Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail
By the Seats of Our Pants
“. . . the sadness lives in the recognition that a life cannot matter.”
Claudia Rankine, “Cornel West makes the point. . . ”
from Don’t Let Me Be Lonelyby Wendy Stewart While in graduate school, twice a month I volunteer with my friend Barb at the Abilities Council where our friend Dawn is already working full-time. We accompany Dawn’s Abilities ladies on outings: to restaurants, the casino, a flower show. Apart from helping with wheelchairs and doors and toilets and the velcro fasteners of pants and so forth, there’s not really any work involved, and our way is paid. The ladies eat us up like candy; for a couple of hours, we are not stressed-out young women but helpful children once again, cossetted, praised.
***At a national memorial ceremony, a presidential candidate stumbles and slumps against the arm of an aide before she is whisked off-stage, away from the public eye.
***Olive is a story-book grandmother whose white hair loops artfully around pink cheeks and pinker eyeglasses. Her merry blue eyes twinkle. Her right arm dispenses warm if bird-like hugs. Her left side comes along with us mutely, grudgingly, and both sides are crammed into stretched but impeccable pastel sweater-sets and coordinating slacks. Her voice is soft but clear, and that’s worth a great deal at a table where conversation is difficult for a lot of reasons, where one woman can speak only through a computerized device and another not at all.
***The presidential candidate reappears in public hours later. Her body’s fallibility is all anyone can talk about. For intending to get back to work campaigning, she is ridiculed. For reconsidering and taking a few days off to recover, she is ridiculed.
***The women may be tired of their own and one another’s stories by the time they gather to go out, but could be they’re just being polite, in asking for ours. Or hungry for new stories.
***The presidential candidate’s body is clearly past childbearing, so there’s that. One thing her opponent can’t accuse her of is having “blood coming out of her wherever,” for which he’d denounced a younger woman, a journalist who’d asked him a question earlier in the campaign. Similarities and differences, all right, that’s what the presidential candidate’s body has to the body of the putative menstruator. More differences than similarities? Hard to say. Her body’s nearly as sound as a man’s, now. But it coughs, so there’s that. How it coughs.
***But we’d been trained, Barb and I, to draw the ladies out in conversation. What matters to them now? What had mattered to them at other times in their lives? Were there any stories they’d like to share with us? All the questions we’d been taught to ask, had practiced asking, feel impossibly personal. They politely deflect our questions and ask about our lives. Not about what matters to us, but how we manage the business of living as our own young selves.
***One time when the presidential candidate had suffered a head injury, she’d sustained a concussion. Prompt, effective medical care meant that she’d made a full recovery. But the incident revealed her to be the kind of person who’ll get a concussion when dealt a sharp blow to the head, so there’s that.
***We’re worrying, Barb and I, about paying our rent that month. We’re making light of it, but it’s on our minds. We run through ludicrous job possibilities. We fantasize about our secure professional futures and about how it should be possible, right now, to borrow a little against those —“pay you back when we’re 45!” (just to pull an unthinkable age out of the air)—but we know we’re both going back to waiting tables. We know that the tips we earn this weekend will get us through.
***The presidential candidate is 68 years old. That’s considered very old, because it’s her body, still female after all, that’s 68; 68er somehow than her mind. Her opponent is two years older, but his personal physician has testified that the choleric septuagenarian will be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” The presidential candidate’s pantsuits are thought to lack gravitas, when sometimes she sits down in them, and sometimes she stands up. So there’s that. Women’s breeches cry out for a punchline.
***Overlapping laughter and reminiscence—during this conversation that has nothing to do with the prompts in the volunteer training brochure—from several of the women who’d waited tables, too. Ten years ago, fifty years ago. “Girls,” says Olive, sweetly. “Girls,” to Dawn and Barb and me. “You’re sitting on a goldmine.”
About the author: A Canadian transplant who’s both fascinated by and terrified of American elections, Wendy Stewart teaches in Binghamton, New York where she lives with her family. Her poetry, fiction, and non-fiction can be found in Ragazine.cc, The San Pedro River Review, and most recently in The Afterlife of Discarded Objects: Memory and Forgetting in a Culture of Waste: http://theafterlifeofdiscardedobjects.com.