The day after the election of Donald J. Trump I relived the day I received my first cancer diagnosis, ten years ago. This is what happens. I gape at the results—a malignancy has invaded my life. I sob. Nausea overwhelms me. My head pounds with a pressure headache. I cannot pause my mind’s loop tape—yesterday’s future is suddenly, shockingly at risk. I troll the internet, hunting down facts. I call my sisters and we cry. I pull the threads of my house around me to create a cocoon. I acknowledge the insidious hate this monster has spawned and vow to expel the venomous anger coursing through my veins. I drink too much wine at dinner. Controlling the angst is a herculean task that requires music and chocolate. At my piano I play Bach, whose pieces are intricate statements of peace. I eat a gigantic brownie for lunch.
I spin from sleepless hours, panicked with fear for my friends and family who fit into the vulnerable groups that the president-elect insulted, mocked or derided: the disabled, LGBTQ, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, and true patriots like the honorable Kahn family. In the morning I decide on the next steps.
Eradicating the new regime’s poisonous rhetoric and actions will be a long-term commitment. I pledge to take one political action every single day for the next four years. Like cancer, making decisions about treatment empowers me. I diminish the isolation and gloomy impotence of being just one person through contact. I form a communications circle of friends, and I make transportation plans for us to participate in the Women’s March on Washington, on January 21st, 2017, in Washington, D.C., the day after the inauguration of the man who couldn’t win the popular vote.
I start a new journal to document the anger and terror I feel, my pledges, my activism. I want to remember my raw emotions; they will repel complacency. I will excise this malignant tumor and mitigate its side effects. I donate to Planned Parenthood, to support what abortion foes fear most—women in control of their bodies.
The professionals continue to analyze—how did this happen? I move forward. I write Hillary Clinton a heartfelt thank-you note and I donate to Emily’s List to support the president-elect’s nemesis—nasty women politicians. The fatalists surrender to inaction. I sign Common Cause’s petition to abolish the Electoral College system. I may feel flattened and depressed, but I will be anything but passive. I find powerful allies in groups like Pantsuit Nation. I will counter hatred, fight it, and replace it with tolerance. In the Bush era, I couldn’t bear to look at a newspaper. Not this time. I. Will. Be. Vigilant. I will look over Mr.Trump’s shoulder for the next four years. I need to know everything he will attempt to break, dismantle and hijack. Reading about him is like chemotherapy; I preempt that metallic taste in my mouth by eating all the Reese’s peanut butter cups now.
The days slide into a new normal. I find solace in music but even as I teach my piano students, words distract me, sucking me into that vacuum of fear. When I had breast cancer, I remember showing a student how to smoothen a lumpy scale. How I wished all lumps were that easy to remove. When a piano student is late because of a trumpet rehearsal I wish there were an instrument called a Hillaret.
I am intensely appreciative of my friends and family. I believe that the freedom to make religious, medical and social decisions is not a privilege—it is our right. When we are at risk of losing our rights they become that more precious. Every day is an opportunity to keep the people and the rights that I cherish in my life. Every day is a gift to do what is important to me.
The beast can be defeated. I beat cancer three times and I will beat Trump’s disease. I know the drill. But the beast cannot be destroyed. It may lie dormant, waiting for evil to trigger its recurrence. But if this insidious monster rises again, I will have the fortitude and experience to trample it down, again. I will have my journal to remind me that today’s future can crumble tomorrow, with those dreaded words.
You have cancer. Its name is Donald J. Trump.
Betty Reed is a pianist and writer. She was born in Portugal and is married to a native German,giving her a variety of cultural perspectives. She is an intrepid traveler, preferring unusual destinations with local contact. Betty lives in Belmont, Massachusetts with her husband and two children.