I voted yesterday with energy and optimism. I always enjoy voting where I live. There are no lines, no exhausted workers. The big differences this year were the masks we all wore and the fact that instead of cranking up the voting machine to suck in the ballots, we pushed the ballot into a scanner and watched it scan the results. Mine was number 895 that day.
Today I feel differently. I still hope and believe that Joe Biden will get into the White House. But of far greater importance to me is the fact that this country didn’t repudiate the “achievements” of the past four years. Donald Trump, at last count today, received at least 3,000,000 more votes than he did four years ago. At least 3,000,000 more Americans indicated that, at the very least, they could live with white supremacy, ethnic and religious bashing, the hounding of immigrants, the separation of families, and incompetent government response to a pandemic. They could live with a President who relies more on his feelings than on science and medicine, who bullies and humiliates, who seems to never have heard of kindness and compassion.
They may have their reasons—worry about the economy, for example—but that’s beside the point for now. Today was like a slap in the face, a hit of the kyosaku telling me to wake up, that old concepts are useless here, old beliefs and ways of thinking irrelevant. This has been a long time in the making, and now when people pick up a ballot and stand off to the side blacking in the circles, even folks I know, even neighbors in this predominantly progressive area, I tell myself that I really have no idea how they’re voting. I’m not even sure they’ll tell me the truth if I ask them.
And today I miss Bernie. Two years have passed since he died so suddenly, so unexpectedly. In a funny way, we’re more intimate now than ever before. He speaks in my ears and my mind, through my voice; he walks the grounds in back, I could almost smell a cigar.
In late afternoon I walked out back and sat in one of two chairs facing the gazebo and the hills beyond. Bernie used to sit there in warm afternoons for a short while. Rae, his caregiver, would move the chairs towards the back so that he’d have to walk longer to reach them.
Before his stroke he used to sit at the table out back with his phone and computer (see above), but it was really an excuse to smoke a cigar. I miss him that way now because we’d be talking so much about the election. He would be checking results constantly, enjoying the drama, not showing the least bit anxiety. He knew what his work was about, and it didn’t really depend much on who lived in the White House even as he clearly had his preferences.
Regardless of who won, the next day he still got up in the morning, put on his jeans and Hawaiian shirt, pen, phone, and cigar in the breast pocket, and off he’d go to fight the dragons of suffering, isolation, delusion, poverty, racism and misery. In this eternal process of determining a new president (at least it feels that way), he’d be putting on a red nose and telling us to lighten up, there’s work to do regardless, and always, always have faith in the dharma.
After his stroke there were just the two chairs, for him and Rae, and no cigar. I would watch him from the window of my office and on several occasions, I’d sit next to him and we’d both look out towards the setting sun. He would look out and say nothing, just let the sun shine on his stricken face.
Now I want to go out there again and put my arms around him: “Bernie, what are you thinking?”
I think I know the answer: “I’m not thinking.” Or: “I’m just sitting here.”
I want him to take me back into that space. Was he contemplating just how much bigger life is than any of us, even his stroke? I had so much to get done when he was sick, but after this two-year taste of his absence, I want to follow him back there once again and ask: “What did you experience? What did you understand back then?”
He didn’t say much, but now I feel that had I just sat day in and day out there with him, rather than stirring around like a mouse in my office, I may or may not have learned something, but there would have been a deep companionship. That’s the thing about taking care of someone who’s very ill. If you let them, if you’re there, they may take you somewhere you wouldn’t go on your own.
After his death I had to deal with various accounts of his, and in one, perhaps a credit card or airplane mileage account, I managed to dig up his password as well as the confirming questions and answers they ask to make sure you’re who you say you are.
These were the questions they asked:
Favorite type movie? His answer: Science fiction.
Favorite sport? Boxing (huh?).
Favorite pizza topping? Pepperoni (I knew that).
Birthday of best friend? His answer: December 5, 1949.
I wept when I saw that. For years he’d never remembered birthdays, didn’t say anything, didn’t buy a gift. Once we had a blazing fight over that at Newark Airport, I enroute to Hartford and he to Tokyo, he taking the escalator up and I taking the stairs, our anger spilling across the railing like some afternoon TV sitcom.
“I don’t know what you want from me,” he finally declared.
“I’m your wife,” I told him. “I’m your friend!”
After he died, I found it: Birthday of best friend? December 5, 1949.
I dedicate this post to Ancelmo. His two children, Axel and Jonathan, are in school. Their mother was deported three years ago. Ancelmo earns money fixing roofs and he fell from the third floor due to the rain and broke his arm. He’s undocumented with no health insurance. Now he can’t work, there’s no disability or insurance monies coming in, no workmen’s comp, not much sympathy or help from the present government. Jimena did manage to put him into a farmers’ physical therapy program. I have food cards for him but he needs $400 to make this month’s rent for his family. Your support for him, especially on such a day, would be deeply appreciated.
The button Help immigrant families will take you to a Paypal account set up specially for that purpose. Or else you could mail me a check and write on the memo line: for immigrant families or Ancelmo, and mail to Eve Marko, POB 174,Montague, MA 01351. Thank you for your kindness.