By December, Mother says, “I’ve moved past this election. I can’t think about it anymore.” But also she says, “And don’t talk to me about the cancer. Stop saying the word, alright?”
Around her, I won’t say cancer and chemotherapy and end of life. So I will pretend because I can do nothing about the destruction of Mother’s body. I can only hold space and bear witness and make tea.
When I accompanied Mother to her first session of chemotherapy, it was election day, and I wore a suit and pearl necklace. I was optimistic, calling the day, “Hillary Day,” hoping to replace the dread and fear brought on by Mother’s cancer with something else—by all scientific estimation, Mother would not live to see the next election, maybe not even the next November, but Mother would live to see the first woman become president in the United States, and that was something.
I bought champagne, and we went home to celebrate the results of the election. Mother, a cynic who is known for saying things like “Don’t get your hopes up” never said that because, America, that was the country we believed we lived in.
As the results started to come in, Mother and I began to argue. I went to bed and wanted nothing more than to hide under the covers in my childhood room—away from the glare of the television and its news, away from Mother’s terminal illness. I wanted so badly for something to go right.
The next morning, I wanted to stay in bed, but Mother still had two more days of chemotherapy, so I sat across from her at the oncologist’s office. She lay back into the big chair, a steady drip of etopocide delivered to her veins through clear, plastic tubing.
The poison is the cure. Is there a way that this could be true of you, too, America?
A few days after the election, my husband and I could not sleep, and he turned to me and said, “Other people must be feeling this way, right?” He meant the anxiety and the fear. And for the first time ever, my husband and I asked each other: “Aren’t we lucky we never had children?” America, you just feel like a different place now. I am worried about Mother and I am worried about you, both in equal measure. And the questions in both cases are the same: Why did this happen? What can I do?
I do know that some of it has to do with a deep-seated misogyny and mistrust of women. Before the election, one of my students said, “She isn’t relatable.” People don’t know what to do with a woman who has the kind of power that has been historically reserved for men, at least in this country. America, your women tried to deconstruct some of this misogyny during the election—calling themselves “nasty women” and wearing pantsuits like I did, making fun of the fact that when a man wears it, we call it a suit; on a woman, it’s a “pantsuit.” So many of us hoped that when Hillary shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, some of these things about our culture—the ways that powerful women are belittled—would change. I hoped so very much that Mother would be alive to see this.
Misogyny isn’t the only construct that must be cracked open to let in the light. Love has yet to trump hate. We still have so much work to do. Waiting it out and hoping for the best isn’t going to be enough.
Mother knows that the chemotherapy won’t cure metastatic disease, but still she asks, “What am I supposed to do? Sit around and do nothing?”
Doing nothing isn’t an option. So we have turned onto this road, with its curves and bumps and potholes, knowing the road will eventually drop off altogether. But for now, we are here, and we are together, struggling forward in the dark, and I suppose that’s where everything always begins.