In this installment of “Love, Recorded,” Matt wants to vote for babies and a man in line to vote has a possible heart attack.
On election day, I am thinking about what else, my daughter. I am thinking about how sure it seems that humans will be the end of the world, about how the real question is: how fast? I am thinking about how climate control has been a non-issue in the race. No other species has ever affected the weather. We are the first, and because of that, we may be the last. I am thinking about the ways in which our belief in our differences, politically, nationalistically, animally, is destructive.
In the morning, I look up my voter registration status, just to make sure, and see that I am listed as “inactive.” A quick Google search turns up at least one conspiracy theory on each side, people unable to vote because they have been suddenly disqualified, machines with calibration errors that turn votes for one candidate to the other.
My wife calls in the middle of the workday to ask if I have done it. I tell her I might not be unable. “Think about your daughter,” Cathreen says. “You better figure it out.” For my wife, the election was decided the instant she heard Romney had strapped his dog to the top of his car.
I want to vote, but I know the system. I know Massachusetts’ electoral votes have already been decided. I don’t want to go all the way to Chinatown, where I used to live, only to be told that I will not be counted.
“Think about your daughter,” Cathreen says. “Your daughter is American.”
My daughter, if she had kept her due date, would have been born on the Fourth of July.
I call a number I find online. My account was deactivated weeks before election day. Conspiracy theories start running through my mind, as well. I ask the woman on the line what I can do. She says all I can do is show up and bring an ID and hope. I wonder if this is an endorsement.
I walk around posting flyers for a seminar on polarized employment systems. I listen to This American Life as I go, an episode on how politics are splitting up family and friends.
The stakes are so high, everyone says, when asked why they let a vote come between them. I think about how I tell my fiction class that high stakes get the reader to invest. Turnout is the key to elections these days, as I understand them. The politics is in how you scare people into voting, make them think their lives depend on it. Fear has always united people, even if it does so by tearing them apart from others.
I go to Chinatown with my ID and my fears. I go to vote to show that I voted.
When I get there, I face a 20-minute line. I keep my headphones on, listening to a story from The New Yorker, guessing that I am surrounded by Obama supporters. Asian Americans will make a huge difference in this election. My daughter is part of a growing demographic. The man in front of me is white, and I find myself wondering, sourly, how he will vote.
As I judge him, unfairly, he shouts and runs forward and shouts again, in what I take at first as anger. Until I see an elderly Chinese man slump in his seat. The man who was in front of me in line is calling for help, is helping. A Chinese woman in scrubs jumps out of her place, too, doing doctor things and speaking with the elderly man in Mandarin. The woman behind me offers to translate into Cantonese. She explains everything to me afterward.
I am having complicated feelings, overwhelmed by how small I have made myself, with my ears plugged. I hear sirens. The elderly man will be okay. The man in front of me, the woman behind me, didn’t act or not out of politics. There will be a story that comes out about another man who fainted at the polls and, when he woke, wanted to know first of all whether he had voted. Here, though, in Chinatown, where I always felt safer than anywhere else in the city, my skin color finally in the majority, the white person in front of me was the first person to help. I feel like I want to vote for that. I want to vote for caring about people, and not about certain people.
I am thinking about my daughter.
When I get home, my wife says, aren’t I glad that she made me go? I am, though not as much for the sticker as I had thought. My daughter asks to be lifted up, then immediately put down again. I have to sneak in a kiss already. She is 16 months old and has things to do: play with her new doll, cut wooden fruit in half, grow up. I feel like I want to vote for her now not as in on her behalf, but for what and who she is, someone who doesn’t know how different she has to be, who doesn’t believe that we are defined by who we vote for, or who we vote against, not as individuals nor as a country nor as human beings, but by whether we are kind, and caring, and think first of the children.