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Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Love my Husband but I REALLY Love Nate Silver

It’s sad when your happiness relies so heavily on one man. You wait for him to communicate, to give you something to go on. You’re looking for some reason to believe that the rest of your days won’t be bleak and filled with loss. Hearing nothing is terrible, but hearing the wrong thing is even worse. Yet still you wait, clinging to the hope that he will tell you what you want, no, what you need to hear.

I’m talking of course about Nate Silver of

I trust him and him alone. He takes all of the polls, analyzes them and weights them according to accuracy, sample size, polling methods, and any sort of lean, whether it’s Republican or Democrat. Then he combines all the data, runs daily simulations, and posts the chances for an Obama or a Romney win, both statewide and nationally.

I check his site constantly. How’s it looking in Ohio? Are Obama’s chances still around 70%, or has he slipped? Are Virginia and Colorado light blue today, or have they turned pink overnight? How will he explain these annoying Gallup daily tracking polls that can’t possibly be right? Does he still believe that Romney is experiencing a post-debate bounce? And please, please tell me that the chances of an Electoral College tie are still below 1%, because I don’t think I can’t take much more of this.

Because most likely, the people in my life can’t take much more of me.

Wednesday morning one of my students asked for an extension on her paper.

“Remind what it’s about again.”

“Umm,” she stammered, “the effects of terrorism on trade in the Middle East. But I’ve been trying to make it relevant, and with everything that’s going on…”

“You’re an undergrad,” I snapped. “No paper that you write is going to be relevant. And using unfortunate, recent events as a way to justify your procrastination is in really bad taste. I expect the paper to be done by Friday.”

She gasped. “This Friday? But the deadline isn’t until Monday.”

“For you it’s now Friday.”

And I didn’t even feel bad about it.

Later that day Jack called me. I was walking from my office to my car, and it was a cold, damp afternoon. I hurried through campus as I answered the phone.

 “How’s Monty?” Jack asked. No hello, no asking me how I am. I tried not to take it personally.

“I don’t know. He’s still sleeping a lot, but he seems slightly better.”

“When’s he going back to work?”

“Probably next week.”

“Well, that’s good.”

Jack stopped talking just as I reached my car. I unlocked it and struggled to enter
 while holding this morning’s travel mug and my bag of papers, and with my phone pressed against my ear.

            “Jack, is there something else you need? I’m about to drive home.”

            “Look, I’m working on getting the money back to you.” He words came out in a rush of nerves. This is why you don’t loan people money.

            “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “Monty’s not mad anymore. You can take your time.”

            “Well,” he said with a sigh. “Thanks. And hey, I have some good news.”

            “What’s that?”

            “Jessie and I are engaged.”

            My keys, which had been millimeters away from the ignition, slipped from my fingers and dropped to the floor of my car.

            “Are you insane?” I demanded. “You’re not even divorced yet. You can’t be engaged. That’s…it’s craziness. No. No. I forbid you.”

            Jack cleared his throat. “You forbid me? What, are you my mom now?”

            “No. But I’ve been living with your mother for well over a month, so perhaps she’s rubbing off on me. You can’t do this Jack.”

            He raised his voice, which is something he never does. “You don’t have the right to tell me that.”

            “Oh yes I do!” I yelled into the phone. “I have every right!”

            “Because you lent me money?”

            I could feel my jaw clench with tension. “I didn’t mean it like that. But you’re making a mistake. Take some time. Think about Mikey. Think about yourself. Figure out who you are before you rush into another marriage.”

            “I know who I am,” he said. “I just don’t know who you are right now.”

I couldn’t respond to that. It was cold, and I wanted to drive home. I wanted to turn on the heat, and the radio. Maybe NPR would have something about the campaign on. I reached down and fished for my keys. “I have to go,” I said.

“Bye,” said Jack. And he hung up with some definite aggression.

            That night at dinner I kept quiet. Monty actually came down and sat with us at the table, and we all ate spaghetti and talked about our day.

            Except for me. I sat silently and stewed, until Natalie started talking politics.

            “It looks like Mitt Romney is going to win. Did you hear he’s ahead by seven points in the Gallup polls?”

            I put my fork down with a clang. “Mitt Romney is not going to win.” I looked at her such hot hostility that I’m sort of surprised she didn’t ignite into flames. “Only idiots care about what Gallup has to say. Besides, Obama is still ahead in Ohio, and Romney needs Ohio to win. End of story.”

            “Well, I saw on Morning Joe that Romney is surging in the polls.” Natalie gave me a superior sort of look. “Isn’t MSNBC the liberal channel? Why would they say that if it wasn’t true?”

            “Mom, Joe Scarborough used to be a Republican Congressman.” Monty coughed a little and took a bite of spaghetti.

            “Well, I still don’t know why he would lie.”

            I wanted to throw my plate of spaghetti in her face. “Because it’s all about spin! He’s spinning his side. That doesn’t make it true, or right! And the most infuriating part is that the spin becomes the story, like the tale wagging the dog. And shame on us all if we let that happen.”

            “Why are you yelling, Mommy?” Abby asked me this with the sort of patience only a three-year-old could manage.

            I exhaled and lowered my voice. “Sorry, Honey. I guess I’m just not hungry.” I got up and cleared my plate.

            Monty met me in the kitchen. “What’s with you?”

            I spun on him. “Your family is driving me crazy.” And I told him about my conversation with Jack, and some of what went down with his mother while he was gone, and it was all in a whispered rush. He squinted at me and tried to follow, but I don’t know how much he really took in.

            “Did you actually tell Jack he was insane?”

            “So what if I did? He’s is.”

            “Yeah, but…” he shook his head. Then I heard Abby call from the kitchen.

            “Daddy! You said you’d eat with us. You need to finish your pasghetti!”

            “Go,” I said softly. And I went upstairs to watch MSNBC. In the evenings they actually have decent commentators on.

            Later, after I put Noah to bed, I looked in on Abby. Monty had given her a bath, played with her, and read her stories. Now they were both sound asleep in her bed, the last storybook having fallen from his hands and off to the side.

            I went downstairs to grade student papers, but I kept my computer on. Every so often I checked or more importantly, Nate Silver had been doing his updates late at night this week.

            An hour or two had passed when Monty came down to find me.

            I looked up from my computer. “I thought you were out for the night.”

            “No.” He sat down next to me at the table which was now set up as a desk. “Grading papers?”

            “Yeah.” I pressed refresh on my computer. Still no update.

            “When do you think you’ll come to bed?”

            “I don’t know.” I kept my eyes on the computer screen and away from him. “I’d like to wait for Nate Silver to do his update.”

            “When will that be?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “Sweetheart.” Monty scooted his chair in closer to me. “Can’t you wait until tomorrow to see the update?”

            I looked up at him. He had concern all over his face. “Is now the part when you’re going to tell me that I’m too obsessed, and I’m being difficult, and that I should calm down?”

            Monty scratched the side of his head, right above his ear. His dark hair was still too long, but he must have shaved today. “I wasn’t going to say that.”

            “Well, good. Because if Romney wins, I won’t be able to just tune it out. The media will tell this story, they’ll say that Obama made mistakes, and that all the hope and change was misguided, and it will take years for history to remember him right, if they ever do. It will be wrong, and unfair, and I’ll still have to talk about it. It’s what I do, and I can’t just let it go.”

            Monty nodded. “I know.” Then he reached over and closed my laptop shut.

            “Hey!” I said.

            “Talk to me for a minute.” He grabbed the edges of my chair and pulled so that we were facing each other.

            “I just told you what was on my mind. What else do you want?”

            “I want my wife back.” He cupped my cheek in his hand. “Sweetheart, you seem so unhappy. Is just the election, or is there more?”

            I met his eyes. “It’s been a lousy two months.” I heaved a sigh, and my chest rose and fell. We were both silent for a moment. It was time to confess. “I really missed you. I still miss you.”

           He looked at me in this way of his, like he's the only person who has ever really seen me. His hand travelled from my face down to the back of my neck, where he began to rub. “I miss you too. So God damn much.” He leaned in and kissed my forehead. “I’ll make it up to you, okay?”

            I nodded and looked down. He leaned in closer and gave me a gentle, lingering kiss on the lips.

            “Please come to bed.”

            It was futile to resist. I could barely remember how, but for him, I smiled. His eyes lit up.

            We went upstairs.

            Okay. So maybe Nate Silver isn’t the only man who can make me happy.








Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Polls and Changing the Furnance Filter

So the debates are over, and we’ve reached the endgame. Usually by this time in elections the polls stabilize and it becomes clear who will win. But this year is like the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. You think you know what he’ll do, but there’s still this unsettled feeling that anything can happen.

I find myself increasingly frustrated at the news coverage, which seems determined to repeat the same narrative again and again. Ever since Romney’s win at the first debate, the spin is on his side. Or maybe it’s just that my mother-in-law, Natalie, is on his side.

 “Obama was rude at the second debate, and you could tell he was lying. At least Romney wants to do something about gun violence.”

By something, she means get rid of abortion and have two-parent households. How that relates to gun violence, I still can’t see. About last night’s debate, she said: “Well, Obama was just condescending. I think Romney is a very smart man, and I like that he’s not so aggressive.”

Of course, if Romney had been the more aggressive one she would have said Obama was too submissive. I’ve come to the conclusion that everyone who is capable of making up their mind already has, and it’s all about voter turnout at this point. Which means there’s no point in watching the polls. After all, everything is a dead heat and I’m preparing for an anxious night on November 6th.

But the days are going by slowly. I tell myself that it will all be over, for better or for worse, soon. And I have to accept that no matter how many times I obsessively check or, I can’t control or change the polls.

But at least I could change the filter in the furnace.

Or I thought I could anyway.

Yet upon further inspection, I realized I had no idea how to change it. Some part needed to be unscrewed, or there was some door, or something must slide out somewhere, but I had no idea where. I gave up and realized I would need to ask for help.

“I thought you changed it already.” Monty peered up at me from his reclined position in bed. All he’d done for a week was sleep. By now we’d concluded that he had a bad case of the flu. But he finally seemed to be rebounding, enough that he could sit up anyway. He sat up now.

“I lied.” I said without apology. “But I’ll change it. Just tell me what I need to do.”

He shook his head. He needed a haircut and a shave, and he still looked pale and wan. “I’ll do it.” He struggled out of bed, moving like an old man.

“Stay in bed. Just tell me how to change it.”

He said nothing in response, but moved past me.

I followed him down the stairs. “Monty, seriously, I can do it. I just need you to explain.”

“It’s easier for me to do it myself.”

“Well, fine. But you don’t have to do it now, do you? Can’t you wait until you’re feeling better?”

He stopped and turned to me. “No. It can’t wait. It has to be done now. And I really wish you hadn’t lied about it. If I had known, I would have changed it sooner.” He turned back around and continued on down to the basement.

I was at his heels. “Why are you so preoccupied with the stupid furnace?”

“I just am.”

“That’s not an answer. Don’t you think you ought to be more worried about yourself? About getting better? I seriously don’t understand you.”

He leaned down by the furnace and slid out the old filter, easy as pie. Why hadn’t I noticed that slot before?

“You know how it works, Lucy.”

“Obviously I don’t, or I wouldn’t have needed to ask you.”

He coughed – a hacking sort of cough – and grabbed a new filter from the box. “I don’t mean the furnace. I meant that of course I’m going to be worried something that affects you and the kids before I worry about myself.”

I crossed my arms and watched as slid the new filter in. The old one did look pretty filthy. I could understand why he wanted it changed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t replace it before,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

“Thanks for doing it now.” I hugged myself more tightly to keep from shivering. “I can clean up the rest, if you want to go back upstairs.”

In answer he moved towards me and placed his hands on my arms. He rubbed them gently. “Are you cold?”

“Aren’t you? It’s freezing down here.”

“I’m okay,” he whispered.

I struggled not to cry. “Really? Because for weeks I’ve been so worried that you’re not okay.”


I stepped back. “Tell me what’s going on. I can’t take not knowing anymore.”

He cleared his throat, looked away, and ran his fingers through his hair. “Let’s go talk upstairs, where it’s warm.”

Once back, I could tell it was a relief for him to be lying down again. When he settled in and got comfortable, this is what he told me:


·         The side effects from the anti-malarial medication really affected him this trip.  A new region, a different dosage, and a different combination of drugs meant that he was constantly nauseous, anxious and sleep deprived. He even had nightmares. (A recurring bad dream was about the dirty filter on the furnace starting a fire and burning the house down.)

·         He tried to cover up how he was feeling since everyone else on the project seemed unaffected by the drugs’ side effects. But he should have said something to someone, because as he put it, “I felt like crap and I couldn’t keep up. I tried to be nice but it didn’t work. I was a dick and they all hated me.”


            “You could have at least told me that you weren’t doing well.” I said.

            “I was going to on that day you called. Then you were so angry and sarcastic, calling me ‘Montgomery’…”

            “Because Brook called you that!” I mimicked her, making my voice sound low. “Montgomery can’t come to the phone, he’s in the shower. Can I tell him you called?”

            He sighed. “I’m so sorry. Really. But everyone on the trip called me ‘Montgomery.’ They did it to annoy me after I let it slip early on that I didn’t like my name.”

I tugged at the comforter and pulled it over my knees. “That’s pretty petty.”

“Yeah.” He exhaled and stretched his arms. “I got over it by just tuning it out. But you called me Montgomery and you sounded angry, like them, when before you’d only sound sweet and intimate, and it just set me off. Then our conversation turned into this fight, and before I knew it I was hanging up on you to keep from saying something awful.”

            My stomach lurched. “Like what?”

            “I don’t know.” He cleared his throat and coughed a little. “I couldn’t think straight and I’ve had this crushing feeling of failure, and then I get sick on the way home. I suppose it was inevitable because I was already so run down.” He gave me a piercing look. “I know I can’t go back to Africa. And I wouldn’t care if I had done a half decent job in Ghana. But I didn’t, and I can’t fix it, and now I have no idea what will happen.”

            I lay down next to him, and rested my head against his chest. He began to play with my hair, pulling my curls straight, then releasing them and letting them spring back. It was such a familiar gesture; I hadn’t realized I missed it so much.

            “I hate to think you were suffering and I didn’t even know.”

            “Yeah, I hated it too.” He let go of my hair and started stroking my back. A strong wave of desire coursed through me and I had to move away. It had been so long since we’d been together, but if he felt capable of more than cuddling, he’d have made it clear by now.

            “Well, I’m glad you finally told me.” I spoke quickly, and hoped that he didn’t notice how flushed I’d become. I grabbed his hand and kissed his palm. “Don’t worry, whatever happens, we’ll get through it. Okay?”

            He nodded. “Thanks, Luce.” He squeezed my hand, kissed it back, then let go. “I think I’m past being contagious, if you want to sleep up here.” He coughed again, as if to punctuate his statement.

            “I’m not tired yet.” I got up and left him alone to sleep. It was after 9:00. The kids were in bed, Natalie was reading in the guest room, and I had the house to myself. After taking the dirty filter out to the garbage, I made some tea, and turned my computer on. Then I scoured the internet for more news about more polls and more information about situations that I can’t control.








Friday, October 19, 2012

Romnesia and a Binder of Blunders

Today Twitter is abuzz with a new expression that has actually been around for months: Romnesia. Liberal bloggers coined the term as a way to describe an extreme shift in political positions, or in essence, forgetting what you once stood for. Today Obama used Romnesia in the latest version of his stump speech, and now every news outlet’s headline contains it.
This is on the heels of Tuesday’s debate. Will Obama’s victory benefit him in the polls? Probably a little, but in most cases a good debate performance doesn’t help so much as a bad debate performance can hurt. And it can all come down to a single moment, if that moment is one that captures a weakness that was already brewing underneath the surface. In 1988, Dukakis was cold and clinical when asked if he’d support the death penalty should his wife be brutally raped and murdered. In 1992 H.W. Bush looked at his watch during a town hall meeting. During a 2000 presidential debate Gore sighed and rolled his eyes repeatedly. In 2008 John McCain wandered the stage, seemingly disorientated. And last Tuesday, Romney made his now infamous “binders full of women” comment.
None of these should have been terrible blunders, but they revealed detachment, or cockiness, or confusion, and in Romney’s case, a tendency to be out of touch. And that can lead to what a candidate fears most of all (other than losing) – being mocked.
The funny thing about the “binders full of women” comment is that I didn’t even catch it. I bet a lot of people didn’t. But the next morning it was all over the internet, and now it’s what people remember about the debate, along with the fact checking about Libya.
 If I was the only person not to catch it, I had a good excuse. Tuesday night Monty got back from his six-week trip to Ghana, and it would be the first time we’d spoken since our epic fight from over a week before. He had implored me to pick him up at the airport, but I was still mad. Since part of my anger lingered over his comment that I “have trouble saying no” it seemed only fitting to let him take an airport limo home, rather than cancel my Social Justice seminar and my department meeting, which were both scheduled for that afternoon.
I’d see him when I got home.
Except, late in the day my mother-in-law Natalie texted me. Can you stop and pick up some Gatorade and Tylenol? Monty has a fever and I think he’s dehydrated. I’d give him Advil, but I’m afraid he’d throw it up.
Instantly I felt guilty for making him find his own ride. I was still in my meeting as I read the text, and I looked at the clock a million times before the meeting was finally over. Then the ride home took way longer than normal because traffic was backed up due to an accident, and there was a long line at the drug store, and by the time I finally made it home it was after six.
Natalie met me at the door. She’d been speaking to me as little as possible, ever since I gave her a deadline for when she needs to leave and go back home to Iowa, but on Tuesday she was willing to talk.
“He looks bad,” she said in an exaggerated whisper. Abby and Noah were playing in the next room. “He’s upstairs lying down. You should go up right away. He’s been asking for you. I keep saying you’re on your way, but then he’ll ask me two minutes later, like he’s forgotten what I just said. I hope it’s not that Ebola/Rabies virus. And he held the kids! I went online to see if disorientation is a symptom, but I haven’t found anything.”
I stood there, at the foot of the stairs, clutching the CVS bag filled with Gatorade and Tylenol, and I could feel my throat fill with liquid anxiety. My husband was finally home, and I hesitated, afraid.
“I’ll get him to drink. He’s probably just dehydrated.” I ascended the stairs with feigned confidence.
The lights in our bedroom were off (at least Natalie had relinquished our bedroom) save for the flickering light of the television, which was on mute. MSNBC was on, and Chris Matthews was going on about something. Well, that was a good sign. Monty must have been lucid enough to put on MSNBC, because Natalie never would have chosen that channel.
I sat down in bed and felt his forehead. It was burning hot.
His eyes opened at my touch and he smiled.
“Lucy,” he sighed. “Finally. Wha took you so long?” He slurred and mumbled at the same time. “Starting to geh worried. Did you change the filter on the furnace?”
Over the last week I had been over possible scenarios of what our reunion would be like. They were all variations on a similar theme, and that theme was that we were both still angry. I guess Romnesia actually is a catching disease, because Monty seemed to have forgotten his previous position of being mad. So I played along.
“Babe, I need you sit up so you can drink something.” I pulled on his arm and placed my other hand underneath his back. I pushed upwards, but it did little good.
“Monty, seriously, sit up. I got you Gatorade. You need to drink.”
“Tired, Luce. Flight wore me out. Did you change the filter…”
“Yes,” I lied. I would go down and change it in a minute, since it seemed to be so important to him. “The furnace is fine. Now sit up and drink.”
His eyes, which had been half-shut, suddenly widened and focused on my face. “Love you. Sorry about before. Are you still mad?”
I stroked his forehead; it was hot and clammy at the same time. I knew that whatever was wrong with him needed to be taken seriously and suddenly I couldn’t even remember what I’d been so upset with him about. “I love you too. But if you don’t sit up and drink, I’m going to be very mad.”
Dutifully he sat up, and drank from the Gatorade bottle in slow sips.
That night, after I put the kids to bed, I sat in bed with him while he alternately drank Gatorade, dry heaved, and rested his head in my lap while I stroked his forehead. It wasn’t unlike the night before he left, six weeks ago, when the Republican convention was on. Except this time he actually wanted the television on, and he desired my presence as well. Every now and then he’d mumble something like, “Did Romney just call immigrants ‘illegals’?” or “I don’t believe any of these questioners are actually undecided.” But mostly he slept and I worried.
The next morning I cancelled my lecture and took him to the doctor, but there wasn’t much they could do. His diagnosis:
·         The  combination of the nausea from the anti-malarial drugs, plus the turbulence from the plane, plus possibly a stomach virus, made him throw up a lot and thus caused him to be very dehydrated, which only increased his nausea and thus his fever. –Or-
·         He caught some form of the flu on the airplane, in which case he needs to be all but quarantined, because it most likely isn’t what the kids and I have been vaccinated against, -Or-
·         His bad reaction to the anti-malarial drugs has suddenly gotten much worse, so he should go off them. Which he will, but he was supposed to be on them for several weeks even after he got back, so now he’s at an increased risk of contracting Malaria. Again.
So I’m supposed to monitor his temperature, keep him away from the children, and bring him in if he starts to refuse fluids or if his fever climbs higher than 103. As we drove back home, all the good will I had been feeling the night before dissipated, and my own version of Romnesia set in. I clenched the steering wheel with both hands, and Monty sat slumped in his seat. His eyes were closed and he was straining to swallow. In the light of the day I could tell how much weight he had lost – I guessed around ten pounds. Ten pounds in six weeks.
            “I don’t care if I have to chain you to lawn furniture, you are never going back to the African continent again. Ever. And if you think I’ll renege on that, you are so, so wrong.”
            He didn’t open his eyes. He didn’t say anything.
            “Did you hear me?” I demanded.
            “Yes.” His answer was barely a whisper.
            “Are you going to respond?”
            He sighed. “’Renege’ is an awfully pretentious word to use when you’re angry.”
            “That’s not funny, Monty.”
            He opened his eyes and turned his head towards me. “My head hurts like it’s being cut open with a butter knife. I can’t talk to you about major career decisions right now.”
            While rationally I could understand that this wasn’t the time to force the issue, emotionally I couldn’t let it go. I need him to be here, healthy and safe. I wanted him to promise me he’d never go back, and I wanted that promise now.
            “Just say you agree with me, and I’ll leave you alone.”
            He closed his eyes again. “Fine. I agree. Now leave me alone.” Then he turned away, and scooted towards the window, creating as much distance between us as possible.
            So the old Monty, the one who hates being coddled when he's sick, the one who will hold a grudge, was back. The Romnesia was gone, and it's place was resentment. He may be willing to give up his job in the face of overwhelming evidence that he has to, but that doesn't mean he won't blame me for it. I left him alone for the ride home, and I’ve been leaving him alone ever since.  Now he’s struggling to get better from whatever it is that’s making him feel so awful.
And I’m keeping my mouth shut. If one of us is going to talk, it has to be him. I
can’t speak, for fear I’ll make a gaffe that will reveal just how vulnerable I am. I’ll keep my thoughts stored away, in a binder full of blunders.
 *the meme up top was originally posted on

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Going (Demo)Crazy

I have to look away.

I can’t read the polls anymore. Every time I do, the news is worse than it was before. I tried to take a rational approach up until now. I told myself the following:

·         In 2004 Kerry won the first debate, experienced a surge in the polls, and he and Bush were polling evenly at the time of the election. Wall Street was predicting a Kerry win. Yet, Bush still won. (But I still have my doubts about that, with all the voter fraud in Ohio.)

·         In 1984 Mondale clobbered Reagan in the first debate. Voters questioned Reagan afterwards, wondering if he was too old. Yet Reagan went on to win every state except Minnesota.

·         The voter support that Romney has gained is most likely due to renewed enthusiasm from his base. That means it’s finite. There weren’t many undecided voters before the debate, and there are probably fewer now. All Obama has to do is present well at the next two debates, and his supporters will feel fired up again too. Then when they’re polled they’ll call themselves “likely voters” and Obama’s numbers will go back up.

But then I ask myself – What if that doesn’t happen? What if Romney continues

 to gain ground? What if he WINS?

            This is why I have to look away, and the younger version of me would be horrified. When I was in my twenties I would have volunteered and gotten the message out, because I was committed to the idea that every U.S. citizen has a responsibility to support their democracy. We will only get an equal voice if we insist on making our voices heard.  But I’m in my forties now, I have two young children and a full-time job, and I live in Washington State. If Obama loses here, he has much bigger problems than my lack of volunteerism.

            I have bigger problems to worry about too. But thankfully, I can cross one of them off my list. I finally found a new daycare for Abby and Noah, and it looks really great. It’s full right now, but on October 29th the kids can start.

            I told Natalie the good news.

            “Guess what!” I said. “You can go home soon. Abby and Noah will have daycare starting on the 29th.”

            It was evening, and I’d just put the kids to bed. Natalie was folding her laundry, and the heat from the dryer was hanging in the air. I wanted to take off my sweater, but I figured this would be a short conversation and I wouldn’t be standing in the laundry room for long.

            “What is this place that you found?” Her voice was tight, and I knew immediately this wouldn’t be the easy exchange I had been hoping for.

            “It’s independently run and close to where I work. They have a great preschool program. I’m really excited.”

            “I don’t know, Lucy.” She sighed. “Do you really think it’s a good idea? Abby will probably have the same problems at this new place as she did before. Then what? I’m not leaving and coming back.”

            Is that a promise? I held back asking her this, and instead I said, “Well, that’s a chance I’m willing to take. Nobody expected you to stay permanently. I would think you’d want to get back.”

            She vigorously shook some lint off of one of her sweaters. “I’d like to stay and see my son. Is that okay with you?”

            I clenched my hands into fists. Why does she have to sound so snotty? “He gets back on Tuesday. That’s nearly ten days that you’ll get to see him.”

            “Right.” She finished folding and picked up the basket. “Well, it’s nice to know I’m appreciated. And I wonder what Monty will think when he hears that you’re kicking me out.”

            What would he think? According to Monty, I have difficulty saying no, so at the very least he’d be surprised.  “I honestly don’t care what he’d think. This is my house too, and these are my children, which I distinctly remember giving birth to. That means I get to choose what happens here, and I’m choosing to enroll them in this new daycare. I’ll understand if you want to leave sooner, and I do deeply appreciate everything you’ve done, but you’re leaving on the weekend of the 27th. And that’s all I have to say about it.”

            By now I was sweating underneath my sweater in the claustrophobic climate of the laundry room. Natalie and I were faced off, with nothing but the laundry basket she held between us. So I stepped aside. But she was the one to step away.

            Here’s the problem with democracies: people start to believe that they actually have a say. But over the years I have learned that there’s no such thing as an even distribution of power. That would lead to – wait for it – a democrazy.

            I might have to accept that my voice will not be heard in this election, at least not in equal proportions to other peoples’ voices, ones that are saying different things than mine. So I’d better start speaking up whenever I can, wherever I can. Before I go crazy myself.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Big Bird and Staying Off Message

It’s been an off-message week.

When a bunch of information is flying at you it’s hard to discriminate between what is important and what is not. When verbal attacks, lies, and misrepresentations become mixed up and woven together, how do you pick a correct, singular message to respond with?

            Sometimes, you don’t.

            Case in point: Obama. He tried to make last week’s debate about Big Bird. He thought he could switch the focus and get a bunch of moms worked up over the loss of Sesame Street and other PBS Kids television shows. I love PBS and I love Obama, but his strategy was lost, even on me.

            Another case in point: My husband. After a disastrous phone call where I all but accused him of cheating on me, he became defensive and mean. Then, when I lashed out, he hung up on me. Did he call and apologize? No. Did he, in any way, address what had happened? No. Instead, he sent me this email:


The filter on the furnace needs to be changed. Sorry I didn’t think of it before I left; if I had I would have changed it myself. The filters are downstairs by the furnace. Please change it tonight – I just hate to think about you and the kids breathing in dirty air.

I attached my flight info. Looking forward to seeing you.

      It was the last thing I expected. Of all the things for him to be worried about, he chose the furnace. So I called, got his voice mail, hung up, and sent an email instead.


Seriously? The furnace? Can you think of any other pressing issues that need addressing, like say, our marriage?

            He wrote back.


The side effects from Primaquine and Chloroquine never went away. I’m still nauseous a lot of the time, plus I don’t sleep well and I’ve been in a bad mood for most of the last six weeks. If you want to talk about our marriage, fine, but I want to do it face to face. PLEASE be the one to pick me up at the airport, and please be alone. I want five minutes with you before we’re surrounded.

I love you.


           So I looked it up, and the side effects of these anti-malarial drugs actually do include nausea, anxiety, and nightmares.

Which made me more worried than I was angry at him, which was exactly opposite of how I wanted to feel. I’d been holding onto my anger with tenacity, like it was something I’d worked hard for and desperately deserved. And for the record, I don’t think he was actually cheating on me just because Brook called him Montgomery while they were standing in line for a shower. That doesn’t stop me from feeling jealous and slightly sick over their casual intimacy.

And for the record, I don’t think Obama has blown the election just because he had one bad debate. That doesn’t stop me from feeling a flattened sense of panic every time a new poll comes out.

The news cycle needs to change, and a clear, concise message has to be sent. I just hope it’s the right message, and that it’s delivered to a receptive pair of ears.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Obama and the Worst Fight We've Ever Had

            I watched Thursday night’s debate with my mother-in-law, Natalie, who sat and made whispered comments throughout.
            “Obama just looks tired and annoyed. Why is he stuttering so much?”
            Or, “Hmm. I’ve never heard Romney explain things that way. That actually makes sense.”
            Or, “I could see a lot of the undecided voters going for Romney now.”
            I said nothing. She knows my political affiliations, and I know that Natalie calls herself an Independent. She was actually undecided, but now she’s leaning towards Romney. I should tell her that most of what Romney said was either a lie or a complete 180 from his previous platform, but we have enough to argue about. I’d rather stay away from politics.
Anyway, I wasn’t surprised by Obama’s loss. Things had been going too well for him. After Romney’s 47% remark, pundits had declared the race all but over, and that of course was premature.
            However complacent, apathetic, or overconfident Obama may have been, he was already at a disadvantage. Incumbents rarely win the first debate. Ford lost to Carter, Carter lost to Reagan, Reagan lost to Mondale, Bush lost to Clinton, and W Bush lost to Kerry. The only exception in recent history is Clinton winning over Dole, but Dole had a reputation as a weak debater.
            There are reasons why the incumbent is more likely to lose. One, the president is not used to being directly challenged. He’s the leader of the free world, top dog, and he’s spent the last four years not being argued with. Meanwhile, the challenger has a lot more time to practice for the debate, and he’s coming into it with the opportunity of challenging the president’s record. The president can only attack the incumbent’s claims, and that’s harder to do.
            Also, the world has higher expectations for the president. He’s supposed to be invincible, so if he’s annoyed, tired, or just not into it, people will pick up on it more quickly than they would with the other guy. Sometimes we forget that even our presidents are only human.
            That said, Thursday morning I still woke up feeling like the wind had been knocked out of me.  I sat in my campus office, afraid to look at the headlines. I would have to find another way to procrastinate, and I had one in mind.  I knew from a recent email that Monty would actually be reachable by phone, and it had been forever since we’d talked, just him and me. So I was looking forward to the call.
            Yet when I called him, a female voice answered.
            Montgomery’s phone,” she said. I didn’t know what was more unsettling, that some lady was answering his phone, or that she called him “Montgomery.” Monty hates his name, and nobody is allowed to actually call him Montgomery, except for me, and that’s on the condition that I’m naked when doing so.
            “Umm,” I stuttered, “is Monty there?”
            “He’s in the shower. Do you want me to tell him you called?”
            My throat closed up and my body temperature skyrocketed. I couldn’t answer.
            “Is this Lucy?”
            “Hi, Lucy. It’s Brook. He should be out any minute. I’ll tell him… oh wait, here he is.”
            Then I heard her hand off the phone, and say, “Montgomery, it’s your wife.”
            My heart was beating, no pounding, at a distracting rate, but at least the phone hand-off gave me a second or two to find my voice.
            “Hey, Lucy,” he said, sounding completely nonchalant and totally like himself.
            “Hi, Montgomery. Did you enjoy your shower?” If my tone had an edge it was on purpose, and he picked up on it and sighed.
            “The hotel we’re at has public showers. We were standing in line together. I asked her to watch my phone, which I had been holding, because I wanted to make sure not to miss your call.”
            Okay. Reasonable explanation, but still, the image of the two of them, semi-naked and waiting for the shower, invaded my mind and refused to leave.
            “Why is she calling you Montgomery?”
            “Because she likes to annoy me.”
            In a playful, flirtatious sort of way? Does she like annoying him when they’re semi-naked and close to showering? I closed my eyes and pressed my fingers to my temples. Adrenaline was coursing through me, and I needed to calm down.
            “You’re not still suspicious, are you?” Monty asked.
            “What do you mean, still?”
            “After I got back from D.C, you were mad because I hadn’t told you she was on the trip, and you were suspicious. I thought we were past that.”
            “I suppose you’d be fine, and not suspicious at all, if the situation was reversed.”
            “I don’t want to argue,” Monty snapped.
            “Me neither…”
            “But,” he cut me off, “I need to ask you something. Why did you withdraw $10,000 from our savings account?”
            Now my head was spinning. I had been meaning to tell Monty about loaning the money to his brother, Jack. But there was never a good time.
            “You checked our accounts?”
            “Of course I did. So did you withdraw $10,000, or was that a mistake?”
            “No. It was me. Jack needed it for his lawyer fees, and past due bills on the restaurant. I know I should have talked to you first, but you weren’t reachable, and he was desperate. I couldn’t say no.”
            Monty’s silence spoke volumes. I could tell he was mad, and I waited to hear the recriminations. I should have talked to him about it first, or the very least, afterwards. I should have let Jack fend for himself, since it’s his fault he’s in this situation in the first place. I shouldn’t have been so free with our money, since we’ll need it for our children’s educations. Monty wouldn’t have been wrong if he had said any of those things, and I had my apologies ready and waiting to be uttered.
            But he didn’t hit me with any of the above. Instead he said, “Saying no has been a real problem for you lately, hasn’t it?”
            “What’s that supposed to mean?”
            “You let Abby get kicked out of daycare. You let my mom come stay and boss you around. Now you’re telling me that you gave Jack $10,000, which was mostly my money to start with. I’m starting to think you can’t handle anything.”
            I felt like Obama during the debate, not knowing or understanding what was happening as Romney handed him his guts on a plate. But unlike Obama, I was not interested in remaining calm, or in taking the high road.
            “How DARE you say that to me!” I started to yell, and I didn’t even care if people out in hall could hear. “Who the hell do you think you are? You’ve been gone and unreachable for weeks. You have no idea what it’s like, with Abby blaming me for your absence, and your mother hounding me to tell you to come home, and yet I’m trying to keep everything together while you’re off doing God knows what with who know whom!”
            “Oh come on.”
            “No!” I said. “I defended you. Your mother is sure you do this because you’re restless, that altruism or a desire to change the world has nothing to do with it, but I said no. He’s better than that. But you know what? I think you should stay in Ghana, and take showers with Brook or whoever you want, because it will be so easy for you to criticize me from thousands of miles away and STILL feel like you have the moral high ground.”
            Then, and this is what angered me most of all, he hung up on me.
            It was definitely the worst, ugliest fight we’ve ever had. But there was no clear winner, and no story to spin. I almost wish there was. If I could read the headlines about it on Yahoo News, it might feel like it actually happened. If I knew there was another chance to make my case, coming up on October 16th, maybe I’d feel better.
            Maybe I wouldn’t feel torn between hating myself and hating my husband.