by Elise Hempel
I live in central Illinois, but I've been in Minnesota for over a month now, having fled an urgent situation at home, leaving most of my belongings temporarily behind. I'm a refugee, of sorts, an indefinite guest, sleeping in a guest bedroom of my sister's suburban Minneapolis house, surrounded by my still-not-unpacked suitcases. My “office,” which used to be a whole real room, is now a section of my sister's cluttered basement, my “lamp” a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, my “desk” a dusted-off air-hockey table. Surrounding my confusion and disorientation within the house itself – which includes conforming to a daily routine not my own, a lack of choice about what gets served for dinner and what gets watched on TV, etc. – is the larger loss of home. In place of a discernable town – the familiar cornfields, a university, the quaint town square – are highways and traffic and seemingly endless strip-malls, one nondescript suburb merging into the next.
And surrounding this is an even larger uncertainty of where home is now, with the election of Donald Trump as president. In the first few days after arriving here in Minnesota, I wasn't sure where I was when I woke up in the morning – in Illinois or Minnesota, what house, which bed, whose pillow. It took several moments to figure it out. I had almost the same feeling when I woke the morning after election day, and now, after knowing for sure that Trump will indeed be our next president, that feeling is here again – that feeling of waking to a country I don't recognize. Except that it's not dissipating, not fading as I sit up and wipe my eyes and look around, not giving way to the thought Oh, yeah – I know where I am.
Besides Donald Trump and his wife and children, besides the wealthy, besides the white supremacists and those eternally clueless, who will feel at home in this country in a month, and for the next four years? On January 20, how will Muslims, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, and the LGBT community feel at home? How will women feel at home, under their new pussy-grabbing leader? What about all the undocumented immigrants who arrived as children and thought they knew where home was? What about the victims of torture still trying to heal, now under a president who'd like to return to waterboarding and “a hell of a lot worse”? Will our national parks still have a home? And what about the arts, their new caretaker a man with gilded, over-the-top tastes, who can only get Ted Nugent and Kid Rock to play on inauguration day? Under Donald Trump, will democracy still have a home? The earth itself?
My father, who I see almost every day now here in Minnesota, doesn't like Trump but said the other night that he “can't wait to see what Trump does.” Unfortunately, that's what too many people voted on – a desire for something different, something new. And they can't wait to see what they'll get, good or bad, sort of like a national “Let's Make a Deal.” What's behind Door Number Three – health insurance or none? Would you like to trade food-safety regulations for what's in this box? Trump continues to walk back his campaign promises, and he's even revealing to his supporters at rallies that he was lying to them the whole time, that he only said certain things, encouraged certain chants, like “Lock her up,” in order to win. And, so far, it doesn't seem to matter.
Here in Minnesota, the November rains have frozen over, and the pond of the park I walk through every day has turned to a snow-covered field, imprinted with the tracks of deer. The trails are snow-covered too, and I can't tell anymore where they are, those patches of black, wet muck I avoided a few weeks ago. I step carefully, testing with the toe of my boot each iffy area of snow, listening for crunch or crack, not knowing if it's water or solid ground beneath me. Unlike Trump's supporters, who voted on nothing, on a con job, a vanishing act, who don't seem to mind the ever-shifting land of his ego and his lies, I'm looking for a solid place to put my feet down, to settle, to call home.