I am writing. It’s been a while, my daily practice something foreign. This will be too wordy. It will read slow. It will underwhelm you. It feels raw and clunky, painful and delightful, new skin underneath a scab. The present moment moves in. When I’m not writing, when I exist in the world, being present is a pulling of weight, an exhausting dance. I struggle to find the strength and the rhythm, too used to living in the future of what terrible thing might be, or in the past of what stupid thing I’ve done. I stay there, in that sweet spot between fear and regret. Once in a while the NOW hits me in the face and it feels beautiful - a connection, a suspension, I can touch it. But unless I’m writing it feels too selfish and careless to be a regular thing.
I am standing in front of the mirror in fishnet underwear – not the red, sexy kind but the white, hospital kind you get out of a plastic bag. My belly is swollen and tender from not having healed yet after the birth of our second daughter. I throw on some leggings and a baggy shirt – it’s all that will fit me – and add a blazer. This is as close to a pantsuit as I can get today. I step out into the sunlight and go vote for the 45th President of our country, wrapping my daughter up to wear her, grateful for my rights and her rights and the cloth to hold her so I can use my hands. I sway a little in the voting booth and hum. I am happy. I am floating. I am recreated. She is tucked onto my chest like a curly frog, as are millions of babies across the globe worn by mothers who work or walk or are lucky enough to vote. I feel these women everywhere and sink into our collective superiority. We carry life. We give life. We nurture life. We are life. All the hope I’d ever felt, all the hope I’d collected along the way of my years, even the hope I’ve had to sink to the bottom of the ocean to find amongst pearl-less oysters with just one breath left in me, all of that hope culminates in meaning today. I punch the number by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s name and whisper into my daughter’s newborn ear: “My girl. You will grow up under a woman president. Everything is about to change.”
I’ve barely whispered into her ear since November 9th because what can I say? “We are not equal yet?” “I am sorry?” “Hope is sometimes a lie?” “Everything is backwards?” “Surprise?” I stay silent because I’ve just been told to shut up by every man I’ve ever known except my partner who is gentle and soft. I cry for men I love, affectionate, brilliant men who unintentionally launch tiny shards of patriarchy every time they defend Donald J. Trump. Men who chose to “take a chance” over fighting for their daughters and granddaughters, who wanted "no more of the same" more than they wanted to protect their wives and friends. I feel more less-than now than ever before. New lines of injustice – not the gerrymandering which ruined our democracy, but the lines Trump has drawn in the sand. I see men clutching desperately to their privilege or laying it down. I see white people acting angry or ashamed. Sides are being picked, and it shocks me, who goes where.
I am nursing nonstop during cluster feeding, fussy hours. I chug water and eat every granola bar that dares cross my path. I am ravenous, monstrous, impatient and grateful and terrified. I must find a way to stay calm. For the good of my daughters and the sake of my marriage, I stay calm. With impossible demands to be everything to everybody, feelings of inadequacy and frustration become the norm. I’ve always tried to be a good girl. Worked harder. Pointed my resentment inwards so the rage would only slice me. Shrank when I was expected to or afraid not to or uncomfortable by my own noise. I think of HRC for the thousandth time today and her loss is my loss and what is she doing RIGHT NOW? I want to talk to her for ten hours. I want to thank her in person for such resilience and strength and place my head against her shoulder and make her hold me. Instead I shout, “Help! Help!” in the middle of the kitchen with my bare feet on the linoleum floor and the red nail polish on my toes vibrates and my husband comes running panicked and scattered. Nothing is wrong. Everything is wrong. Our country is not my country. He expected to find a split open head yet he only finds a split open me. His panic makes me laugh. I laugh so hard I pull a neck muscle. He is furious, but I am exonerated. I yelled out. It felt good.
The thing with putting oneself last all the time is that one gets very good at it. It becomes a practice, a muscle to exercise. Since becoming a mom, I’ve done it more and more, and then I’m livid because making homemade baby food or folding hand towels or taking out the dogs is more important than I am. And then it’s easy to never write or meditate or do anything my heart calls for because loving others is now a way to punish myself. My clothes don’t fit me. My closet belongs to a stranger. Going to the Gap used to be fun, but now it’s a chore I can’t bring myself to act on because there are always more toddler sensory games to research or smoothies with vegetables to make for my non-vegetable eating husband or news to shake my fists at or politics to scorn or ten-minute power naps to fall under. Back to back pregnancies have left me with a weak bladder and calcium deficiency so extreme the gums on my teeth are receding. And yet these are champagne problems, even if I lose my mouth, and I am not a martyr for being a mother. I’m just losing myself the way sometimes women do. The way society excuses us to do, encourages us to do, especially if we have children. And now we have men in power expecting us to have children, even when we don’t want to, expecting us to shrink, and wouldn’t they damn love it if we all lost our mouths. I am watching my own vanishing. Somehow it feels good and comfortable and right, and it’s the thing that worries me the most. My disappearing feels almost deserved. Hillary losing only made it truer. Where is she now? Would her winning have kept me here?
I am. Us women. Mothers. We are shelters and protectors and cheerleaders and holders and radiators and goal posts. We are the last line of defense and the first ones at the starting line, stretching our hammies so we can keep going until everybody gets what they need. We inhale lastima, we dispense lastima, we are lastima. And because of this lastima, the last word on the lips of every being when Death draws near is, “Tell my mother I loved her.”
And I can’t help but wonder: Will today’s inauguration make our girls run slower because the boys are too angry when they’re being beat? Because it’s been that way for such a long time now and it hasn’t changed, not yet, not like we thought it had? Because the discomfort is so comfortable? Because men need to put our powerful bodies into their oppressive, thick hands in order to feel like enough? And I wonder: How much more will we fade away? We’re already so gone that a woman ran for president insisting on equal pay and reproductive rights and many of us didn’t vote for her. HUH? What’s next? Evaporating?
But unbelievably, I saw Hillary today. She isn’t gone. She was there in white, reminding me of her ferocity and of her sprint, cutting deep into the forest, zigzagging on old roads and new roads and yeah, maybe cheating because every runner cheats (boy, have the men cheated!) And then yeah, not cheating because she’s been running for decades now so this isn’t a game to her, it's service. When one runs they’re not supposed to do it perfectly, they’re supposed to fly free. HRC took the lead before she was dragged down by a hundred different hands. Kicked off the stump. Shot with the pistol that set the entire race in motion. And women everywhere did not prevent her fall; instead they dug a hole to bury her in. HRC lost because women don’t support other women. Fuck Comey and Putin – we needed our women. Hillary who is a mother but more than a mother, a girl but more than a girl, and she makes me believe I can be more. I want to be more. Hillary probably stood in mesh white underwear after birthing Chelsea and found her own eyes in the mirror and decided not to go anywhere, not to disappear. But our country kept telling her, “vanish now, stop running now,” because she was supposed to be everything for everybody, except president of the United States. Except being everything for herself.
I am in the shower thinking about Aleppo and chance and how I have no control and there is no reason to the why of anything. I am weeping and I can’t tell what is water and what is me. I feel the pain of the whole world underneath my showerhead. My showerhead is an asshole. Why am I lucky? That question haunts me. And even more, how do I hold onto that luck and keep the bad at bay? This feels like my job. It’s a big job. I am so tired of this job. I have anxiety, that depersonalized feeling like I’m out of my body or time is zooming in and out. Like what is life and realizing it’s not a movie about me. Maybe this feeling isn’t anxiety at all. Maybe it’s the recognition of my smallness, and of my tendency to deny that smallness. So here I am with suds on my hands accepting the feelings I mostly numb out because I have not figured out how to keep going and own them at the same time. Crashing into me, invading me, is the overwhelm of my new life. I have to take care of two children and it is the best but also the worst. It is awesome but horrible. Obligation, fear, powerlessness, more fear, incredible joy, and paralyzing concern about the world we are leaving behind for them. And I have no idea how to parent two children well. I dissociate because I can’t bear it, I can’t look at the dice while they roll. Over the monitor, my older daughter coughs deep and low, a seal-like sound, and my instincts ring an alarm and I grab a towel and I know this is real. I am a mom and the world is unpredictable and don’t you dare take them away from me, Universe. DON’T YOU DARE. The mothers of Aleppo must be whispering that, too. The hospital says my daughter has croup and gives us medication and I am thankful it’s not war-torn Syria I’m dealing with. But aren’t we all dealing with Syria? Shouldn’t we all be dealing with Syria?
Oh, there is no difference between me and the woman in Aleppo. Or the woman kidnapped in that movie Room, which I refuse to see. Or Hillary. Or Ivanka. Or you. Anything can happen. Life changes in an instant, in a keyboard stroke, in a bite. This chills me. I want to believe I’m not susceptible, that I’m different, that I’m untouchable, that I have some say. But everybody gets caught. So parenthood is holding my breath and trying to absorb my children’s pain and praying like a lunatic every night for their safety until I close my eyes and finally exhale. Being a mother is being brave. Being Awake and Aware and loving anyway is being brave. Then every day I literally stand in front of the sun so my kids can have shade, so they have the perfect temperature while my back is on fire. And I think again over my second cup of coffee, the one I promised myself I wouldn’t have, about how Hillary is a mom who could have mothered our country, willing to give all of herself to us, to block out the sun when it got too hot, only she’ll never get to. And the last word on our lips as our democracy dies might be her name.
p.s. My baby is crying. I take her out of the swing, leaving it empty, rocking a ghost. She is in my arms and this is it, this is everything. My toddler coughs. Adoration is too weak a word, I want to marry her. THEM. What will this Presidency, this House, this Senate do for them? There is no time to edit what I wrote here because of them. And that is ok even though my grammar is awful and it’s too long and and and and….there are too many ands. There is no time to fix my uncooked words because there is no time to be me. There is only the realization that on the page, I am found. And that I should get to the dentist soon because there is much left for us women to say. So MARCH ON, tomorrow and the next day and the next.