In times of need we look to those we love to console us. To pull us—even just briefly—out of a cold reality and into a warm embrace. In the wake of an election that left many of us in shock, horror, and disbelief, we looked to loved ones for sympathy, for answers, for someone else to breathe on the other end of the line and remind us that we are not entirely alone. With dreams of a first female president evaporated and the reality of a president who has openly bragged about sexually assaulting women setting in, many of us looked to our mothers, sisters, and grandmothers to talk out our feelings and discuss about what comes next. We asked young women who they talked to about the election and how those conversations went.
Today I woke up and felt the pit in my stomach that the majority of us are feeling. I opened social media and felt the solidarity among the friends I've made in New York. Then I remembered the absence of this solidarity in high school; I grew up in Parker, Colorado, a deeply conservative town trapped inside a weed-loving, hippy-welcoming state. My parents are Muslim immigrants from Morocco, and they call this town home. Growing up, political discussions in class were discouraging and impossible not to take personally.
This morning, when I thought of my 15-year-old sister who goes to that same high school now, the pit in my stomach turned into a black hole as I could not fathom walking those halls on a day like today. I texted her, aiming to offer some comfort and hope when I knew her environment would be lacking in both. This is what I sent:
"Hey Leena, I know that today is a hard day to go to school in Parker. I just hope you know that no matter what you're hearing around you, the world is full of beautiful, open-hearted people who aren't racist, who aren't sexist, who aren't Islamophobes and xenophobes. Right now you won't be around enough of them, but I promise you they exist. Today is a result of ignorance and sometimes things need to get worse before they get better. I know elections were hard for me in high school and I can't imagine what this one is like for you, so just know that I'm thinking of you and I love you and one day soon you'll be around people who value all the things that make you who you are and it will feel damn good. People around me right now are devastated and on our side.
I'm thinking of you and I love you and one day soon you'll be around people who value all the things that make you who you are
About a month and a half before the election, I decided to spend November and December in Germany, where I lived for two years after I graduated from college. I didn't think about the election so much when I booked my flights—I made a couple of jokes about how, if Donald Trump won, I could just stay here, but I didn't really mean it—because it's not like my being in America would help.
I grew up in West Virginia, where most of my family still lives, and when I went to Berlin after college my mother in particular didn't like that I had moved out of the country. She understood it, and supported it, but you know—moms don't like it when their kids are far away. West Virginia is also a pretty insular culture: People don't travel much, and being close to your family is important. So when my mom heard about my trip this year, she was upset—she thought the fact that I was spending two months in Germany meant I was considering moving back. I assured her I wasn't; I've built a life in America, my German is terrible, and I even recently bought that stupid-expensive health insurance we have, occasionally feeling inspired to defend it because "at least we get free birth control."
Read more: Young Women Around the Globe React to Trump's Win
This morning I got texts from both my mom and my grandmother telling me, basically, that I should think about not coming home. I told them that Germany will have its own elections next year, and the far right party is gaining momentum here, too. "I feel like brittle glass," my grandma—who campaigned for Hillary—said. "If anything even touches me, I will shatter. I honestly think we are in for a very bad few years."
My dad was a little more blunt. "What the fuck happened?" he sent me. "Stupid rural white people."
I've always felt responsible for my little sister. I've always felt ashamed of how little I've been there to help her in times of need. And I've always been overwhelming proud and impressed of the person she grew up to be, all on her own. She dressed as Rosie the Riveter for Halloween and I knew this election meant the world to her. I thought back to all the times my sister has helped women—as a big sister for Big Brothers Big Sisters, as an advocate for domestic violence victims, as a volunteer for crisis lines. I thought about all the times she's been hurt by men—physical assault, stalking. This weight of this election didn't really sink in with me until I thought of my sister. This morning, when we talked about the election, she was upset about the work she has done helping men and women get access to healthcare through the Affordable Care Act. I wanted a presidency that could help my sister continue to do the work she does to help other women. Instead, we got one who, I fear, will crush her spirit and erase so much of the work she's already done.
I have just been sitting in my bed drinking apple juice and eating mac and cheese and watching rom-coms all day. I just got off the phone with my cousin, who was also still in her pajamas. Her commentary was, "I was like, I guess I could shower, but then, what am I showering for?" Then we spent another 45 minutes brainstorming boy names for her baby because that is the important shit after all.
While I was sitting with my two friends watching election results come in, I was also texting with my mom. I think I was hoping she would tell me what we have to do next—what now?
In times of tragedy and in times of chaos we look to our mothers to tell us 'it's going to be okay.' My mother has never told me it's going to be okay. I'm seeing now that perhaps her lack of assurance of my safety in this world has fortified my strength, and the resilience I cherish, and also a certain harshness that will be necessary for our days to come.
Last night, around 10 PM, my mom called to tell me she was getting nervous, but I was holding on to a modicum of hope. This morning when I called her on my way to work, we mostly just sighed to each other over the phone. I told her I was scared, and that it felt like the vote would give license to all the racist, misogynistic, homophobic xenophobes to be as basically as bad as they want to be, in the states and abroad. As women of color, it's hard not to feel downright scared.
My mom, in her own attempt to be hopeful, suggested that there might be something to the idea of disrupting the corruption of Washington (where I was raised) by electing an outsider, were he not a racist, misogynistic homophobe. Maybe this guy will govern as a completely different person than the one he ran as. But then we talked through the new brand of corruption a Trump presidency will likely bring to DC, and we went back to just sighing and saying I love you. When I got to the office, and had to go, she just said she wanted to talk again in a couple hours, and we've checked in twice already since then, even though there doesn't seem to be that much more to say.
My mom and I spoke while I was on my way to work, as we often do. But this time there was a lot of silence. Neither of us really knew what to say. We never really believed that Trump could be elected, and we talked about how that was our fault—our failure to understand that so much of the country thinks and feels so differently than we do. And a failure on behalf of and perpetrated by so many. We talked about the mainstream media and Jimmy Fallon and pretty much just said fuck them. We talked about what we can do even thought it feels like we're so screwed. We'll probably talk again on my way home.
*Names have been changed.