The only President I have ever voted for is Barack Obama. That was true until this morning.
Today was like any day, except I woke up in a daze heavier than usual, reminding myself immediately, “go vote, go vote.” I had to wait for my housemates to move their cars, per usual. Ben putting his shoes on so slowly, then remembering his watch, then “brushing the dew off his car.” I gritted my teeth and breathed. Reg opened the window to shout out the screen, “I’m going to poop. If anyone needs me, I’m going to poop.” Ben: “Lock the window–robbers.” Reg: “Robbers! Robbers! Robbers! I’m going to poop, robbers.”
If I didn’t love you, I would hate you.
I walked into the garage and sat in the car. I pulled up the polling place on Google maps. 4 minutes away, it read. So close, so convenient. I pulled out onto the wet yellow-leafy street and turned the opposite way of work. I drove into the neighborhood looking for the church. Stone, gray, square. I pulled into the neighbors’ driveway, not realizing the church parking lot was further down. I figured the guy wouldn’t mind: the signage in his yard yelling the Democratic call of Wisco: “Russ, Hansen, Nelson.”
I created a mantra for myself as I walked over to the church, “Russ, Hansen, Nelson.”
I followed in a mom and her two daughters to see another couple and their son. 8, maybe 10 at the oldest. I smiled to myself. What feelings of democracy! What constitutional pride.
The first time I voted I was 21. It was the fall of course. It was my second year at Eastern Illinois. I drove home the night before to vote, since at that time I was pretty ignorant of voting procedures and I was surprisingly nervous to go alone. I drove home and slept in my “old room” and woke up early with mom to drive to the polls. The flat square shed of Decker Township. About a mile from the house. We rode over in her tiny blue car and were the only ones to walk in. When we checked in, I remember wondering, briefly, who my mom would vote for. I remember being excited. Feeling responsible and informed and engaged. The people working the poll knew my mom by name. I remember being surprised by all the names on the ballot I hadn’t planned for. I had gone in with one sole name on my tongue: Barack Obama.
I drove back to school sleepy. With that feeling like …I’m living multiple days in one. I don’t remember the rest of the day. I’m sure I just went to class and work like nothing, per usual.
Two months later we watched the inauguration in class. I have a journal entry from the day. It was hot in the classroom. I sat in my hoodie and jeans college student uniform. I made notes of the events as we watched. My professor cracked an occasional joke or made an occasional comment. I remember it being dark in the room, dark for the glare of the TV to overpower us. I remember feeling giddy, accomplished, as the man I voted for raised his hand and smiled as someone mispronounced his foreign middle name, “Hussein.”
In 2012, I sat in the pub with my well-educated friends and ironically sipped on a PBR –so sure, but not sure, Obama would pull ahead of Romney. I had walked determinedly to the church a few blocks from my apartment. High on righteous indignation. I felt so obvious then, as if everyone could read who I was voting for on my face, in the line of my shoulders.
Eight years after my first vote, and I feel much different. This election cycle has left me sick, anxious, disgusted. Disappointed in my fellow man. Not shocked, unfortunately, but depressed, detached. Unamused with the ignorance of the American people. Frustrated with the media. Unsure of our future. Ben has helped. At the bar, overhearing the debate, “We’ll be fine. We’re fine. The country is fine.” I sat over my beer and tried to imagine a future where we were fine.
Gabby Giffords enters my thoughts. I clung to the University of Arizona’s response, “Be Civil.” I thought, we’ll be different. This will be different. And this has been worse. The opposite of my hopes. The opposite of my dreams. What are we fighting for?
I sat at the desk and filled in my circles, barely considering the names before choosing. I slid in my ballot and pulled a sticker off the side. Shoved it halfheartedly onto the collar of my sweater. I could feel the eyes of the people as I walked past them, back to my car, parked unnecessarily in the neighbor’s yard. “Young, single, and female, bitches. Watch out.” I didn’t say that.
As we hopped into the yard to move cars Reg said, “Voting is what we do for ourselves. Election is what we do for the people.”