this week’s post. This is important.
I spent election night with my family, by which I mean not just my wife and daughter, but Allen and Kit and their families. I get together with Allen and Kit, plus a varying assortment of partners and children, at least once a week for one thing or another. Last Tuesday (was it only on Tuesday?), my sister, Cecilly, and her fiancée, Joya (no relation to the master, Joy), joined us, too, for dinner and to watch the election returns.
I think we’d had some notion of the event becoming a celebration. None of us discussed the possibility that Trump might win, but whether because it was an unthinkable likelihood or something we honestly didn’t expect, I can’t quite say. As I've posted before, we did not all agree on whom we wanted to win, but we did all agree on whom we wanted to lose.
The first few states they called were all expected, one for one candidate, the other for the other. Vermont went Democrat, of course. Then there started to be more red on the board than blue. We told ourselves that all these states were the expected ones, that Florida and Pennsylvania were too close to call but would surely go to the Democrats, that there was nothing to worry about…but gradually we got worried.
I’m not honestly sure why. I don’t remember a point when any single state (except Pennsylvania, much later in the night) surprised anyone, so I don’t know how we got from expecting Hillary to win to knowing she wouldn’t, but somehow it happened for us. It happened for the pundits and newscasters on PBS Newshour, too, all of whom are presumably liberal even if they can’t quite say so on TV. I saw fear in their eyes. I have never seen fear in journalists before.
Kit started showing the strain first. She got jittery, hyper. She stood up and sat back down and paced, chewing on her thumbnail. Then the rest of us got quiet. Cecilly and Joya unobtrusively linked hands.
“What happens if Trump wins?” asked my daughter, Carly. She’s almost four.
“People like me and Joya don’t get to have a life,” and Cecilly. She was staring darkly at the TV screen. I think I’d better explain that not only is Joya a woman, she’s also Bangladeshi. Her family came here (legally) when she was very small, and she’s in the process of becoming a US citizen, but she isn’t one yet. She's a brown-skinned citizen of a Muslim-majority country (she's actually a lapsed Hindu). So, yes, a lot of this is very personal to them. To us.
Carly’s eyes widened.
“Don’t tell that to my daughter!” I said. I realized my hands had formed fists. I deliberately released them. I don’t hit people. But you don’t say things like that to my kid.
“We’ll, it’s true,” said Joya, some acid in her voice. “Just because—“
“Bullshit,” I told her, cutting her off. “It’s only half the truth. It’s not even that. We don’t know what’s going to happen. Don’t frighten my daughter with wild speculation she can’t do anything about.”
Joya, looked daggers at me. She doesn’t know me well, yet. To her, I’m her white prospective brother-in-law-- straight, cis, male, and white, privileged every which way. When push comes to shove, I am Other to her. Fine. But don’t you frighten my daughter.
“What is the truth you want to tell her, then?” she asked me.
I had to think for a bit. Carly looked up at me. They all looked up at me. I was the only one standing. I am very tall and it makes me easy to look at. I wished they’d all look somewhere else. I knelt and held Carly by her tiny shoulders.
“Donald Trump is a very mean man,” I told her. “He is a bully. And if he becomes president, he will have a lot of power. He will be in charge of the army and he will be in charge of making sure the government does its job. He will basically be the boss of the entire country. And having a mean bully be the boss will make everything we’ve worked for, everything we care about, harder, much harder. But not impossible. Not impossible. And we are going to keep fighting just as hard as we can. Do you understand?”
She nodded. I let go of her shoulders. She ran off and got out some paper. I returned my attention to the TV. They’d just called another state for Trump.
A few minutes later, Carly ran up to us, waving the drawing she’d made, a scribble in blue crayon.
“I made a bird!” she announced proudly. “To help Hillary win!” I think she must be remembering the Bernie bird. We attached the bird to the TV, for luck. As the hours went by, one after another of us curled up in blankets on the couches or on the floor. None of us wanted to stop watching, as though by watching we could somehow influence the outcome. I remember yawning….
I woke to Allen’s voice.
I sat up and looked around. Some of us had fallen asleep and were waking around me. Allen, of course, had not. He keeps odd hours. Kit had not. She was too anxious and angry. She clicked the TV off as though the remote control were a magic wand that could make Trump’s victory go away.
“Goddamn it!” she said, an odd curse from a Wiccan, but it’s her favorite and she always comes back to it. “Damn Republicans. Damn Christians. Damn men.” I saw her close her eyes and her lashes were wet with tears already.
“Uh, some of us are men,” Allen pointed out.
“And some of us are Christian,” I added.
She waved her arms in a helpless away and stuttered a bit. Allen and I looked at each other and smiled a little, the way you do when someone you care about is being characteristically strange. The thing is, Kit isn't really as biased as she sounds, she just uses the words "men" and "Christian" narrowly, to mean the negative aspects of those groups. We knew her first reaction had been to say “No you’re not, you’re people,” and that she'd caught herself and was now struggling to come up with something that sounded better.
“You’re not the men and the Christians I’m talking about,” she managed, finally.
We discussed sleeping arrangements. I wanted the others to stay over. I’m thirty-five years old and I have a job and a kid and a master’s degree (and a green ring) but I still feel like a kid sometimes and I wanted the presence of more adulty-adults—in my head, of course, that means my former professors, Allen and Kit. What I actually said was that it was so late and they shouldn’t have to drive anywhere. June said they were welcome, but pointed out we don’t have a guest bedroom. We have no space for eight houseguests, except on the couches and floor.
Kev, Kit’s husband, begged off first, saying he had to get Kit home. She wouldn’t sleep if there were people around her to take care of. She smiled a little lamely and started gathering her stuff. I looked to Allen, a little desperately, maybe.
“I don’t have anything useful to say tonight,” he said, knowing why I wanted him to stay. “None of this makes any sense to me.” It’s true that Allen’s version of anger leans heavily towards an increasingly hysterical and unhelpful confusion. He doesn’t understand why people make decisions that hurt other people and he’ll exhaust himself trying to figure it out, like someone trying to solve a Rubix cube by force.
“Ok,” said, disappointed. “I’ll put Carly to bed.” And I picked her up. She was limp with sleep, but when I settled her against my shoulder, she wriggled, grunted, and rubbed her eyes. She lifted her head, not quite awake, looked at me, and made a questioning noise.
“Carly, baby, it’s time for bed,” I explained “The election’s over.”
“Who won?” She asked, mumbling.
She came awake at once, taking charge of her limbs and wriggling out of my embrace. She landed on the floor and looked around at us in aggrieved confusion.
“But…but…but I drew a bird and everything!”
“Oh, baby!” cried Kit, full of sympathy, “that kind of magic doesn’t always work.” And she held out her arms to my child, who climbed into her lap. June went over and wrapped her arms around both of them, burying her face in Kit’s fire-and-silver hair.
An hour or so later, after everyone but my sister and her partner (who had planned to stay the night anyway, as they live further away) had left, I “put the apartment to bed,” as we say, checking locks and lights and the pilot light on the stove. Then I went to the bathroom.
When I came out again, the place was dark, but Joya and Cecilly were still sitting up on the couch in the living room. Joya was crying and Cecilly was kissing away her tears. I left them there, pretending I had not seen.