There are too many words today. I feel the need to choose mine carefully.
There are also too many tears, but I don’t know how to limit those.
A rusty pickup truck rattles down the road, bumper stickers praising Jesus. It drowns out the speakers in the drive-through, spewing carbon dioxide like hate.
Sixteen year old me exchanges money for french fries, eyes glazed over across the empty parking lot beyond the window. A cross hanging from the rear view mirror sways back and forth, over and over in every car.
I dream of more.
I will spend the next decade, and a few extra years for good measure, running from home. I am a product of the Bible Belt. I am the result of Mike Pence’s ideal homeland. I was taught, fed by foodstamps with my pigtails and cowboy boots, that we could all be anything we wanted to be. Land of the free, home of the brave.
I was lied to. America failed me. Don’t you fucking dare tell me it didn’t.
We cannot be so many things.
It’s become clear, we cannot be equal. We cannot be respected. We cannot be accepted. We cannot be trusted with our bodies. We cannot be trusted with our choices of who to love, or how to live. We cannot be valued.
So it begs the question, why be here at all?
I’ve asked myself this question before. “Getting out of this town” is a common theme where I’m from. I’ve lived my entire life feeling like I do not belong, and trying to escape the black hole time-machine that is the rural midwest. I’ve even come full circle, as many have, moving home while trying to embrace the nostalgia of Americana through aesthetics and appreciation of roots.
I cannot embrace this America. I feel chewed up and spit out. I feel betrayed. I feel defeated.
But I am thankful today that I do not feel victorious. You see, I am the poster child for what happens when a generation is raised by bigots hiding behind a two thousand year old book. To me, this election feels as though my hometown gasped for air, opened wide, and swallowed the rest of the country in one disgusting gulp.
A new era, they call it, typing from their city offices, views overlooking a sea of people varying in color and culture. Unexpected, surprising, stunning, shocking.
It’s not new, it’s not surprising. This revolt has festered in the underbelly of the country for decades. We could overanalyze the causes for eternity, but we can’t undo what’s been done, so it doesn’t matter.
Part of our sorrow, I believe, is stemming from the fact that somewhere deep inside we saw this coming. We chose instead to live in a bubble. We took for granted the fights so many fought before us. In wanting to move forward so eagerly, to provide a safe country with emphasis on the pursuit of happiness, that we fell out of touch with reality.
To say there is nothing to fear now would be at best, irresponsible. But perhaps if we had been instilled with a healthy dose of fear from birth, we would not be where we are.
Our children may have had their fates decided today as future warriors for peace. Even still, we can’t prepare the path for the child, but the child for the path.
We must find a balance between what is and what we want to be, and pass that on as a gift. Our task now is not to wallow in misery and give up. We must first learn to accept the truth, and unfortunately that means mourning the loss of what we thought America was. And then, only after we have opened our eyes to the fact that hatred and racism and sexism are in fact a real part of our lives, we must stay.
We must try our best to understand why the hate is there, and to dissolve it. We must make it clear that in our America, everyone is welcome. We must not run. We must stay where we are, and we must show the world that love is louder than hate. We must not doubt this. We’ve been here before, and we’ve been through worse. We have got this.
It’s hard, but I promise you, we can take baby steps. Hold my hand, we’ll put one foot in front of the other.
You can’t fix this overnight, and neither can I.
What I can do, however, is teach you how to hope.
For I am living proof that we are not born with fear and hatred in our hearts. Like a flower that blossoms between cracks in the concrete, my mind and my heart are full of love and acceptance. I was raised by the very privileged, redneck resistance that proudly waved their flags this morning. I have struggled, and I have learned to swim against the tide, but somehow miraculously I have never been pulled under by the strong currents of criticism and discrimination that grows in “forgotten America” as abundant as genetically modified corn.
I still dream of more.