Fall recedes with all the sullen grace of a Floridian retiree out on holiday down in Vegas. Grimly reduced to his last three chips at the blackjack table. Drowning in flop sweat, comped well liqour, and a keen sense of his own inevitable failure.
I’m home, wrapped in a blanket.
I let the gas go under back in July so the kids could eat. My heat’s not working, and I cautiously weigh whether or not the mortgage payment will bounce If I short my account enough to cover this bill.
I decide to roll the dice on it clearing in spite of the overdraft. The children will be with their mother next week and I won’t have to worry about feeding them with it down to just me until payday. I reason I can get by on one meal a day if I cut my cigarette intake to a pack a night. I should quit smoking entirely, but sometimes it’s all that gets me through and I just don’t have the willpower to give it up right now.
Musing about the “new economy” I make the payment over the phone. Someone will show up on Monday to hook the gas back up — it’s the earliest appointment available. In the meantime?
It’s cold in here.
* * *
On the dining room table, across from me, sits a recorder. It’s a newer digital job. Oftentimes I find myself longing for the analogue tape deck I used to use. I can store days worth of conversations on the modern beastie, but I miss the satsifying clack and whirr of the old machine. The rubber nubbin I press to start recording now is a poor substitute. Nothing is built as well as it used to be.
It’s three days past the election and I’m listening to the voice of my last interview. We’ll call her.. Mary. For the sake of her privacy.
At the age of twenty-four Mary is very likely similar to many of you. She works the drive-through in a local fast food chain restaurant near the heart of the city during the day and spends three nights a week behind the counter at a convenience store for an extra four hundred bucks a month. She’s a fan of a slew of electronica groups I’ve never heard of, a comic book nerd, and generally all around a lovely young woman.
A resident of Ghent, she rents a room in one of the many old hostel buildings cut up into condos that are scattered around here. Her landlord slash roommate, a sweetly acerbic septuagenarian — confides that Mary makes her rent payment on time most weeks, and that she cuts her slack every now and then when the money’s short. “You know.. I get my retirement check like clockwork every month. It goes right into the bank account. They can do that now. It’s not like I need the money and she’s a good girl. Hardworking. I know she’s trying.”
Mary attended ITT Technical Institute for a while, but the school shut down and none of her credits will transfer anywhere else. She’s decided to take some time off from classes while she figures out a new plan. She wants to eventually get a job as a medical technician.
“I could never afford to go to school for medicine, I wanted to be a doctor growing up. I like helping people and I thought this could be a way to do that. Make enough to work just one job, you know?”
With the closing of her campus, she’s deeply in debt for her loans and unsure how she’s going to make the payments. The promise of a decent job after graduation made it seem easy enough when she filled out the paperwork.
“I was thinking I could pick up an extra night shift when the deferments run out.. To at least pay the monthly minimum and keep from defaulting.”
* * *
Mary is a survivor of rape.
Two years ago, she woke one morning in a strangers bed. The night before she had stopped at the bar to blow off some steam. She vaguely recalled chatting the prior evening with the man she’d now discovered snoring gently next to her. He had seemed nice enough. Funny and friendly, if a little awkward. She had asked if he’d watch her drink while she ran to the restroom. She recalls coming back, finishing her beer, and ordering a second. And then she found herself waking naked and sore, with no recollection of anything else.
“I mean.. I didn’t go to the police. They probably wouldn’t do anything. I was so stupid. It was my own fault, right? He seemed like a nice guy..”
Once every few months, he texts her, asking if she’d like to go out. When this happens, she spirals out of control. She tells me she suffers thoughts about suicide and struggles from a deeply rooted sense of self loathing with sharp mood swings. She’s been seeing a doctor and is receiving treatment for depression. The psychologist suggests that she’s going through stages of PTSD.
Sometimes, in the dead of night, she wakes up convinced she’s back in that bed and starts screaming until her housemate rushes in to calm her down.
* * *
Mary voted for the first time in her life in this election.
“I really wanted to vote for Bernie, but he didn’t make it. I wasn’t exactly happy, you know? Voting for Hillary. But she was better than the alternative and by the time it came to Election Day I found myself.. Excited. That we were finally going to have a woman President. I stayed up that night checking Google every few minutes to see if anything had been announced. She was ahead in the reporting and I had an opening shift in the morning, so I went to bed thinking we had won.”
Mary woke the next day, rushed into her job, and didn’t discover the results until a co-worker told her. Suffering a near to complete meltdown, she walked off her shift in tears and hasn’t been back since. She’s fairly sure she’s been fired.
In the time that I spoke with her, I got the sense of a woman sleepwalking through her day. Deeply ensconced in a waking nightmare.
She obviously hasn’t showered since that morning. Her hair is a tangled, disheveled mess. Her eyes are an ugly red from jagged fits of sobbing. She sits in her pajamas, and every few minutes falls into a slight rocking motion while she talks to me.
“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean.. I couldn’t understand it. I heard that tape. The one where he was saying he could do anything he wants to girls because he’s famous? And then I think about the guy who.. you know. Did what he did to me. And I think, that guy could be President, too. I live in a country where no one cares what men do to women.”
“I just don’t understand. How can we have a man like that as President? Why did people vote for that?”
* * *
I reach over as her voice trails off in the recording and stop the playback. Pull my legs in under me as I hunker down in my chair.
It’s cold in here. Winter approaches and it’s cold, but they’ll give me the heat back on Monday.
I wonder if I’ll stop shivering then.