My mom was sitting in her usual chair, in the living room--she sits in the white one that's well upholstered but not plush, while my dad has a corner of their long leather couch, the one closest to her, empty that morning. She has a sympathetic look she gives, wide eyes and a half frown, and she gave it to me, maybe partly because she's heard what I've said about this election during our lunch conversations, and read it on Facebook, plus she saw whatever was in or on my face. And she expressed sympathy, and also said, and I think I remember this right, "He's just one man." That meant a lot--her effort at comforting me.
It reminded me of 9/11 too, like it did you. Then too, I was staying with them, post-divorce. That time, she woke me up to tell me about the terrorist attack, and I numbly watched the news of it come in, with, I think, Dan Rather's voice narrating over the picture of the smoking wreckage, talking about how we were seeing history. It was the voice, and choice of words, of someone who had spent decades calming millions by reporting what he had already learned and been able to digest--unable to do that now, even while trying by telling himself, and us, that this would all be history one day.
Both days, my dad, the usual voice of confidence and strength, was gone. And both days, I had to go to work, like him.
On September 11th, I worked at a bookstore in St. Louis. On November 9th, i headed to my third day of work as a tech at a treatment center, training, being shown how to do everything I could to help alcoholics and addicts. The day really is a blur, like all of 2001, but near the end of it, I got to talk to a friend who said he couldn't believe how it had turned out--like me. But he's native American, and it seemed like I was suddenly looking at someone who might be living in a different country, because of his brown skin and black hair. And it's not a fear that we've fallen back to where we were, on September 11th; it's a fear that that was a shallow fall, and that it went into a pit not created by the terrorist attack but opened up by it part way. Or uncovered.
That Matthew Arnold poem, "Dover Beach," talks about love like an alternative to even thinking about war. Like we can just be here with each other, let the "ignorant armies" do their thing, and we'll be all right. And that poem gets hated on a lot, I think because of that. The ignorant armies kill the lovers by the thousands. Save them, and then, if you might be in love, go on a date--right?
A couple of weeks after the election, a little more trained at the treatment center and working the night shift when I can read, I get into "Blood Meridian." When I mentioned it on Facebook, someone commented that the character of the judge in it is like Trump, but smart, or my mind filled in that last part. Larger than life, devoted to looking good and making his views rule those around him, he says, in a pivotal moment in the novel, "War is god." The man who said we need to kill the families of terrorists--hasn't he implied the same? And will he act it out, now, in our name?
Divorced more times than my one, brother dead of alcoholism, he must have learned to become this monster, and I had this hope, that maybe millions or billions of people have had about leaders that seem not only insane but able to channel the insanity of others for their own power: "when it comes to really buying in or not buying in, the people's wisdom will win." And, under that, a simple, tense, false assurance: "God will stop this." And, under that, a prayer: "God, stop it."
When I begged my wife not to divorce me, she said "stop it, Chad," loud, angry, exasperated. Like I was dragging out a long argument, even though I felt like I hadn't been present for it.
My dad, on the phone, cried, like I am now. He said, and I do remember this clearly, the quote, "I feel so bad for you, Chad."
After 9/11, he said "those poor people."
And I felt so numb then. Spat out by her.
Let us be untrue--that could have been the Trump campaign's mission statement. Facts didn't matter. Orange face, wild eyes, that voice that seems always ready to break but also numb, rehearsed, not consciously but from a deeper source, like a
prerecorded answer to disaster, a frantic, not quite manic act of mastery, the one that resists the drunk brother, fights the divorce settlement, says in so many ways "this isn't happening because I'm too powerful"--have we carried that with us out of the start of our country? Do we have to reckon with it at last, and find truths deeper down, more core? We are a young country. Is he a kind of acne? A crack in our voice? Or more? A kind of idiotic god of war? Ego? Me? You?
There was the trolling of him by a girl, at one of his rallies, caught by a camera, shared and shared. Brown skin, black hair that hides a lot of her face, if i remember it right, because she's not watching him, present but refusing the charisma. She reads "Citizen," by Claudia Rankine--written when police shootings of black citizens was a new story, before that madness came anywhere near the Oval Office. No matter what he does, or where this country goes, on or in a server somewhere, that image of her shimmers, reading. And somewhere, someone who's seen it reaches out, connecting with someone else. How many of them, of us, does it take to make an army--one that makes peace, that fights for instead of against? The protests have gone on since he "won," and the recount might start soon. And we're citizens of something larger, deeper, and more true.