Every day in middle school when I first got into a classroom, I would map out the exits and look for potential cover/safe spots.
I wanted to be prepared for anything. Fires. Natural disasters. Toxic spills. Chernobyl.
But mostly: other students. You know, ones with guns.
In my middle school, there were three or four students that I could recall who were clear candidates for a future school shooting—people who were emotionally abused by other students, seemed to have a rough home life and generally distant from their teachers and other kids around the school.
People who floated around in obscurity, their thoughts clouded by darkness and listlessness and all of that other shit that torments insecure young kids in school.
One time I was visiting one of my friend’s houses, a friend who I’d become close with but was somebody who was generally outside of my normal friend circle, when he pulled out one of his dad’s unloaded guns to give me a sense of the weight, the reloading mechanism and a feel for the weight of a gun in my hand.
To show me what power looked like.
It was scary. I remember feeling very tense, even though I trusted my friend and even though I trusted his dad, but it still felt uneasy. Like shoplifting from the dollar store—sure, it’s not expensive, but it still feels a little dirty and wrong.
Because I knew what guns could be used for, and I was raised as a liberal hippie and totally distanced from that shit and I didn’t really understand just how destructive those things could ultimately be.
I wasn’t friends with that kid for much longer—not because of the gun thing, it just wasn’t a friendship that was going to sustain itself for too long. We were too different.
He said his dad had a number of other guns—automatic, gas-powered, high-powered rifles, all of that. It made me uncomfortable, but I didn’t think much about it beyond that. He wasn’t a weirdo. He was a pretty normal kid.
And a part of me was constantly rationalizing that: He was too attached to reality and his social circles to make those same rash decisions that some folks did in towns in Colorado or Connecticut or North Carolina, but who really knows?
I wasn’t good at finding out about what was really going on in someone’s head in middle school; I just kinda coasted by and crossed my fingers that I didn’t get hurt.
And after a while, I became numb to that sensation. To that fear, because I had finally experienced it first-hand and though it seemed terrifying and palpable, I didn’t really care to worry about it anymore.
I started not to feel anything.
Obama’s Good Story Started With Defeat
Any good story starts with defeat. With heartbreak. With total disaster.
Obama’s political career started with essentially that—in an interview with Humans of New York, he recalls the time in which he felt the most broken:
I first ran for Congress in 1999, and I got beat. I just got whooped. I had been in the state legislature for a long time, I was in the minority party, I wasn’t getting a lot done, and I was away from my family and putting a lot of strain on Michelle. Then for me to run and lose that bad, I was thinking maybe this isn’t what I was cut out to do. I was forty years old, and I’d invested a lot of time and effort into something that didn’t seem to be working.
That’s heartbreaking, but it makes for a good story because he recovered. Like any big-time athlete. Like Colonel Sanders did after nobody wanted to buy his stupid (read: delicious) recipe.
For someone that’s become so accustomed to winning—two presidential elections, Senate positions, all of the basketball games, etc.—Obama, like few other presidents before him, is surprisingly human, and that’s part of his charm and his shtick, really.
But I’d like to believe it’s not a big lie, like that George Bush moment from so long ago.
That it’s not all bullshit, and just a good story about a good guy doing good things.
A good story about a human person.
And I have plenty of reason to believe it’s true, too.
Obama’s Speech After Sandy Hook
The other week while I was on the toilet, I decided to hop on YouTube to check out Obama’s speech following the Sandy Hook shooting, because I knew it was a seminal moment in his presidency and I wanted to see something sentimental because I’m a little girl and I’m not ashamed of that.
I had seen it a while ago, but I forgot what he said and how it was delivered and whether or not he sounded like the robot shouting Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! as he delivered the speech. I imagined that most any president would. Like Adam Silver dropping the ban-hammer on Donald Sterling following the disgusting remarks that the fat, delusional, and sad old guy made to his girlfriend at the time.
(But George W. was cool because he didn’t sound like that at all. He just kinda laughed at his own jokes and looked around a lot and was always like terrorists, those guys can run, but they can’t hide, you know? Heh. I kinda miss that.)
I get weirdly emotional about a lot of things—inspirational speeches, puppies, Aaron Swartz documentaries—but presidential speeches are generally not among those things. State of the Union addresses make me want to gouge my eyes out and I don’t generally care enough about politics because I’m a spoiled millennial brat who deserves to drown in a puddle of his own urine because I contribute nothing to the political climate of the universe.
But what hit me the hardest—as I was sitting there on the toilet, holding my dumb little phone in my hand and pretending to feel productive—was the complete silence that washes over Obama as he delivers the line, “The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” and then pauses to catch himself, like somebody just rammed a lead pipe into his gut.
Well, not silence, really. More like a deep sigh. A holy shit moment. A that could have been my kid, moment. A did I really just fucking say that? kinda moment. You could almost picture him chain-smoking a pack of cigarettes before that speech, asking himself how he’ll keep his shit together in front of millions and if he really has to go up there and talk about this. Can it just wait?
And it’s hard to watch.
There he is: a bastion of hope and leadership for millions of Americans (and hate and frustration and DON’T YOU DARE TRY TO TAKE MY GUNS! for millions more) who we expect to be fearlessly leading the charge, crumbling before your eyes. And I’m watching this on my dumb fucking phone in the bathroom and I feel the same way, too.
Goddamn, it’s tough to watch.
It’s haunting. And it’s real. And it made me cry like a dumb, blubbering fat baby on a toilet. More than two years after the fact.
Because as good as presidents have become at turning themselves into stiff, walking boners without emotions, I’ve almost never felt that way about Obama. Even when he seems to fuck up or say the wrong thing.
He’s always kinda felt like my dude who just so happens to run the country. (And again, maybe that’s part of the big con, but until it unravels in a book that details his presidency entitled Inside Obama’s Big Lie, I’ll choose to accept it.)
Later that day, as my buddies and I were heading from one beautiful part of Colorado to another discussing some real shit in our lives, I decided that they needed to hear it again. Why? they asked and I didn’t respond, I just played it.
I wanted them to feel how I felt that morning.
So we listened to it. It was a strange moment. You’re used to talking over the radio to one another. Not listening in silence to a speech from your head of state from a few years ago.
And then one of my friends spoke up from the silence. He was heartbroken. He was thinking of his nephew—what if that was my nephew? It gave him chills. He cried, too.
See? I wasn’t the only person who felt that way, either.
Why I Want to Gay-Marry Barack Obama
I would label myself as someone who is generally politically disinclined, so I won’t prattle on about why Obama is winning or what anything that’s occurred recently means for his presidency in the canons of American history. (And though I have opinions about gay marriage and guns and birth control and Planned Parenthood and all that stuff, this one isn’t really about me.)
The reason I really dig Obama and what he’s done is simply due to the way he’s made me feel.
Between big, catastrophic events such as Sandy Hook and Charleston, and smaller, but still essential events such as dropping Osama bin Laden and reforming the US auto industry, he’s generally made me feel like we’re doing the right thing. Like, though we might not be going in exactly the right direction, at least we’re going somewhere, you know?
Like I didn’t fuck up catastrophically for voting for him.
And it’s made me feel really gay about America (in a good way, you know).
Because he’s made me finally feel something—about my country, about key issues that have evolved and as quickly evaporated during my lifetime.
About things with good stories. About resilience, and pushing through crap and not letting critics stamp you out and turn you into a huge wimp.
And I don’t care what you call him or think of him—a pussy for getting slapped around by Congress, not decisive enough on issues of gun control, a warmonger, an Uncle Tom, anti-American, Marxist, a gangster, whatever.
At least he makes you feel something, right?