#37: In Ohio, part one

I would imagine my reaction mirrored those of numerous Democrat voters: sitting somewhere, television blaring with updates, while staring at my phone and sending out texts asking if anything happening was real. I would have expected everything to feel heavy, but, instead, I floated, the world light and odd, filled with the belief that if I went to bed, none of this would be there in the morning. Pillows and blankets would make things easier, make things simpler. Instead, this: I suppose I can’t be surprised, can I, or I mean, I can be surprised that a dude who hosted a reality tv show is going to be president, shit, Gillian is pregnant, we are going to have a kid who will be born with a President Trump, an orange man who doesn’t bother to hide his racism, we are never going to have health insurance again, am I overreacting, is it possible to overreact to this, how bad could it be, shit, it’s going to be horrible, the man is a moron who can’t complete a sentence when speaking, there’s no way this won’t be a disaster, wait, maybe our day to day lives won’t change, but, shit, the GOP will win its war on women and the poor and healthcare and we are going to fucking burn the planet, that has to be an overreaction, right, well, that does appear to be their policy goals, why do people vote against their interests, why am I still awake, how do I explain to my future kid that lying is wrong when you can become president while blatantly doing it, fuck, I mean, Jesus Christ the dude is on tape admitting to groping women and this is somehow okay because tax cuts, he called an entire group of people rapists and he fucking assaults women and brags about it, and it’s okay because providing healthcare is antithetical to patriotism or some bullshit, and my kid will be four before this will end and I’m going to explain that this isn’t okay but millions of people thought other wise?, fuck, tomorrow at work is going to be the worst.

This went on loop, for hours, days?, forever? The exaggeration can never end. Since the election there is no space to breathe as Trump and his administration lurch from one mistake to another, while his most ardent supporters batten down the hatches, knowing the attacks from those like me will never stop. A breath, a moment of reflection is a moment where something could be missed. This presidency demands two choices: apathy or constant vigilance; we are all Mad-Eye Moodys, eyes rotating in our heads as we look from tweet to headline to newscaster to Facebook post. It’s as though the political day-to-day has elected to become status updates personified, constantly posting so as not to lose followers even though none of us can actually follow the deluge. And, if you can’t follow, if you can’t stay up to date, if there are no pics to see, did it happen?

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I live in a small college town with an entrenched division between “townies” and “liberal academics.” I attended, in an effort to be open-minded, a Tea Party gathering at a local restaurant a few years ago where a middle-aged woman kindly told my wife, an employee at the college, that she feared the school because it was evil and had turned away from the Lord. Drive around town and you will see numerous Stars and Bars flags hanging from porches and as vehicle decals and on shirts and, once, if you’re lucky, you can see the truck that planted both the American and Confederate flags in its truck bed, apparently unaware that such dueling flags did not imply patriotism, but, instead, were flags that symbolized groups that fought each other. We are nowhere near the South, the Mason-Dixon Line, or any other type of Southern heritage locale. We are, I suppose, on the southern end of what is known as Northeast Ohio, so maybe I’m just missing the particular semantics necessary to understand the Southern pride coursing through the area.

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The day after the election, I sent my wife and her co-workers flowers with a note that was based on Hamilton lyrics. The flower shop screwed up the note.

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My co-worker and I sat in stunned silence for most of the morning, neither one wanting to ask what happened but grateful that the other wasn’t a Trump voter. Our boss showed up later in the morning and laughed at us, told us the office felt like a funeral. We ended up eating so much fast food that we felt sick; we tried to laugh about eating ourselves stupid, laugh about how American this response to defeat was, but the laughter was short lived, shriveled by the reality of what happened and the people who came to the office celebrating the election of a man whose most praised qualification for being president was his lack of qualifications.

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My son was born March 22. My wife and I had been married for over five years before we decided to have a child. It had not been something we were going to do. I don’t know if there were specific reasons, although whenever people asked us when we were going to have kids, I felt compelled to tell them I didn’t have time in my ISIS recruiting schedule or that I believed it was my duty to depopulate the Earth. The latter worked better than I would have imagined as a number of people in my orbit had already declared me a serial killer, which, obviously, made me a hit in the office. I should probably remember this better, but I don’t even know what changed for us. I know we talked about it; each time it became a little more serious and at some point we decided we wanted to have a kid.

Gillian ended up having to take fertility drugs. I became convinced we would end up with a minimum of triplets because two people who weren’t sure they wanted to have kids and then change their mind would end up with triplets. I pictured a large conversion van, hopefully painted with flames and dragons, and some kind of triple bunk bed contraption in the bedroom where dangerous games of Top Bunk Ruler were played.

After the allotted time with the drugs, Gillian still wasn’t pregnant. We discussed next steps. We wondered what was the best decision. I stopped painting our future conversion van. I was working out in the morning, lifting the weights an Israeli man, butchering the English language, told me to lift. Gillian called out for me in a way that made me think one of the dogs died. Instead, she came bounding down the stairs with a pregnancy test and handed me the pee stick. It showed positive. Gillian proceeded to piss on a pregnancy stick for days after, worried it wasn’t real.

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It makes no sense to me, the dedication people in my area have to the Stars and Bars. I wonder about raising a child in such a conservative area, even if I don’t include the racism. I wonder about how to answer his questions regarding why people driving through campus yell at students. I wonder about explaining why someone would sit in campus in a Donald Trump shirt and tell international students it’s time for them to go back where they’re from. I wonder how to allow him to develop his own ideas when I so strongly oppose almost the entire GOP agenda. I wonder if he will be ostracized from other kids his age whose parents vote opposite of me. I wonder if it’s appropriate to run away somewhere blue or at least bluer, or if that deprives him of real world experience. I wonder how much “real world” is actually part of the conservative experience, where science is political, news is fake, and facts aren’t as important as being told what you want to hear. I wonder if such exposure helps him grow; I wonder how I explain to him that the place his mom works is not some vile den of evil as many people in town believe, but is a place of higher education where diversity gives people a chance to explore something outside of themselves. Is it wrong to say that? Is it wrong to demand he believe that? I wonder what it will mean to tell him those flags have nothing to do with heritage and exist because people want to proclaim their superiority to people who don’t look like him. I wonder what happens when someone drops the N-bomb in front of him for the first time. I’m equipped to fire hostility at such people, not how to break down the world of racism and how he, no matter how he views it, benefits from being white and male. I wonder how to make him better than me.

In the time between the election and Ronan’s birth, Gillian and I discussed leaving the country approximately 932 times. I have longed harbored the desire to leave the U.S., primarily driven by a wanderlust and fascination with other places. We wondered how to pay for anything if health care collapsed or if our child had a life-threatening condition; what if he has a life-long health concern and lifetime caps are reinstated? Isn’t staying detrimental to his existence? It’s an impossible quandary: guessing at how events will occur and attempting to preemptively avoid them, all the while knowing your decision process is heavily shaded by panic—panic over what may or may not come to be. It’s much easier to tell yourself the decision to leave is based on “seeing the world” or “providing new experiences” or “new age hippie parents seek semblance of diversity,” than it is to admit you have no idea how to address the possibility that you cannot control any of these external forces and just up and going works best if you have no actual attachments or concern for money, work, or things like a non-leaking roof over your head.

It’s a cliché, the despondent liberals looking to run away to some socialist utopia, one I’m keenly aware of anytime we have this discussion. People ask us why we wouldn’t stay and fight for change. People say there’s nothing good about running away. Allow me please, dear Reader, a bit of a mental breakdown re: this standard accusation about people like me who consider the notion of leaving:

I don’t feel I owe much explanation to anyone regarding this other than I get to determine the importance of what type of culture my son is exposed to as he grows up; however, that being said, in what way am I running away; in what way can I change anything; in what way is fearing the very likely dismantling of health care so rich people can be richer and thus my child could potentially die running away; in what way does me looking around and realizing that it doesn’t matter what party I vote for, I’m voting for people who believe rich people are better mean I am avoiding the fight for change; what is the appropriate approach to the apathy set in by a work pathos that means I get paid as little as possible so that someone else gets the rewards in their IRA; how shall I look my son in the eye and tell him women matter when a significant portion of our population does not believe that to be true; who should I turn to when he looks at me at 4 years old and wants to know why the President bragged about grabbing women; in what way does staying make his life better, safer, less of a permanent existential crisis born out of a wholly competitive cultural ethos between what his parents believe and what his country actually does; in what way do I owe a goddamn thing to this country that supersedes what I owe him as a parent; this isn’t anti-vaxxer, parents should get to make decisions, fake science bullshit; this is, frankly, a scientific and objective look at the United States current culture and realizing it does not support education, arts, science, creative thinking, diversity, or support for those with less and not wanting my son to grow up believing such behavior is normal; to move isn’t running away, it isn’t a failure to stay and fight and yell for change; to move is to change, to move is fighting; it’s fighting for my son to reach a more complete self-actualization that this country will inevitably fail to give him and if after time away he can come back more aware, that means it will be that much easier to recognize the fallacies of our American culture that need changed; this isn’t fear, this is fucking protection and opportunity

We probably aren’t moving. Moving is complicated enough; going international feels impossible and isolating. I’m going to have to face my fears and attempt to raise my son here. At least until California becomes its own country.

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When I moved to Ohio in my mid-twenties, I heard a lot about how important it is to presidential races. A swing state that every successful candidate must win. What people don’t say about swing states is, a state is only a swing state if it’s city population and rural population balance each other out. Ohio is Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton (maybe Toledo) versus everyone else. Whoever gets enough turnout swings the state. Wooster is this on a micro level: the college versus the town, and the college faction almost never wins. We are a red town in a red county, and yet, the winners are always the victims of the scheming liberal elites on campus. I don’t understand the constant feeling of victimization, the notion that as the world changes that means their own world shrinks instead of expands. I cannot grasp the mindset of the dude who drove by my wife and I as we walked our dogs and screamed, “I’m a real man who wouldn’t make you walk the dogs;” I don’t know how to respond to retired people who tell me I’m a fool for voting Democrat because they’re heathens who want communism while they themselves collect Social Security and have their insurance covered by Medicare.

What I fear is my son watching me as I grow more and more frustrated and angry and learning to view anger as an appropriate response. What I fear is living in a small town where I heard a woman tell the other woman she was eating lunch with, “I earned my disability checks. But those people on welfare are cheaters. And I know the world is ending. There are signs.” How does one even have a rational discussion when the other person believes the apocalypse is about to occur; how do you teach your child to investigate opposing view points when those views are often based on nothing but wish and shit? How unfair is it for me to so easily dismiss her opinion of the end of the world? It is possible, to whatever degree, a meteor hits us or North Korea and Trump decide to nuke each other or the permafrost thaws and the Plague comes back or aliens show up with the decision to reset civilization or, you know, earthquakes could sink the West Coast and super volcanoes could explode, blanketing the sky and ending life as we know. I mean, it could happen. Maybe I should believe her. Or maybe she’s using her fatalism as an excuse to hate the Other.

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The very idea that Donald Trump, professional fire-er, is my president feels incomprehensible, a kind of non-real reality wherein I discover this has been a strange dream as I wake up on November 9 to discover all is right with the world as Republicans scream BENGHAZIMAILS until they’re voiceless and our son has yet to be born and my wife and I complain that Hilary is too damn centrist. The idea that the county we live is specifically being targeted for KKK recruitment makes all of this too real—flyers for the East Coast Knights of the Invisible Empire have been showered around town in sandwich baggies filled with candy because if you’re going to recruit, you should recruit as young as possible; Donald Trump, reality tv personality, is President, he’s given voice to white supremacists, and those voices are fixated on the county I am raising my son because they know it is, in general, sympathetic to their cause. I have nothing to wake up from; I have only this reality to wake up to, and I have to decide how to confront it.

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Ronan was born via emergency C-section. Gillian and I had made multiple trips to the hospital because his movement pattern had greatly decreased. As they monitored him and her, I was told to try to sleep on the couch in the room. At some point in the morning, around 7am I think, I was awoken by a lot of people moving around our room, handed one of those hospital gown/biohazard suits, told to get in it and follow the nurse. I had no idea what the hell was happening; I wasn’t sure if Gillian was okay; for about 5 minutes I didn’t even know where I was and why the suit wouldn’t go over my shoes. I was clearly prepared to become a father.

I was told often that life would never be the same after having a child, that becoming a parent acts as a forced transition into a different level of adulthood as you become responsible for the life of a tiny human. What nobody will or can tell you is how you will respond to this transition, if you will embrace it, shrink from it, both depending on the moment; nobody can provide a blueprint for how to respond to paralyzingly fear that something terrible will happen and it will be your fault. This is not a failure of other people to prepare me; it is an impossibility for others to know how you will react in any given situation, and heighten that situation with the concerns of a new parent, and all and any reactions to any situation feel plausible. Will I yell torturously at a batteries for dying at an inconvenient time in the white noise machine? Will I laugh at being shit on? Will I stare despondently at the number of baby clothes that need washed? Most likely; and people will tell you that is normal, but what if you don’t laugh at being shit on and instead get angry? What if you laugh at the laundry and pretend it doesn’t exist? What if your kid hates white noise? What if you always fail to react appropriately and your kid is scarred by your inability to respond the correct way to any situation? What if your 5 month old who you assume doesn’t really understand your words actually does and comprehends you loudly professing pure hatred for people who voted for Trump? What if he wonders about making the “wrong” choice because he fears his father will be angry about it and as such, I have already stunted his ability to develop fully as a human being?

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Hate is an easy word to sling around, but a hard word to truly mean. I may say I hate bananas, but I have no emotional weight behind that statement and nor do I wish to eradicate them from existence. I don’t think I hate all Trump voters, not in the way that white supremacists hate minorities. I tried for a few months after the election to understand: upper middle class people wanting tax cuts; business people wanting tax cuts; religious people wanting Roe v. Wade overturned; unemployed wanting to believe jobs could come back. Yet, to me, none of those things outweigh overt racism in importance, and Trump has dogwhistled himself into the KKK’s favor, and that isn’t a new development post-election. If you cared about one of those issues and ignored Trump’s actual language, then you chose those things over goodwill to your fellow humans. You believed a tax cut was more important than treating people with respect and you did so with clear vision because Trump was, and is, never subtle. I will never respect a racist, but they knew what they wanted and they didn’t hide behind policy ideals.

I don’t want to teach my son hate. And hating a person based on who they voted for is an absurd stance to take. But I struggle with delineating between the voter and the vote. I am friends with people who voted for Trump, and some of them have attempted to have an actual dialogue with me about politics. They mostly end with some version of, “we are never going to agree, are we?” But, the struggle for me, I realize, is saying I have Trump voters as friends is basically like the white nationalist saying he has a black friend. I know a few and like them as people, but as a voting bloc, they congeal into a stereotype of Angry White Nationalist against whom I feel compelled to rail about their lack of awareness and stupidity in voting against their own interests. And I can only fathom this bloc in its entirety as one who voted because of racism. And anyone who says they they weren’t motivated by racism had to ignore the racism to get to their voting choice. And it is a circle of thought that I work around and around as I try to separate individual choice with voting bloc stereotype with foolish / blatant plausible deniability by people who I believe should have known better.

Am I then complicit in the proliferation of hate and am I incapable of teaching my son how to handle a variety of opposing view points? What would it mean to hand this down? Or what if I end up in a Family Ties situation, with my son going full Alex P. Keaton, Ronald Reagan worshipper as a rebellion against his hippie parents? Will I be capable of understanding him? Why is this essay 50% questions? And what is the definition of success in all of this?

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Being a new parent and being a citizen during the reign of Trump have startling similarities: I am at all times unsure of what is going to happen next; I am apprehensive and anxious about the future, wanting it to arrive soon yet fearful about what it means to have the days unfold—is he healthy? Is he happy? Will he learn to undo his diaper and smear shit on the wall? Will he nuke North Korea? Will he nuke the Middle East? It’s impossible to predict reactions. I don’t know what sounds / eventual words/ emotions will be emitted from one moment to the next. They both feel placated by immediate gratification of their desires; they both throw tantrums when said desires go unfulfilled. I am, but I am not, calling Trump a baby; I am, instead, sitting in wonder at how these stresses build on top of each other, growing into a cohesive monster of questions and fears and wonder, in its most primal sense. I expected to be stressed out about how my son sleeps; I did not expect to be stressed out about whether or not World War 3 will commence because the president is a poor sleeper addicted to Twitter. Least of all, I did not expect to be stressed about how to raise a child in an environment that will both support him for being white and male, while expose him to the bigotry that has now been given a presidential platform. While, in generality, we all know we don’t know what will happen tomorrow, that feeling heightens dramatically as a new parent and as a US citizen under Trump and as an angry person trying to develop better ways to express that emotion. Trump leads to anger leads to concerns about expression leads to questions about being a father leads to frustration with blame placed entirely on Trump / GOP and around we go, and the thought process makes me question what I should consider important enough to care about: Trump? Racism? Health care? Moving? Work? Being a dad? Opposing view points? Paul Ryan’s evilness? Newt Gingrich being given a prominent platform to spew bullshit?

In its simplest form, my feelings are this: I believe the people who live around me and who have turned the county and the state red are fools. But being called a fool does not build bridges. And I don’t know how my to teach my son construction. So I worry. And I watch. And I spend as much time as I can making him laugh now because I know we don’t fit in here, even though this is home. And having a home is the reason this fight exists in the first place: who gets to call this country home and who gets to decide that answer. And it doesn’t matter if we leave—this town, this state, this country—we as parents will always confront these issues in some form; I just never imagined them compounding in such a way, with enlightenment more a war than a state of mind; I never imagined all of these things happening at once; and, mostly, I never imagined bringing home a new born baby and realizing that all we can build is a foundation and hope each day that it stays supportive.

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