So, the elections happened. The results were terrible, to the point where I’m actually currently somewhat grateful for the degree of separation that currently exists between Puerto Rico and the states. I’m still processing, and in moments when I can process about the comparatively trivial, I think, well, this is going to affect the shit out of my novel.
Context: Over the past month or so, I’ve actually gone back to working on Faerie, which over the years had become something I only occasionally talked about but never get any closer to completing, but has now become some 30,000+ words long, i.e., about as long as an Animorphs book. And then Trump happened, which is making me reconsider the whole thing, again. Now, on top of not being sure if the story about two teenage Muslimahs dealing with their evolving feelings about their religion in a newly Islamophobic environment is a story I should be telling or can do justice to, I’m sort of kinda feeling like Trump and what he’s done need to be part of the story. While this works, to a degree–it fits right in with the themes and plot–it also means rethinking large swaths of what I’ve already done, including the book’s overall tone, as well as several key characters and scenes. So I have questions, and no answers yet.
In any case, until those answers come, I decided to write for today’s 1,500 words a scene where my characters actually deal with the election. Right now it exists more or less as a way to process my own thoughts and put them on paper, and to try to get something positive out of the whole thing: I’m not sure if it will actually make it into the final work, although some version probably will, if the story is still set in 2016 by the time the second draft begins.
I did not get to watch Donald Trump get declared President. I’d been tired, and by the time I’d gotten to sleep, there had been no indication yet of where things were going. Trump seemed to have an early lead, but that could have meant anything. And so, I said good night to my parents and to the friends mom had invited over, people she had met while volunteering for Hillary, and who now looked to celebrate the fruits of all they’d achieved. Like all of them, I expected to wake up tomorrow in a world where we had our first female president. It had been an incredibly crap year, but it would all be worth it.
As you know, this is not what happened.
I woke up to sobs—mom’s—coming from the direction of her room. It was all I needed to know that the worst had occurred. With dread increasing with every step I walked there, and found her sitting on their bed. Dad, whose face showed signs that he himself had been crying, sat beside her, grim, exhausted, and the most helpless I’d ever seen him. Both were still in yesterday’s clothes—had they even slept?
“Hillary conceded at [time]. She’s been like this since.” He filled me in on the details—how Trump got an early lead in Florida, which only got larger and more insurmountable, and how it then came to Pennsylvania, where mom had volunteered, in fact, doing canvassing and voter registration, and Michigan, and Wisconsin, all of which went the same way, with red filling an ever-growing, and utterly terrifying, number of counties. Hillary voters had come out in force, and in fact appeared to have met expectations, but Trump’s voters exceeded them, coming out in numbers people simply had not expected, all to vote in man who stood for nothing good, and whose only goal appeared to be to ruin the lives of people like me. What’s more, they’d done so despite the worst campaign in history, meaning they really believed in what he said. Worse still, dad explained, the Democrats had failed in their attempt to win the Senate, meaning that the Republicans had it all: they controlled the country, and could do whatever they wanted with it. It would be as if the last eight years—half my life—had never happened.
Dad asked me to stay with mom while he washed up and prayed. I sat down next to her, searching for words that wouldn’t feel inane or redundant or weren’t just plain lies. Sure, I could tell her that God would provide, and that we’d get through this, but she knew these things; what good would it do to just vomit them out?
“Remember when you came back from your first day of voter registration? How you’d told me you’d been sent to a grocery store owned by Ecuadorians, and how you stood there for hours trying to get people to just talk to you? You told me how frustrating it had been that most ignored you, but there were also people who would talk to you, and were surprised at how good your Spanish was, and would just make conversation… In the end, you said you’d gotten only three people registered, but you felt pumped about them all, and how it was super-exhausting but you couldn’t wait to do it again.
“And you did, over and over again, even when it turned into the absolute worst—the work was that important to you. And I just want to say, thank you. You’re my hero. And sure, it didn’t work out, in the end. But you’re still that person, and I love that you’re that person, and you should be damn proud of what you did.” I wasn’t sure these were the right words, and part of me wondered if maybe I should have said them back then in the first place, instead of keeping them to myself until it had all gone hopeless, but they seemed to have had some effect. She hugged me back, which was something, and we stayed like that until dad returned and told me it was time to prepare for school, if I wanted to go. That was new: usually, the only way I could get away with not going was if I were suffering from the plague.
School. Really, why couldn’t elections be on Fridays, or immediately before a holiday? That way we’d at least get some time to process. But no, I’d either have to go and face the assholes who would be just so smug that their garbage man won that they’d be no stopping them, or not go and show them how much they scared me. I decided to go with the first. So I washed, performed the most useless-feeling [morning prayers] of my life, and then got dressed.
“Are you sure you want to wear that?” Dad asked, once I’d come out of my room, referring to my hijab. Another new thing. “It might be safer not to, with everything that’s happened.”
I have to admit I had thought the same thing, as I’d wrapped it around my head. Invisibility had grown increasingly tempting as the semester had gone on—just how good would it be to just walk around and not worry about what people thought, and without having to make constant split-decision judgments about whether a glare belonged to someone who would just pass me by, or to someone who thought of me as something wrong with the world for him or her to “fix”. And it wouldn’t even be haram—we were supposed to be believers, not martyrs: not wearing a hijab for one’s safety might not be ideal, but it was acceptable.
At the same time, it was school. It’s not like the people there hadn’t seen me wear it every damn day of the year, or didn’t know precisely what I believed. Wearing my hijab might provoke assholes to do things they wouldn’t have done before, but it would definitively tell them that they’d gotten to me. Perhaps Pari was getting to me; hijab as resistance also had its appeal.
“Yeah, I am.” As badass speeches went, it was barely one. Still, saying it actually made me feel slightly better. “It’ll be fine.” How was I the one being reassuring today?
“Come over here and give me a hug,” dad asked. His embraces had never been terribly strong, but there was something about this one; as if it were the last one. “I’m so sorry we couldn’t give you the world you deserved.”
I drove to Pari’s place to pick her up. She opened the door, looking like death in clothes she appeared to have picked out at random, including a hijab which horribly clashed with everything, and which I just knew she hadn’t hesitated to put on. She’d spent the night with Alex and his dads, she explained, and as things went wrong they’d broken out the rum. The only reason she wasn’t currently trying to burn the world into a more useful ash form was that she got nauseous whenever she moved too quickly (Alex had eventually driven her home). “How are you and the parents?” she asked.
“Apocalyptic. Your mom?”
“I don’t know,” she said, with no particular concern. “She left before I woke up. Left a note that just said ‘out’. It might be nothing, or it might be everything—I guess I’ll know later.” I could never get used to how she could just say things like that—it seemed unbelievable, how much had to have happened, to make her that numb, and if it truly helped.
We rode in silence to school. Pari had reclined her seat to try to keep her stomach settled, and held her eyes closed. I was too busy thinking the same things I’d been thinking on the way to her house, and while getting dressed, and during [morning prayer]. I’d always known people could hate, and had seen firsthand some of the forms that hate could take and what people drunk on it could do. Until today, though, I couldn’t understand just how much of it there could be, or the possibility that, in the end, the people who hated could outnumber the people who didn’t. And now they’d won, completely and utterly, to such a degree that I couldn’t even imagine a best-case scenario. Last few years had been flooded with news about queer people being killed, and violence against Muslims, and police killing people and mass shootings every month, and that had all been with Obama in charge. Just could it not get a hundred times worse under someone who stood for the opposite of what he believed in?
“It’s going to be bad, isn’t it?” Pari asked. Perhaps it was the hangover, but there didn’t seem to be a trace of excitement in her—Pari, who fought and argued because she loved fighting, and who wore a hijab not because she believed in it, but because it was a way to say “fuck you” to the haters. Somehow, it was the scariest thing I’d heard all morning.
So yeah, very much a quick, unedited, first draft, but it helped me, at least.