“A man leaned out to yell that he wanted to grab my student by the pussy”
A woman holds her voting sticker in her hand after casting her ballot on November 8, 2016 in Leetonia, Ohio. Photo by Ty Wright via Getty Images
“Mama, you know octopus can grow a new tentacle if they lose one.” Those were my son’s first words upon waking. His eyes popped open like a doll and he relayed that fact as if in the middle of a conversation. What followed was the usual morning rush: Get up, get dressed, make oatmeal, pack lunch, drive him to preschool, remind him to be nice, wish him a good day, and drive home.
Most of my weekdays here in Wooster are generally the same: I clean up the breakfast dishes, pick up stray toys, and then write for a few hours—starkly different from our chaotic life in Brooklyn, where we moved from four months ago. For three years, my partner and I juggled parenting and adjunct teaching jobs, and we barely made our bills each month. Here in Ohio, we can afford to rent a small house, my son attends preschool, we live on one salary, and I have time to write. The town is full of playgrounds and parks, the supermarkets sell organic produce and milk from local farms, and people are friendly. It has quickly become home.
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]In many ways, I have felt freer and safer here than I ever did in Brooklyn. Yet 65 percent of my county voted for Trump. [/quote]
Yesterday, after it became clear that Trump had won, I just put my head on the table and wept. No cleaning, no writing. I couldn’t tell my son about the results. I hadn’t really absorbed the news myself. But as orange leaves drifted down from the ancient oak outside, I was overcome with the loss of a future, and imagined dark images of detention camps, back alley abortion clinics, and rising seas. I wept for my son’s future, for all our futures.
I heard rustling and banging outside. When I looked out the window, I saw my Clinton sign was missing from the tiny patch of lawn in front of my house. I walked outside to investigate. It hadn’t been crumpled up or thrown in the gutter; the sign was just gone. The other two Clinton signs on my street had also vanished, though the lawn sign for a Republican candidate still stood on my neighbor’s lawn. I sat on the edge of the red brick street, in my slippers, and suddenly felt very alone and scared.
In many ways, I have felt freer and safer here than I ever did in Brooklyn. Yet 65 percent of my county voted for Trump. How could I square my comfort with the knowledge that so many of my neighbors chose a leader whose campaign was characterized by bigotry and misogyny, emboldening that sentiment in his followers. Now, even the landscape looked like betrayal. Every sound was a threat: a window battering against the pane, a neighbor raking leaves, a crow cawing. Was I safe here? Was my son safe?
Then I remembered that strange fact about the octopus my son blurted out this morning. Did they really regenerate tentacles? Parenting a three-year-old required becoming an expert on animals. I went inside to investigate online. Yes, they can regrow a lost limb, one that is as good as new, complete with nerves, suckers, and color-changing cells. I imagined an octopus with seven tentacles and started crying again.
I gathered my composure and rushed off to campus for a meeting. I wore rain boots, though it wasn’t raining. Students moved ghostlike through the halls, quiet and reserved, stunned. One student said she had been walking down Main Street that morning when a car slowed down and man leaned out to yell that he wanted to “grab her by the pussy,” using the infamous words of our President-Elect. Another said she had heard that phrase frequently in her shifts at the local bar. A student who works at my son’s school said she’d overheard small children talking about the election, parroting rhetoric from both sides: some saying doctors would be ripping out live babies, others saying they would soon be sent out of the country.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]We’d told our son for years that bad guys never win; now we had to tell him otherwise.[/quote]
Then the usual evening rituals: We picked my son up from school, made dinner, ate, and played on the rug together. We’d told our son for years that bad guys never win; now we had to tell him otherwise. We promised we would keep him safe, though of course that isn’t really something you can promise. We told him that when he turned 7, there would be another election and we would choose someone good. I hope that we do.
At least all is not as bad as it seems: After my son was asleep, a friend wrote me to say it was her own parents, representing the Democratic party, who’d picked up all the Clinton lawn signs around town. She said it was a regular practice to collect them the day after an election. The signs are taken back to the office, dismantled, and the metal stakes are saved for reuse in the next election. I feel strangely hopeful about that big box of metal poles in storage waiting silently for the next two years. We will wrap new names and new hopes around those poles and press them into our lawns—like an octopus putting herself back together again.