Four years ago, on election night, I looked for a nice bottle of wine to open while watching the returns. I reached for a bottle of local wine from a vineyard I knew had a female winemaker. I was about to open it when I noticed the wine’s name: “The Don.” Can’t drink that tonight, I thought, and chose another bottle.
I am not really superstitious. You won’t find me worrying about black cats or tossing spilled salt over my shoulder or refraining from flying on Friday the 13th. However, as a writer, I do believe in symbols. Gatsby’s sumptuous car, Ahab’s white whale, the bridge that Ruth crosses at the end of Housekeeping—all of these symbolically mean more than just a car, a whale, or a bridge. I, of course, employ symbols in my own work: the bicycle in “Aces”, the fire plow in “Two Sticks,” the blue suede jacket in “Angry Money.”
So, I couldn’t toast what I hoped would be a Clinton victory with a wine named “The Don.” It wouldn’t be right symbolically.
And, OK, maybe I felt I might jinx the election. Because I had been so worried in the election runup. Politically, I’m liberal, but to me, Donald Trump represented the triumph of all that was worst about my country. The sexism, racism, arrogance, and selfish disregard for others he showed were revolting. Beyond policy (did he have any?) his character disgusted me and raised the greatest fears—fears I would not have felt had any other Republican been in contention.
Well, we all remember how that night ended. When Florida went for Trump, I felt physically ill, and got sicker as the night went on. I cried, feeling as if someone I loved had died. Perhaps something had: a naïve belief in the judgement of my fellow Americans. That many would choose a person of such bad character to lead our country saddened me greatly.
After that, The Don wine seemed cursed. I’d see it on the rack as I dusted, or as I chose a bottle to open, and look away. The bottle had taken on symbolic meaning. I couldn’t drink it until Donald Trump was defeated.
This year, on election night, though I hoped to see a landslide Biden victory, I didn't expect it. Also, I knew tabulating results might take a long time. I didn’t sit in front of the TV, but instead read a mystery novel and had a zoom call with the Fabulous JewelTones. When I did peek at the results and saw Florida trending towards Trump again, I panicked. I was only comforted a little when some networks called Arizona for Biden.
As the count dragged on, I felt more confident day after day. Yet my anxiety persisted until all networks called the race for Biden today.
Tonight, my husband and I opened The Don wine. I thought of waiting for the inauguration, but it seemed more symbolically right to open it today, the day the results were final, declaring that Trump had lost. No landslide victory, which means that we will be battling Trumpism, if not Trump, for a long time. And the sheer number of Americans that rewarded his bluster and incompetence with their votes dismayed me, though it no longer surprised me.
It's a victory nonetheless. I cried tonight, not with despair as I did four year ago, but with relief and hope.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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