WOMEN

The Heartbreaking Realization That My Grandmother Will Never See A Woman President

“It won’t happen in my lifetime,” she said. “But it might happen in yours."
The author's grandmother watches Hillary Clinton's campaign launch, April 2015.
The author's grandmother watches Hillary Clinton's campaign launch, April 2015.

I dressed with care on Tuesday morning. Some of my friends had bought pantsuits for the occasion, some wore Hillary Clinton gear or shirts that snarked “Nasty women vote.” I chose a purple sweater ― one of the the colors of the suffragette movement at the start of last century. A leather jacket that was a gift from my mother, a ring that was a gift from my grandmother, and my lucky cowboy boots, the boots I wear when I need courage and strength. And, just before I left the house, a spritz of the perfume my mother wore when I was a child, the perfume she bought because it bore my name: Chloe.

The line to vote was long ― it snaked around two blocks ― but I used the time to chat with the women in front of me, and the November chill was eased by a small bag of cookies I bought from a student at the school where we cast our ballots. They were oatmeal chocolate chip, made with the recipe Hillary Clinton submitted in a 1992 cookie-making contest, back when no one thought anything of asking a Yale-educated lawyer to prove her femininity by demonstrating she could bake delicious cookies while her husband tried to run the country. And I called my grandmother.

Grandma Belle is 102 years old. She was born in 1914, a few months before the start of the First World War, and six years before the U.S. Constitution would be amended to grant women the right to vote. She has lived through a stunning amount of U.S. and world history: two world wars, the Depression, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, the women’s rights movement, the gay rights movement. She spent her life working as a teacher and a guidance counselor, and once she retired, she spent a decade volunteering, teaching immigrant children to read. She raised two girls in the 1950s and 1960s, girls who grew up to be feminist women, feminist women who would have four grandchildren between them ― all daughters. She voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.

As the line slowly shortened at my polling place, I chatted to her. I told her where I was, and how excited I was, and promised her I’d bring her an “I Voted” sticker, because she hadn’t received one when she voted by mail weeks ago. I cried for the first of many times that day. When I finally got to the front of the line, I should have been impatient: I’d been waiting for over an hour, and I was cold, and I had to get to work, and there were people around me sighing and shoving. But I smiled at everyone, and I took my time. We were about to make history, and besides, I knew someone who’d been waiting a lot longer than I had. When I finally got to the voting booth, my hands shook and my eyes welled up. I held my breath as I colored in the little bubble next to her name, and wiped away tears as I fed my ballot into the machine and thanked the poll workers.

I’ve cried a lot in the last day. I sobbed into the phone as a friend far away in Australia tried to console me. I’ve felt my eyes fill with tears as I made eye contact with another miserable-looking woman on the subway, a total stranger, both of us understanding each other perfectly without saying a word. I’ve wiped my eyes as I listened to a dear friend, a rape survivor who has just begun coming out to her friends and colleagues, sob at the realization that her own father had voted for the sexual predator who will soon live in the White House.

We voted because we wanted to see someone like us run our country. Someone who knew what it felt like to walk around in bodies like ours.

For many people who went to the polls on Tuesday, their vote was not for anything or anyone, but against a man and a worldview that fill them with disgust and dread. Not so for me and my friends. We voted for her. We voted for her policies, for her grit and determination, for her experience. And we voted because we wanted to see someone like us run our country. Someone who knew what it felt like to walk around in bodies like ours.

And we voted knowing that when you vote, you don’t just vote for a candidate ― you vote for your people. My people are white and black and brown and Jewish and Muslim. They’re gay and trans and straight. They’re becoming mothers, or choosing not to. They’re journalists and artists and professors and home health aides and teachers, trying to do good and important work and pay the rent. They are almost all immigrants or the children of immigrants. When I cast my ballot, I voted for the candidate I hoped would make policies to keep them safe and healthy, who would govern in a way that affirmed that they are welcome here, that they deserve full and fruitful American lives. I voted for her, and I voted for them.

Above all, I voted for my grandmother. The woman who has survived so much and witnessed so much, who has seen how great and how terrible this country can be.

On Tuesday night, I sat with her as election returns came in. She was wearing her “I’m With Her” shirt, and her “I Voted” sticker. A bottle of sparkling wine chilled in the fridge. As the situation went from bad to worse to dire, as the map grew redder and redder, our relatives left until it was just her and me. She sat in her living room, this woman who lost a sister to the 1918 flu pandemic, this woman who was widowed three times, this woman who has endured more heartbreak and loss than any one person should be able to bear, and she sighed.

“It won’t happen in my lifetime,” she said. “But it might happen in yours.” She held my hand, and I wept.

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