The Funeral of a Nation

My grandfather is dead. I thought there would be more time, another birthday party for me to ignore the invitation for. But he has been dead for two weeks. Long enough to cast a vote for presidency. Long enough for a large and estranged family to organize the funeral, buy plane tickets, or save up gas money for the trek to the homestead of Michigan.

For most of the seventeen-hour drive, my partner and I have been bouncing around from CDs, to the iPod, to the radio, to small breaks with RedBull. As we finally cross from Ohio into Michigan, our sense of relief is met with a terrifying sense of dread. Miles tick down like the ball dropping on New Year’s. We find we’re listening to NPR more and more. In the next twenty-four hours, everything is going to change. My grandfather will be eulogized. The nation will either have its first female president, or a man who….

I shake my head.

I can’t even think of what would happen if he gets elected. I take shallow measured breaths, with each one, praying to get through the next two days in one piece. My dogs are sleeping in the back seat. My partner is barely awake beside me. My sister is dating another woman on the other side of the country. My nieces are tucked safely in bed in the state I’ve just arrived in.

There is so much at stake in this election.

“If he wins, we should buy a gun,” I tell my partner, voice hiding within the confines of the night. If I speak too loudly, if I brace myself too much, I may tip the election in favor of the sum of all fears. I can’t even bring myself to say his name.

“You should buy a knife. Maybe two. One to keep with you at all times, and one to keep in your car,” he responds. He doesn’t need to say it. In the silence, we both hear Grab them by the pussy. I bite my teeth together. I dare someone to grab me. “We should stock up on water and dog food.” We bounce ideas back and forth, preparing for another war.

On the radio, it’s announced that Trump has won another state. And another. Clinton has fallen behind. We breathe more, we drive, the dogs stay asleep in the backseat. Another mile ticks by. Ten more. We’re so close to the end.

Headlights cut through the dark road and spill onto my mother’s small house. We pull in the driveway and she meets us outside, cigarette in hand. I last saw her barely over a week ago, for another family member’s funeral. I’d picked her and my oldest sister up from the airport and was informed that the woman standing in front of me would be voting for Trump.

I’d been told earlier in the drive that she never made it to the polls. A pathological liar my entire life, I am not sure what to believe. I take refuge in the fact that even if she did vote, she has the decency to lie to me about it.

We stumble into the house, her dogs, locked away in a bedroom with her husband, bark loud enough to wake the neighborhood. My dogs make their way into the fenced in area, do their business and follow me to the bedroom.

My bones are tired and sore from the drive, from the radio, from the fact Clinton still hasn’t pulled into the lead. My partner crawls into bed beside me while my mother makes up an air mattress in the living room. She and her husband of ten years have slept separately for longer than I can remember.
Blue light illuminates the room as my partner checks the latest information for the election. “Trump is still ahead,” he says.

“I’m so scared,” I whisper as a dog crawls under the blankets and nestles against my neck. He pushes the button to kill the screen to his phone and we’re in complete darkness. My partner’s hand stumbles through the shadows to find me. He tries to reassure me with his touch, but I am mostly numb. He can’t win the election. He just can’t.

“We’ll know more in the morning. There are still a lot of votes to be counted.”

I lay awake while his breathing evens out. All three dogs breathe nearly in unison, like ocean waves crashing and going back out to sea. Slowly, I relax and follow suit. It’s still dark when he stirs beside me. I don’t know what time it is, but my body screams to remain still, hidden in blackness for several more hours. Though my eyes are closed, they register the difference in lighting as his phone jumps to life.

“Trump won,” he says.

His words freeze the air. My heart falls out of my body and onto the floor. I’m not sure I’m breathing. “No.” I say. This can’t be happening. “What?”
“Trump won.”
“It’s my grandad’s funeral today. You couldn’t just give me a few more hours of peace?” My voice rises. A war is coming.

“You would have survived the Holocaust,” my mother told me. It is one of the first memories I have of her. A thick layer of smoke from her cigarettes surrounds her as she speaks.
“Why?” My sisters and I ask.
As though she doesn’t hear the question she continues, “Jacci and Laura have dark hair, so they would be dead. But you. You have the blond hair and blue eyes the Germans looked for.” She touches my hair gently. Only, my eyes are green and always have been.

His alarm goes off. My alarm goes off. We push snooze to avoid starting the day. Another alarm. Another. I text my oldest sister to tell her that we woke up late and will hold her up and prevent her from getting to the funeral early. She tells me she, her husband, and children will wait but we need to hurry. My mother’s voice continues to play in a loop through my head, “You would have survived the Holocaust.”

But my sisters would be dead.
My grandmother was in a concentration camp.
My sister is dating a girl.
My other sister has two daughters.
I have had an abortion.
My granddad is dead.
I’m having trouble breathing.

Sensing my distress, my partner reaches over and squeezes my knee. I exhale. I inhale. I swallow the anxiety plaguing me. I swallow the urge to vomit. I exhale, I inhale. I swallow. I did what I could. I cast my vote. My partner cast his for the first time in his twenty-three years. I had intelligent debates with people on social media and in person. I voted. I made sure to vote.

Why wasn’t it enough?

I ride in the very back of my sister’s husband’s vehicle, with my niece. There is a rest stop where I buy skittles and share with my nieces and nephew. My sister, a health nut to the core, glares at me. We discuss the election results. When we speak of my other sister, when we talk of the Vice President-Elect’s support of conversion therapy, I crack. Tears sting my eyes. The world, my nation is hollow. It is the perfect day for a funeral.

“Why are you crying?” my niece asks.
“Because I’m scared,” I tell her honestly.

The sun is bright but the creep of winter is setting into the bones of the trees. I can’t help but wonder if I’m burying my grandfather or my nation today.

In solidarity to my emotional turmoil, my partner and I take a shot of vodka in the parking lot to act as a buffer from too many feelings hitting me at once. My abusive, alcoholic father stands at the door of the church greeting people as they walk in. My sister and I stop dead in our tracks, grab her childrens’ hands and back-pedal. “Why aren’t we going in?” her husband and my partner ask. We shake our heads and keep speed walking to another entrance of the church.

I have not seen this man since I graduated high school, ten years ago. At that time I was still afraid of him. Before that encounter, he had lost custody of us during a drunken night my sisters and I try to forget. And yet, that man is no longer my father, at least not the one I knew.

He sits mere pews from me, my partner, my nieces and nephew, sister and her husband. His hair is greyer. He moves slower. Parts of me are scared as I watch his siblings sit beside him, or as I observe my sister stiffen in his mere presence.

Then, when the preacher conducting the sermon says, “Let us pray,” my father bows his head, and suddenly, the man is human. A boy who just lost his 104-year-old father. A man who lost the opportunity to watch his three children grow up and become a teacher, an intellectual, and a rebel.

The procession leads outside where there are elderly men in military uniforms standing beside flags. My granddad was a World War II Veteran, the same war I was brought up to believe I would have survived. My father stands just in front of my family. I know he recognizes my sister. I am unsure if he recognizes me. My nephew stumbles a few steps away from me, and I grab him as though the man he nears is a radioactive chemical spill rather than a man.

Gun shots ricochet through the air while my oldest niece covers her younger sister’s sensitive ears. In my arms, my nephew jerks from the sudden boom.
And then it is over.

My family and partner pile into the same vehicle we arrived in. My sister says goodbye to no one. I am shaking as I take my seat beside my niece. We eat candy until my stomach is upset.

We drive the miles to my niece’s swim practice and with each mile that stretches before us, I swallow the tears that are like acid in my throat. I take a breath deep enough to puff my chest. I sit straighter. I am the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. I am the granddaughter of a World War II veteran. I am the sister of a queer woman. I am a woman who has had an abortion.

I would have survived the Holocaust.

I will survive this war.

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional in Norway, Maine. She has recently become a recurrent contributor of FIDO Magazine and has had publications in UNE Magazine, The Sun Journal, The Portland Press Herald, Her Kind Vida, several editions of Zephyr, and many others. She is the founder of AbortionChat and regularly attends reproductive justice and writing conferences where she participates in panels or hosts them. She prefers the company of her three dogs and cats to humans.