I’ve been seeing him everywhere.
I haven’t been sleeping well these past few weeks. Since the election, I’ve felt like an old rubber band, stretched thin to expose all its cracks.
I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart in my throat. In the morning I reach for the echo chamber of horrors on my phone and panic my way through the latest breaches in protocol, common sense, decency. I struggle to breathe my way through a commute, a work day, smile at friends and strangers, be present and wholehearted and honest and loving, because if we have any hope at all, it rests in being our fullest selves.
It hasn’t been working. A few nights ago around 4 am, it finally hit me: January 20.
For nearly four years, I’ve semi-jokingly referred to the 20th of January as Rebecca Louise Miller Liberation Day- my own personal holiday. Sometimes I’ll take the day off of work, do something especially nice for myself, marvel over what’s happened since the last time January 20th rolled around. And remember the day my new life started.
On that morning in 2013, I woke up alone, swamped in misery, curled up on the couch at my friend Lauren’s. I’d spent the night in a room she was preparing to turn into a nursery for twins who would arrive in a few months.
The night before, she called a taxi to pick me up from her place in Sunnyside, drive me home to Brooklyn, wait while I quickly packed a bag, then take me back to her apartment. Lauren is one of my wisest friends- she knew if the car was waiting, my resolve wouldn’t falter.
So on the night of January 19th, with the taxi waiting downstairs, I tossed clothing into a carry-on while my husband told me he thought he was losing his mind, that he had ruined the best thing that ever happened to him. Our cat kept jumping inside my suitcase, making us laugh and then cry even harder. He threatened, in a single breath, to kill himself and then to move in with his 20-year-old student if I walked out. I cried myself nearly to the point of vomiting, then left anyway.
Here’s a thing I never knew about abusive relationships- you find a way to experience them as normal. No matter how bizarre the behavior thrown your direction, how outlandish the demand or violent the outburst, your brain will do backflips in order to create a kernel of logic. When a reality-based mind finds itself in a world where cause has no connection to effect, it will do whatever it takes to forge its own.
In the end, the distance between that which I knew and that which I was willing to accept, created a cognitive dissonance that brought me very close to my edge. And I got to the point where I was completely worn down, willing to agree to anything to avoid another confrontation. So a huge part of me earnestly relented to the idea that I was a selfish, careless, unattractive, secretly sabotaging woman. I let him dictate how I should dress, how fast I should walk, the volume of my voice, and a host of humiliations too intimate to detail. By the time I finally left on January 19, it wasn’t because I was being mistreated; it was because I’d run out of ways to try and make him love me again.
I’m still struggling to scrape together forgiveness for the years I spent selling myself out. For my unwillingness to trust my senses and lived experience over the words of someone I knew to be an untrustworthy narrator of his story and my own.
He walked me out to the taxi and we gave each other a kiss goodbye. He asked me to promise to return. I promised, and in that moment, I meant it. I loved him. And I never saw him again.
Until recently. Over the last few weeks, I’ve started catching glimpses of him everywhere. Riding past on a bicycle; sitting across from me on the subway; in a booth at the farmer’s market. I panic, double take and he’s gone- replaced by a face that’s not even that similar.
Of course, I haven’t been sleeping well. Who has, these days? Our personal demons have been shaken awake. They’re assembling, because of what’s coming.
On January 20th.
When we’re asked to give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, when we’re encouraged to ignore his words, actions and history; when our friends and loved ones insist “the world will not end,” and “we just can’t know,” any attempt to believe them is agreeing to our own gaslighting; to become complicit in the erasure of the truth. We have the benefit (most of us, anyway), of not being madly in love with Donald Trump, but the desire to survive and maintain our way of life bears its own potent seduction. And the pull towards normalcy will not weaken with time.
This is happening. It is not normal. It’s time to stop asking each other to calm down. He has repeatedly made his positions clear; please do not suspend your disbelief.
My personal history has taught me this: if you are a rational person, you will feel the desire to rationalize. Resisting that desire is critical to our survival. Especially as time passes and the initial shock of the election begins to wear off, we have to remain vigilant to the truth of our own perception. It’s incredibly easy to adapt to the unacceptable- I’d argue it’s a human default- but there is too much at stake to ever let that happen. Compromising yourself to appease a tyrant will feel like the most rational course of action in the heat of the moment, but it actually puts you in greater danger.
I have never been one of those infuriating people who believe that everything happens for a reason, but I also know that our lives are the only training ground we’ve got. Our trauma and struggle have the power to transform us. If you’re finding that this election has jiggled loose some of your own painful history, I invite you to get help if you need it, then to turn toward your demon and ask what it has already taught you about surviving and working against whatever’s coming. That’s how we move from triggered to locked and loaded.
This January 20th, I’m no longer planning to celebrate. I will pledge allegiance to the truth of my own lived experience, and to the fight ahead.