It was autumn, but the air still pulsated with the strange warmth of an extended summer. It was 2001. My mother called me into her room with a tone in which I had never heard her speak. It was dim in the room, where months earlier I spent listless hours looking out the window at neighbors’ clotheslines, wondering what the future would mean.
Her tone was somewhere between bereavement and business meeting, and I straightened my shoulders in response to its unmistakable conferral of adulthood.
The United States was about to go to war. Later that evening I might see bombings on TV, and it was important to be aware of the situation and all that it meant.
Although in the years to come we had different opinions about the war in Afghanistan, and later Iraq, the space of time in which my mother briefed me on the defining international conflict of my time is underlined in red in my memory. She pulled out William Strauss and Neil Howe’s The Fourth Turning. Like someone having their astrological chart read, I learned of my place in a rising generation, one that would have to fight a “Total War.” Did that mean the enemy would be an unquestionable evil? Did that mean the lines would not be clear and the end would not be definitive? Well, I don’t remember what the book said, but the idea took root in my head and now it has resurfaced.
It was autumn and there was a red tree that stood in stark relief to a picture-perfect blue sky. I was married and in graduate school after working as a journalist. Yet, I still couldn’t afford to be far from my origins. This generation, to say the least, did not have the easiest coming of age.
We slept in, and then I assembled a pantsuit out of coordinating separates in the excitement of voting for Hillary Clinton. Prosperous businesslady: the ultimate cosplay. Snark aside, I deeply and sincerely supported Hillary, this election had been the most important to me, personally, and all signs pointed to her triumph. Why not shimmy in a pantsuit?
Once it got dark, anxiety spiked. At the home of good friends, we started our dinner to the remark that it felt like the last meal before a war. The numbers were too close, and although I still believed Hillary would prevail, it was hard to ignore the unease. Expected red states formed a bleeding gash across the electoral map.
Four hours later we were staving away panic attacks, holding back and releasing tears, feeling a physical sickness. The sensation is akin to what Richard Wright’s Bigger said in Native Son about white people taking up residence in his stomach.
“Every time I think of ’em, I feel ’em … It’s like fire. And sometimes I can’t hardly breathe.”
I’ve lived through some hard nights, but none like the night of November 8, 2016: reeling from a fast-acting dose of the fear the suppressed live with on a daily basis, in disbelief that this adamantine yet emotional woman who was the bedrock of my hopes for the past year had her dream shattered and, when those emotions ebbed for bits at a time, realizing what it all meant for the future of democracy. My husband slept fitfully but I couldn’t sleep at all.
A black square icon flashed on my screen with words I will never forget:
But it’s not over
It’s never over
Win or lose
The next day was an overwritten caricature of a Very Bad Day. We walked together and sat together, compared our reactions, and from the depths of our brokenness, offered the support we could.
Almost a week later, the emotions are still raw. The most horrifying developments coexist with the deepest compassion, the most energized dissent and the most cathartic art. I feel similar to the way I did in 2001, and I believe that our true Total War is against the enemy within.
It’s against hatred and dehumanization of immigrants. Refugees. Black people. LBGT people. People with disabilities. Women, especially black and trans women. There is no more use of euphemisms, for first drafts of our criticisms. White supremacists don’t do subtle.
We are determined not to normalize Donald Trump. Or Mike Pence. Or – and I can’t believe I am typing this – Steve Bannon.
In the coming days even those who resist the administration will disagree. And we must fight the risk of becoming jaded, of losing the spirit that powers the resistance in these early days.
The resistance will be hard. But we have to fight.