“I’m just not voting. I can’t make sense of this election,” My mother spoke. “I can’t vote for a madman or liar.” Her head shook disapprovingly as she then changed the subject.
I imagined the internal dialogue my mother was processing to say those words. This, the same woman who spent her late teens as Haight-Ashbury watching the world enfold into something entirely new. The same woman who showed me how to use a tampon, when to stand up for myself and how to love- with reckless abandon was shifting uncomfortably and trying to change the subject.
“A madman, or a liar,”she said.
I didn’t dare ask my father what he thought then, because deep down- I knew. Just today, I watched as he scooped my preschool son up to cradle him in his arms- his face full of joy at sloppy grandson kisses. Buffalo Springfield played quietly in the background. I was raised on his musical tastes- 60’s and 70’s anti-war ballads mark my Sunday mornings as I clean or bake. My father loves and protects, but does not understand the urgency of what I so want to explain.
My mother is overwhelmed with the anger and bickering. My father is holding steadfast to his conservative beliefs. I am trying desperately to not cause a family war because what I want to do more than anything is tell them that those I love- gay, refugee, black or otherwise different, are marked by a world full of bullies. It’s not for me I fear, but for others.
Four and eleven, my children are young in this world. I am desperately trying to teach empathy, inclusion and love. I wonder if someday, I too will forget what I fought so hard for in my youth — I pray I keep the same fire I have now.
What could I say to the two people I love so dearly?
The silence and the vote for the madman is alike to my parents high-fiving the man who raped me at 19.Or, perhaps them thanking the ex-boyfriend who pushed me down the stairs and spit in my face. These are the same people who fought with me to be who I am today- who sat in the front row of my “Take Back the Night” speech the year after my rape at my University, quiet and somber as I spoke loudly, “no more.” The supportive parents who came one day with a U-haul, and helped me wrap dishes in newspaper as I sobbed loudly in the other room. “Get up,” they said, “we’re all leaving now.”
I want to tell my mother that her choice not to choose at all doesn’t absolve her of the outcome. How can she not understand that lost emails do not matter more than a man who proclaims vile, bigoted hatred? I can’t find the right words to show her- because perhaps, they don’t exist. Maybe the shrapnel of this bitter, ongoing election fight has caused too much damage to save her vote- or want to participate. But I want to tell her, that for the sake of our youngest granddaughter, we must not stay home or hide away- pretending that our singular voice has no effect. She’s taught me much more than that.
My father won’t understand why I need him to look at the world differently than his age and status allow. He doesn’t see the incredible income and racial disparities that I do from the tired work of my board positions and volunteering. He couldn’t possibly understand navigating this world- without a penis; being told I am less, being called “cunt” or “bitch” if I dared ask for more than what someone else thought I deserved. He doesn’t understand- even with his kindness and love- he doesn’t realize that in saving the unborn, he is closing his eyes to the unjust. There are other ways, I’d say. If I had the words, I would tell him.
The damage from each individual’s decision is as widespread and insurmountable as it is almost hopeless to comprehend. I wonder sometimes, if this was the way it was manufactured all-along, like a game of, “I dare you,” to see just how much could be done until families broke apart and morals were compromised for the sake of “staying with the party.”
And, I’d tell my parents, but they just don’t understand, you see. Because we don’t speak of these things for fear of ruining what closeness we have.
This election has made madmen and sympathetic liars out of all of us.