There we were, in the middle of a Pittsburgh street, when Hillary Clinton approached.
She looked stunning, confident, resplendent in her red pantsuit. We cheered wildly, equally confident that we were meeting our next President of the United States.
We were so close.
It was the second to last rally of a unending, unprecedented campaign. Monday afternoon, November 7. A bright and brisk day, a deep blue sky — not unlike that on 9/11, as horribly ironic as that seems now. She had just spoken and as we were leaving, a small crowd gathered in the blockaded intersection hoping just to wave as her motorcade departed.
And then suddenly, there she was. Crossing the street toward us as we erupted into a cacophony of shouts, cell phones capturing what felt like a historical moment. After all, how often do you have an opportunity to meet the next President of the United States on the eve of her election?
Less than 36 hours after I took this picture and after I proudly let my almost 15-year-old daughter push the VOTE button for the most qualified person to ever run for President, my girl and I were sobbing uncontrollably as we watched the election returns. As state after state turned red, we held each other as the realization set in that our country and our lives were now changed forever.
Like many of us in the aftermath of this election, I am a maelstrom of emotions. For three days, I’ve been a cauldron of feelings: anger, sadness, fear and despair, just for starters. Quite simply, I am devastated and shaken to my core, unable to rationalize the juxtaposition of events this week — the exhilaration of seeing Hillary Clinton in person and the pride of voting for the first female President of the United States …. to the empty jack o’lanterned feeling like my insides had been hollowed out and turned to orange pulp.
I will be honest with you, as I’ve always tried to do here on this blog and elsewhere. I have been struggling mightily since the wee hours of Wednesday morning when it became abundantly clear that this country is now bathed in a sea of red.
And yes, I’ve read enough in these past several days, thank you, to recognize that we have been living in a red country for quite some time and this is a wake-up call for some. I get that, and I’ve seen and I understand enough about the culture wars that have been raging to know that the pot has been dangerously close to boiling over for some time.
And now, that pot has been doused with kerosene and is exploding with students being threatened in vandalized schools, women harassed by men yelling about grabbing their pussies, and a President-elect tweeting about how unfair all this is, rather than leading the nation in being a voice of reason.
Somehow, in all of this, we still need to get through our daily lives. On Wednesday morning, after less than two hours of something barely resembling sleep, I somehow got my ass out of bed and went to work. I had to; I’m the sole breadwinner in a family of four that is on a fucking financial precipice. My husband has been out of work for 16 months. He’s a cancer survivor and is someone who spent Thanksgiving Day last year being resuscitated by me on our bathroom floor after he collapsed from a seizure, which he now has long term effects from. Our medical bills are ridiculous and our income is 1/3 of what it was this time last year. (Not less than one third; it is one-third.)
So, yes, I absolutely, completely understand the feeling of being left behind in a world with a changing economy that shits on your 25 years of professional experience in your field where you can’t get an entry level job. I know about skyrocketing health insurance premiums and paychecks that don’t cover your basic needs and savings that have been depleted because you lost everything in the housing crisis and the Great Recession and how you can’t send your kids to college and what it is like to be angry about this.
But here’s the thing. I don’t simply understand this mentality because I’ve read about it from some think-piece in the New Yorker. I understand this because I am living this, too.
It’s just that my story probably looks a little different from someone else’s story because I am a white female living in a middle-class suburban neighborhood.
Maybe that’s one of the takeaways here, that we’re not really all that different after all. If so, then that’s one of the things I am struggling hard to understand.
Because I simply can’t fathom how people in these circumstances could willingly vote for someone with a non-existent track record of delivering on anything that would improve our lives AND who happens to be the kind of racist, sexist, xenophobic, narcissist that the President-elect is. And no — I do not buy for one minute that the outrageous things and the abhorrent behavior and conduct in the campaign waged by the winner was simple campaign rhetoric. I do not. Maya Angelou was right: when someone shows you who they are, believe them. The first time and every single goddamn time after that. The reality is that our President-Elect has been showing us who he is for much longer than this campaign.
I know not everyone reading this will understand and I don’t expect everyone to. Nor do I really care. This post is just where I am right now as I try to capture and relegate my emotions and regain some sort of equilibrium in what is a very difficult, fragile, scary time. Wednesday morning felt eerily similar to 9/11, when my coworkers and I huddled together in tears, sharing news and trying to find solace in music and poetry. Just as 9/11 was a difficult day, so was its numerical fraternal twin of 11/9.
I’ll remember the tearful embraces and shaky words with my coworker and the cook in the cafeteria who makes my breakfast bowl each morning — both people of color, both people who I have developed a friendship with over time. I’ll remember needing to go back to church, just as I did on 9/11. Then, as now, I went to a service at my Unitarian Universalist church. The Girl came with me and we listened to Carrie Newcomer’s “Sanctuary” and the words of Terry Tempest Williams and the poetry of Ellen Bass. We shared our feelings with others and held hands and cried together.
At times, I feel a little stronger, even empowered. I’m trying to find ways to use my anger as a force for good and how I can fill this deep chasm in my heart. I’ll be using my voice and this blog to speak louder, to call foul, to raise awareness of injustices and the issues and the people who — make no doubt about it — will truly be forgotten in this new political administration that isn’t going to do jack shit to improve anyone’s life. We have a con man as the leader of our country now and I fear that dark days are on the horizon and I am preparing for them.
In spite of that, I’m cultivating a new circle of friends while holding closer those who share my belief that it isn’t just our own life that matters, it’s that all people have value and worth and dignity — those with disabilities, those who are members of the LGBTQ community, those who are newcomers to this country, those who are minorities, those who haven’t even been born. Those are the people I will be championing and those are the people and the causes who will get my time and my talents.
I will remember until the day I die Hillary Clinton’s bright red pantsuit as she crossed the street to greet us. I will remember the gorgeous day we shared and the gray, rainy gloomy day in every sense of the word on 11/9/2016. I will remember the red hot anger I feel in the aftermath of this election. And in this red country, one that will see more red blood spilled on our streets in violence, I will remember the people that need championing with every beat of my heart and with a red-hot passion fueled by love.