Celebrating the Inaugural in a Bipartisan Marriage
January 20, 2009
Today's post is from Sophia Raday, author of Love in Condition Yellow: A Memoir of an Unlikely Marriage, forthcoming from Beacon Press this May. Raday lives in Berkeley, California, with her soldier/police officer husband, their two children, a bipartisan dog, and assorted firearms. A founding editor of Literarymama.com, Raday's writing has recently appeared in The New York Times and in two anthologies.
At various points during Election Day I briefly let myself think that Obama might actually win. If he did, I was going to do something BIG. I was going to run naked down the street with an American flag streaming behind me. I was going to dance (clothed) with throngs of people— all shades of brown and black and white. I was going to kiss random strangers. But at some point in my imaginings, about when the tears started to form in my eyes, I always stopped myself, not sure it was time yet to let all the frustrations of the past eight years, the voicelessness, the demonization, all these bottled emotions come gushing out. Not yet. Not until it was sure.
I knew my husband would not share in the festivities. He is no Obamaniac. The way I feel about Obama, he feels about mmm... Ronald Reagan, maybe, or better yet Theodore Roosevelt, whom he refers to simply as “T.R.” I have become accustomed, in my bipartisan marriage, to not sharing the same perspective on electoral politics. But still, my husband encouraged me to go to Ohio in October because he knew it was important to me to volunteer for Obama in a battleground state. On Election Day he humored me by taking my photo at the voting booth, my grinning face next to the big check mark by Barack Obama/ Joe Biden.
But around 6 pm, as Ohio was declared for Obama and I opened my front door and whooped like a banshee, my husband seemed annoyed by my joy. He chided our seven-year-old son and three-year old daughter who were taking my revelry as a sign it might be a good time to start leaping off our furniture. My husband’s reproach was almost churlish, which is very unlike him. After putting our daughter to bed, my husband did the same, at his usual time of 7:30 pm, before the victor was even announced. He gets up at 3:15 am to start his shift as a sergeant of police in nearby Oakland. He is also a West Point graduate and a colonel in the Army Reserves. He returned from Iraq this past May after fifteen months separation from our family. Politically, he is what I call “a Republican like the Republicans used to be:” fiscally conservative, small government, pro-defense. For a while my husband supported John McCain. But McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin completely disillusioned him. He decided not to vote at all, but at the end he grudgingly admitted checking the box for Obama.
At eight o’clock, when CNBC announced Obama had won, I opened the front door and whooped again. There were some other whoops but no one running, naked or otherwise, on our street. I proposed my mom, my son, and I drive to the nearest Obama office to find some strangers to kiss. But my mom insisted we watch the acceptance speech first. My son consented to doing a crazy dance with me on the couch. Unfortunately, after the speech, my son began exhibiting the classic signs of being up way past his bedtime: verbal jabs at his mother. I don’t like Obama anymore! Enough about Obama!
Once my son was asleep in bed, I didn’t know what to do. I suddenly felt dog-tired, and besides, I had no one to go with. My mom was already in her jammies. My sleeping children might wake up and need me. My husband needed to rest. I stood in the kitchen and felt the moment slip out of my grasp.
Thousands of people danced in the Berkeley streets just a short drive away from my house. I missed it. There will never be another Election night like the one when Barack Obama got elected. I cried, telling my husband this a week or so later, as we stopped to rest during a walk along the San Francisco Bay. I missed it. I got left out. I asked why he hadn’t recognized how important the occasion was for me, and helped me to take part in it. We do this for each other: I go to the police promotions and the Army ceremonies; he to the book readings. I asked him, didn’t he understand how important the election was for me?
He said he was sorry. He had known how important it was to me, but he hadn’t been just tired. He said the election was really hard on him. He felt disappointed, deflated, lonely. He said, “The kind of guys I usually admire... in this election, they just turned out so lame.” Talk about feeling left out. I took his hand, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about missing the party. The party isn’t always where I think it is. Sometimes it’s just between me and my son, doing a silly dance on the couch. Or sitting with my husband, watching a tiny Vietnamese fisherman expertly casting his line into the Bay, and hearing what it’s like for one Republican at this historic moment in time.
For me, this is the hope for unity that Obama represents, that we might reach out individually, and as a country, to listen to those who are different from us. I don’t think we realize as a society how powerful being heard is, how it softens the differences between us, and builds a foundation upon which solutions can be constructed. We all so much want to be heard. Some of us want to be heard so much, we write memoirs, for goodness sake.
I’m having a little party on Inauguration Day after school lets out. The guests will be other parents and their small children. I will play over and over the countdown in Grant Park to the CNN announcement of the Obama victory. Then we can re-enact the hugging and the kissing and the dancing in the streets that I missed. My husband will work on the streets of Oakland, and when he gets home, we will sit quietly together and tell each other what it was like.