What Now? The Swamp, Revisited
MARIA MILLER

November

Two days after it happened. What we were so stubbornly, arrogantly, certain wouldn’t happen, couldn’t possibly — did.

The sun has now stubbornly risen not once, but twice.

I jerk my enormous suitcase out of the trunk, bulging with six weeks’ worth of clothes, and get in line at the curb. I’m looking forward to leaving my red home state, where my door knocking seemed not to matter ONE BIT, and getting back to the Swamp, where friends have told me no one seems to be bothered by crying in public anymore.

At the front of the line, I hand my boarding pass and ID to the guy at the counter. He is chatty; I am not. He finally gestures to my hand, which has taken seemingly permanent fixture near my face as I chew on my nails.

“You nervous? You ‘fraid of flying? What you scared about?”

“Our country,” I blurt out dramatically, without thinking. “I’m scared for our country.”

Jeez. Thought I was ready to be around people but clearly I’m not.

“Oh. Well me too, honey, me too.”

I am starting to cry, again, because apparently that is what I do now. I have become one of those women crying in public to the baggage handler.

Suddenly he walks away, around his counter, and he’s in front of me, in front of a winding line of anxious travelers and screaming toddlers.

“I’m scared too, but we’re gonna be ok.” And he hugs me. And I hug him back.

“We just got to care for each other, ya know? We just got to care for one another.”

Washington, D.C.

The sun is setting as we land in D.C. I had forgotten how close the planes get to the Washington Monument, the Capitol. My emotions are running high so even this seems significant.

I drop my bags at home after an hour long cab ride from DCA — the streets around the Trump Hotel are closed because of protestors. I go to the bar, the one on the Hill where we spend at least two nights a week.

My friend and coworker Lily has already got us a table; there’s a glass of Pinot Noir waiting for me. The bar is busy, squeezed full of Hill staffers and lobbyists shedding scarves and coats as the blast of warm air hits upon entering the front door.

8 P.M. on a Thursday – normally it would be loud, raucous, but tonight it’s subdued. Folks are quiet.

“You nervous? You ‘fraid of flying? What you scared about?”

Lily and I talk about other stuff – after spending election night together, refreshing Twitter and watching returns come in, we’re all election’ed out. She’s convincing me to run a race with her in April, the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler. I haven’t run more than to catch the bus since high school, but Lily’s certain she can coach me through it. “We’ll train together,” she says, ignoring the fact that at 5’10”, her legs are about the length of my whole body.

But eventually, we fall quiet, scanning the bar, wondering how many of these people also cried in public today.

“This is so weird,” I say. “It’s weird we’re just living in this world now. Like, is this normal?”

Lily looks at me. She’s older, has been in politics since she was twenty, worked on more losing campaigns than winning ones.

“Yep.”


January

It is inauguration day, and I’m going to brunch.

I’m meeting my not-boyfriend at a restaurant halfway between our apartments. Not-boyfriend because after sleeping together for months and then each moving out to work on campaigns for two or three months and still talking every day, I still can’t figure out what I want. In the perfect storm of cuffing season and post-election blues, I haven’t managed to shake this one like I usually do. It is appearing more and more likely that I actually like him.

I can go to brunch in the middle of a Friday because my office is closed, like any building inside the police perimeter around the Mall. He can come because he doesn’t have an office. Like many of my friends in D.C. — formerly employed by Democratic campaigns or the Obama administration — his job ended on December 31st. This is normal in D.C. — cycle-long jobs only last two years — but an influx of Clinton campaign workers who planned on sweet gigs in the White House has made it harder for these people to find new jobs.

I check my phone as I wait for a crosswalk, and see the clock change from 11:59 to 12:00. It’s the exact minute the inauguration is official. Amazingly, it starts to rain.

Donald Trump's Inauguration Crowd (Source: BBC)

2017 Inauguration Day | Source: © BBC

I’m at the restaurant first, and when I sit down the waitress brings over a bottle of champagne without asking me. “You’re gonna need it,” she says, gesturing at the TV over the bar. It’s showing the very beginning of the new President’s speech.

Not-boyfriend’s wet hair as he comes in — it’s raining harder now. He leans over the table to kiss me, nearly knocking over the champagne bottle. It’s awkward — we’re awkward — and yet lately whenever I see him, I get this dumb goofy grin on my face.

He called me on election night. I missed my boss’s entire victory speech because I was talking to him in the back of the election night party ballroom, listening to the story of how his campaign lost much earlier — much worse — than they expected.

He was the first person that night who hinted at what was happening. “I don’t know, this just feels bad,” he’d said, trying to break the news gently both to me and to himself. “It’s just starting to feel a lot like 2014,” when an anti-Democrat Tea Party wave led to a lot of losses on our side. He’d worked on a losing race then, too. 7 years older than me and a lifelong good Democrat, he’s worked on a lot of losing races.

“Our country,” I blurt out dramatically, without thinking. “I’m scared for our country.”

“I miss you,” I’d whispered, the first taste of vulnerability I’d offered up to a guy in a long time.

As we eat, we both try to avoid talking about it, but eventually turn our attention to the TV. That same waitress is crying; the bartender next to her hands her a glass of something brown, neat, and she knocks it back without taking her eyes off the TV.

We split the bill and walk towards my place, a little buzzed but quiet. The rain has stopped.

“You said it was this bad in ‘14, right?” I ask. “Did it really feel this bad?”

He is thoughtful.

“Well, no. It was bad, but not this bad.”

He takes my hand, the first time in the daylight, and it’s not awkward at all.


February

D.C. Townhouse

About half the girls in the book club met while working at the White House between 2011 and 2014, and almost all the rest of us know each other from staff assistant jobs on the Hill or six months spent on a campaign in Ohio or Nevada over the past six years. After six months of biding my time, I have been invited to join. I respond to the email thread welcoming me that “it’s an honor even to be nominated.”

We are all young white women, ages 25 to 35, who work in democratic politics.

We sit around the living room, squeezed on the couch and plopped on the carpet, drinking various flavors of mimosas and later, red wine out of coffee cups. After only 40 minutes Claire stands up, downs her wine, and says, “Sorry guys, I gotta to go.”

Looks are exchanged. Of course, Claire is leaving early.

“I just told some people I’d stop by the protest at the White House.”

We are now on weekend three of the protests at the White House — first the Women’s March, then a week of general anti-Trump sentiment, and now this weekend.

Women's March on Washington (Source: Mobilus in Mobili/Wikimedia Commons)

Women’s March on Washington | Source: Mobilus in Mobili/Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-2.0)

“Oh, is that the one for the Muslim ban? I wanted to go to that, but it’s so gross out.”

“Yep,” answers Claire as she pulls on her sneakers without undoing the laces. “Wearing my protest outfit, feel like I’ve really got it down.”

She is wearing black leggings and a plaid flannel, pulling on an olive green jacket; five of us are wearing basically the same uniform.

“Good for you,” says Rachel. “It’s so important. Just so easy to get burned out.”

“Yah,” she says as she tugs on a black beanie. “We’ll probably just stay for like an hour and then go drink and watch the Wisconsin game at Blackfinn.”

Her beanie has a Hillary pin, with the H and an arrow, on it.

As the door shuts behind Claire, it’s quiet for a minute, until Amanda stands up to bring the wine bottle to the coffee table.

“You said it was this bad in ‘14, right?” I ask. “Did it really feel this bad?”

“So are we just gonna keep doing this for the next four years?” she asks as she fills my mug nearly to the top. “We fucked up and now our punishment is giving up every Sunday afternoon?”

“I know. Last weekend I really wished I hadn’t thrown out my sign from the Women’s March. All the art stores are totally out of poster board.”

We devise a plan to sell ‘Protester 101’ kits — leggings and cheeky buttons and a series of tearable posters, organized by issue: abortion, guns, the environment, immigration. “For just $49.99 you too can Instagram like an activist.” We are all buzzed and snarky and a little guilty not to be outside the gates holding actual signs.

Lily has been quiet. “I just feel like I’ve spent my whole life doing this work, it’s what I do all day every day,” she says as she chips the dark purple polish off her thumb. “And I find it a little bit offensive when people who just discovered that politics are a thing show up and shame other people for not going to letter-writing parties. I mean, yes, marching makes you feel better, and it’s important — but we of all people know that’s not how anything gets done.”

I look around — everyone is nodding.

“Yes, totally,” Amanda chimes in. “Like, my grandma — my ninety-two year old grandmother — made me feel like a bad feminist because I didn’t go to the Women’s March. And sure, the Snapchats gave me FOMO, but crowds give me panic attacks… And it just seems too easy to show up for four hours and then go have mimosas after, and pat yourself on the back for being engaged, and then go back to your real life.”

“But not everybody works in politics, or is able to dedicate their whole life to activism…” Rachel, ever the contrarian. “What are they supposed to do?”

“I mean — just think about the money,” says Katie (she’s a fundraiser). Imagine if all the millions of dollars rich liberal ladies spent flying to D.C. for the March went to the ACLU or Democratic candidates in state races.”

We’re quiet, thoughtful — unusual for our usually chatty group.

D.C. Sunset

Lily seems to shake herself out of it first:

“Who needs some more wine?”


April

Race day. It’s sunny and bright, a few cherry blossoms miraculously survived an early heat wave followed by a mid-March snowstorm.

Cherry Blossoms

I’m running the 5k instead, having inadvertently proven Lily wrong. Apparently, my three weeks of anxiety-fueled treadmill runs weren’t enough to get me from “couch” to “15k” according to the British lady voice in my “Get Running” app.

The race starts and I’m in the crush of runners, behind the real athletes in their performance-wear, in front of the power walking grandmas in hot pink and orange tracksuits.

It’s just me and Beyoncé (from my “Who Run the World” playlist) as I take off my sweatshirt and thud along. When I started “training” I’d listen to podcasts, but after angrily pounding out miles on the treadmill as my blood pressure went up, I’ve decided it’s OK not to spend every spare moment listening to other people’s opinions and analysis of all the ways our world is fucked.

The sun glints off the Potomac and I’m sweaty and out of breath, but I can’t stop smiling. People line the sides of the road, with dogs and babies and signs that read “You Run Better Than Our Government!”

“We just got to care for each other, ya know? We just got to care for one another.”

My formerly-not-boyfriend — now actual-boyfriend — is waiting after the finish line with a few of my friends, some from work and others from college, who actually don’t work in politics. We meet up with Lily, triumphant after her 10 miles at her fastest pace, and call an Uber.

At brunch, we sit outside, drink bad mimosas, and get sunburnt. We don’t talk about politics at all.

 





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