Angry. Scared. Disappointed. Shocked. Fucked. Hurt. Why? Because we let it happen. We gathered around our televisions last night and collectively watched a joke transform into a nightmare and woke up to it as a reality this morning. Then we went to work and tried not to let anyone notice how wounded we became. My blood curdles to see the range of posts on my social media from violent gloating to pure abandonment to incensed wrath. A great deal of Americans can feel ourselves losing what little we have – rights, dignity, respect…Everyone heard what he said, saw what he did. It was Americans who excused it. It was Americans who explained it away, justified it. It was Americans who picked up those pens and made that choice. An entire community let this happen. What does this decision mean now? What do we have to live with?
I’m switching gears here to tell you about a part of my childhood that makes this personal for me to outline what we have to live with now. I grew up with my step-father molesting me. He was always touching me (in front of neighbors, my mother). During summer, my parents would make me go with him on overnights (he was a trucker). I’d get so tired in the passenger seat and wake up with my pants unbuttoned and shirt pushed up. He would pull me off the couch onto the floor. He would get on top of me. My mother sat in the corner and watched. Afterwards, he would tell me that the more I said, “No” or “Stop” the more he wanted to do it. It was like I, a seven-year-old, “egged him on.”
As I grew older, I learned that everyone in the neighborhood knew. I learned it was a joke around bonfires. I learned why neighbors’ kids weren’t allowed to play at my house. During holidays when neighbors would visit each other, I’d hear whispered excuses of “God’s hands.” They’d laugh with him, justifying his behavior – “Just a perv.” Because no one said anything to me or told him to stop, for so long, I thought it was my fault. I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I deserved it. I thought that’s how the world worked. It wasn’t until the neighborhood meth-head apologized to me a couple of years after I’d left (also because of my step-dad). He told me that he should’ve done something and that everyone knew.
And so I spent the next few years trying to convince myself that the world wasn’t like those incestuous, irresponsible, dirt road dwellers. It took a long time before I could talk about it (I still don’t, really). It’s been difficult to surround myself with people who would have stood up for me then. It’s hard to explain that I had to learn that my feelings matter and are worth something…Admittedly, it’s something I’m still learning. I’ve been fortunate enough that in the last couple of years I’ve built a supportive community of loving people who don’t excuse mistreatment.
While it’s embarrassing to acknowledge that I’ve fooled myself into thinking that the rest of the world would have done something or said something to stop him, I have to admit it. And while it should be shameful and embarrassing for you (if you were one of the people who walked into the voting booth with the bragging of pussy grabbing and mockery of disabled peoples in your head telling yourself it meant something else or that it was ok) you might not be. It might not be shameful because you don’t know what it’s like to be labeled a meaningless leper in favor of some social norm established by a pathetic excuse for tradition through no fault of your own. It might not be shameful because you’re more afraid of losing that privilege than you are interested in learning how to share this world and the people you share it with. In that booth you chose to tell entire groups of people that they do not belong (LGBTQ+, Latino, Women, people who are disabled, Muslim, Black, POWs) and do not deserve to be seen as citizens who deserve representation in their own government. You chose to tell sexual assault victims that how they felt after that traumatic experience doesn’t matter, and that it’s the status quo.
Needless to say, the list of implications stretches for miles. I’ve spent most of the day feeling alone, trying to figure them out. I’ve spent most of the day feeling stupid for letting this happen. We chalk all of this poppycock up to the kind of nation we want to be. Yes, we made a choice (an incredibly dangerous one). But there are still choices to be made every day. We still go to work, we still pay bills…Which brings me to why I was moved to write this today, right now: The Lady at Taco Bell.
Leaving work today I broke from my morose mood to rationalize a trip to Taco Bell. In the drive-thru I said please and thank you and yes ma’am, and it sounded like the lady wearing the headset was making a concerted effort to respond in kind. I pulled up to the window and she said, “Give me a just a minute, baby.” I, of course, said, “Take your time.” When she re-opened the window, before she handed me the bag, she said, “Thank you so much. I feel a lot better. I put a couple of extra tacos in your bag.”
As simple and routine as that exchange was, I’m not going to lie, I teared up a bit. It was a reminder that yes this situation is fucked up, but we still have to make a choice every day. We have to choose to go through this shit and change it together. I’m not saying “Kill them with kindness” or “Learn to live with it.” I’m saying, we can still choose what kind of nation we want to be. I’m saying we’re going through this together and sometimes that means considerate, basic human interaction and a couple of extra tacos. I’m saying I’m still pissed off and disappointed and afraid, but I know why and I know towards whom.
We don’t know how bad it’s going to get within the next four years, but you should know that I’ll both choose to hold your hand when you need me to. I’ll choose to raise my voice and my fist when the time is right, and you won’t even have to ask. But I will not choose to silently stand by and let you feel alone. I will not let you or myself feel abandoned.