Yahrzeit

It must be sometime in the last year I gave in to facebook’s bid for just an extra little bit of narcissism and started reading the “On This Day” feature, the one that tells you what you thought your friends would find clever on this day stretching back only to that dark era before you were on social media, of course. I’m surprised how often I posted about very similar things a year or two apart. Everyone talks about anniversaries being meaningful in an inescapable and often half-conscious way, and being especially tough when it comes to traumatic events. They’re usually referring to the anniversary of someone’s death. (Yiddish has a word for just that: yahrzeit.)

I’ve noticed in the last year that everyone I know is doing a lot of maintaining. We’re going through our days and doing our jobs and seeing friends, of course, but I would venture to say that for everyone I know, not a day goes by without moments or hours of genuine dread. It’s worse than the W era, though I was also conscious then of the constant reality of living with your fate under the broad control of someone shameful and terrifying. I wasn’t as scared then, though. So for the last week, I dreaded waking up today and compulsively grabbing for the phone and seeing what I posted at 9:31 pm a year ago, though I remembered the sentence anyway. “I have no idea what to do or say.”

This is me, in the quiet space of a largely unused blog, doing what everyone did the year after 9/11/01: putting down where I was. If you still sometimes come here, you can do that, too.

I voted early. I made a confident, joking post that day about well, if she doesn’t win, see you in Mexico. (Tomorrow, I will see the “On This Day” where I spliced together a photo of my great grandfather who came here expecting more and my newly printed passport photo. Jews are never supposed to not have a passport but I’m not a traveler. When I put the two photos together, I had a loud, undignified cry.) Then a few days went by during which I did not seriously consider, beyond the lip service that I superstitiously give to any bad thing happening, that this bad thing would happen.

Dave had a fiddle lesson on election night. I have spent election nights alone and with others, and felt some horror of being alone, just in case. Swells and I exchanged texts during the day but she was naturally going to San Francisco, her Tiffany’s (the place where nothing very bad can ever happen) and it’s not my Tiffany’s, so I hesitated. I watched the very early states come in at a mostly empty gay bar a mile from our house in downtown Oakland. I had a gin and tonic, but not an urgent one. Kentucky always comes in first, and always brings me shame insofar as it’s anything to me. Swells and I finally made a plan. I took BART to the Mission, where she picked me up and took me to…actually I don’t know the name of the neighborhood.

We spent what seemed like an hour in a grocery store trying to find a bottle of wine whose name and label art suggested victory and femininity but not enough overconfidence to warrant jinxfear. And then we spent the next few hours at the home of her old friends, among kind people. It was temporarily fine to swear in front of children, I found, and call a motherfucker a motherfucker, as long as you were laughing. And then one person looked worried, and then several people. I saw Swells weeping before I had fully taken in what had happened.

I called a car. Dave was at home, alone, which was a horrible thought. BART was deadly quiet. I remembered 2008 when I had come out of the New York subway after riotous celebration in Midtown Manhattan and a stranger and I had looked at each other in the doorway to the 190th Street station and simultaneously, quietly said “yay!” I wondered if there would be consolation or reassurance among strangers.

Sometimes you have a strange and inappropriate thought and are unable not to act on it, so I stopped at Whole Foods and bought maraschino cherries, but the good kind–not the bright red kind, because I thought: the drinking we are about to do is drinking we will remember for a long while.

I walked up the stairs and Dave and I cried on each other’s shoulders. I was still figuring out how scared to be. I think I texted Swells “I’m not sure if this is 2000 bad or 1933 bad.” Dave had put on Bach as a reminder that some good things will be here forever, and we had Manhattans because small comforts and anaesthetics are important to remember when it looks like you may be well and truly fucked. At some point we went to bed and slept uneasily.

I am rawer insider, having written this, but I wanted to write it. It’s hard to find the right tone that acknowledges the genuine distress I’ve felt in the year since without feeling like a giant drama queen. There have been much harder times than this, but I nonetheless have often thought of Akhmatova, who in 1961, with some distance on things, wrote, in the prelude to her crushing “Requiem”:

Я была тогда с моим народом,
Там, где мой народ, к несчастью, был.

I was with my people then,
Where we, to our misfortune, were.

8 responses to “Yahrzeit”

  1. swells says:

    If you had been in my office this morning when I read this, you’d have had to look at me weeping again. I thought I wanted to repress that awful night, but somehow not doing so matters and I feel oddly grateful for this post. Of course, that gleeful sadist FB trolled me with the photo of myself that morning, all giddy and fake-empowered–and then one of me that night, red and blue scarf draggling off my rumpled pathetic stupid naïve white pantsuit. Fortunately, there are no photos of me the next day all shellshocked and tearstained in my all-black one.

    My genius cousin does a complicated election-pool bracket every four years where you predict electoral votes state by state. He still mocks me for predicting a McCain-Palin landslide in 2008, literally dozens of points behind the person who came in second to last, but I did not trust my compatriots then and I now do even less. After this year’s bracket (in which *everybody* lost), he sent another, simpler bracket with only two questions: name the 46th president and the inauguration date. I picked Mike Pence on July 4, 2017, which I wouldn’t classify as “hopeful” by any stretch, but which did reveal the level of delusion under which I was operating even then. Having obviously lost that pool once again, and now having seen that 45 really could kill someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue–or kill the United States as a global myth–without any consequences, a prediction like Donald Jr. on November Whateverth, 2024 feels more realistic.

    Interestingly, though, while the 2004 Kerry defeat reduced me to a full month of crying into my pinot in the tub, this one has numbed me beyond any such feeling as inadequate as “sadness.” Perhaps it’s that my own life has become so much fuller of almost-unmanageable grief and trauma since then that global worries recede in the face of it (ah, myopia). I think it’s more likely though that this actually is, as Smearcase intuited, more 1933 bad than 2000 bad. Not to get all Life is Beautiful on your asses, but when reality is this terrifying, sometimes your lovely sunsplashed commute view or your love bug of a dog or a really fun wine dinner with warm funny friends and music can feel supermagnified if you’re looking hell in its dark gullet. Am I supposed to be grateful for that? I guess?

    I’d love to hear, from my fellow longlost Whatsiters, a little vignette of how that night went for you, just so I can hear your lovely, wise, thinking, feeling voices again through the details you choose to include of a collectively shared yet individually experienced terrible memory. Smearcase has already told the story of my evening better than I could, but what was yours like? Maybe we could even have monthly little two-paragraph shared writing prompts in which one person writes an actual post and then everyone tells their own story about how it happened to them differently. In the spirit of the post’s closing quote, maybe we need TGW more than ever now. I don’t mind sayin it: I miss you. Is it time?

  2. Carl says:

    First I called a fuck buddy for despair sex. Then I stayed up all night reading about it, desperate to understand. Eventually I settled on “Since he seems incapable of not doing stupid shit, I’m counting on him getting into trouble pretty quickly, becoming politically neutered, and fizzling out #warren2020” (text message to friend, 11/9/17, 7:01am). Sticking with that.

  3. Carl says:

    11/9/16, that is.

  4. T-Dub says:

    There’s a special sort of feeling you get when you’re the parent of a newborn baby girl and America is just about to elect its first woman president. A love-bomb has exploded you to smithereens, and you feel raw, open to the world, and yet positive and sunny. You might find tears leaking from your eyes when you don’t expect. Maybe in the middle of the night as your tiny daughter sleeps on you — her wee breaths reassuring you that she’s alive and really, really there, not just a dream you had — you find your cheeks are wet. The world is likely going to shit no matter who gets elected president, but maybe, just maybe, things might turn around in the female-led future that’s nearly here. And your lovely daughter will never ask if there could be a woman president because there will have been one already by the time she can think to ask. She’ll never hear someone say that women can’t be president.

    On Election Day you’re still on parental leave (thanks FMLA!), so you can make your way to the polls when you choose. You snap a photo of your wife in her white pantsuit as she votes, your baby girl in the car seat at her feet. You know at that moment that you’re taking a historic photo that you’ll show your daughter in later years, a family treasure for the ages. Occasionally a negative thought has flitted through your mind in the last few weeks that maybe the bad guy will win, but it’s always just a fleeting thought, easily dispelled by having a look at Nate Silver’s blog. Sure her numbers have dropped in the last few days, thanks to the Comey letter (remember when the Republicans loved him?). During the day these worrisome thoughts return, but you shoo them away. Wisconsin will go blue, as will Pennsylvania, and maybe even Florida. No worries. No worries.

    As the afternoon wears on, you’ll make plans to watch the returns somewhere. You want to be with friends and like-minded people. Oh, look! The League of Women Voters is going to have election coverage projected on a screen in a square by Olvera Street! That’s not far from you, plus think of all that righteous female energy, celebrating the first! Ever! Woman! President! You’ll make plans to meet friends there. A. can come by your house and go with you, and J. will join you there after work.

    But you’ve delayed making this plan a bit too much, and returns are already coming in by the time you’re getting ready to go. And the returns are a bit concerning. You’re starting to get texts from friends expressing doubts. Suddenly, a friend who’s very invested in all things political and who follows all the blogs texts, “F*CK!” after she’s seen some particularly dispiriting bit of news. “What? What?” you text back, hoping she’s just overreacting to some micro-statistic she saw on line. Your friend waves you off without giving details. Things are turning ugly as you notice that Nate Silver is starting to push the bad guy’s chances of winning into a near tie with your candidate.

    You’re starting to waver about leaving the house, but plans are plans, and A. is on her way over, and J. is stuck in horrible traffic on his way to meet you at Olvera Street. Getting outside and into the fresh air will be good for you, you decide. By the time A. has arrived and you’ve gotten the baby in the car, numbers are not looking good, and you need a beer and some Mexican food. Olvera Street is, surprisingly empty, but then you remember that it’s primarily a lunch and happy-hour spot during the week. You find the only restaurant still open and order some food, checking your phone nervously the whole while. The ladies who work at the restaurant coo and purr over your gorgeous three-and-a-half-week-old baby girl. You keep saying, “Gracias. Sí, una niña. Trés semanas y unas días.” What you’re really wondering is why these women aren’t freaking out at the possibility of a president whose supporters regularly chant, “Build that wall!” But they seem unaware that it’s election night, even. You hope that ICE won’t kick down their doors in a few months or a year if things go the way they seem to be going. Nate Silver now has the bad guy as more likely to win than not.

    The ladies at the restaurant need to close down and go home. A. orders some food and a beer for J., who is still about 15 or 20 minutes away. You and your party head outside to wait for J. on a bench on the promenade. He arrives, bedraggled from the road and the steadily-worsening news. There are no signs of the promised LWV event on the plaza, within earshot of where you pace while J. eats his burrito and surreptitiously drinks his beer. Once he’s finished, you all decide to go home. The baby is asleep, and you wish you were, too.

    When you get home, you listen to the returns on the radio for a minute or two, hoping against hope that the tide may have turned back in her favor. It hasn’t. They haven’t called it, but it’s over. You post something on FB to the effect that you’re quitting politics. Amazingly, you fall asleep quickly, as do your wife and child.

    In the morning, you wake with the sunrise, as usual, feed the cats and let them out. Instead of turning on the news or reading it on line, you sit quietly in the living room, gazing across at the hills as the sun lights them up on yet another day. You think about the world, just going on about its business, birds eating seeds and bugs. Cats stalking birds. You want to stay in an envelope of magical thinking that your candidate pulled it out at the last moment. You think that if the bad guy had actually won there’d be people running around starting fires and looting and stuff, so it just *couldn’t* have happened. Your wife and baby are sleeping late. It’s after 9, and you can resist no longer. You text your hyper political friend to ask the news. “No worse, there is none,” she says, and then you cry, thinking of your daughter growing up in Trump’s America.

  5. J-Man says:

    There is a picture of me, all dressed in white, sitting with our 3-week old baby daughter in her car seat. She’s crying, and I’ve got my hand on her head trying to comfort her; I’ve been choking back tears myself because It’s an emotional moment for me, having just voted for the person who I thought would become the 1st woman president. In that moment I felt quietly giddy, and proud: my first heroic act as a mother, to vote a strong, intelligent, bold woman into the White House, a person who would set an example of new possibilities for our baby girl.

    I don’t remember much else about the day, but I’m pretty sure I avoided listening to the returns the rest of the day once things started going south. I remember waking the next day to the early morning news reporting that Trump had won, after going to bed hoping against hope that the votes would change course during the night.

    There’s a video I took a few days later of our baby sleeping on my belly. “With God On Our Side” by Joan Baez is playing in the background; the baby suckles and twitches in her sleep. She is so new and innocent and beautiful, and all I can think is, “what have we done?”.

  6. Mr S says:

    Thanks for adding stories!

  7. Bryan says:

    It’s not as richly detailed as the rest, but all I really remember is the moment when that little speedometer-looking dial on the NYTimes site started slipping toward Trump and I couldn’t help reading it as indicating the chances that I’d be living out of the country for at least four more years.

    Gee it’s nice to hear your voices, everybody. Since Twitter upped their character count it’s been such a drag. I keep thinking that if I wanted to blog I’d come back here. I guess I’m not alone.

  8. Mr S says:

    Every year or so there’s some conversation where everyone present says that they’d vaguely like it if this were still a thing. It’s probably not critical mass or momentum, but who knows? Once a year is, coincidentally, how often I am on Twitter. I do it for a day and then remember that I have feelings of loathing whose strength I don’t quite know how to explain.

Comments will be closed on January 7, 2018.