I woke up to a fiendish hangover, one I had not experienced in over three months since I had joined the campaign. I found myself squished between two of my work colleagues in an unfamiliar motel suite I had apparently paid for somewhere in southeastern Wisconsin. (Though, it may have been Illinois).
It was nearly noon and all of our phones were flooded with messages- from friends, family, acquaintances from high school.
“Are you okay?”
“I can’t believe it.”
We hid the phones beneath our pillows, attempting to squeeze in a few more miniscule minutes of sleep; broken by trips to the bathroom- puking away.
It was November 9th and we had lost. The state we were supposed to secure had gone red, our champion was defeated. This world was not the one we knew 24 hours ago.
“We should get something to something to eat,” one of them said. “I think we’re all going to someone’s house.” We picked up our heavy bodies, and went to check out, blankets still draped over us.
The house we arrived to had a nervous, sepulchral air. It was just about eight of us- the strongest, funniest people I had ever come to know- all hugging, afraid to ask each other if we were okay. We were assured breakfast was being made and were given drinks promptly. We had no tears left, there was only silence.
I had come to find it is a misconception that Wisconsin is unbearably cold in November. That day in particular was sunny, devoid of wind-chill. We day we sat outside. Cigarette butts coated the patio. It was like watching ourselves in a scene from a movie. It should’ve been raining. It would’ve been more apt.
We all sat around and put a mandatory conference call on speaker. Nothing felt mandatory anymore, but we feigned listening. It was a respect thing. The call detailed office clean ups and health insurance. I remember thinking the business of death is appallingly unsentimental. November 9th was going to go on, just as every other day had gone on before it. I chugged some of my Bloody Mary and went to get a stick of beef jerky from the kitchen.
“The grocery store was weird this morning,” our gracious host informed me, grabbing ice from the fridge. “It looked like everyone had been crying. No one looked each other in the eye.” I dumped another shot of vodka in my drink.
“I saw a kid and wanted to yell ‘I’m sorry we fucked up your future!’” She laughed. I had a hard time imagining it was happening to anyone but us. We, the organizers, who spent countless hours pestering people with phone calls, not sleeping because of the data that was not yet entered, and aggressively planning surrogate events.
“This could reverse all of our progress!” We would scream. “The fate of the world is on your shoulders! Do something!”
“You’re being dramatic,” they would tell us.
“I don’t like her very much.”
Or my favorite- “You have my vote, isn’t that enough?”
No, it was not.
The night before a few said this doesn’t negate the tremendous work we had done. If it wasn’t for us she would have lost Wisconsin by a significant margin. It was a kind but futile gesture. Every single one of us felt individually responsible. How many more phone calls could I have made? Who did I not ask hard enough? Why did I sleep eight hours that one day? It was right before Wisconsin got called that we shut off the television.
I returned to the hammock outside. Sounds of the wretched dehydration from last night sang through the garden. It was an unspoken rule that we would not yet have a post-mortem for we were all still in mourning. Guilt and grimness clouded out thoughts.
“You’ve been on the on a lot of campaigns, right?” I asked my boss. The alcohol was starting to hit my stomach and I (gratefully) was becoming tipsy.
“Does it always hurt so much?” I think I knew the answer but I wanted to hear it aloud. He shook around his mimosa.
“I’ve been on the losing side a lot, and it always hurts. But this one. This one hurt bad.”
We were divided, even within ourselves. Moments of great energy would arise, vowing to continue the fight but quietly to our selves we wondered if we had the strength to continue.
The conversation turned to the protests; how did we feel about them? It was “we” now. We had seen the worst of it together. A forged family. Some were fueled by rage and wanted to go on the front lines in Chicago. Others were indignant towards the protesters, believing they had not done their part. I was the latter.
I realize now one can’t invalidate another’s anger. They had the same feelings as us, even if I believe it was misplaced. Still I cannot help but feel a twinge of resentment when I read “Obama ‘12” or “Not My President” bumper stickers when they are sans “Hillary.” People should have graffitied cars with her name.
The food was finally served just after 3. I couldn’t eat much even though I had been complaining of hunger all day (funny how that works). But it was the first moment I thought I might be okay. We all sat at a dining room table, like the family we were, and played a game. It was loud and funny and beautiful.
Of course, we weren’t yet okay. The following days I would wake up and could only think about sleeping. Very often I would cry. A close friend asked me why I was not yet ‘over it’, and I could only manage an unadulterated scream. A month and some change later and I’m not sure I’m okay now. I’ve returned back home but every news story still spins me a little out of control. It seemed I would turn on my phone and some new disaster was readily available. “Trump Pick for Head of EPA Doesn’t Believe in Climate Change.” “Republicans Looking to Appeal ACA.” “Ohio Puts 20 Week Ban on Abortion.” I’m not always sad, quite often I’m bitter; most frequently though I’ll sink deeper into the familiar cushions of my couch. But I think that’s okay. Because what happened was not alright. And while many of my fellow organizers are justly listless and angry, I have this strange sort of hope. The fight will still be there, when I’m ready to return.