I had a doctor’s appointment on November 9th so my alarm was set for 7:40. That’s right around the time my roommates head out for their nine-to-fives so, on the rare days I’m required to be at work before ten o’clock at night, I usually ask them to heave me by the feet out of bed on their way out the door. I spoiled myself, in the most literal sense of the word, sometime in high school when I began setting my alarm an hour before I actually needed to get out of bed. My aversion to waking up early spanning all my life, it seemed like a sage idea at the time. Curse the first godforsaken tone, return to my slumber, gradually ease myself into the day. Just about a decade later, the silencing of my alarm a learned subconscious behavior, oversleeping has become my norm. But I woke up and stayed up on the first ring that day.
“I’m praying,” was the last thing I said to anyone the night before. It was sent to the group text message shared between my two sisters, my mom, and my dad. By the time I sent it at 11:00, I’d been up for more than 30 hours straight. I’ve come to learn that the only way I can actually revert to a normal human’s sleep schedule after working my last overnight shift of the week is to stay up all day. And whether it was my body or the psychosis-induced voices in my head that made the decision for me, I couldn’t stay awake any longer. With dread in my heart and laptop on my chest, I fell asleep.
“I can’t sleep,” my sister, Lindsay, texted at 5:20 a.m. “I fell asleep around midnight and woke up an hour ago. I can’t believe this has happened.”
Without having to be told, I understood. A few hours and 270-something electoral votes later, I’d woken up in a different America. And I wept.
“Jesus Christ,” I replied. “I am heartbroken.”
Contrary to what I journaled at the time, I wasn’t exactly politically conscious during the George W. Bush regime. My go-to lobbyist at the time being Madonna Ciccone, I’d listened to American Life religiously enough to know that I was supposed to hate him. That Bush was a slack-jawed warmonger who directly contributed to the kind of national climate which allowed Crash to win Best Picture instead of Brokeback Mountain. And I was vocal about it. Moving to the bleached flour silo known most commonly as New Hampshire in the eighth grade, I took advantage of every hostile opportunity to check the privilege of each new white peer of mine. And made loads of friends in the process. But while I may not have been able to tell the Patriots Act from Peyton Place, I was angry. My homosexual flower blossoming into being during Bush 43’s second term, I responded accordingly. There was Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Will & Grace and the humming sexual tension between Gayle King and Ms. Winfrey, yes, but none of that proved to be enough. I couldn’t tell my family why I came home from school crying for those first few weeks. Of course, they knew. And, of course, I knew. But to have said it out loud, in that time and in that place and in that America, didn’t seem to be an option.
Having read Dreams from My Father as soon as Oprah’s Book Club said I should, I was always a staunch supporter of Barack Obama. Desperate for any opportunity to curb my hostility, my mom—who has openly admitted to voting for whichever candidate she deems better looking—offered to take me to a speech he was delivering at Plymouth State University. Whether we underestimated how long it would take us to get there or that the state possessed that many liberals, we arrived well after the auditorium was full. Directed towards a lecture hall playing a live stream of his speech, my mom sat patiently with me for about 45 minutes until I told her we could leave.
“Wait,” I said, halting my mom as she raced for the car, hoping to get back home before TMZ aired that evening.
Through the glass paneled doors, I could see Barack standing in the middle of the auditorium. The chairs were arranged in a circle around him, the crowd made up of college students and silver haired yankees and Subaru owners. Tall, skinny, huge-eared, and electric, I felt like I was looking at the Mona Lisa or the Pope or an episode of Sex and the City I never knew existed. I couldn’t have concretely told you the difference between what Obama intended to do with America versus what McCain had in mind, the extent of my political intrigue dedicated to how exquisite Michelle would look at the Inauguration Ball. But even though I could barely make out his amplified words from the other side of the glass, I felt, for the first time, like I was standing in the same room as my president.
“Borns?” asked the receptionist at my general practitioner’s office, a doctor who I’ve come to learn focuses his care specifically on Boston’s Russian population.
“Burns, yes,” I said, shifting my gaze from the Today Show playing in the waiting room.
“You’re late,” she consonant-sounded. “Sit down.”
With the dreaded status of non-compliant patient, my Adderall prescription and I got blacklisted by my old doctor in New Hampshire a few months ago. Trying to avoid the no-call-no-show tendencies that had defined the relationship with my last PCP, I specifically switched to this local office to avoid such issues. A relapsed bad habit that, ordinarily, would have had me worried. But watching Matt and Savannah recap events from the night before, my concerns were reprioritized.
“That sigh,” said a guy sitting a few seats down from me, responding to my audible reaction to what we were watching.
“I have no words,” I replied, altogether not that different from my usual dynamic with straight guys as hot as he was.
Neither candidate had the necessary amount of electoral votes to be deemed president when I’d fallen asleep the night before. A bunch of states I’d fist a Nalgene before ever living in were too close to call or undecided or reporting that people were still online to vote. Waiting for Dr. Eugene Ivanovovich to call me into the evaluation room, I came to learn which states went blue and which went red, when it was determined that he’d been elected, and how Hillary personally called him to concede. Cutting to footage of the respective campaign headquarters where supporters were either celebrating a win or mourning a loss, I was struck, but not surprised, by the faces I saw looking back at me. In one case, a sea of red tie-wearing white boys looking like the all-growed-up versions of the Ryans and Tylers and Zacks who called me a faggot in the eighth grade. And in the other, America as I know it—woman and man and black and gay and young and old and Lena Dunham. A huddled mass baffled, bereaved, broken.
“Brian, my friend,” Dr. Ivanovovich called from the doorway, ushering me towards his office. “And how are we today?”
Not one to ever be prone to joyousness, I’ve spent the greater chunk of my life feigning, “Awesome!” and “Great!” and “No, I’m Fine, I Swear!” in response to that question. But muster as I might, a half-smile ambivalent enough to make Katie Holmes beam was all I had to give. It wasn’t for lack of feeling that I couldn’t answer him. I don’t know if I’d ever felt so much at once. As Eugene went through the motions of asking if anything was wrong and whether I was getting enough sleep, I was grieving, feeling as if every stage of loss had laid down its weight on me all at once. The denial and anger and bargaining and depression and begrudged acceptance that the doors, once again, had closed on all those who’ve spent so much of their American lives looking in from the other side of the glass.
“You’re all set, my friend,” he said, signing my prescription. “Show up on time next month, yes? Good.”
I sent in an absentee ballot for the 2012 election. Though it lacked the gratification of showing up to the poll and the validation of the “I Voted” selfie-porn sticker, nothing I’d ever done had left me feeling as proud, as involved, as millennial. But wearing my mother’s Rosie O’Donnell Show denim jacket to Simmons College on the morning of November 8th, I felt entirely new levels of pride casting my vote for Hillary Clinton. With some seriously heartfelt eagerness, I voted for her. With the greatest faith that she would further usher this country along the path of progress I’ve been so lucky to witness, I voted for her. With thoughts of Ina Garten and my sisters and Alanis Morissette and Buffy and my mom and every other nasty woman who had ever informed, enriched, empowered, and nurtured me, I voted for her. And after seeing her concession speech and crying with my friends in our kitchen and deleting aunts on Facebook and watching Trump appoint flagrant anti-Semites, misogynists, homophobes, offspring to his transition team, I stand by that vote and the imperfect country she deserved to serve.
“You can’t be angry for four years, Brian,” my mom told me over the phone, checking in on me one week into this new president-elect’s America. I assured her it wasn’t the kind of Irish-Catholic-ruddy-cheeked-well-vodka-rage of our familial line but an inspired kind of anger. I’ve not attended any protests, donated none of my money to the ACLU, only tweeted one disparaging thing about Ivanka being the kind of chick who would call gay guys “girl.” But I’m pissed off in ways I haven’t been since my Bush-era self told Becca Peverly about all the sheep murdered to make her Uggs. Walking down the street, going to work, reading Cher’s tweets, everything feels charged with this terrifying kind of urgency. Just about the only demographic spared from the dangers of this man’s administration will be those who look like his sons and that can’t be underestimated. But neither can all those who have risen up in response. There’s something to be said about resistance. It’s like Angels in America or Guernica or Madonna’s biceps—pushback begets strength. It demands a response. It’s the crucible of a crucible. And, for seven days and counting, it’s been enough for me to wake up with the first alarm.