First 100 Days: Closing Time

By Craig Solomon


Closing Time

Wednesday morning, 2:30, long after the outcome was clear. Five or six of us still at the campaign office, a 30 minute drive to the house where I was staying. Mostly isolated country roads. A young black man, an organizer staying in the room next to mine, gathered his things. I asked if he needed a ride. “No, I have a car. But follow me back.” I thanked him saying I knew the way. “No — please follow me.”

We walked silently to our cars beneath the overly-bright halogens. Cones of light in the darkness. A nod, and we left the lot.

He led me slowly through still life Pennsylvania countryside, through small town squares, by strip malls, woods, the blackness of open fields. I stayed close. We were alone. Flags, campaign signs. Our passage.

A few quiet words when we arrived at the house. He had been crying. What could this be for him? That drive, what waited in the morning, beyond. Later, I could hear him through the wall, on the phone. Muffled sobs, perhaps to a friend back home. His mother, father? We would all be leaving soon.

* * *

I drove home that morning through grey cold rain. A foreign landscape. A new world. Music didn’t help. The radio, the talk. The windshield wipers’ back and forth. The ugliness of the New Jersey Turnpike. Moving past Newark and the refineries, the chaotic, decaying industrial landscape, the reeds, the City skyline obscured by low clouds. Once familiar. The pull of home spinning to dread.

Finally the turnoff from the highway. Then, soon, our house.

Our beautiful home: grey, stately, anchored. Heavy. At night, from the street, the windows, trimmed in white, flanked by dark shutters — they are not functional — allowed passersby to see inside if they chose. The windows, the glass. We liked the light.

And its size now overwhelmed me. A generation removed from the shtetl. Vulnerable, exposed. For all of our planning — and we are careful planners — we had not planned for this.

I eased off the gas and drove the long arc from the street, passing the front porch, then under the columned porte-cochere, leaving the car, my bag, and went inside.

My wife worked from home that day. The day before, she’d taken the kids with her to vote, expecting to celebrate with them that night. Now, alone, long embraces, many tears. What would we do? Our kids. What would this world hold for them? And how would I protect them? From the ugliness, the menace. And from my fear. My own dizzying fear.

Soon the children were home. Warm, quiet hugs. Their softness, their sadness. Their worry. Together we watched her concession. My son’s questions, probing and earnest. My daughter, her small hands clapping gently for the image on the screen. Mourning bunting.

* * *

I woke that night — electric and aware, shadows on the wall. Scratching, scratching on the bare floor in the attic above, an animal had found its way in. Who else was awake now? My god what we have done.