I’ve been saying for a while now, when anyone asks, that savagemama is on sabbatical. I took a break a while back because I was writing a lot about Eliza, my daughter who identifies as half half, and after writing gut wrenching essay after gut wrenching essay I started to realize that her story isn’t my own. Her story isn’t mine to tell. (Note: She and her are her preferred pronouns.) I also came face to face with what I’ve know since I could hold a pencil, writing from the gut is exhaustive business. It’s the only way I know how to do it, though, and somedays I have been so exhausted from other things that I don’t have much left to spill out onto the page.
But the past few days, I’ve come to see it is from a place of quiet privilege that one can take a break. Or stop speaking out. Or stop speaking up. Or stop engaging. Or stop using the platform, the talent, the tenacity one may possess to do good in the world. So I am taking a break no longer.
Eliza, Lucille and I pantsuited up election day with 100 or so other women in our town. With about 24 hours notice, we dusted off suit jackets and gathered on a chilly hillside in the morning sun. We were with her. We stood together to take a photo to mark the day. I kept both girls out of school to go so they would remember the day their country elected a woman to white house. I wanted them to have a story a tell their granddaughters. I wanted them to remember that group of women, in their hometown, on that day. We left after the photo shoot with so much hope, giddy we’d soon be calling someone madame president.
That night, Eliza and I were nervous because that is our nature. Somedays I think she is extension of me. She has my eyes, the shape of my body and, unfortunately for her, my anxieties. As the night began to creep along and election returns were not what we were hoping for in Florida and North Carolina, she curled next to me.
“Mama, what’s going to happen?” she said.
“I don’t know,” I said. It’s all I had.
Her class had been studying the election for weeks. The electoral college, the polls.
“But the polls said she had a 70% chance of winning,” she said.
As we ushered our daughters to bed with pits in our stomachs and a prayer for a miracle in the winds, Eliza was ever hopeful.
“They haven’t counted all the votes yet, mama. They are still counting,” she said.
That sweet, tender hope is who she is. And I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the writing seemed to be on the wall. I never thought seeing eternal hope in my child’s eyes would stab me in the gut like a razor sharp knife but it did, and I may never forget the way it felt.
My grandmother once told me that I “caught” being a liberal from college. She said it like I had contracted an STD. I had just let slip that I had voted for Bill Clinton the second time around and she could barely contain her disgust.
“Jennifer, how could you?” she said with a cigarette balanced between her first two fingers before bringing it to her lips and inhaling deeply.
I am the daughter of two high school graduates who grew up in a textile town in North Carolina. Their parents worked in the mills from the time they were old enough, sort of. Two of my grandparents lied about their ages so they could go to work before they were legally allowed to. It was common practice then. Quit school, alter your birthday in the family bible and go to work. We still have the family bible where my grandfather changed the last number of his birth year from an eight to a six so it would appear he was two years older than he was. He showed it to the overseer who said he was hired. That was in 1943. He would spend the next forty five years in that mill.
My other grandfather was a preacher. We’d call him an evangelical today but back then he was just another hard scrabble, Appalachian-born Southern Baptist man who felt the calling of the Lord and tried to live by his word. He taught others the word of his God and sometimes wouldn’t take paycheck from the church because he knew his parishioners were poor and didn’t have the money to pay him.
I don’t know if I heard it from him or remember it from my own church-going youth but one phrase kept rolling around in my head on election night. “Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus said it from the cross.
When my parents, who married young, divorced, I lived with my dad. It was 1983. No one did that. But somehow between all of my parents and the grandmother who would later snarl her lips at me because I voted for Bill Clinton, I was well loved. If my dad struggled to pay the mortgage, I never knew it. My grandfather used to tell me my grandmother would fight a wildcat for me. Since he died, her mind is slipping but two things are still true: she would still lay down her life for me and she still loves Jesus.
So maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that this feminist as fuck, left of left liberal was walking around on election night with the words of Jesus in my head. It’s the kind of juxtaposition that is emblematic of the way I’ve been feeling the past few days. I’m terrified for my children. I feel disconnected from the family that raised me.
I wish I could tell you I have sorted all of these feelings out but the truth is, I don’t understand lots of things and I may not for a long, long time. I have a lot to work through and so does this country.
The day after the election, after a distraught morning, I wanted to put some good energy out into the world. I bought flowers and took them to women who everyday hold the hands of women as those women exercise their right to choose, they provide medical care to people who are turned away by other clinics because those low-income folks can’t pay the bill and they help trans people in our state access, with dignity, the healthcare they deserve.
What is it, exactly, that I do every day, I thought? What have I done over these past eight Obama years to fight for people of color, the LGBTQ community, the woman who sleeps on the footbridge two blocks from my house?
I am a white, college educated, heterosexual, cisgendered woman. There is so much privilege in that sentence. My daughter is white. She may go to college. We do not know her sexual orientation or her gender identity as those things are still unfolding. What have I done to fight for her the past year while I’ve been taking a break? What have I done to fight for her sister who is white, cisgendered but still a little girl moving through a harsh-to-girls world.
My apathy and naiveté are shocking even to me. Almost as shocking as the fact that Donald fucking Trump is going to be our president. Almost.
When I picked Eliza up from school that day, I was a sobbing mess, again.
“I am so, so sorry,” I said as I hugged her tight. “I am so sorry.”
“Mama, it’s not your fault,” she said.
Oh, but, honey, it kind of is.