“I still can’t believe we’re actually here,” I said, and then I took a healthy swig of my gin and tonic.
“I can,” replied Jack. “We’re getting free food and it’s actually pretty good.” He took a bite of his beef wellington, and somehow managed to simultaneously smile and chew without being disgusting. After he swallowed his grin got even wider. “Besides, you could use a night out.”
I couldn’t argue with that. Monty had been in DC for over a week, and I was feeling pretty worn down after work, caring for my dad, and my solo-parenting responsibilities. So when my brother-in-law/best friend Jack asked me to accompany him that night, I had said yes, thinking it would be nice to be waited on for a couple of hours.
Now I looked around the room, at all the tightly packed tables, the suits and ties, and the old money that was obviously represented. Jack had been given tickets to the Ronald Reagan dinner through the business association he belongs to, and Ted Cruz would be speaking soon. I had thought the experience would make for an interesting lecture for the Political Science course I’m teaching, but now that we were there, I wasn’t so sure I had done the right thing in agreeing to come. It would have been better to just take Jack out to dinner, somewhere where we could catch up with being bombarded by Republicans.
“Obamacare is going to bring down the country if we don’t do something soon,” said the woman sitting behind me. She was speaking to her dinner companion. “And our constitutional rights just continue to get stripped away. I’m glad Ted Cruz is here to lead us through these dark times.”
I turned to Jack. “Tell me about your new condo,” I said, desperate for a distraction. Then I scooted in closer and spoke in a loud whisper. “You need to talk to me about something non-political so I don’t start arguing with these people.”
Jack laid down his fork and took a sip of his water. He raised his eyebrows and his face grew animated. “The condo is great, but I think it has a ghost.”
“Really?” I was intrigued.
“But only in the bathroom.”
“You have a haunted bathroom?”
Jack nodded his blonde, balding head vigorously in affirmation. “The other day I was the only one home. I went to brush my teeth, but I realized that I needed a new tube of toothpaste. So I walked out into the hall to get some from the closet, and when I came back, the mirror was streaked in white gunk and there was a puddle of water on the floor. They hadn’t been there moments before.”
I squinted at him, skeptical. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure!” Jack leaned forward, intense. “It wasn’t the first time it had happened. Other times Mikey or Isobel have been over, and even though they said it wasn’t them who streaked the mirror or left water on the floor, I just assumed that it had to be one of them. But this time it couldn’t have been.” He laid his palms on the table with thump. “I have a bathroom ghost.”
I took another sip of my drink, and the ice tinkled. “Wow. That’s crazy. What are you going to do?”
Lines creased Jack’s forehead. “I don’t know. I mean, it’s not malevolent, as far as I can tell. It just seems to like my bathroom. Maybe as long as I give it the freedom to hang out, it will be fine.”
I bit the corner of my lip, thinking. “Yeah, maybe. But are you giving the ghost freedom to hang out in your bathroom, or is the ghost simply tolerating you?”
Jack laughed. “You’re saying the ghost is the one in charge?”
I shrugged. “In times like this, it’s hard to tell.” I took one last sip of my drink, draining it. “But whose bathroom is it, really? Maybe the ghost was there first. Maybe that bathroom is more important to the ghost than it is to you.” I tugged on Jack’s sleeve. “What if the ghost’s message is more powerful than yours, and more effectively communicated? It won’t matter that you signed the papers to your condo, and that technically it belongs to you. The ghost won’t give up trying to intimidate you, and eventually you’ll back away.”
Jack narrowed his eyes and scrunched his eyebrows together. “I thought we weren’t talking about politics.”
“Yes we are. This is my bathroom ghost, Lucy, not the Tea Party.” He patted my shoulder. “Who knows? Maybe my bathroom ghost is a Democrat.”
“It must be,” I said. “Or else it wouldn’t be expecting you to clean up after it.”
Jack gave me an incredulous look, and I laughed. “What?” I said, gesturing at all people we were surrounded by. “I’m just trying to get into the spirit of the evening.”
Then Ted Cruz’s speech began. He made his jokes about the NSA and the Obamacare website. He talked about how every constitutional amendment except the third has been infringed upon, and how we need to bring back the ideals of Ronald Reagan. I could have refuted a lot of his points with actual historical facts, but nobody wanted to hear what I had to say. He had a rapt audience.
He closed his speech by saying, “As Ronald Reagan famously observed, freedom is not passed down from one generation to the next in the blood stream. Every generation has to stand up and defend freedom so that one day we don’t find ourselves answering our children and our children’s children – what was it like when America was free?”
The room erupted with impassioned applause, and everywhere I looked I saw someone ready to “defend their freedom.” But who did they think they were defending their freedom against? Obama? The Democrats on the Hill? One thing is sure, these people looked poised to fight a battle, which is more than I can say for my own political party. We seem to be stuck, unsure how to conquer our own demons.
And until we figure it out, those demons will continue to haunt us.