A year ago today was supposed to be a wonderful day.
On the afternoon of November 8, I drove to a delivery center and picked up 45 cartons of my new novel, LILY, fresh off the press. After unloading them into the garage, I then drove to our local polling place and cast my vote for Hillary Clinton to be the next president of the United States. Having spent the previous year living amidst a sea of TRUMP 2016 signs, it felt great knowing that after that night I would no longer have to endure either the rage those signs produced in me or the horror of seeing the gibbering idiot on television. I went home, held a copy of my new novel for the first time, and thought about how glorious the next four years were going to be.
We all know what happened. Although I did not know right away, as I went to bed early. At that point people were starting to worry, but I was sure things would turn out all right. I discovered the horrible truth around 3:00 in the morning, when I got up to take one of the dogs out and looked up the results online. I could not go back to sleep.
A few hours later, I got up again and discovered that my mother was having some kind of medical emergency. Lying on her bed shaking and moaning, she was unresponsive. So at 5:00 in the morning of November 9, I stood in her bedroom while four paramedics tried to figure out what was wrong with her and I tried to figure out what was wrong with America.
I distinctly remember driving round that day doing errands and feeling as if everything had gone wrong. I was supposed to be happy, both about my new book and my new president. Instead, for the first time in my life, I felt afraid of both my government and of my fellow citizens. At my first stop, the bank, when the teller asked me how I was, I answered, “Ashamed of my country.” The teller, a young black woman, sighed. Then we both started to cry.
I felt that way for days. This had never happened before, even during the AIDS years when we kept electing idiots. This time, I felt a strangling sense of doom. How had we gone from electing Barack Obama to putting into office someone who was so obviously incompetent, so obviously hateful, and so obviously wrong in every possible way? Particularly when arguably the most qualified human to ever run for the office was the alternative?
Mostly I was very, very sad that a world I had helped create by marching and writing and voting—a world I was happy and proud to live in even if it was imperfect—now seemed to be on the brink of being destroyed. Had it all been for nothing? Could it all be taken away so easily? I truly feared that it could.
As time wore on, I calmed down. I also came to realize that the way I felt about Trump being elected was the way some people had felt about Obama being elected. Although they were wrong, they genuinely feared that his election would change their lives in terrible ways. And maybe it did, if their idea of terrible meant helping people they feared and cared nothing about achieve some level of equality with them. The point is, right or wrong, I understood how they must have felt in the months following that election, which in turn helped me understand how what had just happened had happened.
Today, a year later, my life has not changed very much. I got up and fed the dogs and cats and horses. I checked on my mother, who was sleeping peacefully, then sat down to work on my next novel. It wasn’t until someone on Facebook mentioned the anniversary that I thought about it. Immediately, I remembered the feelings of disbelief and helplessness, the stomach-clenching panic every time I thought about what horrors Trump was going to unleash. I still can’t believe this happened to us, but those feelings have been replaced by tentative feelings of hope. So far, Trump has been completely ineffectual, unable to come through on a single campaign promise. More and more, it looks as if he won’t last out his first term.
A few days ago, Democrats won important races in a lot of places they weren’t supposed to. Perhaps most symbolically, Danica Roem, a transgender woman, was elected to the Virginia state legislature, ousting 13-term incumbent Robert Marshall, the author of an anti-trans bill who refused to debate her or use correct pronouns when referring to her. Things are changing. People are standing up. There are rays of hope, rays that with a lot more work will grow into a shining, glorious sun. I look forward to the day when we can all bask in that warmth.
Michael Thomas Ford’s most recent novel, Lily, is a Tiptree Award long list title and is a finalist for the Lambda Literary award and the Shirley Jackson Award. More Michael Thomas Ford