Monday, November 17, 2008

"Twenty-Three Years and Thirteen Days"

In terms of female friendships, I have sixty-eleventeen inspirations but only three true Women of My Life. One of these three I met in 1985, in a dorm lounge, where she was being way too cute and cynical and cutting for her own good. Intimidated, I decided I didn't like her.

She kept being cute and cynical and cutting, however, and at some point, I realized I loved her. Eventually, I went with her to Ireland for a semester; I listened with her to The Pretenders; I cried with her under a sink; I stood up with her at her wedding; I learned new dimensions of pain and guilt from her during her divorce. Twenty-three years later, she can make me blow open a kidney with laughter and provide the comforting feeling that someone in the world knows everything about me and still doesn't make a citizen's arrest. She and I? Lifers.

This dearling gel, called Colleen, has spent the last few decades shedding her armour of cynicism and allowing kindness and vulnerability their rightful place.

She is so cool.

Who better, then, to relate a pivotal moment for the U.S., the moment when millions of citizens felt--hokey as it sounds--a renewed sense of possibility?

I refer, of course, to the recent presidential election. Colleen lives in Chicago with her beau, Tim, and threw her energy on election day towards hope. Of that historical day, in an historical place, she writes:

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I spent the afternoon of Nov. 4 curled up next to the elevator on the floor of the tiny lobby of a nondescript downtown Chicago office building, peering at a list of Pennsylvania voters, clutching my iPhone in one hand and plugging my ear with the other to block out the cheery voices of a dozen others who'd fled the steamy warren of basement offices crammed full of Obama campaign staff and eager volunteers. I left lots of cheery voice mails reminding people to vote. A few of the people who picked up the phone were curt; two hung up on me as soon as I said "I'm a volunteer with the Obama campaign" (which I found thrilling to say), but most were delighted to tell me that they'd voted for Obama.

Making calls did what I hoped it would: distracted me from my anxious, audibly-whamming heart, and made me feel like I'd done some little thing besides sending money to fight the good fight. I hopped the El to Tim's office at 5:00. We sat at his desk eating takeout sushi and obsessively refreshing news Web sites until we joined the river of people heading to Grant Park around 7:15.

It's impossible to be a misanthrope in the midst of an enormous, good-natured crowd. Nobody shoved, nobody was drunk or obnoxious, nobody bitched about the long lines for the metal detectors, everybody joshed good-naturedly with the cops, everybody was smiling and laughing. As the field slowly filled, people were glued to the Jumbotron screen showing CNN. (Seriously, Bill Bennett, shut your giant head the fuck up. Best comment of the night, from an incredulous James Carville: "After the last eight years, I hardly think y'all have any authority to tell Barack Obama how to govern.") Roars went up every time CNN projected a state for Obama. Boos for each state called for McCain. Roars whenever the screen showed the live feed from the park. That's us! Wave! Woooooooo hooooooo! We're in the middle of history! When the California polls closed and CNN declared Obama the winner, people screamed, cried, hugged strangers. I felt a funny mixture of giddiness and gravity: We did it. Take that, haters. I can finally let go of eight years' worth of anger & embarrassment over what's been done to my country. Oh, god, there is so much to heal and to fix.

The crowd was surprisingly quiet during McCain's concession speech, booing only when the camera shifted to Sarah Palin. We waited another hour for Obama to come onstage, turning to one another every few minutes and saying incredulous things: Holy shit, this is real. I can't believe I'm here for this. Oh my god. Yes, we can.

I said the Pledge of Allegiance and really meant it.

When Obama and his family appeared at 11:00, a quarter of a million people whooped and cheered and hallelujah'd. I'll never hear anything like it again as long as I live. I teared up at the sight of him and his young family, beautiful and smiling and willing to take on this tremendous task for us. When he began to speak, I started to flat-out weep, big gasping sobs of joy and pride and relief (and a little bit of fear for him, too). Yes, we can, everybody chanted along with him. Yes. We. Can.
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Here's a picture for you. Tim is dead center in the "frame" formed by the two flags; Colleen is to his left, leaning on him.

21 comments:

Kylie w Warszawie said...

Awesome!

My bff here is moving unexpectedly and I'm in a state of depression over it, even though I know it's better for her and her family.

But last night I was talking with my husband about my very best friend in the whole wide world, whom I have known since we were 6. Yeah, we're lifers.

Balou said...

I have a friend like that - since 1983. I love your description. And thanks to Colleen for the awesome description of her day on November 4th. How awesome to have been there.

lime said...

the friends like that are worth their weight in gold. we see each other's flaws and yet accept them and celebrate growth.

steve said...

Very cool, Colleen. I wish I knew someone who was there. Chances are I do, I suppose. We were all there in spirit, and continue to be there in the coming years.

Wendy said...

awesome photo! I think I see them!

Shieldmaiden96 said...

An old high school friend sent me a message on Facebook; I asked her if she was at Grant Park and she explained that she was too pregnant to be on her feet that long, but she added this:

"I had him as a professor in law school. He is truly a wonderful man."

Which just made me happier than I already was, if that was possible, to hear from someone who dealt with him one on one that he is what he appears to be.

2009, I can't wait to see ya.

flutter said...

I love this, and it makes me sad that I don't have that.

citizen of the world said...

Lovely. True friends are a treasure.

chelle said...

so sweet! friendships are wicked.
look at all those people all crammed together. here's hoping everyone remembered their deodorant!

Jonah K. Haslap said...

I'm back.

Princess Pointful said...

It is funny to know in a single moment that you are truly a part of history.

Jazz said...

Yep, y'all did it. The world thanks you.

phd in yogurtry said...

I see them! How cool! That's a picture for framing. And there is no better for the heart than a lifer friend. Not an easy feat, especially as these days friends come and go (or change political parties on ya.. now there's a real bummer).

Say It said...

so movingly told, i'm misting up. Amazing.

Dory said...

I'm not sure why I cried when I watched it, and I'm not sure why I have stingy eyeballs hearing it told from another's eyes. It is what it is.

Franki said...

I think it's rare when our cynicism quiets down long enough to let us feel something bigger than our selves. Yay Colleen!

jess said...

Yay! And with that pithy comment, I am going to bed so my brain can recharge.

geewits said...

I think I would like Colleen too. I really love that picture. How lucky for her to have been there. Another blogger that I read had a post about his sister and her family being there in the V.I.P. section, so between these two posts, I feel like I was almost there. Thanks!

Chantal said...

You guys are lucky to have each other. I can't wait to see what life with Obama will be like. I am so happy for your country!

jess said...

Why did I think you lived in Montana? Are you from Montana? Or am I just embarrassing myself?

pistols at dawn said...

I really wish I'd thought to go out on this particular night as opposed to sitting in a quiet, restrained suburb that was in bed by 11.