Endgame

I write this sitting in a fake leather chair on an Amtrak train headed back to Boston. The train is quiet but my head is not. Michigan seems like a dream to me now. Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you (substituting weary, or bone-weary for the original adjective). After three days and four nights of addition and subtraction — comforting in its linearity, trying in its incrementality — the hammer came down. And lo.

My phone is full of jubilant videos from friends in Brooklyn and Queens. People are flooding the sidewalks, the plazas, the streets. They bang on trash cans, cheer the cars who honk and honk and honk. 

Stamford gives way to Westport. Dull office tours and cinderblock factories give way to rusty foliage give way to sheaves of golden cordgrass and the glinting sea. The sun gets in my eyes, which are misty as all get-out on account of those videos. I think about how the first president my older son will remember will be a good one and they get mistier still. Someone tweets that this is the closest thing our generation’s had to the war being over, which sounds about right.

I think about a thread I read earlier in the week, a Kenyan cartoonist’s satirical take on the election’s denouement. I say satire, but all it was was a repurposing of the same language we use to cover the elections in developing world authoritarian regimes. Like any great satire, it became less and less funny the more I realized its truth.

Biden’s victory was an outcome the logical part of my mind believed in, while I kept the emotional part locked in the attic a la Mrs. Rochester. Look at where the remaining votes are coming from, look at the type of votes they are. I refamiliarized myself with the names of the counties I’d forgotten in the two years since the midterms. Allegheny, Maricopa, Clayton, Cobb. The ballots kept coming, inch by inch. The attic door stayed locked. 

At night, Brady and I watched The Queen’s Gambit. In the final episode, there’s a chess tournament in the former USSR. Eight matches separate Elizabeth, the dickensian ingenue protagonist, from Borgov, the reining world champion. The episode does not make short work of them. Elizabeth wakes up, puts on her kicky windowpane coat, is escorted to the tournament hall by her CIA handler, plays a match, advances, returns. Some nights, she’s tempted to order a bottle of vodka to her room, or to replace the tranquilizers she’s flushed down the toilet, but she resists. Goes to bed, if not to sleep. Practices. Plays. Advances. Workman chess. Until there is no one left to play but Borgov.

We knew she was going to play Borgov — and knew, too, that she would beat him. It was the finale, and she’d lost, badly, the previous time she’d faced him. This is America. The hero comes out on top in the end. We knew it, but still, what a thrill it was when the great Soviet grandmaster pressed his king into her palm. 

What a thrill. It’s almost religious, this feeling. 

New London. A lone boat at the docks. Orange and red cranes further out along the harbor. A mint green chicklet of a building that says GENERAL DYNAMICS in black block letters. A man on the curb of sand lifts a small fish out of the water. It’s unclear whether the fish is the bait or the catch. 

Out in the estuaries, the terns have abandoned their giant nests. A few gulls circle above one, sussing it out. A fishing boat’s tied up against a pleasure boat, a handsome two-masted thing painted black and gold. 

I want to write all sorts of grandiose sentimentalisms, like “It’s morning again in America,” even though of course that was Reagan’s codicil.  

But it is morning again. No one’s getting out alive but more of us have a shot at living. 

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