2013 (12) 2014 (9) 2015 (6) 2016 (12) August (4) December (1) July (2) June (1) November (2) October (6) September (6)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Stronger Together

I stood before the class on Wednesday morning, wondering how I would make it through, wondering how all my assumptions and beliefs had been so wrong. I am a scholar and a teacher of the American political system and throughout my career, I’ve always had faith in the fundamentals of democracy. I was sure that most citizens, when given a choice, would make compassionate, responsible and informed decisions rather than merely selfish ones.

The sea of student faces stared at me, some openly hostile, some tearful, others just curious over whether I would break down.

I was curious too. I ignored my headache and queasy stomach, and spoke.

“As I expect you all know, last week I handed in my resignation. I’d decided it was better to leave than to go against my beliefs and apologize.”

Brian, the student who always sat in the front row with his Make America Great Again baseball hat perched victoriously upon his head, scoffed. He was the one who had filmed my speech, which the dean had declared “too partisan.”  After I’d refused to apologize, the dean had accepted my resignation. Yet I quickly regretted my choice, so my cousin Robin, who knows a few things about PR, helped me contact the media to get my story out. The school didn’t want negative attention, so they recognized my request, and let me make amends and return.

But I’d never really believed that Donald Trump would surprise the nation and win, or that my return would be on the morning after his horrifying victory. I hadn’t slept and my eyes still stung from all my tears. I’d been unable to stomach breakfast and was literally running on empty. Now Brian leaned forward in his seat, ready to pounce on whatever I might say.

Another deep breath. “After a lot of reflection, I decided that my refusal to apologize was misguided.” I spoke directly to Brian, meeting his gaze. “Brian, I am sorry for inserting my own politics, for making you feel judged for your ideology, and for implying that you shouldn’t voice your opinions.”

He rolled his eyes. “Sure you are,” he said sarcastically. “We all know you’re just here for the paycheck.” This drew a few laughs from some of his classmates, so buoyed, he continued. “No, wait. You’re here to spout your liberal agenda. Well, wake up. It’s a new day in America.  This country doesn’t belong to you anymore.”

There were a few more laughs, but also some gasps. I let my eyes scan the room and found enough silent support that I could continue.

“See, that’s the thing. I may be in the minority now, but doesn’t mean that the country doesn’t still belong to me, or to anyone.” I let my eyes settle on a couple of my Latina students, girls who I expected were now wondering how long it would be before they or their families got deported. “The Bill of Rights was written for us all. We’ve all been given the freedom to express ourselves, to practice our chosen religion, to assemble and protest when see fit, and to make our voices heard.” I leaned forward, gripping the podium and choking back tears. “I came back because it is my job to educate you on the strength of our democracy, which will only succeed if we understand both the privilege and responsibility of our civic rights and our civic duty.  If you remember nothing else from this course, remember this: you all deserve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our forefathers founded this nation on that idea, and we must not lose sight of our potential.”

I slowed down, inhaling and letting my breath out in a rush. “You all know how I feel about the results of the election. I’m sad; but no matter what, I still have faith that our people can achieve greatness, but only if we refuse to give in to fear or ignorance.”

Now my tears fell, but I didn’t bother to wipe them away. What was the point? The wiped-away tears would just be replaced by new ones. “I believe in all of you.” My eyes travelled the room. “Even you, Brian, though your insults make that difficult, but I still do. And I will fight to educate you, and everyone here, if for no other reason than that is my role in strengthening our democracy.”

The room was silent. For once Brian didn’t have anything to say, though the scorn in his squinting eyes and puckered lips spoke loud and clear.


I took a loud sniff, pulled myself together, and turned on my power point presentation, which was about the fourth amendment (which protects against search and seizure). “So, let’s going,” I said. “We have work to do.”

After class, I went home and collapsed on the couch. All my adrenaline had drained way, and I was shaking from fatigue and raw emotion. I didn’t think I’d be able to nap, but I was too spent to try and do anything else.

I must have drifted off, because an hour or so later I was woken by a hand softly brushing my cheek. I blinked my eyes open, not trusting that the face I saw looming over mine was really there. 

“Monty?” I rasped. “When did you get back?”

He was supposed to be in DC through Thursday. We’d argued about it.

Several days ago, I’d called and laid it on the line: I loved him, but was crazy jealous over his devotion to his ex-girlfriend/co-worker, Evelyn. We’d talked it all through, but while I believed that he wasn’t having a physical affair, I wasn’t so sure that he wasn’t having an emotional one. “You’re not going to be home for election night?” I’d said. “That’s supposed to be our night. How can we not spend it together?” Eight years ago, when Obama won the presidency, Monty had proposed. That had been the best night ever.

But clearly election night 2016 wasn’t going to measure up. “We’ll talk on the phone while the results come in,” he’d answered. And we had, but it had been strained, and once Florida looked lost, and North Carolina and Ohio were called for Trump, and he was doing way too well in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, neither of us had the fortitude to keep a conversation going. “I feel sick that she lost Iowa,” I’d said weakly. “I should go to bed. I need sleep for tomorrow.”

“Good luck with your class,” he’d said. “I love you.”

“Thanks, me too.”

But the words had felt vast empty, and that night, our bed had felt vast and empty too.
Now, as I laid on our cozy little couch, he was close enough to touch. Yet I didn’t trust my senses. 

“How’d you get here?” I asked.

“I caught a flight this morning,” he said. “Didn’t you see my text?”

I sat up, shaking my head. “I haven’t looked at my phone for hours.” I rubbed my eyes, trying to regain a sense a reality. “Why you’d come back so soon?”

He sat next to me and captured me in a fierce hug. “I had to see you,” he said, his mouth at my temple. “I couldn’t stop worrying about how you had to apologize to that awful student, who would surely be gloating after last night.”

“He did gloat, but I got through it.”

“Of course you did.” Monty released me and raked a hand through his wavy hair, which looked unwashed. His cheeks were stubbly, and he wore the soft sweatshirt that he often changed into in the evenings. He must have skipped a shower this morning, but that only made me want to get close, to inhale his familiar scent. “I needed to tell you, in person, how proud I am of you, and how important I think it is that you keep teaching, especially now that Trump has won.”

“Thanks.” My voice was barely more than a whisper. I stared at the blanket that I’d draped over my lap. “Is that why you came home? To tell me that?”

“Partly.” He attempted a sad little laugh. “I needed get out of DC, and get you into my arms. It was the only way things might make sense again.”

I looked him in the eyes. “Are you okay?”

“Of course not,” he replied. “Are you?”

I shook my head no. “But I’m going to try to be.”

He nodded and his face crumpled. “I’m sorry, Luce – for everything. I’m sorry I made you doubt me, I’m sorry we weren’t together last night, and most of all, I’m sorry I can’t give you the world that you wanted.”

“I never expected you give me the world, Monty.”

“But I really wanted to.” With a deep inhale, he leaned back. “I’ve haven’t slept and you’re probably won’t believe me. But I’ve been thinking about this for a while.”

“Thinking about what?”

“That I’m tired of leaving all the time. That you, Noah, and Abby deserve better.”

I smoothed my snarled hair, tucking it behind my ears, trying to be composed. “Traveling is part of your job, Monty. We understand that you have to be in DC at least some of the time.”

“But I’m saying I want a different job.” His mouth set into a firm line and he made two fists, to keep his fingers from tapping against the couch cushion. “There’s a firm here in Des Moines that specializes in immigration law. They take cases from all over the country, and I want to see if they’ll let me work with them.”

“Immigration law?”

He unclenched his fingers and took my hands in his. “I’m going to stop that bastard from deporting every single person that possibly I can.” He raised one of my hands to his mouth and kissed my palm. “And I want you to know that I’m still with you, that home is where I want to be, and that for now and forever, you will always be the only woman for me.”

His gaze was deep and penetrating, profound enough to stop my shaking.

“What do you think?” he asked.

I answered him with a kiss and his mouth responded to mine with passion. One hand pressed me to him, while his other hand caressed the back of my neck before he plunged his fingers into my hair.
I stopped kissing him just long enough to speak. “I love you so much.”

“I love you too.”

Our bodies intertwined. But more than that, on this most heartbreaking of days, we found the potential for healing in each other. No doubt that there were dark days ahead, but a glimmer of hope still shone through, the notion that when you least expect it, love can still trump hate. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Fighting, Faith, and the Apocolypse

Friday night I watched Poldark with Monty’s cousin, Robin, thinking that if nothing else, the eye candy of the moors in Cornwall and Aidan Turner’s abs would be a pleasant diversion. But early in the episode I knew that my plan was foiled, when Poldark’s cousin, Verity, asked Demelza (Poldark’s wife) if she was jealous of the attention Poldark was paying to his ex-girlfriend, Elizabeth.

Demelza said no, that marriage is like church, and if you don’t have faith, what’s the point?

I pressed pause. “Wow,” I said. “I wish I could be that philosophical and trusting.”

Robin arched her back and adjusted the pillow she’d place behind her, while rubbing her protruding, pregnant belly. “Aren’t you though? Monty told you that he wasn’t having an affair, you believed him, and you didn’t raise a stink when he left for D.C. on a moment’s notice.”

“Well, he was so calm after I quit my job without talking to him first, what else could I do?” 

Absently, I ran my fingers through my hair and they caught on the curls. What I didn’t say was that I was almost glad to see him go, almost glad to have some space to figure things out.

“Let’s keep watching.” I pointed the remote toward the TV and pressed play.

Would Poldark be forced into debtor’s prison on the day after Christmas? Would he ever notice poor, suffering Demelza again? Robin settled in, clearly enthralled with the story, but I barely paid attention. My mind still swam in my own personal drama, and I replayed much of what had happened in the last few days.

After I’d spoken my mind about the ugliness of the Trump campaign to all my students, Dean Hughes said I could only keep my job if I apologized to the class, and especially to Brian, the student who told me I was a pathetic liar that deserved to be “gotten” by the riots that would surely happen if the “rigged system” elected Clinton.

“I won’t apologize,” I said to Dean Hughes. “I have too many students who don’t yet realize that they have a voice, who face the very real possibility of violence or discrimination under a Trump administration. I won’t lie to them and pretend to be sorry for something that I’m actually proud to have said.”

Dean Hughes pinched his nose and momentarily squeezed his eyes shut. “Lucy, can’t you just do what I ask? Because the only other option is for me to ask for your resignation.”

“No worries,” I said with false bravado. “You don’t have to ask. I’ll give you my resignation before I leave today.”

I exited his office with a sinking heart and went to pack up my own office, fighting tears all the while. I would miss this job.

Of course, I wondered whether I was doing the right thing. Maybe I was crazy to throw away my career over a few lousy ideals. I worried about setting an example for my students, but why kind of example would my quitting set? Maybe I could figure out a way to word my apology so I basically said sorry, not sorry – and wouldn’t that be better than leaving?

I just didn’t know.

What I wanted was to run home and bury my face into Monty’s shoulder, to make him sit and listen while I voiced all my anxiety and posed all my questions. And after all that, I’d ask him what he thought: had I done the right thing? Besides being my husband he was also my best friend. Nobody’s opinion was more valuable to me than his.

But once I walked through our front door and found him in his home office, hanging up the phone and rubbing his eyes in the same way that Dean Hughes had, I knew I wasn’t going to get what I wanted. The vertical crease between Monty's eyebrows, the clench of his jaw, and the slight flush to his cheeks told me that bad news was coming.

He attempted a smile when he saw me, but didn’t quite manage it. “You’re home early,” he said. “How did it go with Dean Hughes?”

My throat constricted as I swallowed. “He said I had to apologize if I wanted to keep my job, so I quit.”

Monty stared at me like he was trying to focus and find the correct image of the woman he’d married. “You quit? Just like that?”


His head dropped so that he was now staring at his desk instead of at me. “Okay.”

I waited for probably thirty seconds. “That’s all you’re going to say? ‘Okay?’ That’s it?” I kept my voice soft, trying to contain the panic that had been clawing its way out since I had handed in my resignation.

He looked back up at me. “I’m sure you did what you felt you had to do.”

“My salary wasn’t that great,” I replied, “and maybe I can find something better.” This was beside the point right now, but I felt obligated to say it.

“Sure.” He inhaled sharply. “Look, I have to go to D.C. tonight. Sorry, to spring this on you, but there’s no other way.”

“What? Why?”

“Evelyn is in the hospital. She called, panicked, because she has a project due and she’s worried they’ll fire her. I said I’d fly out and take care of things.”

“Why’s she in the hospital? I thought she was doing well.”

Monty started shuffling some papers on his desk like he was just looking for something to do. “She was, but she hasn’t been feeling too great lately. The doctors think it might be liver disease.”

Evelyn, Monty’s ex and co-worker, suffers from AIDS. I supposed that puts her at a higher risk for liver disease. It also puts me at a higher risk for having a husband who will run off without warning to help his ex-girlfriend.

I’d already given up on something important that day. I couldn’t risk any more loss, so I simply said, “Tell her I hope she feels better.”

And that was it.

Now I focused back on the TV, on the episode of Poldark, which had reached its final moments. (Spoiler alert) Poldark HAD finally realized he was neglecting Demelza, and right before the credits rolled, he promised her his love as they came together in a passionate embrace.

I turned the TV off. Robin pivoted towards me while wiping away tears. “Dammit,” she said, “everything makes me emotional lately. I cry every time I pass the greeting card section in the grocery store.”

“It was a good episode,” I replied. “If I wasn’t cold and dead inside, I’d be crying too.”

“You’re not cold and dead inside, Lucy. You just need a kick in the pants.”

I looked at her. She was serious. “Huh?”

“You give up too easy. You didn’t fight for your job and now you’re not fighting for Monty.”

I reeled back, shocked by Robin’s bluntness. “I shouldn’t have to fight for what's already mine.”

Robin rolled her eyes. “Oh yeah? What if that was Hillary’s attitude? Then where we would be?”

“I don’t understand...”

Robin swiftly tucked a lock of hair behind her ear and leaned toward me with intensity. “You’re the one who’s all into politics. But don’t people say that she felt entitled to the presidency? That she felt entitled eight years ago, and during the primaries against Bernie, and especially now, running against an idiot like Donald Trump? What if she’d used that entitlement as excuse to just give up?”

“What if she had? She’s fought for so long and she still might lose.”

“Yeah, she might. But there’s also a good chance that she’ll win. Isn’t that worth the fight?”

I tugged at a loose thread of the blanket I’d draped over my lap. “What are you suggesting that I do?”

“Have some faith in yourself and in your marriage. And fight for what belongs to you.”

Okay, so Robin was right about one thing. Turns out I wasn’t cold and dead inside after all. Tears flowed from my eyes. “What if I don’t know how to fight?”

“Well,” Robin said, “I think I can help.”

Then we talked for hours without coming to any definitive conclusions.

Yet this morning, while the kids were at swimming class, I stood in line at the grocery store and saw the Globe headlines- Doomsday if Hillary Wins the White House! World War 3! Donald Trump is the only one who can save us!

Do people believe this stuff? I suppose they must; just like I feel the apocalypse will be looming if Trump wins, other are convinced that a Hillary win will signal the end of days. But I’m not ready to sacrifice all that’s important, and even if I don’t understand faith, I must learn how to fight.

I took out my phone and took a picture of the Globe cover. It would serve as a reminder for everything that’s at stake.

Then I texted Robin...

Can I still take you up on your offer?