America has broken my heart.
I haven’t slept well since the election.
My preschooler is going through a phase of nightmares; I lie awake most nights until she comes into our bed in the early morning hours, knowing that only the feel of her small, solid body pressed trustingly against mine will allow me to relax enough to fall into a deep slumber.
Everything has changed. The world I thought I knew has turned out to be at least partially, if not fundamentally, a lie, an illusion. This is not because a woman won’t be our next President; that’s in some ways incidental. It’s because it turns out that the fabric of America has hate woven so deeply within that I can no longer tell whether the blanket made from that fabric has room beneath it for me.
I have many close, true, deep White friends, who’ve seen me through good and bad, and who I thought knew me in all the ways friends do. Now a fissure has opened up between us, a hairline fracture that is visible only upon the closest inspection but which is somehow omnipresent. I find myself desperately, at times almost frantically, throwing information across this divide, trying to throw as much weight as I can to bind us together, trying to identify and bolster our areas of common ground. I do not want to become an “us” or a “them.” Even though it turns out I always have been, both.
I have never felt this feeling before.
A certain delicacy has entered conversation. I trip over my tongue with unasked questions: Are we together? Are we apart? Do you condone these things, somewhere deep down in yourself? Would you tell me if you did? Why aren’t you expressing outrage? Do you feel the fear I feel? Do you understand it? And if it came down to it, would you protect my family? Would you protect me? How do we fix this? How do I fix this?
I want to rip people open and examine their insides for their true feelings, as if such things are black and white. I want to dismantle my circle and rebuild it surrounding myself with the few, the very few, who I know to be true, who will shield me from the world. I want to fill my head with sound until the doubt that underlies my every thought is driven away.
My world feels shattered, torn, stripped, harsh. My world has tilted, and an ugliness has poked its head up and said, “I am here, underneath you and around you. You cannot ignore me anymore.”
There is a before, and an after, and there always will be.
Every person I know has experienced some form of harassment — on a spectrum that ranges widely from teasing to hate crime — at some point. I personally have encountered racism occasionally and sexism consistently. But the harassment I have encountered has been mostly of the schoolyard bully variety. I have had a privileged enough life, even as a brown woman, to have been shocked by the hateful racist incidents I’ve experienced. I am privileged enough that I have felt comfortable yelling or gesturing back, trusting that I’d be supported by bystanders, the police, and American culture in general.
All of that is different now. Maybe it’s the abject failure of our culture to prevent gun violence, combined with the emboldening of the most hateful parts of our society. Maybe it’s because I’m a parent. All I know is that if confronted by the exact same hate-filled experiences I’ve had in the past, I would be thinking only and immediately about physical safety. I would not try to make a political point. I would not trust that a bystander would protect me, that the police would be called, that I would be safe.
I want to keep believing that these things are still true. I am trying to do so. But I now have a plan for what I would do if I encountered hate in various contexts: out with the kids, out alone, in the car, at night. I’m now wary when strangers approach me. I now do visual safety checks even in broad daylight.
I have never done these things before.
How much longer can marginalized communities survive on adrenaline? How much longer can I?
And how do I repair my broken heart?