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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.


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?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

A Nasty Woman Who Can't Seal the Deal

Okay, quick review: Three weeks ago, one of my students (Brian) filmed me saying that Trump is a demagogue, and BAM, I was put on two weeks leave. I could only go back to my job teaching 20th Century American Government and Politics at the local Community College if I promised not to say anything partisan. I argued that by NOT speaking out against Trump, I might alienate any of my students who happened to be immigrants, Muslim, Hispanic, African American, or anti-sexual assault. “There’s never been a more dangerous, divisive candidate in our lifetime,” I told Dean Hughes. “The normal rules of teacher impartiality just don’t apply.”

“I’ll decide what rules apply,” he testily replied. “You’re not to talk about your own political views.”

And I did my best. I really did.

Then, yesterday, I gave a lecture on the Electoral College.

It was part of the curriculum -  not something you can just “skip over” when teaching a course in American Government and Politics.

Brian sat in the front row, smirking and sighing the entire time I spoke. I resisted responding, resisted rolling my eyes, resisted digging my nails into my palm or giving off any sign that he was bugging me. I had been resisting such things all week. But the girl who sat behind him was also bothered by his behavior, and when she kicked his chair I couldn’t help but smile.

Brian spun around. “Why’d you do that?”

“Because you’re so annoying! Stop disrespecting our teacher.”

“Chill out,” he answered. “I’m not disrespecting anyone.”

“You totally are,” she said.

“Okay, let’s move on,” I interjected. “Anyway, even though the electors aren’t legally required to honor their pledge, there have been very few cases when they haven’t complied with the will of the people.”

Brian barked out a laugh. “In other words, the system is rigged.”

“No, that’s not what I’m saying at all. The Electoral College exists to ensure that we won’t have rigged elections. It’s a safeguard.”

“Bullshit,” said Brian. “They’ve already decided who’s going to president, and if crooked Hillary and her people fail at all their voter fraud, the Electoral College will still make her president even if it’s obvious that Trump got more votes.”

“No, that’s not how it works,” I said.

He jumped on my response. “Trump is right. There’s no way he should make that lame promise to concede. There will be riots if even he doesn’t win, and I hope they get the pathetic liars like you."

I knew I should just pretend I hadn’t heard him, but my response escaped before I could reign it in. “Brian, if that’s what you think, I suggest you move to Burma or North Korea, because what you’re suggesting is more befitting of a dictatorship than a democracy.”

“Excuse me?” He whipped out his cell phone, held it up, and very obviously hit record on the video camera app. “Do you care to repeat that, now that your job is on the line?”

Had it honestly come to this? A bully in a Make America Great Again baseball had all the power? If that was the case, maybe I needed to rethink my job. Maybe I needed to rethink my entire life.
Suddenly I was fueled by my boiling blood. I stepped in closer, so that his camera phone would clearly capture what I was about to say. “Propagating ideas that our election is rigged, or that the losing candidate shouldn’t concede and give way to the peaceful transition of power, is un-American. Our democracy was founded on the idea of justice, and this year it’s been threatened by a misogynist who mocks and slanders anyone who threatens his massive ego. He gains followers like you by spouting off his misinformed authoritarian propaganda, and it’s ugly and it’s wrong.”

I stepped back and looked Brian in the eye. “Got it? Or do we need a take two?”

His eyes narrowed into a glare. “You are so fired.”

“Fine,” I shot back. “Then I suggest you leave. That will give you a head start on reporting me to Dean Hughes.”

He leaned back and just sat there, in this silent, aggressive way.

“Go!” I nearly yelled. “I don’t want you here, especially if this is my last class ever. I’d rather go out happy.”

Brian stood, ever so slowly, and walked to the back of the classroom and out the door.

Then the most amazing thing ever happened. Two thirds of the class burst into a spontaneous, standing ovation. The other third rose as well, but not in applause. They stood to follow Brian out the door.

That was Friday morning.

Friday afternoon brought the infuriating, muddled headlines that Comey had “reopened” the Clinton email case, and even when that was proven not to be the case, all the news outlets seemed more interested in speculating about how devastating this bit of non-news would be for the Clinton campaign than in correcting the facts. I could feel Brian gloating, even if he (thankfully) wasn’t near enough for me to witness it.

I’d heard nothing from Dean Hughes by the time I got home on Friday evening. I felt unsure how to funnel my nervous, angry energy, so after we put the kids to bed I went downstairs and got on our treadmill, thinking I’d just run off all my aggression.

Monty came and found me. “Don’t you want to watch Lawrence O’Donnell?”

“Not tonight.” I answered through heavy breaths. “I’m not in the mood for politics.”

He gave me a wry smile. “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

I’d filled him in on everything at dinner, so his joke seemed a little out of place. Wasn’t it clear why I felt out of sorts?

Obviously not. “Is everything okay?” Monty asked.

“Yeah.” I sighed, hitting the down arrow on the treadmill so I could slow to a brisk walk. “I’m just trying to get my mind off things.”

He raised an eyebrow and moved forward, like he was reaching for me, but his arms fell short. “I could help you with that.”

I felt myself stiffen involuntarily. “No thanks,” I replied.

“Okay.” He frowned. “I get that you’re worried about your job, but did I do something wrong?”

I rubbed my eyes, wishing I could make this situation go away. But no, when I focused back on Monty he was still there, waiting for a reply to a simple question that I didn’t know how to answer.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “The other night you…” I took in a breath and clenched both my hands, trying to keep my voice level. “The other night you said ‘Evelyn’ in your sleep. It was the same night you’d talked to her on the phone for so long, when I asked if you have feelings for her and you said no.”

His eyes widened, but otherwise, I could see him making the conscious effort to keep his face relaxed. “I said her name in my sleep? Are you sure?”


“Look, I don’t know why that happened, but believe me, there’s nothing -”

I briefly held out my hand, palm flat, several inches from his face. “Don’t,” I said. “I don’t want an explanation. That’s why I didn’t mention it sooner.”

He regarded me, his mouth hanging open ever so slightly. “I’m not having an affair with her, Luce.”

I flinched and looked away. “Did I say that you were?”

“No, but -”

I straightened my back, squaring my shoulders. “I get that you could have an affair if you wanted to. Lots of men in your position would, being out of town for work so often, knowing they could get away with it. But I’ve always trusted you. Maybe I’m naive.”

Monty reacted as if he’d been slapped. He took a moment, staring at his feet “What do you want me to say?”

“Nothing. Seriously, don’t say anything more. You’ve already made it worse.”

“Fine,” he snapped. Moving away, he mumbled under his breath. “That’s so like you - tell me I did something bad but don’t give me the chance to make it right.”

“Yeah, well, you’re obviously married to someone with some serious flaws.”

He shook his head like it wasn’t worth his energy to respond and then he walked away. I knew I should follow, that we should, in fact, talk this out, but I couldn’t make my body agree with my brain. Moving at twelve miles per hour on that treadmill, I was paralyzed with fear.

I knew I was lucky, with every apparent advantage going for me. Yet despite it all, I couldn’t seem to secure my own, personal victories.

I’d become a nasty woman who just couldn’t seal the deal.

The image at the top of this post is from a website that sells political posters. You can buy it as a poster by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

November Surprise is FREE Today!

Twenty years...
Six Presidential Elections...
One Consuming Love Affair

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sex, Lies, and Shackles

On Sunday night Monty and I watched the debate, but as he was in D.C. and I was in Des Moines, we had to put our phones on speaker to have a joint-viewing experience. We shared observations and occasionally I glanced down at my cell, where it sat on the couch next to me, taking the place of my actual husband.

“Martha Raddatz is kicking ass,” his tinny voice said at one point.

I agreed. “Do you like her as much as Judy Woodruff?”

Monty has admitted to thinking Judy Woodruff is attractive, in a sexy-librarian sort of way. “You know how special Judy is to me,” he joked. “But don’t you think Martha is doing a great job?”

“Sure.” Neither of us mentioned Anderson Cooper at all.

I thought Anderson was fairly invisible that night. Now I realize that A.C. deserves major props, that he is responsible for perhaps the biggest moment in the entire campaign, perhaps the biggest moment of any campaign. But it took me a couple of days to come to that conclusion.

On Monday I woke at my usual time and got the kids ready for school. Yet after I dropped them off I had nowhere to be, not since I was put on a two-week leave for telling my students that I was unequivocally anti-Trump.  The Clinton campaign field office only needed volunteers on weekends and evenings, so I came home and caught up on all the laundry, cleaning, and household stuff I needed to do. Meanwhile, the media went crazy for undecided-voter Ken Bone and said maybe he was the real winner of the town hall on Sunday night.

There was little mention of Trump’s multiple lies, of his whining over perceived inequities, of how he stalked Clinton on stage, of how he called her the devil, of how he said she has hate in her heart and threatened to put her in jail. Instead, Chris Matthews said Trump was more “on” and other moderators seemed happy to call the debate a tie.

On Wednesday Monty got back from D.C. “Are you going stir-crazy from not being able to work yet?” he asked, giving me a tight hug.

“Sort of,” I answered. “I wish I was teaching, but maybe it’s good that I’m not. With all my knowledge and experience about the history of our democracy, I still don’t understand how as a nation, we have sunk so low.”

“At least she’s ahead in the polls.”

True, I told him, but the ramifications of Trump “taking off his shackles” could be severe. Trump doesn’t even act like he wants to win anymore. He’s itching to lose so he can use it as proof that the whole system is rigged, so he won’t concede the election, so he can call Hillary’s presidency into question from day one, while he, Roger Ailes, and Steve Bannon go off to start their ultra-right wing media company that roughly 40% of voters will be built-in audience members for.

I went on and on and Monty was a patient listener, agreeing with me on most of my points. Finally, I took a breath and asked if he was still working on getting aide for Haiti, even though his job is to write policy for family planning initiatives and women’s health in underdeveloped countries.  “We’ll see,” he said. “Evelyn doesn’t give up easily. Once she gets an idea for something, she latches on.”
“Right,” I said. Evelyn, Monty’s long-lost ex-girlfriend, had recently started working with him in D.C. and while I was trying to get used to the idea, I wasn’t there yet. So what I didn’t say, but merely thought, was has she gotten the idea to win you back? 

He glanced at the clock. “It’s about time to pick the kids up from school. I’ll go.”

Later that night, after dinner, bath-time, and putting the kids to bed, I wandered downstairs. Monty had disappeared into his office a while ago and I wondered what he was still working on. When I got to the ground floor, I could hear him talking on the phone, laughing.

And something about his soft-tone made me sure that he was talking to Evelyn.

I went back upstairs and watched Rachel Maddow while I waited for him to come back up. That was when I learned about the new allegations from two women who said that Trump had molested them.
And that’s also when it hit me.

“Have you ever done those things?” Anderson Cooper’s insistent question during the debate had backed Trump into a corner, and in the middle of a rambling response, Trump finally conceded, “No, I have not.”

Thank you, Anderson, for forcing the issue. Because it’s obvious why these women, and several more in the last week, have come forward.

Nobody likes to be lied to.

Finally, Monty came upstairs, and as soon as he walked into our bedroom, I asked, “Were you talking to Evelyn?”

He plopped down on the bed. “Yeah. Work stuff.”

“Work stuff, huh?”

He nudged my knee with his foot. “What? You don’t believe me?”

I turned to look him in the eye. “Tell me you don’t still have feelings for her.”

Unblinking, he responded. “I don’t still have feelings for her.”

I let it go at that. But later, in the middle of the night, I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came back to bed, Monty was murmuring in his sleep.

 And I swore that he mumbled “Evelyn.”

Things said in private, unintentional words meant for only one other set of ears or maybe for no one’s ears at all, are all the more powerful when overheard. Funny how one little word could slice right through my heart, could confirm my suspicions and alter everything. Now I can say from experience:

No one likes being lied to.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hot Mics and Lonely Nights

I was put on paid leave for two weeks after my Trump-supporting student, Brian, accused me of giving him a poor grade, due to our divergent political affiliations. He’d recorded me on his cell phone, blatantly coming out against Trump, and used that as “proof” that I am biased against students who want to make America great again.

Some would argue that two weeks of paid leave is like a free vacation, but I was having trouble seeing it that way. A letter would go in my file and I’d carry the stigma of being reprimanded for the rest of my career. Maybe I could have groveled, offered a sincerer apology than the “I’m sorry if I upset anyone” concession I made when called into the Dean’s office. I could have just changed Brian’s grade to an A, but his paper was poorly written, using unfounded claims like Obama is a non-Christian Arab whose made the country unsafe. Forget about Brian’s misuse of “whose” – if he can’t back up his claims with actual facts, he should feel lucky with the C-.

“I’m not so worried about Brian’s grade,” the Dean told me. He’d read Brian’s paper and agreed it wasn’t “A” material. “But the cell phone footage does worry me. You can’t be so transparent about your political beliefs, Lucy. Otherwise, you risk alienating your students and belittling them for their conservative views.”

“What about alienating or belittling females, homosexuals, Hispanics, Muslims, or any other demographic that doesn’t happen to be white, straight, and male?” I sat in a chair opposite his desk, my back ramrod straight. “If I pretend to support Trump, I run the risk of alienating and belittling them.”

Dean Hughes shook his head, his mouth twitching and his hands shaking, sort of like Tim Kaine during the debate. “You shouldn’t pretend to support either candidate. You should remain neutral.”

“In most cases I’d agree. But not this year. Silence is just as bad as condoning everything that Trump stands for.”

“I see.” Dean Hughes clasped both hands together to ease their quivering. “Then I think you should take a break. We’ll get you out of the classroom for a little while, give you some time to cool down.”

I knew he was trying to be magnanimous, but I left his office fuming. Time to cool down? I felt dismissed, like Megyn Kelly after that Republican primary debate, when Trump attributed her hardball questions to her being on her period.

Still, I doubted myself for about an hour or two, wondering if the Dean Hughes was right and I was wrong. Was I too polarizing? Should I consider representing all views, even the ones I found deplorable?

Then I checked the headlines.

Holy Crap.

“This is a total game-changer!” I spoke to Monty on the phone, since he was still in D.C. for work and would be for the next several days. “It’s like when they found out McGovern’s running mate, George Eagleton, had electric shock therapy. There’s nothing else that’s bad enough to compare it to.”

“I’m glad you’re so happy,” he said. “The timing is great, like you’ve been vindicated,” Monty referred to my enforced-leave, which I’d started our conversation by telling him about.

“Yeah, of course the irony is that Trump’s apology is almost exactly like the one I gave to Dean Hughes, ‘I’m sorry if I offended anyone.’ And we were both busted by a recording. I should feel bad for Trump, but I really, really don’t.”

There was a pause and the clicking of a keyboard. “Are you still working?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “Evelyn is obsessed with the hurricane victims in Haiti, so I promised I’d look into outreach.”

“But that’s not even your department’s area.”

“Right, but if it’s possible for us to do something, we should. Don’t you think?”

“Yeah, of course.” I swallowed roughly. “Is she there with you right now?”

“No. She had to pick up her son at daycare.”

“Oh.” If I asked how it was going for him, working with his ex, would that sound prying and suspicious? I didn’t want to risk coming off as critical towards Evelyn, as she battled AIDS, conquered single-motherhood, and spent her extra time worrying about Haitian hurricane victims. No. I could only criticize her if Monty criticized her first, and even then, I had to be careful not to prompt him.

But suddenly everything I had to talk about seemed trivial. I felt like Gary Johnson, unable to identify anything the beyond the borders of my own little world.

“I should let you work then. Good luck with the outreach.”

“Love you,” he said. “I’ll call tomorrow. Skype with the kids.”

“Sure. Love you too.”

We hung up and I spent the rest of the night glued to MSNBC, wondering if Trump would drop out. Today he says that he’s staying, that there’s zero chance he’ll quit.

I guess that’s one more thing he and I have in common.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Anyone's Game

On the last Monday in September, I looked at the polls, saw that Trump was gaining on Clinton in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and thought, “He’s going to win. He’s actually going to win.”
But I couldn’t immediately pack my bags for Canada because I had to go teach American Government and Politics, where Ryan (the most vocal Trump supporter of all my students) immediately raised his hand yet didn’t wait to speak before I called on him. “Did you hear about that teacher who made her class compare Trump’s speeches to Hitler’s? The story was on Fox News. This guy recorded her on his cell phone and after he proved she was trying to indoctrinate her students, so they fired her.”
I looked at the clock. Two minutes into class and I already was wishing it was over. “What’s your point, Ryan?”
He shrugged, his face beaming underneath his Make America Great Again baseball cap. “I thought you’d think it was interesting. Everyone talks about the liberal bias of the media; what about the liberal bias of our educational system?”
I lifted my chin and squelched down the hot ball of resentment that had formed in my stomach. “I don’t think there’s a liberal bias with either the media or with public education. If anything, both institutions have to go too far to prove the opposite.”
“But you admit that you’re for Clinton.”
“No.” I stepped out from my podium and walked in front of it so I could stand closer to Ryan. I couldn’t let him get the best of me.  “As your instructor I won’t say who I’m voting for, but I will admit that I’m against Trump.”
Ryan burst out laughing. “That makes you a hypocrite! And I’m so tired of women like you trying to turn Trump into a bad guy.”
“I don’t have to try! With the stuff he says about immigrants, minorities, and women – I can’t even pretend to have an open mind about him. He is a ‘bad guy.’”
“Better be careful,” Ryan sneered. He held up his cell phone. “I might be recording you.”
I stepped even closer. “Go ahead.”
What was I thinking?
I should have been more careful. Instead, I forged on with class and then went home to watch Hillary and Trump debate. My mood lifted dramatically as I realized that maybe packing my bags for Canada wasn’t necessary, not yet. And I could learn something from Hillary about how to stand up to a bully.
The week that followed was great, full of late-night Tweet rants and shocking revelations about Trump’s taxes and his “charitable” foundation. I was no longer afraid to look at FiveThirtyEight or at the news headlines, but perhaps my giddiness came too soon. Yesterday, after I gave my students grades on their first formal essay, Ryan approached me.
“Why’d you give me a C-?”
I gathered my papers, trying not to flinch as he stood over me. “It’s all in my note. Your thesis wasn’t supported and your arguments were weak.”
“You mean you don’t agree with my argument,” he retorted, waving his cell phone in my face. “I’ve been recording you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Ryan leered at me. “I have proof that you’re biased. You gave me a bad grade because you hate Trump which means that you also hate me. I have the evidence on my cell phone, and unless you change my grade right now to an A, I’m going to the Dean.”
I stood as tall as I could and looked him squarely in the eye. “I’m not changing your grade.”
He just smiled and waved his cell phone again. “Good. Because I think the Dean will want to see this.”
Then he strode off and my stomach sank.
I told myself not to worry, this is community college, not high school, and I’ve done nothing wrong. But last night, as I watched Kaine and Pence duke it out, Pence evading and pirouetting past accusations about Trump with ease, I had to admit that I was worried.
When delivery is more important than the truth, it’s anyone’s game.