I’m at Publix. I buy chicken breast, basil, tomatoes, and some drinks. My sister is out of town for work so my friend Frances is coming over and we’re going to watch CNN together. I don’t want to watch it alone. There’s a small voice inside me whispering that it might not work out the way I want it to. But I shush it. It’s just part of dealing with depression, I tell myself. There’s always a small voice telling you things might go awfully wrong.
Instead, I choose optimism and comfort food: rice with chicken. Frances is bringing dessert.
I call my mom. I know how to cook but I call her just in case. Cook the chicken first, seasoned with garlic, salt, and turmeric. Then add rice. I know this, of course. Do you have cilantro? My mother will add cilantro to flan if nobody holds her back. To her disappointment, I don’t have any cilantro. I do have basil, I tell her. Good. Add that to the top when you’re done. It’s good to have something green on top. Makes it pretty.
I press the garlic pieces down on the counter with the side of my knife, some juice escaping it as it’s crushed. I pull on the flaky skin, cut off its top, and plop the pieces into the pestle and mortar we use solely for garlic crushing. Brazilian food requires garlic. I scoop the white mush with a spoon and throw it onto the cut up pieces of chicken. I sprinkle turmeric and black pepper generously, rubbing my finger on the cold skin and putting it in my mouth to make sure the taste is right.
I decide to leave it like that to marinate while I walk the dog my sister and I share. It’s his birthday tomorrow. He’s turning 14. He’s fluffy and grumpy and perfect.
It always takes me longer to cook than I think it will. I still haven’t showered, so I’m wearing business-uncomfortable-casual clothes. But I won’t change until I shower. My fingernails are yellow from the turmeric. I hold them up to my nose—yep. Hands smell like garlic. I sniff my phone, and yes, my phone case also smells like garlic. Atlanta traffic is making Frances late, which is good. I’d almost anticipated it. Atlanta traffic is dependable like that.
I hurry to start the basil and tomato salad.
Charles can’t stand staying on the hardwood floor when everyone else is on the couch. Probably just can’t stand the injustice of it. I pick him up and put him by Frances. He balls up and starts making snoring sounds. Sometimes I wonder if he has asthma. I often think of his death and I can’t imagine recovering from it.
My bowl sits beside me, the juices of the tomato making the remaining few yellow rice grains look pink. My blood pressure must be high right now. I go between my phone and Wolf Blitzer—whose name alone is alarming. Twitter is a mixture of sarcasm and Florida memes and optimism and predictions. I go to the group message I have with my sister and two friends (Frances being one of them). We’ve been talking politics for almost two years now and today is a big day for us.
His winning Georgia doesn’t surprise us. But we strap in because this seems like it’s going to be rough.
I get up abruptly. It’s hard to breathe and Frances looks at me, a question in her eyes.
“I have to take a shower and put on comfy clothes. When I come back we can have dessert!” I try to sound cheerful.
As soon as I get in my room I let it go. Heaving sobs. Disbelief. Disgust. This race is much closer than I thought. This man has done so much damage to this country just from running. We’re gonna have a lot of work to do after she wins. I can’t believe this many people were so OK with everything he has said in the past year and a half that they actually voted for him.
I cry loudly in the shower, hoping the music I play on my phone will drown it out so that Frances won’t be worried. I am used to being the stoic cryer, so the desperation in my wailing scares me. I wonder how deep this despair goes.
I message my boss. I won’t be going in to work in the morning. He says he understands and that he’s thinking of me.
Frances is still here. At this point, I am crying in front of her. But, to be fair, I usually cry in front of all my friends. I’ve put my phone aside and all I can do is stare at the map and make arithmetic word problems in my head. If she had won this and not that state. If he had lost this county. I’m doing more math than John King, I’m sure.
But, also, something else. The part of my brain that started developing at age 7 when I knew I was an undocumented immigrant, that has grown up on deferred hope, on what ifs and be carefuls and don’t trust thems kicks into gear. It is as faithful to me as Atlanta traffic. It knows what to do.
Grieve, it says. You have to. You know what happens to you when you postpone grief. Start today. Right now. The sooner you start, the sooner it can end and you can do the next thing. And as I remember favorite Nayyirah Waheed poems and all that I’ve had to grieve in 2016 alone, it continues:
We need to be ready to move to Brazil. They have your information because of DACA. They know where you live. You’re the easiest group to deport. You’re officially a “criminal alien” now. He called you that and they supported him, and they agreed.
I catch Frances glancing at me from her phone.
“You should go sleep, Frances,” I say, moving to stand up. “I’ll be ok,” I feel like I have to add. The sobs doesn’t make me convincing.
She’s hesitant, but I manage to slowly usher her out the door.
I grab Charley and head to bed.
I cry in bed knowing tomorrow I’ll wake up with a headache, but I don’t take medications because I want to feel it. I want to physically feel what it means to face this much national rejection. I want to feel all I have to feel.
I take a picture of my face before I fall asleep.
I take another the next morning.
I look like something beat me up.
I don’t know why I take the pictures. I think it has something to do with witnessing pain. Not turning away from the uncomfortable. I think it has something to do with acknowledgement. Something to do with how children get hurt and wait to cry when their mother is around.
“grieve. so that you can be free to feel something else.” -Nayyirah Waheed, nejma