My boyfriend of four and a half years and I broke up the day before the election. I know it’s not a contest or fair to say 2017 was harder on me than it was on Hillary Clinton, but it just was. Hillary lost an election. I lost a boyfriend and then two jobs. And I couldn't take time to hike in a well worn Patagonia fleece pullover I’d been wearing since the 80s. I’m sure losing an election you’ve worked your entire life for to an inexperienced, bigoted, lunatic was personally devastating, to say the least, but for a short while (ok, all of 2017), it seemed like the universe was shitting on both of us simultaneously.
Dan and I had been discussing getting engaged for the entire year before the election. It might be fairer to say I had been discussing getting engaged while he’d been pleading for more time. He’d been asking for more time for a year. I wasn’t sure how much more time he required and he could never answer. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt by realizing time is an illusion, a construct, but I was growing resentful. I started to think he just didn’t want to marry me.
After the fourth time we almost broke up over getting engaged, we went to look at rings at a local jeweler. We met with a saleswoman, a well put together woman in her forties, with dark brown hair pinned back in a bun, dressed all in black. She looked like the kind of woman you could feel comfortable trading thousands of dollars for diamonds with. A lot of the rings I tried on didn't have real diamonds placed in the settings. Instead she would take a pair of tweezers and place a fake diamond gingerly into the prongs, so I could try it on and get a feel for it. Almost every time I put a ring on my finger, I would knock the fake stone out of the setting and it would fall on the floor. Luckily it never rolled too far. When there was a ring I wanted to try on that already had a real diamond, instead of picking the ring up by the band like a normal person, Dan would pinch the diamond with his thumb and forefinger as if he was popping a pimple.
“Please don’t grab by the diamond, pick it up by the setting. We like to keep the diamonds as sparkly and free of finger prints as we can,” the sales woman would say, and then she’d dramatically wipe away Dan’s fingerprint and place it back in the display. This happened several times.
I tried on over a dozen rings. I looked at round cut, princess cut, pear-shaped, and oval cuts in rose gold, white gold and gold gold, but didn’t like any of them. They all felt too sparkly, too formal for me. Dan didn't seem into any of the rings either. Any ring I would try on, I showed him.
“What you do think?”
“I don't know. It’s nice. Do you like it?” he’d ask.
“Kind of. But you need to like it too, you’re the one who’s buying it,”
“You’re the one who is going to be wearing it.”
We had planned to go shopping to find a style I liked, so he could come back and buy a ring later then “surprise” me with a proposal. In my mind, this is what made me CHILL about the whole situation. Totally not controlling. He could propose with his own idea and on his own timeline…ish.
None of the rings seemed to spark Dan’s interest. I was frustrated he wasn’t more excited and didn't seem to be engaged in the process. The only thing he seemed to be able to say was “I don't know, I guess.” A few times I caught him looking out the window at the rain. The saleswoman told us she’d email us professional pictures of the rings for us to have, but she never did.
Later I took this as a sign. Maybe an omen. The saleswoman knew what I couldn’t admit: we were never going to get engaged, because Dan was never going to propose. Why bother emailing photos of rings Dan was never going to buy?
Dan said, “She probably just forgot.”
Shopping for rings forced me to realize my relationship with Dan wasn’t going anywhere. It felt like we were playing a game of chicken with each other, each holding onto our positions waiting for the other to initiate a breakup first. In the end I picked a fight over wanting to go look at a house that was for sale. Dan had told me directly, multiple times, we weren't going to even think about getting a house until we were at least engaged. While he sat at the table in the kitchen, I paced in the entryway of our apartment, getting angrier and more irrational until I finally admitted the real problem, “I don’t think you are ever going to propose to me and I can’t do this anymore. I want to break up.”
The next day after work, I went to vote with puffy eyes. I wanted to stay at home, huddled in my grey bathrobe. It was cold and wet outside. I didn't want to stand in line or be around people. I wanted to wallow, cry on my couch while watching Girls or Sex and the City, but I live in a swing state and was worried my vote would be the one that pushed Wisconsin into the red. I knew I’d feel like such an asshole if I didn’t vote.
I walked into a community center by Lake Michigan to get in line. Four days prior I’d been there for a friend’s wedding and reception. It had great views of the lake, cream brick, and the fairy lights wrapped around the wooden beams felt magical. It was my favorite wedding venue in the city. For a while I thought Dan and I would get married there.
Jackie and Ty’s wedding had been perfect. It was the only wedding I’d ever attended in which I believed the couple would stay together forever. While family and friends took turns making enthusiastic speeches about the couple, I kept looking at Dan, wondering what people would say about us at our wedding. At multiple points during the reception I asked Dan pointblank, “Do you think we have what Jackie and Ty have?” He kept answering, “yes, baby.” But I still wasn't sure.
* * *
In January of 2017 I finally started to come to terms with my breakup, if not the election. I wasn’t ready to date yet, but I was moving forward. I’d joined, then deleted, Tinder. Several times. Baby steps! Then, the day before Trump’s inauguration, I was called into a conference room and blindsided by a layoff.
My boss worked in a different location, ten minutes away, so I was surprised to see her. She asked to see me, so I got up from my desk and grabbed my phone and notebook in case I needed to take notes for the meeting. I had the sense I was in trouble, but I wasn't sure for what. Maybe I’d been goofing off too much, or spending too much time on Facebook stalking Dan. She opened the door to the conference room and our head of employee resources, Paula, was at the large conference table.
My boss took a seat next to Paula, and I sat across from them, a large wooden oval conference table between us.
My boss stared at the table and said, “I’m sorry but we are going to have to have a difficult conversation today.”
I was already in overdrive trying to think of what was going to happen.
Paula jumped in. “I know this is going to come as a surprise to you, but we are going to have to lay you off today.”
It did come as a surprise to me. A huge fucking surprise. A “big shock,” even! I knew we had lost a huge contract in October, I had helped place a lot of the affected employees into new positions within the company. Our head of HR had assured my team that we were fine. He said phrases like, “We are a diverse nonprofit and while this was a hit we are still stable.” I had been on our team the longest, the most senior recruiter, and I had just received a raise in December. I couldn't understand why I was being laid off.
Like a true professional business person, I started to cry.
Paula took out a small travel sized pack of tissues from her leather portfolio and handed it to me, along with a severance document. She asked me to review it and sign when I was ready.
“There is no rush, feel free to take it home and read it and review it with a lawyer.”
“Is there any reason why I wouldn’t want to sign this?” I asked. I’d never been laid off before. I wasn’t sure what I should do. I also had no idea where I’d find a fucking lawyer. Or pay for one now that I was losing my job
“Well, if you thought we were discriminating against you and that’s why you were being laid off.”
“This is because I’m a ginger, isn’t it?”
Paula and my boss laughed. I was glad I could provide the comic relief at my own firing.
My sister once told me if you clench your butt cheeks together you won’t cry, a tip she learned from a hairdresser. I took a deep breath and went back to my office with my boss, squeezing my ass cheeks as tight I as could. I shoved all of my personal belongings into my work bag; my essential oil diffuser, a collection of essential oils, everything from the standard peppermint, lavender and tea tree, to themed scents like Christmas tree, and autumn walk, three coffee mugs, two water bottles, a Marvel action figure of the superhero Mockingbird, photos of my dogs that had recently replaced the photos of Dan, packets of Splenda and K-cups for the office Keurig. I moved as fast as I could.
“You don’t have to rush, take as much time as you need.” My boss shifted back and forth on her heels, “I’m not required to walk you out.”
“You never know, I could get rowdy.”
I couldn't wait to get out of there. The second I shut the door to my car I unclenched my butt cheeks. Immediately I burst into heaving sobs. Then I called my mom.
“I just lost my job,” I paused to breathe. I had snot dripping down my face and nothing to wipe it off with. I wished I would have asked Paula for more of her travel tissues. I used my sleeve. “I was laid off.”
I stopped at a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes. Erin called.
“I just lost my job. I got laid off. I bought cigarettes and am smoking again.”
Erin hates it when I smoke. She doesn’t tolerate it and gives me a lecture anytime I mention it. She accuses me of smoking even if I’m not. She is vigilant in her fight against my nicotine dependency.
“I’m fine with that,” she said.
When I got home I cried, texted all of my closest friends, and then took a three hour nap.
The next morning, I woke up at six like I usually did for work. Then I remembered I had nowhere to be, so I peed, took the dogs out, and went back to bed. I didn’t bother setting an alarm.
I didn’t watch Trump’s inauguration.
I’d never lost a job before. Now I didn’t have a job, fiancé, boyfriend or a competent president.
I fell apart fast. I started smoking in my apartment wearing only my robe. I’d spray the couch, myself and the air with Downy Wrinkle Release spray, and light a candle to try and disguise the smell. My sleep schedule reversed. I’d stay up all night until 4am watching Dr. Pimple Popper videos on Youtube and then sleep until 3 or 4pm. Every night I debated calling or texting Dan. Erin said if I reached out to him I’d be pathetic. No shit.
* * *
My life calmed down. I had been at my new company ten months, and there weren't any big political events in the near future. I thought I was safe. Shit was turning around for me. I booked a trip to California for a few days to celebrate and relax. I told my friends, “This is a bad decision financially, but after the year I’ve had I deserve this!”
I flew back to Milwaukee from San Francisco by way of LAX. It seemed like a stupid layover, but I’d hoped to have at least one celebrity sighting to tweet about. Maybe a Kardashian, or at least a Real Housewife or another D lister, but the terminal I was in was so drab, under construction, with only a California Pizza Kitchen. Very disappointing. The St. Louis airport is more glamorous for fuck’s sake. I stopped looking and watched Six Feet Under on my laptop.
I didn't recognize him until we landed in Milwaukee. I was sitting in one of the final rows of the plane, so I was one of the last to exit. This always happens to me. I never remember to check into my flight until I’m checking my bag, and frequently fly Southwest so I’m always in the tail end of boarding group B or C. I walked past the bathroom and saw a handsome, older man in great glasses and made eye contact.
I kept walking and thought “he looks familiar.” That’s when I remembered a Facebook friend posting something about Bradley Whitford being in town to interview Hillary Clinton.
When I thought of Bradley Whitford, I thought of him in his West Wing days: Young, light brown hair, thinning on top but longer in the back, kind of dorky. Not with white hair and dark rimmed glasses.
I quickly used my phone to Google “Bradley Whitford” to try and see if the man I saw by the bathrooms was him. I decided to hang back to compare the pictures to the man. I looked at my phone, I bent over to retie my boots, even though they were already tied. I repeated this process twice. People walking past me must have thought I was drunk or an idiot. He was taking forever to catch up to me. As he approached, I noticed he was with a woman. I wasn't sure if they had met on the flight, or if she was his girlfriend or handler or assistant. She looked to be in her late forties with dark brown hair. She was pretty, but casual.
I continued walking about fifteen feet in front of them. I pretended to check my eye makeup in my phone and tried to snap pictures so I could prove to Cheryl I had seen him. I messaged Cheryl and said, “Would Bradley Whitford fly Southwest?”
I got my chance as we approached baggage claim. The escalators and stairs to the first floor were out, so we had to go to the elevator. I figured if it wasn't him, it was something he’d heard before.
“Excuse me, but are you Bradley Whitford?”
He smiled and leaned towards me like we were sharing a secret. “Why, yes I am.”
“I thought so, I saw you were in town to—”
“—to interview Hillary,” we said in unison.
“I’m probably just going to sob the whole time,” he said.
“How could you not?” I said.
We walked to the elevator together. With the woman who I still couldn’t decide was his assistant or lover.
I turned back to him, “My stepfather was such a huge fan of your show.”
We got into the elevator and continued to chat. “This is Amy,” he said, gesturing to his assistant/lover.
“Uh huh, great, nice to meet you,” I shook her hand and then went back to ignoring her. Later, at home, after a five minute Googling session, I’d learn she was his girlfriend and a star of the Amazon show Transparent.
I found Bradley to be incredibly charming and charismatic even though I’d previously never thought he was someone I would be attracted to. He could have fathered me, but I got why my friend had a crush on him. I was giggling and smiling a lot to whatever he said. I wanted him to like me. When the doors opened I turned to Bradley and asked, “I’m so sorry, but would you mind if we take a picture for my stepdad? He’ll never believe this!”
He put his arm around me and we took a selfie, then continued walking to baggage claim. Yes, I took a walk and talk with Bradley fucking Whitford. I asked if he’d been to Wisconsin before and Brad told me he had grown up in Madison in an over the top midwestern accent. Brad and his girlfriend had wisely packed carry ons and walked outside, leaving me to wait for my luggage.
When I got home I posted the picture on Facebook. My makeup was looking rough from my flight, and my head looked large and not unlike a potato, but I wanted to brag about my celebrity encounter. Then I bought a fifty-five dollar ticket to see Hillary Clinton in conversation with my new best friend (older man crush?).
By morning, I was already beginning to waffle on attending the event. I was still tired from traveling and fantasized about taking a nap when I got home from work. I reminded myself this was something I could tell potential grandchildren about, that I’d regret not going, and with taxes and fees I’d paid seventy-five dollars for my ticket!
Somehow, I had an amazing seat. It was located in the first row of the second level and surrounded by women. There was one man in our section, to my left, and he was shit faced. He knew someone in the row behind me and kept yelling at them about the seven Long Islands he’d had before coming, then referred to her children as “booger flickers.” I loved him, and was very disappointed when he left before the event started for seemingly no reason. Part of me worried he passed out in the bathroom, but I was mostly glad his drunk ass was gone. Many of the women were wearing pink pussy hats. I started talking to the woman beside me. She complimented my eyebrows (the highest honors amongst women today) and together we scoped out The Secret Service and police officers scattered throughout the venue in black suits and ear pieces. It felt like we were in an episode of The West Wing. I kept expecting Rob Lowe to appear.
I overheard one woman say it was nice to be in a room where she could express her outrage over the past year and not have to worry she was offending someone. I wanted to turn to her and say “Wow, actually that offends me,” just to make a joke, but I didn’t think it would land.
Finally, my new best friend appeared on stage. He was wearing a suit and looked handsome, “as always.” He had a few pages of notes in his hands, and from my seat I could see he was shaking. I became nervous for him the way I do anytime I see any of my friends perform. I kept thinking “please don't suck, please don’t suck.” He introduced Hillary Clinton, and did a great job. Didn’t stumble on his words or anything. He mentioned being nervous and his shaking, which immediately endeared him to the audience.
When Hillary finally walked out she was met with a standing ovation. Even Bradley stood. The crowd cheered for what seemed like forever. I wanted to sit down, but didn't want to be the first to do so. I wasn't ready to start that trend. When everyone finally sat, Hillary joked, “Well, I should have come back sooner.”
I very quickly became enamored with Hillary. She was funny, and personable. She wore a pant suit, but a more casual, less structured version of the ones she’d worn during the election. Hill made jokes about drowning herself in wine after losing and not being able to get out of bed. I found this very relatable. I wondered if she had a grey bathrobe and smoked out of her windows, too. It seemed like she was letting her guard down, letting the audience in. She threw shade at Trump, "He was the first reality TV candidate and I was the candidate of reality.”
I felt so overcome with emotion, with the energy in the room, I started crying. I didn't even think about squeezing my butt cheeks, everyone around me was emotional, so I let it all out. I left the event feeling empowered, wanting to get involved in my local politics, and donate to organizations that were helping other women to become involved in politics. I added The West Wing to my queue on Netflix.
I was still feeling empowered the next day when I got to work. I made my coffee with enthusiasm. My job was shitty, and I hated my bosses, but I could do it. I could go high, even if they went low. Just like Hillary. Or Michelle Obama. About thirty minutes into my day, my boss, John, came up to my desk.
“Hey, can you meet me in the conference room for a minute?” he said. But before I turned to answer he was already headed to the corner conference room. All I could see was his dumb, bald head.
I grabbed a notebook, and met John and the director of my division, Albert. I walked into the conference room and was promptly shit-canned. I was told it was my performance despite later learning from a (now former) coworker I was one of the top performers on the team. I knew there was only a matter of time before I’d begin to cry, and I wanted to make it to my car before that happened. I squeezed my butt cheeks to buy some time, grabbed my stuff from my desk and walked to my car. I thought about fighting it, filing a discrimination claim, but that sounded like a lot of work and errands, and if there’s one thing I hate more than unfairly getting fired, it’s running errands.
I spent the weekend with a new guy I’d just started seeing, and woke up with a cold on Sunday.
“Well at least I don’t have to call into work on Monday,” I joked.
Tuesday, I received a job offer from another company, a better company, and far more money.
I obviously don't blame Hillary Clinton for all the shit that happened to me in 2017. I'm not completely insane. I just had a rough year, but if I’m being honest, our lives did seem pretty connected there for a while.
At my new job I’m challenged and paid well. I work with so many smart, talented women who I learn from every day. I like going to work most days, and have been recognized for the hard work I've done in a way I never was at my last company. I’m still single, but finally over my breakup.
I’m slowly working to rebuild my life (and my savings account) after losing two jobs in one year. Sometimes it still feels like I’m waiting for something terrible to happen, like any minute I’ll be clenching my butt cheeks again. But so far in 2018, I’ve been okay, able to just sort of hang loose.
Though, this fall I may buy a Patagonia fleece and start hiking with my dogs. Just in case.