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Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I was much less confident on election night this year than I had been four years ago. At that time, Barack Obama was ahead with much more comfortable margins, and he was poised to take states like Indiana and North Carolina, which he didn’t even need to reach the magic number of 270.

Four years ago the possibility that something would go wrong had been expunged from my mind. I was seven months pregnant, we had just moved into our new home, and the world was just waiting to be picked up and cherished, like a shiny, lucky penny on the sidewalk. And when Monty and I went to a fancy victory party on November 4th, 2008, we became engaged shortly before Obama was elected president.

It was a really great night.

This year we were invited to the same party, held by a guy Monty works with at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We also were invited to a get-together by one of my work friends, much smaller scale, yet it also would have been fun. But the choice was irrelevant because we couldn’t find a babysitter.

“You work on a college campus,” Monty said. “Can’t you ask one of your students?”

“My students are all political science majors. They’ll be going to their own parties on election night.”

“Then I guess we’re staying home.”

We had this conversation several days before the election. Monty was back at work, but he was crabby about it, and we were talking right before he had to leave for his morning commute. He put on his coat and grabbed his briefcase, as if to signal that the subject was closed.

“Well don’t be mad at me,” I said. “You could try and find a sitter.” I was holding Noah, who was heavy in my arms, and I shifted my weight.

“I’m not mad.” He leaned in and kissed Noah on the head, but skipped giving me the same token of affection. “It’s not a big deal. We’ll watch the returns at home like most people do.”

I didn’t argue. Honestly, I was sort of relieved not to be going out. If I had felt more confident about how it would go, or less exhausted at the end of each day, the idea of spending the evening somewhere other than my couch would have been more appealing. As it was, we took advantage of Daylight Saving Time by putting the kids to bed early, got take out, and sat glued to MSNBC from 6:00 PM Pacific Time on.

The knots in my stomach eased a little when Wisconsin was called relatively soon for Obama. To celebrate, I grabbed the last eggroll and shoved it in my mouth.

“Hey!” Monty cried. “I had dibs on that.”

I broke off the part that was still hanging out of my mouth and handed it to him.

“That’s disgusting,” he said.

“That’s marriage,” I replied.

Monty shrugged his shoulders and ate the rest of the eggroll.

Twenty minutes later, Rachel Maddow announced that New Hampshire had gone for Obama.

Monty started clapping. “Yeah!” he said. “That’s what I’m talking about. Four Electoral College votes, Baby. We’re winning this.”

I laughed, but still my fists were clenched. To the side of the screen they were flipping through all the states, but seriously, every time they were almost to Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, or Virginia, they’d start interviewing someone or switch to commercial. Yet I knew Romney was ahead in Virginia and it was way too close in Ohio. These numbers needed to change.

“Who is that fat guy?” Monty asked. The anchors were sitting around the table, with Rachel Maddow in the center.

“Do you mean Ed Schultz?”

“No. I know who Ed Schultz is. Who is that young, fat guy?”

I recognized Al Sharpton, Chris Matthews, Ed Schultz, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Steve Schmidt, but I didn’t know who the younger, fat guy was. And I’m no stranger to MSNBC.

“I have no idea who he is.” I said.

Monty took a swig of his beer. “So why do we care what he has to say?”

“Because Rachel Maddow is asking him questions?”

We didn’t pontificate any longer, because at that moment Claire McCaskill was declared the winner in her senate run against Todd Akin. Monty and I whooped and cheered, which was a mistake, because Abby woke up.

“Mommy!” she yelled. “Come up here please!”

“At least she’s being polite.” Monty said.

I moved to go upstairs. “I knew it wouldn’t work to put her to bed at six.”

Three storybooks and one trip to the bathroom later, I came back downstairs.

“Anything?” I demanded.

Monty shook his head. But several minutes later, North Carolina was called for Romney.

“Come on!” I said.

“We never thought it would actually go to Obama,” said Monty. “I’m just glad it was so close.”

“Whatever.” I sighed and pouted, but I knew he was right. So we were watching Elizabeth Warren’s speech, and feeling pretty good about things, when moments later and without prelude, Rachel Maddow announced that Obama had won Ohio and the presidency.

We bounced up and down on the couch cushions, and hugged each other in delight. The cameras switched to the crowds cheering in Chicago, as they anticipated Obama’s victory speech.

It was to be a long wait. Monty grabbed the remote and the turned the television off.

I glared at him. “What are you doing? We still need to find out about Virginia, Colorado and Florida.”

“In a minute.” He got up and went into the other room where his briefcase was resting. He came back with an envelope that he handed to me.

“What’s this?” I said.

“Happy anniversary,” he said with a mischievous smile.

“It’s not our anniversary.”

“It sort of is.” He poked me in the shoulder. “It’s our election night anniversary. 2008, and remember back in 2000?”

“Of course.” Twelve years ago we weren’t a couple, and we were living in separate cities, but we talked on the phone into early morning while we waited to see if Bush or Gore had taken Florida. “That seems so long ago.”

“Because it was. Now open your present.”

I looked down the envelope in my hands. “I didn’t get you anything.”

He sighed. “Just open it, Lucy.”

I ripped open the envelope. Inside was a brochure for the Four Seasons hotel in Washington D.C. I gave Monty a questioning look.

He reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “We’re staying there for a week in January, and we’re going to the inauguration.”

I skipped a breath. “But… how?”

“I already talked to your parents. They’ll stay with the kids. Your classes won’t be in session, and we never had a honeymoon. So, I figured, four years later…”

It’s true. We never did have a honeymoon. I was in my last trimester when we got married, and a honeymoon would have been kind of pointless. So we figured we’d plan something for “after she’s born” but there has never been a good time.

“How did you get tickets to the inauguration?”

“I planned ahead.” He laughed. “And I have connections at work. Remember, we were going to go the first time?”

He had mentioned the possibility but dismissed it because I would be too pregnant to travel. “Maybe in four years,” I had said, and Monty had mocked me for my uncharacteristic optimism.  I had always believed that optimism was sure to lead to disappointment. I still hold onto that belief more than I should.

Monty took my free hand in his and kissed my palm. “You wouldn’t believe how nervous I was, after the first debate when Romney’s numbers shot up. I almost cancelled everything and bought us tickets to Mexico instead. But I’m glad I hung on.”

I laughed and placed my palm that he had kissed at the base of his neck. I was trying to find the words to thank him, but they wouldn’t come.

“Do you like it?” he asked.

Four years ago we stood outside beneath a starry sky. Now we sat on our couch, as our children slept upstairs. “It’s only the best present anyone’s ever given me.”

And because I was still struggling with how to say “thank you” I kissed him instead. And somehow, all the distance, emotional and otherwise, that had been slowly dissipating between us for the last few weeks, now felt completely bridged. He pulled me close, and soon, rather than sitting on the couch, we were lying on it.

What can I say? There was no reason not to start the honeymoon early.

So we missed out on the Romney campaign rejecting the Ohio call, and Karl Rove arguing with the Fox News experts, and the MSNBC gang mocking Karl Rove. But we did watch Obama’s victory speech. It was to be his last victory speech, and in true Obama fashion, he didn’t disappoint. He spoke to the masses, and his eloquence could draw patriotism from a rock.

While each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.

I never knew what it meant to belong to people, to struggle and overcome, and to believe in myself, a cause, or a person, in the face adversity. And while I don’t believe that everything will now be perfect with my country or with my life, I feel ready to face the challenges. I want to move forward.

In 2004 Obama ended his convention speech by declaring that we are neither red America, nor blue America, but the United States of America. At that time I stood up and clapped, alone in my living room. Last night, when Obama ended his speech with the very same line, I smiled and whispered to Monty, “I hope that’s his legacy.”




* Now that the election is over, the blogs posts here will be less frequent (probably once a month). You can subscribe for an email alert every time there’s a new post, and/or look for notices on Laurel's Open Page  Or, you can just check back. Thanks for reading!




Friday, November 2, 2012

The Intangibles

The day before Natalie, my mother-in-law, was about to return to Iowa after a long stay, she found me in the kitchen, putting away dishes. Noah was sitting in his highchair, and he used his grubby fists to shovel Cheerios and banana into his mouth.
        She started in without prelude. “I know we’ve had our differences, but I want you to know something. I’m not hard on you without reason.”

I placed a plate onto a stack in the cabinet; when Natalie first arrived she reorganized our kitchen without asking first. I was too busy and tired to put it all back, and now I was used to the new arrangement.

“That sounds ominous,” I said with half a laugh. A week before my defenses would have erected immediately, but on this morning I was in a pretty good mood.

Natalie, however, seemed intense. She stood, back against the wall, and spoke without moving. “I never told you the story of David’s death.”

I had been bending over the open dishwasher, grabbing the silverware box, but at her comment I straightened myself. Residual water that had been clinging to my utensils dripped onto my legs and feet.

“I know how he died,” I said softly. It was of a heart attack, and it was years ago. Monty and I weren’t together at the time, but Jack and I were good friends, so I went to the funeral to support him.

“But did Monty ever tell you about how I found him?”

I shook my head no.

She let her gaze wander up to the ceiling, and I could see her shoulders tense. “He was fine the night before. We watched television together. It was a movie – Runaway Bride. It wasn’t even that good, but we laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Then we went to bed. And I next morning I woke up…but, well. You know this part.” She took a deep breath and focused her eyes back on me. “He had a heart attack. In his sleep. And I woke up and found him dead.”

I was still clutching the silverware box, so I put it in the sink and approached her. I placed a hand on her shoulder, but I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I said nothing.

She blinked away tears. “I loved him, you know. And he was here one day, and then he was just gone. And I still miss him, every single day.”

I nodded. I could understand missing your husband, but I couldn’t imagine knowing that he was never coming back.

She continued talking. “Then Monty went to live in Africa, and I couldn’t reach him most of the time, and when he got sick, there was nothing I could do. I felt so powerless. So now, when he goes back, I worry. I can’t help it. I just do.”

“I know.” Standing so close to her, I noticed that her eyes are green. They’re like Monty’s eyes, and like Noah’s eyes too.

“So,” she said, about to conclude her story, “I’m hard on you because I know you can keep him safe. He’ll listen to you.”

“I don’t know about that,” I said. At that point Noah took the opportunity to chime in, and said “Ga ick ba bee.”

We both looked over at him and smiled, and he smiled back, oblivious to our somber mood.

“No,” continued Natalie. “He will. If you tell him not to go back, then he won’t go back. I know my son, and I can see that he’s crazy about you.”

I turned away, grabbed the utensils from the sink, and moved to the drawer and put them away.

“Don’t you want to dry those first?” Natalie asked.

“They’re fine.” I stacked spoons on top of spoons, forks on top of forks, knives on top of knives. Everything in its place. “I told him not to go back, you know. And he agreed.” I sighed. “I don’t know if it will last. It’s his job, to travel. And he loves it.”

“But it’s not good for his health,” Natalie stated simply.

“I know.” I put the spatulas, cooking spoons, and kitchen knives in their rightful spots. “Four years ago he took this job, before we were together, before we knew I was pregnant, before we had committed to each other at all. And then I was worried that everything happened too fast, and he’d get nervous and bail. But he stayed. And I felt like I couldn’t ask him to sacrifice what had brought him here in the first place.”

Noah babbled some more, and dropped a lump of banana, which landed on the floor with a splat. Natalie smiled, grabbed a paper towel, and cleaned up the mess.

“Thanks,” I said.

She walked toward the garbage can and threw the paper towel away. “You need to think more of yourself,” she said. “Make him stick to his promise. Because I guarantee you, it will be worth it.”


Two days later she was gone, back home to Iowa. The kids started their new daycare, and Monty recovered from the flu enough to finally go back to work. After his first day back I asked him how it went, if he had told them he could no longer travel to Africa.

“Yeah, we talked,” he said.

“So what did they say?”

He rolled his head a little and tapped his fingers against his leg. “It’s going to take some negotiating, Lucy. Travel was 30% of my job. They need to decide if they want to rewrite my job description, or if they want to transfer me to a different position.”

“But you’re still employed?”

He said yes, but I could see the defeat in his eyes.

The next evening, after I rocked Noah to sleep, I found Monty in the living room, staring at the television. Images of Hurricane Sandy filled the screen, and Monty was transfixed. He lived in NYC for many years, and now he couldn’t look away.

I sat down next to him, snuggling so close that I was practically on his lap. He put his arms around me but kept his eyes on the television.

“It’s crazy,” I said. “Here I was, so worried about you in Ghana. Yet if you were still living in New York, who knows what could have happened.”

He tapped his fingers against my back. “True. But if I was still living in New York, we wouldn’t be together, and you probably wouldn’t care.”

I pulled away and looked at his face. “That’s not true. I’ve always cared. Even when we weren’t together.”

He moved his eyes away from the screen and looked at me instead. Then he kissed me. “That’s good to know,” he said with a smile. I kissed him back, and we sat there, safe in each other’s arms, while the world around us was falling apart.

And I’ll end by saying just one thing about the campaign. On Thursday night Chuck Todd said that the “intangibles” had somehow shifted into Obama’s favor. He couldn’t prove it, but there’s just a feeling now that things will go well for him on election night.

I’m hoping for an actual, tangible victory. Yet, I can see his point. Having the intangibles in my favor feels good, even though something so abstract is bound to be temporary. So I’ll count my blessings while I can.