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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.

Whatever.

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. 

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