I am writing to you from the outpost on the ghost boundary between my old life, and the new. Between our old life and whatever life we are entering. It is cold here; small pellets of snow drive against the window and the lake is frozen, though not as much as usual, though the waves crash a few feet off shore instead of the customary fifty. It is colorless; the fields and the sky a long stretch of brownish grey and the trees are frayed nerves.
I come back and I drive over familiar country roads, run down the dune path to the Lake, watch wild turkeys and deer move about the dun-colored meadow. I could almost slip into my old life, but I cannot because I have a new life, a real life where fir and mountain and river and my husband and boys sleep beneath the roof, beneath the rain.
And to say this is a new world is to speak from enormous privilege. It is the world that has existed and which some of us have recently been plunged into.
It is the Midwest, so people say hello whenever I pass—on the trail, on the sidewalk, in the aisles of the grocery store. But it is also a place I feel profoundly scared; a place shot through with despair and anger and salt-streaked Trump/Pence signs still anchored firmly in lawns, Christmas lights still twinkling on the eaves.
I don’t know how to write anymore. For months, I’ve been angry, vehement, driven. And then, a weight fell. I cannot write. I cannot think. I am numb and I wake in the middle of the night in a sweat, in a panic. We are a world moving closer and closer to war, a nation abandoning democracy. I can barely look at the screen of my phone and can’t bear to look away. The world is burning. The world has always been burning.
A week ago, R. and the boys and I joined the Portland Women’s March. After a week of being trapped inside by a freak snowstorm, it rained. We walked twenty blocks from our old house in Ladd’s Addition, across the Hawthorne Bridge, and joined the marchers already underway. The boys were grumpy, then not. R and I both wept, held our boys’ hands tightly, relaxed for a few hours in the community of like-minded people.
The night before the protests were met with flashbang grenades. The bodies of white women (and the white men who marched with us on Saturday) are sacred ground for White Supremacy. Sacred vessels, anyway.
My ex-husband ends text exchanges—civil, friendly-ish ones where I am sharing videos of Jonah’s band concert and details about what time to pick him up at the airport—with MAGA!
R. was shocked that DT won. I wasn’t. Crazy always wins. This is what I have said about my ex, when his illogical attacks have gotten traction, and no matter of logic on my side could stop him. Crazy steamrolls sense. If you stick to an insane lie, and you have the power to maintain it, in this system you are unstoppable. Donald Trump is my ex husband empowered.
Another friend posted the interview with DT that ran recently on television, the myriad of people commenting how unhinged he sounded, how insane. He must be unwell, they said. He must have dementia.
But understand: DT is not an aberration. We have been living with him, people like him, for years. I have been on the receiving end of diatribes, broken logic like his. I have had my ex husband insist I was spying on him through my son’s iphone. That I should be barred by the court from ever writing again. That I hit him, that he never laid a hand on me, that he would come to my house and chop me into tiny bits with an ax, that he never said any of those things at all, that I was crazy, that it was his rights that were being hurt, that he was the victim, that I was his wife and it wasn’t rape, that—
My ex is a microcosm of White Supremacy Patriarchy. He is a reflection of the world we are all inhabiting, and have been. If you’re white and not a total fucking asshole, you’ve just woken up to the fact that we live in a dystopia that’s rapidly getting worse. If you are not white, you’ve been aware of this for a long time. My ex is poor, white and uneducated. He came from two parents who did everything in their power to raise their children poorly—he and his brother were passed back and forth between his parents until his father won custody in court, and sent the boys to live with their mother because he would no longer have to pay for them. He was never encouraged to go to college, to do anything but get high and drunk. I made the mistake, however, of feeling sorry for him twenty years ago. I was a white girl from the upper middle class suburbs of Chicago whose parents sent her out of state to college. And I was never allowed to stop paying for that. I learned while with him to keep that information from the people around me—never let them know I went to college, was a professor. Simply by saying those things I was accused of putting people down. I get it, poor white boys—you were raised in a White Supremancy Patriarchy and you are supposed to be Donald Trump, buy you’re not. And because being rich means being good, and being poor means being bad, you can’t admit that you’re poor and the system fucks you over too. Instead women are fucking you over. Black and brown people are fucking you over. You’ve bought the capitalist, hegemonist notion that this is a zero sum game and if someone else has something, it means you don’t get it because that’s how you think: this is mine and I’m not sharing. And no one is helping you out and you can’t see the privilege your skin and your penis give to you because in a WSP it is invisible; it is normal.
That when my ex was arrested for drunken driving for the 6th time, he was given probation—one weekend in KPEP. The Kalamazoo Probation Enhancement Program, according to the website, “KPEP began in the fall of 1980 to provide a live-in residence for those individuals who need more structure than regular probation provides, but where extended jail time is not judged necessary“. If he’d been rich and white, he would have been able to afford a lawyer and probably not gotten anything (as a friend of mine’s little sister did (white, blond, middle class)—she was arrested, drunk, for the nth time going 100 MPH on the freeway and had her license suspended. Her parents paid $50,000 for her to go to an alcohol treatment center.) If he’d been brown, he would have been in jail. That’s why the judge didn’t blink when he accused me of spying on him via his son’s phone. That’s why the police officer said to me, when I called after he’d threatened to kill me, that I could only hope he’d do something bad, that he’d actually really hurt me because otherwise the police couldn’t protect me. His word against mine, and clearly mine was worth nothing. MAGA! It’s your fault your son comes from a broken home, whore.
I have lived with that narcissism, with that wellspring of anger and a desire to crush everything in its path. I have had privilege that has helped me escape him, or somewhat escape him. I am, after all, here in a little apartment on the Lake in the frigid north. I went to bed the night of November 8th in shock that the world had changed. Silly girl; the scales had perhaps only just then fully come off my eyes.
I have been trying to sort this garbage out for a decade now; how I ended up in hell, how I got out, how to reconstruct a sense of self and sanity after living in hell. I don’t write much about what I have found: a family and husband and children who are my heart and my home and my tether to what is good in the world. Music, theater. All of the people I love in my life. I cannot write about those because they feel sacred and because I am perhaps still afraid they will vanish; that I am in fact crazy and all of these are temporary and hell is what is permanent. This is what abusers do. This is what Trump is doing to us. This is what white supremacy patriarchy does to anyone who isn’t in power.
The snow is hitting the windows tonight with a regular tick-tick, the Bradford pear, bare and spindly, taps its branches against the window. Beyond the dune, the Lake crashes and freezes against the pier. Somewhere south of here, my son sleeps in his father’s house and is learning to make two selves, to survive in two worlds.
I have not done enough; few of us have done enough. My white skin has protected me from a level of fear that I am only now feeling. I will not let my white son grow up to be a monster. I will do everything in my power to do the work to make this world a place where everybody is as safe as he is.