Today is The Teenager’s 18th birthday, and in honor of her, I’m reposting a story I published last year on her birthday.
I’m sitting in a bar. McManus in Chelsea. New York City. I spent many a night in the 90’s here, with my improv friends, the students and teachers and founders of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre. Tonight though, I’m here with my friend Brian. He’s not an improvisor. He’s a political junkie. Also super into sports. We’re at McManus to usher in Hillary Clinton’s victory as President. Gathered, because my very non-improv friend Heather chose this familiar-to-me bar to watch Hils take it. Heather has no idea the significance this bar has to me. How aligned it is with my second home, the UCB. How I made out with stand-ups, actors, musicians in the bathroom. How I’d come to McManus with a stack of freshly printed copies of BUST—the zine I co-founded and was part of for seven years—and share with whomever was around. How, in the 90’s, if I walked into this bar at 2am, after a night of hanging out at MaxFish, I’d find someone to talk to, someone funny and in need of a sober audience like myself. No, Heather doesn’t know about me in the 90’s. She knows the me raising a feminist—The Teenager—in this century.
Heather has a designed a t-shirt for us all to wear proudly ever after. Hils as President. Banish this pussy grabber to infinity and beyond. The Teenager is with her friends somewhere on the Upper West Side, not from from our own home. Probably with a bowl of popcorn. Maybe other things. They’re all sixteen after all. No judgment here. The important part is this: The Teenager will always remember where she was, when Hillary Clinton became President. The First Female President. Hillary has endured months of ridicule, months of smiling through it, months of a brutal campaign. We’ve all been here, all along, in wait. In her corner. Knowing. Knowing. Knowing. The payoff tonight. I don’t mind that The Teenager is with her friends. Her gaggle of girlfriends, that is. They’ll have this for always. This night.
At 8:30, Brian, buried in his Android, moans. “We’ve lost Florida. Not good. Not good at all.” Brian is the most politically astute human I know. If he says something political like, We’ve lost Florida. Not good. Not good at all. I know this means Shit Is Going Down.
Someone I don’t know tells me that the fireworks scheduled to go off at the Javitz Center, where all Hillary revelers are gathered, has been cancelled. I don’t like what’s happening to Brian’s posture. He’s not communicating with other people. Unusual for him. He likes to talk about sports and politics, ad nauseam. Bonus if it’s about basketball in Kentucky. No, he’s not doing any of that. He’s just staring at his phone. Moaning. Morphing into his device. I have lost my friend.
I text The Teenager. “WYA?” (This is teen-speak for Where You At?)
Why is The Teenager home? Alarmed I am. I text: “Why aren’t you with your squad?”
“Wasn’t in the mood for them.” The Teenager sensed it. She knows too. That all this, all we’ve been fighting for, is evaporating. She’s sensitive, my daughter. She’s an only child. She finds comfort in the still. She is so much like me.
I look at all the strangers surrounding Brian and myself. Everyone is in a relatively festive mood. Maybe they don’t see it yet. I don’t know. I know I don’t want to be amidst the throng, be here when they realize what is happening beyond Florida. Wolf Blitzer looks concerned, even for him. I want to go home. I don’t want The Teenager to be alone on this night, of all nights. I want to be with my child.
I text: “I’m coming home.” I add a Bitmoji of myself with a thumbs up. It annoys her that I’m obsessed with Bitmoji. She prefers consonants and vowels, will occasionally add punctuation. Right now, she replies with a curt, “K.”
I tell Heather I need to leave. I don’t tell her I need to be with The Teenager. I don’t admit to her that I want to hold my child’s hand. I don’t mention that losing Florida is a very, very bad sign. Somewhere in the corner there is a man humping the pinball machine. Men. I turn my attention back to Heather. She’s still happy. She doesn’t have the same sense of dread I feel. This need to be with my daughter is overwhelming me, catches me in the gut as I look at Heather’s open face.
I tell Brian I am leaving. He grunts something at me. Something along the lines of “Help.” I’ll check in with him tomorrow. Now, now there are MOM things to do: be with my daughter, at home, whether we are watching Hils win.
I take a taxi uptown. Unusual for me. I’m a New Yorker. I always use the subway. But things right now, they’re different. This urgency. It’s unparalleled. I don’t follow politics. Not since Anita Hill. I rarely watch election nights. Except for Obama’s 2008 win. I watched with my Australian friend Pauline and a then eight-year-old Ruby as Michelle and Barack Obama graced Grant Park, with thousands of ecstatic supporters in joyful tears. All three of us sat on my red couch, fist pumping at the screen. Texting everyone versions of YAY! Knowing the right person—excuse me—man had won.
Right now, I’m sure the right person is not going to win.
I get home in what seems like seconds. CNN is on. Wolf Blitzer, John King, the others, filling up the air with blather, unable to mask what they know, the truth. The Teenager’s face wet. My Teenager has access to her emotions. I don’t. I sit in silence, beside her. We can tell, without knowing the results, that everything is wrong. The newscasters, they’re speaking, but their jaws are slack, in disbelief. They know that Hils is not going to be the next President.
I miss my Dad every minute of every day. But right now? I’m so glad he is not here to witness this. This fiasco. My father was passionate about politics. An opinionated liberal. A man that informed me always his opinion on everything. My favorite man. This disappointment? This pain? He’d be in the tears I can not shed right now. My father, like my daughter, had access to emotions.
I am in shock. My daughter as well. Our social feeds inundated with pain. We, all are. The collective we. The sixty-something million Americans. The ones that know something went awry.
And this moment? Right here? When everything you believe in—that women and men are of equal value, that it all begins there—is being dismantled, a corruption so debilitating, robbing you at your core? This is when your daughter turns to you and says the magic words, the ones where you know you have raised a feminist:
“Mom. We will not move 50 steps backwards. We may not break the ceiling, but we can keep fighting. This is not the end.”
That is my daughter. And today, she turns 18. Happy Birthday, Ruby, happy, happy, happy birthday.