I have something to tell you. Come a little closer, because it’s kind of a secret.
Before this year’s election, I had never voted before in my life. Not even once.
I know, that is a terrible thing admit. I mean, in college I studied something called political science and I actually have a graduate degree in another thing called public policy and I have always believed in our country and the meaning of the democratic process. Yet still, I never voted.
Let me tell you why.
When I was a little kid, I went with my mom and dad so they could vote. It was 1980, and I was six years old. Together, we all walked down the small hill to the Legion Hall at the end of our street—a big, white square building that squatted on the corner next to one of the only stop lights in our little town. We passed all the familiar houses—the Everett’s who put up the sleigh with a plastic Santa every year, the Malone’s with their rusty pick-up truck parked out front, the Hanson’s who only gave out pencils for Halloween.
My father’s outline so tall against the dusky evening sky. Maybe I held my mother’s hand, I’m not sure.
Once we got there, we had to stand in a pretty long line. I remember feeling fidgety, restless. My older brother John stood very still. I’m not sure where my little sister Sarah was. My mother was probably holding her.
When we reached the table, the woman sitting in a folding chair looked through a bunch of papers very carefully. Then she looked at my mother and my tall father and told them no, she was very sorry, but they could not vote. There were no forms for them in her folder.
Silently, we all walked up the hill—past the red truck and the Everett’s house to our own.
Reagan and the incumbent Carter. I have no idea who my parents were planning to vote for, but Reagan won the election that year.
This year, for the first time in my life, I felt compelled to vote. This was for a couple of reasons.
First, I voted because Monica Lewinsky is someone’s daughter, just like you are my daughter.
You are just about the most specialist, interesting person I know. And I am doing my very best to make sure you value yourself and never confuse love and power and can one day navigate tricky situations.
Yet, still, one day when you’re twenty-two years old you might be an intern at some big important place and work for a man who is also big and important. And this man might ask you to do things with him that normally you wouldn’t agree to do.
See, no one ever talks much about Monica, and the way newspapers and magazines tore into her young life the way a kid tears into a candy bar on Halloween, hoping for the sweetest taste of a forbidden morsel.
That’s not the only reason I voted. I also voted because of your brother, Jack.
I voted because he has autism and an IEP and I wanted someone in the White House who would not mock the way he flaps his hands or mixes up his words.
I voted for all of you—all five of my children who will one day inherit our country.
The first thing ever I noticed about your father was his voice, did you know that? I hadn’t seen his face yet, because he was working behind the sauté line at Pizzeria Uno’s and I was waiting for the chicken fajitas I needed for a big table with four kids.
“They’ll just be a minute, hang on.”
His voice, well, it captivated me. It was so smooth, so different from anyone I’ve ever heard on campus or in the dorms or at the restaurant when I took orders for pepperoni pizza and chicken fingers.
This is a bit of a cliché, but I can honestly tell you that I loved him from the first moment I met him. I loved his smile, and his chocolate brown eyes, and the way he held his hand in mine when we walked to class.
I loved his voice.
This does not mean we agree on everything. No siree, we certainly do not. We have been married for eighteen years and we still don’t see eye to eye on a lot.
Breakfast for dinner, that’s one thing.
How often the sponge in the kitchen sink should be changed, whether Rocky is better than The Godfather, if praying at home is the same as praying in church.
We do not agree on politics. Over the past year or so, I know you and your four brothers heard us arguing. I know it upset you all, and I am sorry about that. There was something about this election that was so divisive—so polarizing and inflammatory and provocative—that we could not help but be drawn into the argument.
He is loyal to the party, while my patriotism is more fluid.
He owns real estate and two dental practices. He carefully considers matters like the economy and national debt and healthcare. He admired transparency in a world of lifetime politicians.
I vote with my heart, on topics such as planning parenthood and women’s rights and education, and I admired absolutely no one in this entire campaign.
The morning after the election, we tried to give each other space. We stepped lightly around victory and loss, donkey and elephant.
But by the late evening, we were annoyed. We could not help the other see our own side. There was a spring in his step that irritated me, and I’m pretty sure the sight of me moping around in sweatpants and the same fleece top I’d worn to the bus stop that morning annoyed him.
Just as I was pouring milk for dinner, we erupted.
“I don’t care about the media anymore!”
“I can’t even believe you voted for Gary Johnson! That’s like not even voting at all.”
“I made my point.”
“What point? What point was that?”
Round and round we went, like children riding a carousel at an empty amusement park. In the midst of desolate terrain, we struggled to build some common ground.
See, a voice is a powerful thing, Rose.
It can divide, it can heal, it can make you fall in love.
It can change the world.
November 8th was beautiful and sunny and warm. The New Hampshire leaves glowed against the sky’s blue backdrop like a painting. Around 10:00 am I found you reading in your room and suggested we go vote.
“But why, mom? Won’t the lines be long?”
We walked up to the desk. The woman sitting behind it wore a pin shaped like the American flag on her dark blue cardigan. I held my breath while she looked through the papers on her clipboard. At last she found my name.
“Yes! You’re all set. Here’s your ballot.”
I walked toward one of the desks with the dividers and I picked up one of the pencils and I filled in bubbles down the sheet.
You helped me feed the long sheet of paper into the machine, and as we left the auditorium a man in a denim jacket handed us a sticker. You asked if you could wear, it, and after you stuck it to your shirt you looked up at me and smiled.
“That was fun! I can’t wait to vote one day.”
And that, my sweet pink earnest daughter, was my point.