A Love Affair to Remember
I have enjoyed a long love affair with Washington, DC.
From my first venture as a Girl Scout when we became lost in a dangerous part of the city and marched, 10 skinny white girls arm-in-arm singing Alice the Camel, oblivious to the danger of our surroundings. In High School my theater company travelled to DC for the first AIDS memorial quilt as research for a play we were writing. Spread out on the Ellipse we wandered for hours and read the panels and wept for lost lovers and a disease that then felt hopeless. My college had a house on The Hill and twice I took creative writing electives and observed the city with the eyes of imagination. Soon after when my sister moved to DC for graduate school I was thrilled. I once took the train, an exhausted family medicine resident, a ten hour sojourn with my 3 month old son to visit my sister and meet my newborn niece and I experienced the city as a mother: trying to breast feed in Eastern Market, navigating Union Station with a stroller and luggage. Even after she moved away, I continued to visit but as an emerging healthcare advocate. Whenever possible I have booked my ticket to this city that has held my heart in a tender embrace. Now able to fly, I watch like a child with my nose pressed against the window waiting for the monument to come into view. Every trip these past eight years I have an Old Fashioned at the rooftop bar overlooking the White House, crowded with sexy staffers in shoes I will never walk in, and I have toasted Obama and imagined knowing him as a friend.
I have felt the energy of The Hill, this inconsistent lover, flowing from joyous to furious, hopeless to empowered, enraptured to embittered, altered in the blink of an eye by an election. I have loitered in the door of committee hearings and sat attentively in the Gallery, hearing brilliant oratories to a crowd of three.
I have taken my children on bike rides through the mall, to meet Senators who didn’t end up being there, for family selfies at the White House gate, and to teach the story of our country through memorials. This flawed city of mysteries has been my kindred spirit and, I, it’s fickle mistress.
In January I drove with two amazing women and we unloaded at a hotel where beautiful people in long gowns returned from a ball after midnight. With a few hours of sleep, the next morning we complimented a stranger on her hat and she reached into her bag and handed us a pink and red hand-knitted one. Johnny, an Ethiopian immigrant, drove us to the Hill and shared his own story—pretending to be from Canada to evade gangers, navigating family reunions in Africa.
The Capitol beamed at us despite gray skies and we joined our sisters around the world and stood, bodies crushed to strangers like intimate friends, captivated by our mutual purpose. Our voices grew weak and scratchy with cheering and our faces slick from tears. And we marched, limbs locked, we stumbled, and we chanted and we became the movement. This time my march through DC was not as an oblivious child. As we rounded the final corner to the White House I felt sickened to be connected to a government that is not me. Heart-broken, the ache of discovering my life’s love has betrayed me, on the corner of Pennsylvania and 15th, I broke up with this city I have so loved these many years.
We rode the elevator back to our hotel room, weary and wrinkled, cheeks ruddy from wind, and a pretty family of four looked at us uncomfortably and I knew in their disapproving glance they were there for the Ball and not for the March. I became a stranger in an angry world.
I return to DC soon and for the first time in memory I am not excited. I have not arranged meetings to discuss access to healthcare on the Hill. I will not toast the administration from my rooftop perch nor will I walk by the White House or sit, mesmerized, in the gallery.
But here is what I will do.
I will hold my head high and pray for this country. I will make phone calls and write letters. I will march and I will rally. I will diligently caretake neighbors already feeling the burn of marginalization and I will raise my own children to know better. And rather than accept that I am witnessing a train wreck inexplicably in front of my eyes I will labor for the day when my return to DC will be a reawakening.
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