A Day in the Life of an Expat

I read the news today. Oh boy.

On Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, I awoke in the five o’ clock hour and just lay there in a half-asleep state, my brain still feeling the effects of the sleeping pill I had taken before going to bed. I use them only rarely now, when I know it will be impossible to shut my brain off in order to fall sleep. This was one of those nights. The day before was the 2016 presidential election back in my home country, the USA. In Sweden we are several time zones ahead, so when I finally pulled my groggy ass out of bed at six AM, it was still going on. The polls had closed but they were counting up the votes. I went to sleep the night before feeling relatively confident that Hillary Clinton would win, hopefully with a sizable landslide. Of course she would win. Everybody said she would. They had totally dismissed Donald Trump’s chances and were already talking about her presidency in the present tense. When she wins, they said, the cult of personality started by Donald Trump and its zealous adherents will still be around, and they will be very pissed off and very loud. She will have to figure out how to deal with them and heal the country. This was the constant narrative being repeated during the final weeks leading up to the election.

But then, the totally unexpected happened, was still happening as a matter of fact, as I opened up Facebook fully anticipating the messages of triumph and joy from my American friends. However, those weren’t the messages I saw. Instead, I saw a lot of updates written in full caps, about the shock and despair and horror they were feeling. Wait a minute…

Thus began the Five Stages of Grief.

Denial:

My husband made us coffee as I sat there reading those updates, not fully comprehending what I was seeing. “Uh…so it looks like Trump won,” I reported. The words hit me like a sledgehammer. My heart was pounding in my chest, like I had just finished running a marathon. At first I actually thought this had to be a joke, that my friends were mistaken. Or they were trolling. I mean, there’s no possible way that Donald Trump could be the next president of the United States. Right? That’s just ludicrous.

“Whaaaat?!?” His response was undoubtedly being repeated around the world.

I should have been getting ready for work, but at that moment all I could do was sit there, ignoring my coffee and trying to figure out what had just happened, because it hadn’t really happened.

Bargaining:

After all, they were still counting up the votes and neither candidate had reached the 270 vote threshold in order to win. He was ahead but there was still hope. There was still time. It hadn’t happened yet. Hillary could still win. And she was AHEAD in the popular vote! But Trump had taken North Carolina and Ohio and…Florida. They said that if Trump took Florida then he would win. It was well and truly over.

Depression:

I somehow managed to shower and dress myself and board a train to take me into the city to work. I sat there on the train feeling completely numb. I no longer wanted to look at Facebook. The updates and articles being posted were just too goddamned depressing. I needed to try and focus on the day ahead of me, on my students. I teach Home Economics at an international school in Växjö, Sweden, and I went over the things that needed to be done. The ninth graders would be baking little meat pies and spinach-feta pies and I had to make sure I bought Quorn crumbles for the vegetarian students so they could substitute those for the ground beef in the meat pie. The sixth graders were making candy apples and caramel popcorn, and I was wondering where I put the Popsicle sticks.

I had to switch to a bus when I got to the train station in Växjö. It was a minus four (24 Fahrenheit) freezing cold morning, as November mornings in Sweden typically are. The bus was late, and as I stood there on the totally exposed bus platform, for fifteen minutes, then twenty, and then twenty five minutes, I watched bus after bus which wasn’t my bus drive by. I thought about jumping in front of one of them. I didn’t want to live on this planet anymore. Nothing made sense. Donald Trump had won the election. He had done every single thing wrong, lost all three debates, committeed gaffe after gaffe, and got caught doing and saying things that would have been deal breakers for literally any other candidate. And yet, he won. Hate had won. Sexism had won. Racism had won. Bigotry had won. Islamophobia had won. Xenophobia had won. Anti-Intellectualism had won. Stupidity had won. The Ugly American had won.

By the time the bus finally arrived, I couldn’t feel my toes, so instead of throwing myself under it, I boarded it and felt its delicious warmth surrounding my body.

Anger:

I eventually got to work. Groceries were bought and I welcomed the distraction of lively practical lessons. Every now and then, an American colleague would ask me, “So, are you a proud American?” in a can-you-believe-this-shit-is-happening kind of way. Swedish colleagues would ask me how I felt about the election, and I would tell them that it hadn’t really sunk in yet. Right before my last lesson, there was some kind of minor drama involving two students’ lockers. They both started chattering at me in rapid Swedish and I couldn’t really understand what they were saying. At that moment, I couldn’t have cared less, and I told them so. “I don’t care.” I was fighting back tears at this point. If I get an email from a parent informing me that they didn’t appreciate me telling their kid that I didn’t care about their problem, then I would apologize and tell them that Donald Trump had just been elected president and I was barely holding it together emotionally. And they would totally understand.

There was a staff meeting directly after my last lesson, but I decided to skip it. It was almost miraculous that I managed to show up to work at all. Throughout the day, a various times I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “WHAT IS HAPPENING????” As I sat on the bus on the way home, it finally sunk in. This was reality. And the tears finally came.

Acceptance:

For some reason, my left ankle was killing me all day. I must have taken a bad step and twisted it. I limped through my lessons and when I got home, my husband took a look at it and said it was all swollen and bruised, like it was sprained. I have no idea what happened. I certainly do not remember spraining my ankle. But I must have. Nothing to do now but deal with it.

Almost every woman you know…

…has a story of sexual assault. Some of us have several stories.

The first time I can remember it happening I was probably about eight years old. I was riding my bicycle home on a sunny afternoon in a calm Los Angeles suburb. A man walking in the opposite direction waved at me, indicating he wanted to talk to me. I slowed down and stopped obligingly, and he asked me if I knew where a certain street was. I started to tell him that yes I did know where that was, but as soon as I started describing the way, he walked closer to me and shoved his hand down the front of my shirt. He felt up my bare chest for a few seconds, then pulled his hand out, and walked away, giving me a self-satisfied smirk that told me that he had just done this thing to me and there was nothing I could do about it. I didn’t speak or scream or react at all. Mortified and ashamed don’t really describe what I was feeling. I felt violated. Completely and totally violated. I’d never been touched that way by anyone before. But at eight years old I didn’t know how to process those feelings. I rode the rest of the way home, turned on the TV and watched cartoons. I tried to block out what just happened. I tried not to see his face. I was determined that I would not cry because I didn’t want anything to seem out of the ordinary.

I never told anyone or spoke about it until recently, when I told my husband. This was my introduction to sexual assault. I was eight years old and it happened in broad daylight. Other things have happened to me since then that make this first incident seem pretty mild by comparison. It had long since been buried and forgotten.

Then Donald Trump’s “grab’em by the pussy” scandal hit the news. That’s when women started sharing their stories of sexual assault, about how powerless and violated and weak it made them feel. It’s the guilt and shame that makes us never want to report it or talk about it. We know that we will be told that we must have wanted it if we made no effort to fight them off.

As for that, I can tell you that when it’s happening to you, these are the thoughts going to through your mind:

Oh god, this is really happening to me.
Please, please, don’t hurt me.
Please don’t kill me.
Please just let it be over soon.
Please don’t kill me.
Please just go away when you’re finished and leave me alone.
Please don’t kill me.

You’re not thinking about fighting back. You’re just hoping it will be over soon and that he won’t hurt you or kill you when he’s done.

To men like Donald Trump, woman are not thinking and feeling human beings. We are nothing more than play things to use and abuse whenever he feels like it, and then discard when he tires of us. We’re not really people and therefore we don’t need to give consent. Merely being in his presence is consent enough. After all, if we didn’t want to be grabbed, we shouldn’t have been within grabbing distance. The onus is always on the woman to not allow herself to assaulted or raped. Men like Donald Trump say they are unable to control themselves. She was drunk. She was wearing a short skirt. She was there. They see a pretty thing and they just act, and they know that most of the time they will get away with it.

This is not an indictment of all men. Far from it. There are so many wonderful, strong, loving, caring, supportive men out there. Men like my husband. This is about the pussy-grabbing, cat-calling, child-molesting monsters out there. A man-like creature who has the pretensions to the office of POTUS is one of them, and that must not be allowed to happen.