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Monday, September 5, 2016

Fact-Checking and Foreboding

“You’ll never guess who called me today.”

I was not in the mood to guess. I’d just finished a volunteer shift at the phone banks, calling on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign to make sure Democratic leaning voter’s registration was up to date. People hung up on me multiple times but that was far more pleasant than the “I don’t trust that lying bitch” tirades that so many people felt necessary to release.

“Actually,” I’d tell them, “the bipartisan group Politifact has done lots of fact-checking and they’ve determined that Hillary Clinton rarely lies. But Donald Trump’s record with the truth is terrible. He lies more than any recent candidate.”

“I’m not voting for him either! This year’s election makes me sick!” Then there’d be a click and I was left shaking my head in wonder that somehow, Clinton’s negatives almost matched those of a man who has built his campaign on hate, just like he built up his career by cheating people. Yet all it took was one or two well-staged photo-ops with the president of Mexico or at an African American church in Detroit, and the press let Trump win the news cycle. Meanwhile, if I had to hear about Clinton’s emails ONE MORE TIME I might just move to Canada.

Now I was home, stretched out in bed, after a long day during the last week of summer for Abby, Noah and me. Next week I’d resume teaching, Abby would start second grade and Noah would start Kindergarten. “Just tell me,” I said to Monty, who had been working out in our basement when I got home. A couple of moments ago I heard him bounding up the stairs, and now he stood in front of me, his t-shirt clinging to his chest and sweat beading his forehead.

“You look tired,” he said. “Rough night?”

I nodded my head without raising it. “She’s slipping in the polls and her negatives are actually going up. I don’t get it; how can Trump even still be standing after all the crap he’s said and done?”

Monty shrugged and sat on the edge of the bed. “People are idiots.”

“People are sexist idiots. Why can’t anyone talk about how much sexism still plays into presidential politics?”

“I don’t know.” Monty seemed nervous as he breathed in and out and looked away, toward the window. The shade was drawn, shutting out the fading light of evening in the suburbs.

I sat up, sensing a foreboding. “So who called you?”

By the time he turned his head back toward me he’d composed his face with an easy smile and unblinking eyes. I guessed he was trying to look relaxed and confident but he communicated the exact opposite. “Evelyn,” he said, his voice half an octave higher than normal.

I could feel something collapse inside my chest, a sickening sensation worse than the bristly heat that had repeatedly flared up while I worked the phone banks. “You’re in touch with her?”

He swallowed like it hurt. “Not for like, twelve years.”

“Not since she left you to die in the Congo?”

Evelyn had been Monty’s girlfriend over a decade ago. The two of them were both altruistic lawyers who had given legal aide to rape victims in the Congo, until Monty had caught malaria and Evelyn had abandoned him, running off with his doctor, no less. As far as I knew, the last time they’d spoken was when she’d ended their several-year relationship by walking out while he was feverish, delusional and too weak to lift a glass of water. It was sort of a huge deal.

“She didn’t exactly leave me to die,” he corrected. “I was pretty much on the mend by the time she took off.”

“Oh, well then, bygones. What did she want? How did she even find you?”

“She looked me up on Facebook and saw how often I’m in D.C.  She works there too now and she wants to have dinner.”

His eyes darted down so I couldn’t stare into them. I couldn’t garner the truth behind his casual facade. “Are you going to say yes?”

“Yeah, unless you really don’t want me to.” Finally, he met my gaze. “Would you have a problem with it?”

“I guess not,” I lied, not even sure why I let these words fly from my lips. “But why would you want to eat dinner with her?”

Monty took a careful breath, forming his response over the span of a few seconds. “I don’t want to. But she said she needs to talk to me about something, and that if we happened to run into each other it would be really awkward, so we should meet.”

“Oh.” I rubbed my forehead, trying to massage away the tension that pressed between my eyes. “What does she want to talk to you about?”

He stood and moved toward the bathroom, probably to shower. “She didn’t say. But you’re okay with it, Luce? It would just be a one-time thing.”

 My stomach turned over. His need to justify and reassure me that it would only be a "one time thing" was by far the most disturbing part of this conversation. “Just promise you’ll call as soon as the dinner is over and you’ll tell me everything.”

Now his smile seemed genuine. “I promise,” he said. And I believed him.

So this morning Monty flew to D.C. for the workweek. He’ll be back on Friday evening, but he’ll miss dropping Noah off for his first day of Kindergarten. “Promise you’ll take lots of photos,” he said.

“Of course. Do you want to call on Tuesday morning? Talk to him before I take him to school?”

His eyes watered and he gave me a sad smile. “Sure. Sounds good.”

We’d be talking on the phone twice in less than twelve hours. Monty had arranged his dinner with Evelyn for tonight, saying he just wanted to “get it over with.” I’d be counting down the hours until he could give me the recap.

But that isn’t all I’ll be doing. Today I’m driving for over an hour to see Hillary at an event, with both kids in tow. We’ll stand and listen to her Labor Day speech, proud that she chose our state as a venue. “She’s going to be the first girl president,” I’ll say to Abby.

And as a new season begins, I expect we'll be reminded, probably multiple times, that we're stronger together.

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