Death Day

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock allowed free access on MLK Day, January 20, 2014. My husband, my just-turned-5-year-old daughter, and my five-months-pregnant-with-our-son me decided to make our first trip to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum–our first time to visit since we returned to Arkansas the previous July.

We walked past the limousine that might have carried President Clinton during his first inauguration, and up the stairs to the theater that played the fifteen minute video of the former President walking us through a timeline of his political life. From his law school days to becoming the Governor of Arkansas to his first inauguration. And there, on the screen, is Clinton taking the oath of office.

At this point, my heart fell open on the floor. I burst into tears.

My husband and child, unaware of any particular deep love of Clinton on my part, tried not to stare at me in the darkness.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

My daughter’s due date was January 19, 2009, but she couldn’t wait to meet us and came 13 days early on the morning of January 6. I had anticipated watching Barack Hussein Obama being sworn in as the 44th President from the confines of Cox Hospital labor and delivery unit.

Instead, I sat in my rocking chair holding my soon-to-be two-week-old girl. Postpartum depression hit hard, and one of the only ways to keep it at bay was to hold her and rock and rock and rock and watch mindless television, like What Not To Wear on TLC, and write in my journal.

That day, I thought back to Tuesday, November 4, 2008, when I, seven-months pregnant, watched the first mixed-race man to run for the highest office in the land win an unlikely victory. On the drive home from a watch party, my husband said, “I don’t believe it. They’ll find a way for him to lose.”

But no. He won, and my hazel-eyed, mixed-race baby girl slept while I rocked and cried and watched the woman in yellow smiling as her husband spoke his oath.

Monday, January 20, 1997

My college group arrived at Clinton’s second inauguration at 7:00 a.m. and still didn’t get anywhere close to the main event. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and shortly after noon, Clinton referenced the great civil rights leader in his inauguration speech to an audience blue from hours already spent in the near freezing cold.

He said, “The divide of race has been America’s constant curse. And each new wave of immigrants gives new targets to old prejudices. Prejudice and contempt cloaked in the pretense of religious or political conviction are no different. These forces have nearly destroyed our Nation in the past. They plague us still. They fuel the fanaticism of terror. And they torment the lives of millions in fractured nations all around the world.”

I shoved my hands down further in my coat and huddled against my friends who had also paid their $200 to ride on a bus for two days to not see the event from behind a huddle of the yearning masses.

My father paid my way.

Before Clinton took his second oath, Miller Williams read a poem called “Of History and Hope.”

A year later, I would meet the poet Miller Williams after a reading at Missouri State University.

And over a decade later, Miller Williams’ granddaughter would watch my children one New Year’s Eve so my husband and I could go to watch a friend perform in “Tales From The South” about how his father was mistaken for the poet Miller Williams at Missouri State University.

But on that cold, January morning in 1997, I stood five hours to watch Bill Clinton be sworn in and stood another four hours, until my fingers and toes were well past numb, to watch a parade to celebrate the two-term President from Arkansas.

The Presidential Limousine drove past us around 4 p.m., and Hillary Clinton waved to me out of the window.

Wednesday, January 20, 1993

I stood in front of the television cabinet, very close, too close and watched Bill Clinton, former governor of my state, raise his right hand and repeat after William Rehnquist his promise to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I was seventeen, thin, black-dressed, and numb. My father, a true blue Democrat from Minnesota, Bill Clinton’s biggest fan, stood beside me and also watched.

Back in Arkansas, a cold rain had fallen and frozen the weekend before. At the capitol in Washington, the first couple bathed in the cold sunshine.

After the oath and the cheering, and before the speech and the cheering, I clicked the television off, turned around, and got my coat to leave for my mother’s funeral, which had been a day delayed because the ground, frozen solid, would not yield to the gravediggers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Two days from now, another inauguration. The weather is calling for a warm rain in Washington.

I will not hunch in my coat bracing against the cold. Arkansas, where it all ended and began, is having a particularly mild winter.

My daughter is just turned eight. My son is near to being three. They will go to school on January 20, like any other week day. My husband and I will go to our schools where we will work and avoid the televisions, like any other day. We will try not to talk about it.

We are numb.

As Miller Williams wrote and read to President Clinton and all of us,

“In ceremonies and silence we say the words,
telling the stories, singing the old songs.
We like the places they take us. Mostly we do.
The great and all the anonymous dead are there.”