Words by Somi Jun, Hanna Hall, Amelia Anthony, & Alexandra Reinecke
When I was in first grade, I thought history was over. I was a child in 2003 and had burned through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first book I really read to myself. I was decades removed from the destructive power of politics that had defined the 20th century. Those events called the World Wars and the Great Depression and the Cold War and even 9/11 had no place in my conscious memory. The Iraq War started, but I had no idea where Iraq was on a map. The midnight arguments between my parents sprung from the results of the Great Recession, but I had no way to make that connection for myself. I remember seeing gas prices rise. I remember my mother pulling me aside to tell me that her in-laws, my father’s side of the family, were money-hungry snakes. I remember making jokes with other children about George W. Bush, but not recognizing his face on magazine covers. I knew to say with my words “history is important, because…” But history, historical events, were completely insulated from my reality.
I turned 18 this past June. I did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, but I would have voted for Hillary Clinton. I would have cast my first ever ballot for her, that complicated woman who took a convoluted, uphill path to presidential candidacy; by the end, I think both she and I were surprised at the amount of enemies she had amassed. But the truth is, I did not register for an absentee ballot. On November 8 at 9pm, I was in class at when the New York Times started publishing comments about the likelihood of a Trump presidency. At 11pm, I was sitting on the floor of my dorm room, trying not to vomit, with my phone buried in the debris of my desk, so I would stop checking the news. Other of-age children came over with curt words, red eyes, and tequila at 11:30pm. I was drunk at 12am and in the haze of sleep deprivation and alcohol, I stopped speaking. I was trying to put it into words, to pinpoint the fleeting bursts of nausea. Again and again, I opened my mouth, then stopped. What did it mean for this man, just a man, to become president of the United States. And we, collectively, tried to put it into words. Again and again. We gave up, curled around each other and talked about our families instead. We were fearful and mean, made violent jokes and meant them, we were loud and then, as people trickled out of our room, very quiet. It was very dark. In hushed tones, I talked about my mother. I fell asleep at 5:30am. And in the morning, it was blurry and bright as I woke up early to do something I saw as an inescapable yet viscerally pointless duty: homework.
I don’t know what November 8 will mean in the years to come. But I think it is a day I can claim. I am child and adult, lost but no more lost than my elders. This is my historical moment, my patrimony and that of my peers. We have no choice in this matter: this is the reality we live in now.
What follows is a collection of children-adults reflecting on how November 8 looked, sounded, felt. This is the world we live in; this is a brief preview of what that is like/will be like.
SOME COLLEGE FIRST-YEARS, 24 hours during/after Nov 8 –
after the election…
a lot of scary things are happening
each year, each day, more to worry about
an earthquake in nepal, a tsunami near tokyo,
charlie hebdo, bataclan, things that used to be
iconic are now names to memorialize terror.
climate change is happening and we’re not doing
anything about it. people are dying.
children starving. isis is terrorizing and no-one
even knows what isis is. our politicians
speak in fists and invisible-visible punches
and we are taken hold of by a fury that we didn’t know
existed. and now this. trump, elected.
as leader of the free world, leader of america,
the face for all of our beautiful forgotten faces.
now this. i didn’t know i loved hillary till it
was too late. didn’t know what it truly meant
to break the glass ceiling. didn’t know what it meant
to feel scared, even though me of all people,
i know i don’t have to worry. or do i? i feel
terror anyway. this huge chasm of i don’t know.
a future. i don’t see any way to rewrite
this story. to write us out of this twist. where
does the narrative go next? how does it continue? where
do we go from here? rage rage.
it’s not to abolish our system. it’s not the end
of our world. or is it? where to next? where
does history pick up? what
will historians say as they
analyze us, tiny like ants or crawling votes, and then,
when&where will historians be?
Amelia Anthony, Nov 9 at 8:30 am:
Today is the 5 year anniversary of my first period.
I have little solace in my life right now. I feel as if I am anxiously waiting for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, for Planned Parenthood to be defunded, for the Marriage Equality Act to dissipate, for stop and frisk to be implemented. I am heartbroken, I sat looking through my Facebook feed until 1 last night sucking up the last hopes from the electoral college. I wish I could have voted so fucking hard. Being underaged in this election was like being slowly suffocated by white men. I cried in every class today. I knew I should have advocated more for Hillary more for the woman, more for the women who deserved it.
When my mother rationalized the election to me she said: you can lose a tennis match when you have more points and that she was sorry. I was sorry, too, but if we are sorry, my mother and my history teacher and the rest of rationally-thinking America, where is the blame?
I think our president-elect is the tennis racket left behind on the court which no one wants to claim. At UC Berkley they are chanting “He’s not ours.” It all sounds very childish, because of course he must be ours, but it is also brave. It must be said.
Someone posted a food video and I thought ‘I’m glad you’re preoccupied with pumpkin ravioli when our president elect is a sexist’ I thought of how Nahid, at writing camp, had pushed my hand away when I tried to show him how to use the printer, how he’d said he wouldn’t let a white woman control him (whatever that meant then) but how it wasn’t funny now, because know we understand that there are people in America we don’t understand.
When I wore black for six days my equestrian boots were the allowed exception (because they meant business, or represented some brave and academically-inclined illusion, jodhpurs folded across a common room couch, Princeton in the cold) and on Sunday I hadn’t eaten since Friday, like the time at camp when we were Snicker’s bar anorexics but this time for a cause. I couldn’t teach my mouth to swallow.
I bought two nice rectangles of milk chocolate toffee for my favorite teacher. I bought them, for an overpriced sum, in the Ferry Building terminal in San Francisco, which is a beautiful building and a beautiful place. I bought the toffee in a little plastic bag and afterward my friend and I ate this ice cream flavored ‘Secret Breakfast’ which means bourbon mixed with cornflakes and it made us feel somewhat better.
We went to an art museum for consolation or distraction, where I looked at people walking in the black mirrors of silver-gelatin prints of Japan, and rather than be calmed, as we had intended, we were greeted with a riotous cheer over an election-protest when we were in the Alexander Calder motion lab, which was tilted on the wall with all lowercase, and was in red and blue, and which otherwise would have been tranquil.
My friend wrote an article for the Yale Daily News which should matter to me but nothing matters, even the important things don’t touch the fringe of the nightmare. Even the important things sound to me like words translated half-muffled, how my sister’s voice used to sound to me when we were young, when we used to trap each other under the thick maroon wool of a Pottery Barn or Pendleton blanket.
Everything seems the contents of those classroom dioramas we used to make when we used to do stupid things like organize fake expeditions to Antarctica or learn about brown bears or when we made butter by vigorously shaking a marble around a jar. When I was driving home today I thought that about the hill near my house in the half-dark, that it was like a hill from one of those things you make in a shoe box and that I love someone who doesn’t love me back and that I want things which are given out in only small ratios but that even those things, so near to me, feel like emotions which don’t belong to me, like the emotions of a character I’ve identified with in a movie.
I keep thinking of this Hemingway quote: “The war seemed as far away as the football games of someone else’s college.” I keep thinking the regular course of my life seems similarly distant.
I tried to write a good article at journalism about how something like the election results functions by the same logic as do their means of killing lobsters for lobster rolls in Maine. That you start with the heat off and you turn it up so slowly that the lobsters don’t know they are dying, and then they die, and you derive pleasure from sinking your teeth into their buttery flesh, you derive pleasure from the brick colored hue of their claws, refuse on your plate, and you think yourself important for eating a pseudo-delicacy, for having old family friends with a monstrosity of a house built into a rock wall on white stilts, with a deck and flat wide stairs leading down to the water.
There is an unopened bottle of champagne in our fridge.