We are perched at the top of a hill, waiting, feet already starting to ache against the pavement. In front of us is a traffic light barrier we are not yet allowed to pass. My hands shake as I move in a small circle, careful to keep to myself, careful not to bump into anyone around me. There are people as far as I can see, filling the street I stand on, streaming through crossroads and I wonder where those people are going. Where in this mess will they join and become part of us?
“Seattle women’s march estimates 50,000 attendees.”
Buried beneath my excitement is guilt.
You should be here.
I am here with a woman I already think of as my mother-in-law. She is six feet tall and beside her I feel safe. I was with her when I watched the election coverage. I was with her when I cried about the election coverage. It only feels right that I’m with her today, that she grabs my arm as I start to lose myself to the crowd, that she taps my shoulder and says “look” when she sees an eagle circling the blue sky above us.
“Call in sick,” I told you, but you couldn’t.
You were so mad you couldn’t go that
you yelled at me in the Bingo parlor the
night before, for saying something stupid,
like I do, and
all I could do was blink
at you and excuse myself to use the restroom.
A baby in a carrier with a sign that reads:
I AM WOMAN.
HEAR ME ROAR.
“She should be here,” I sigh,
and your mom says, “Send her a picture.”
I hope pictures of babies will make you happy.
Somewhere a drum beats in time, reminding me of high school football games, trailing behind the drumline with a cold trumpet in my cold hand. It is a pulsing heart that beats for a moment and the stops. The smell of maple floats across the street from a small bakery and my stomach growls. Impatiently I wonder why I am here.
Interviewer: “Do you believe in punishment for
abortion? Yes or no? As a principal.”
Trump: “The answer is that there has to be some
form of punishment.”
“I don’t understand, Mom.
I thought Donald Trump was a bully.
I thought bullies weren’t supposed to win.”
Of course I am here because I am frustrated.
Trump: “And when you’re a star, they let you do
it. You can do anything.”
A sign reads:
Of course I am here because I believe in this giant thing building itself up around me, a living, growing entity that I am a tiny part of.
Pence: Congress should oppose any effort to
put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal
legal status with heterosexual marriage.
Of course I am nervous and excited, twenty-three years old and whipping my head around to see if I spot anarchists, thinking, my parents don’t know I’m here.
A sign reads:
A WOMAN’S PLACE IS
IN THE REVOLUTION
But I hear my dad’s voice in my head, the voice that has always caused me to stop and question myself. And I realize I can’t come up with a good answer other than that I want to be here.
You would have a good answer.
You would know why you were here.
Every few minutes, a cheer rolls unprompted through the crowd. It passes through us like sports fans doing the wave. I find myself shouting, too.
“Seattle women’s march draws 175,000 attendees, organizers say.”
I know JoanE is in this crowd somewhere, in a long flowing skirt, stoned and singing and laughing. She’s been talking about this since the election. I hear her say, “Take darned good care of yourself.” I imagine her long life of protests and Grateful Dead concerts and know she was made for today.
I know Birdie is in this crowd somewhere, beside her brother that she talks about so much. I think of the way I found her in class, the morning after the election, her head in her hands. When I asked her if she was okay, she got up to use the bathroom, gone for a long time. After class we got lunch. “Do you need a hug?” she asked me. “Because I need a hug.” Later she will tell me the march made her feel “so peaceful and it really felt like we were more united than ever before.”
I crane my neck to look for them in the faces of strangers, knowing I’ll never find them here.
A sign reads:
I KNOW I’M NOT ALONE.
I am nestled against thousands of strangers. As they move I move with them. Elbows brush against me. A man apologizes for stepping on my toes, but I am wearing thick Doc Martens and didn’t even feel it. I bump a woman as I contort my body to capture a picture of a sign.
“Is that a picture of Jesus?” A man points at a sign.
“I don’t know, it kind of looks like my friend Christopher.”
As I wait I think about the last year of my life: loud TV screens, meaningless words thrown around like “crook” and “emails,” and me with my hands over my eyes and ears chanting “He won’t win he won’t win he can’t win.”
And on the night of the election, curled up on the couch, shaking at my head at the television screen:
You came home from work and
kissed me on the cheek, made a joke:
“The last time we can ever kiss each other.”
I erupted in tears and you looked at me with huge eyes,
apologizing. You couldn’t have known that was
all that had run through my selfish mind that night.
I think about the next four years of my life and whisper, “Survive.”
A sign reads:
“Women’s Marches: 1 million joined marches in the USA alone.”
I close my eyes and listen to the hum of thousands of people around me talking all at once.
“I understand how important birth control is, and I’m a lesbian!”
“My dad named me after a Grateful Dead song.
He’s been protesting this shit for a long time.”
I hear two men with a baby girl, talking to a man with a camera:
“We’re here for her.”
At the center of this uncountable mass of people, I realize I don’t feel any of the anxiety or claustrophobia I expected. They are afraid of the same things I am afraid of. They are the strength I’ve been looking for.
A girl places her hand on my arm as she maneuvers past me, catching up to her friend. I don’t flinch away from her touch. I see a young girl holding a sign that simply says “SAD!” and approach her, kneel to her level, and ask her parents if I can take her picture. A woman borrows my cell phone to call her husband, who she’s lost, and before I send her back into the crowd I let her hug me.
A sign reads:
While I will admit to a certain level of cynicism,
the fact is that I am a naysayer and hatchetman
in the fight against violence. I pride myself in taking
a punch and I’ll gladly take another because I choose
to live my life in the company of Ghandi and King.
My concerns are global. I reject absolutely revenge,
aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a
method is love. I love you, Sherriff Truman.
It is not the first time today I will feel the familiar burning creep up my throat, small tremble of my lips, water that builds behind my eyes that I won’t let break through, not now. But each time I will swallow it down because there are more people here than I can count. JoanE is here somewhere. Birdie is here somewhere.
You are here, too.
Amberly Baker is a student in Western Washington University’s Creative Writing program. She likes reading, playing Animal Crossing, and cats. This is her first published piece.