November 2016


On Last Tuesday

Posted on Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Yesterday, I wasn't feeling well.

I wasn't sure if it was the (physical, emotional, moral, political) fatigue of the week before, finally catching up to me, or if it was the late-night beers and early-morning frites from a Saturday night spent in Brussels, but I knew I wasn't feeling right.

I had slept poorly back in my own bed on Sunday night, tossing and turning and lying awake, my mind reeling and my heart thudding, keeping my tired bones awake longer than they wanted. I couldn't feel calm, I couldn't drop off to sleep despite how desperately I wanted to.

On my way home from work last night, I switched from the RER to the métro, as I always do, at the eastern edge of Paris. I stood, like I always do, in front of where I knew the door would open when the train arrived. As the train pulled into the station and emptied, I stood to the side to allow people to hurry past. When they were gone, I ducked quickly into the carriage and tucked myself into the corner seat, closest to where I'd entered.

Except, somehow, someone arrived in the seat before me. A man, standing at the next door down, darted in and across the space between us and beneath me, sliding past all the other open spots and into the seat I almost had. I was surprised, but mostly annoyed, as he'd walked past four empty and closer seats, before stealing the one that was most logical for me to take. Without really thinking I clicked my tongue loudly and hissed "ce n'est pas POSSIBLE, monsieur," under my breath, before folding into the seat opposite him. Where I'd spoken quietly, almost to myself, he responded loudly. "Ah bon ? Comment ça ce n'est pas possible ?" (Oh yeah? What do you mean, it's not possible?"). He was jeering, no worse than a playground bully though he was well into his fifties, and when he saw me avoiding his gaze (and regretting that I'd spoken), he laughed, loudly. It was a cruel laugh, a laugh that meant "you stupid girl."He shook his head as he laughed, as if to say "Who do you think you are?" With his eight words and his condescending laughter, he made me feel so small, completely invisible, like the tiniest and most insignificant thing.

And all for taking a seat that was closest to me.

I squeezed my eyes shut and tried not to let it happen, but before I knew it there were big tears escaping. I couldn't catch my breath, my nose ran into my rosy pink scarf, my mascara stained my cheeks. Do you remember how it felt to cry when you were a child? When your whole body shuddered, and one fat tear was followed by another, fatter one? I couldn't help it, I was crying like that. Avoiding his gaze, everyone's gaze, keeping very quiet, but I was inconsolable.

Was I overreacting? Definitely.
Was I crying about more than a man stealing my seat on the métro? Definitely.

In our one-minute interaction, I was made to feel invisible, and when I tried to stick up for myself, I was made to feel laughable, silly, insignificant. Sound familiar?

I won't pretend to speak for those less fortunate than me. I recognize that I could never begin to understand how someone else is feeling today, and in the past week. I recognize that I am a privileged white woman, that I have lived a charmed life, that my struggles are so minor. And yet.

I want to write about the election, because it feels important not to forget this moment. I know we are tired of talking about it, hearing about it, reading about it, thinking about it. But we mustn't let ourselves be complacent, we mustn't let our weariness lead us to inaction. I have never written about this kind of thing, politics, on this blog before.

This site is full of personal reflections, but then, this defeat feels so deeply personal.

To start at the beginning, I didn't like Hillary at first. I liked Bernie. I liked his messy white hair and his ill-fitting suits, I liked his way of speaking, his brusque manner. I liked his socialist-leaning ideals. As time went on, though, and as it became clear  that Hillary would become the Democratic candidate, I made the decision to support her. I watched her speeches, her facial movements, her body language, and I warmed to her. I spoke with people who know more about politics than me, I spoke with other converted former-Bernie-supporters,  did enough research to feel comfortable with my decision. (And here I feel I have to say that I recognized, too, on some level, that this election was too important to vote for anyone but her. The alternative, the unthinkable, was enough to be sure I never considered a third-party vote or abstention. But mine was ultimately a vote of conviction, regardless of the stakes.)

And then, as the date approached, I got excited. A mother, a wife, a daughter, our next president. A woman who has spent her whole life fighting, given her all to what she believes in, never given up. In the days leading up to the election, I imagined Hillary giving her first speeches as President, shaking hands with world leaders, addressing the nation, leading us. I felt so proud, in anticipation of the moment she would win. As a woman, I felt the historical importance of what was about to happen. Every part of me was buzzing. We'd show him! We'd beat him, and we'd beat him with a woman. A woman would show him that his racist fear-mongering behavior had no place in the United States. A woman would grab his rhetoric by the you-know-what, and throw it out of our headlines, our discussions, our country. That kind of talk has no place in a nation like the United States, and I was sure she would prove this once and for all, and put this orange nightmare to rest.

Imagine the little girls that would realize how far they could go! Imagine the noise that glass ceiling would make as it shattered!

Around 2 a.m. in Paris on that Wednesday morning, that ceiling suddenly felt a little bit farther than we'd thought. Our night had started with happily sharing cocktails, excitedly discussing how and when we'd voted, joyfully claiming our part of this historic occasion. As the hours dragged past, the joyfulness disappeared. We felt desperate. Some people I talked with returned to the bar again and again, trying to drown it out. I was dumb with disbelief, I felt shocked. I couldn't believe it.

At 4 a.m., I went home, but stayed glued to my screen. 5, then 5:30, and I finally turned off my computer, feeling sick to my stomach. In the fetal position, as the sun came up in Paris, I closed my eyes and let my tears dry and felt comforted that I could forget for a while that this was happening. Two hours later, I woke to a rainy morning. Mustering together the last shreds of hope I was clinging to, I opened my computer. When I saw the result, just confirmed moments before, I stood in my tiny kitchen and sobbed. I watched him climb the stage to give his "victory speech" and let big noisy messy waves from the deepest parts of me drown him out.

How had this happened? Where was the America I knew? Where was the country that I'd thought was welcoming - that had, in fact, welcomed me and my family years before? Where were the values I'd learned about in school, the pillars we promised to stick to the day we wore sworn in as citizens? Where was our America, last Tuesday?

It has been six days and I don't think it's getting easier. Watching Hillary speak last Wednesday, full of strength and grace and composure, I cried once more as I mourned the President she would have been. She was the embodiment of what a President should be: careful, measured, yet honest. A far cry from what we've ended up with.

"This is painful, and it will be for a long time."

In one way, it feels silly to still feel what I'm feeling (sad, disappointed, hurt, grieving, shocked, incredulous, heartbroken). The world keeps turning, and for the time being I'm as good as unaffected, as my fairly happy life chugs along in the land of socialism  (and cheese), far away from the madness. But in another, this loss feels like the kind of weight that I'll have to remember for a long time. Like an old friend or boyfriend, or a time in my life, or a place. Something I'll keep missing, whose absence will sting every time it's remembered.

For me, it's a dark indication of the state of things back home. A storm has been brewing over the months that preceded this vote, and I'm disappointed to see that the storm has gathered strength instead of passing. I'm disappointed in my country, the country that adopted us.

The incident on the métro yesterday was so minor. It was nothing. But to me, in my tired and run down state, it felt like a reminder that today is a very dark day. Whether on the national stage or in a carriage of the line 2, there are people today that want to make us feel small, invisible, and stupid. They want to laugh at us when we try to speak up.

Where do we go from here? I don't know. I don't know what will happen to America, I don't know how she will weather this storm. I take comfort in knowing, though, that she is scrappy. She is a fighter. If my American education has taught me anything, it's that America is determined, unrelentless, tough to keep down.

I just hope that she will rise up on the right side of history, and not follow this absurd pied piper to her demise.

For now, I think the answer is to start small. In the face of the hateful decision that my country has made, I'm determined to show love in every corner of my little life.

Self love, picking up a bouquet of lilies just because, taking myself out to see the Christmas lights, getting to bed early and eating delicious things that my own two hands have made.
Love for my family and friends, sending cards and making phonecalls and giving compliments and listening, excitedly making plans for a long-awaited trip home next month, imagining how good it will feel to see them all again.
Love for my country — my countries — by minimizing the damage this time around, and then making sure that this will never happen again.

Let's be kind to each other, and listen to each other, and be intelligent and measured.
Let's remember that the brightest days often follow the darkest.
Let's keep going. xx