I talk a lot about writing to cope with difficult emotions. However, as the events of the past few weeks have unfolded, I have struggled to set pen to paper (or letter to page, as it were). Like most of the U.S., I watched in horror as the seat of our democracy was assaulted, and I have carried around a sense of dull panic ever since. Now, however, I want to share with you some thoughts - unedited and unfiltered.
This is what I mean when I say writing helps me cope.
"My friend works at the Capitol and said they just went on lockdown. People are screaming and hiding under desks. Nobody knows what's going on."
That was the text which punctuated an afternoon during which tension had been steadily building. The U.S. Congress was voting to ratify the results of the free and fair 2020 election, in which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had defeated Donald Trump and Mike Pence. President Trump had made it his personal mission since November to discredit and undermine trust in the democratic process.
I'd made it my business to avoid the news as much as possible, ignoring texts with articles from family members and staying off social media. Every time I was reminded that the President of the United States was doing his damndest to overturn the election results, I felt sick to my stomach.
On January 6th, 2021, it was impossible to ignore.
I started getting texts from friends and family, those who know I live in the DC area. "What's happening?" and "Is everything alright?" lit up my phone every few minutes. Sirens drifted through the air like snowflakes, dancing on the breeze and echoing endlessly.
"This is the picture of a the decade," one of my work colleagues said, sending me a photo of U.S. Capitol Police with guns drawn on the floor of the House of Representatives as rioters pounded at the door. Try as I might, I couldn't tear my eyes away from the chaos.
I desperately refreshed Twitter feeds and pulled up livestreams, searching for information nobody yet had: what was going on? Why was it happening? Who had been hurt? Just like election week, trying to work felt useless and pointless. I was frozen in place, watching a coup unfold in front of my eyes, only a few miles from where I live, in a building I had visited many times before.
It has been a week and a half since the attack on the U.S. Capitol, and I feel violated. I think that's the best word - more personal than betrayal, more violent than traumatized. I never realized how much I had taken the stability of our democracy, the trust and faith in our democratic process, until it was so directly attacked.
In a funny way, I feel guilty for it. I wasn't there; I am lucky to know nobody who was harmed or killed at the riot. My home was never in danger, the streets upon which I live and walk are safe. And yet, I lie awake worried. I'm terrified that there are people in our country who genuinely believe that the election was stolen; I'm disappointed that we have a President who encourages conspiracy; I'm heartbroken for what this means for our democracy.
I have watched the city fill with military forces, National Guard vehicles blocking avenues down which I've walked hundreds of times. The bridges to and from Virginia have been closed save for one, forcing traffic to stay away. DC no longer looks like the capital of the first and greatest modern democracy; it is a city under siege, threatened by enemies both foreign and domestic.
As I watch the flashing lights and camouflage equipment fill the city I love, it makes me wonder what we will tell our children about this time in our history. Which photos will survive? Which stories will take control of the narrative? What will happen, come the Inauguration? The practical part of my mind knows that DC now is safer than perhaps it has ever been; the emotional portion fears an insidious plot.
Some days, that fear controls me. There have been mornings where the thought of getting out of bed, of starting my day, seems impossible. It's as though somehow my refusal to go on with life will stop the bad things from happening. Other days, I'm filled with fire, a drive to live my life normally and refuse to bow to terror. The oscillation between the two extremes is exhausting.
I've also gained a new perspective - albeit a limited one - on what it must be like to live somewhere where you genuinely feel unsafe. I've been privileged to never do so, until now. These days the fear of the outside, of the unknown, is constant. It wears and grates at the soul.
I look forward to and dread the Inauguration in equal turn, for the future is terrifying. The days drag by, but the hours fly, slipping through my fingers like sand. One thought is a constant refrain: what if this is just the beginning?
Author's Note: There is no intention behind this post; I have no brilliant message to share. Quite simply, writing this down and sharing these fears with you helps me give name to them, and by giving name to them, remove their power. If even one sentence in this resonated with you, that is all I can ask. Please take my own, unfiltered stream of consciousness with a grain of salt, and use my perspective to situate and grow your own. Together, we will persevere.
Bridget is the author of Summer Twilight, available for purchase now!