My morning class shows up happy and chatty and ready to talk poetry. Several students mention they voted early.
Later that afternoon, I chat with a student of mine who is applying to Columbia College in Chicago. He tells me that he applied to Columbia a year ago and was accepted but he couldn’t go because he didn’t have the money. We are discussing his admissions essay where he writes that he is a poor black trans male who will be the first member of his family to graduate from college. He loves jokes and his jokes are his art. He is bright and funny and self deprecating. At the end of our chat he tells me that Nixon is his favorite president. His mother is a political science professor. He loves politics. He also tells me that one time, in the last few weeks, he showed up to our classroom early and two other students were discussing how Hilary was going to wreck the country and Trump was clearly the superior candidate. He told me he put in his earbuds because he couldn’t listen to them anymore.
I wear my “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights” t-shirt. I attach my Hilary Clinton pin to the lapel of my jean jacket. A few weeks ago at Target I stumbled across the entire alphabet in earrings; each letter is shiny gold. I put “H” in one ear and “C” in the other.
I go to work. I talk with my officemates: an astronomer, a historian and a mathematician. We are all excited. We are all nervous. The historian is coming back to campus that night for an election party sponsored by student life. He is looking forward to it. He says it will be a close race.
I don’t think it will be close. I am confident it will not be close.
I teach both of my classes. I pick my son up from daycare. I get home and my husband is already there. We order tacos for dinner. We put our son to bed around 7:30. We’ve got PBS election coverage streaming through our television.
For the first hour or so, I am fine. It’s going as expected. I am texting my sister, sitting on my couch and sipping a giant glass of red wine.
It is hard to to pinpoint the exact moment when I no longer feel fine, but this is what I remember:
I remember hearing my husband say “how could the polls have gotten this so wrong?” and looking over at him to see sheer bewilderment on his face. It scares the shit out of me.
I remember my sister assuring me over and over again that Pennsylvania will go blue. “She’s got this,” she said. “Of course she does,” I said.
I remember watching my friends on social media move from astonishment to anger to despair.
I remember saying to my husband, “I’m not going to bed until this over.”
I remember going to bed before they called Pennsylvania because I just couldn’t take anymore.
I remember my husband and I getting undressed, sliding into our bed in silence and lying absolutely still in the dark. Our bodies do not touch.
I do not cry.
I wake up to my eighteen month old son chattering in his crib. Before I get up, I pick up my phone and open Facebook.
I go to my son’s room and lift him out of his crib. It is not until he comes up to me, throws his little arms around my shins, buries his sleep warmed head in my knees, that I begin to weep.
I am scared.
I go to work. I am the first one in our office. I spend the next hour listening to NPR until my officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, arrives and asks me how I am.
We talk. I feel better. I go back to work.
I am listening to NPR when I hear a female Clinton supporter come over the line. She is sobbing. She says she doesn’t know what to do now. What will happen now that we’ve elected a man for President of the United States who does not value women?
I am listening to Diane Rhem. A caller wants to know what kind of job she can get under Trump’s plan seeing as how she is a sixty year old woman and can not work in a factory. Diane has to interrupt Peter Navarro, a policy advisor for the Trump campaign, after a few minutes, “Please, Peter. Just answer her question,” but he can’t.
I am angry.
I listen to President Obama’s remarks. He tells us that this is how elections work. That “we lick our wounds, we brush ourselves off and we try harder.”
A friend on Twitter retweets: “So, we’re just awake. And we’re here. And we’re exhausted and broken. And she’s cheerful and kind. She’s the future.” I retweet it as well, commenting: I’m trying. I’m trying really, really hard.
My friend direct messages me: “The only reason I am able to function today is because I know I have someone like you as a friend. I’m using “Be kind. Try hard.” as a mantra. I’m here with you.”*
Be kind. Try Hard.
I listen to Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. I cry at my desk.
My officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, and I talk some more. We close the door. One of our facilities staff comes into empty the trashcans. He hears us talking about the election and says, “you are my people.”
I teach my class. My student who is applying to Columbia? My student who loves Nixon?
He is absent.
I stop in the women’s room on the second floor of my building after class. I meet another one of facilities staff coming out. She’s just finished cleaning and we chat for a minute. She tells me there are post it notes up on the mirrors. “I know I should take them down, but I’m going to leave them. I really like the one saying. I circled it in pink highlighter.”
The post it note that she circled reads: Now is a time when love is the strongest of all weapons. Stand together. Spread the love.
I go home. My pin still on my lapel. H & C still in my ears.
Later that night my husband turns to me and says, “Well, babe, what are we going to do?”
H & C still in my ears.
I go to work. My officemate, the historian, says the turn out for the election party was great. There was food and conversation but they had to be out of the building by ten.
I go to my classes. We read “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. My students love it and we discuss it for a large chunk of both class periods. The final lines of her poem mingle with my mantra from the day before:
Beautiful. Be kind. Try. You can make this place beautiful. Try hard. Try hard to make this place beautiful.
I go back to my office. I do some work. I watch Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire. I cry.
My officemate, the mathematician and my dear friend, and I go downstairs to the food court and we see the our friend from the day before. He asks us how we’re feeling.
I go home. I play with my son. I donate money to promote a safe haven. I share the picture I took of the post it notes in the bathroom. I see there are notes popping up all over the country. My husband and I make plans to get involved.
I send messages of support on social media.
Be kind. Try hard.
Standing in a parking lot, I take a picture of the sky. It reminds me of a poem I began before this whole shit show started. I go home and pull up the poem. I work on it for awhile.
Close to a month ago, I bought a ton of daffodil and tulip bulbs from Aldi. I love flowers and these bulbs were on sale, so I might have gone a bit overboard. Regardless, today, in the late November sunlight, I go out into my yard and plant what must be more than fifty bulbs.
In some ways this planting is cathartic. I am angry. It feels good to plunge the nose of my bulb planter into the soft earth and see it break apart. It feels better to stomp on the dirt after I’ve placed the bulb in the hole. After about thirty times, I feel better than I have in days.
I also can’t help but think, pausing to stomp yet another pile of dirt, that come spring my yard will be a riot of color with tulips of every shade and so many daffodils the sun will be jealous.
Be kind. Try hard.
HC still in my ears.
Be kind. Try hard.
I’m here with you.
Be kind. Try hard.
Make this place beautiful.
I will. I will. I will.
* Thank you to my friend who supplied me with this mantra on this day. It saved me then and it is still saving me now.