By Jo Longley
The day after the debate, a horde of students wore Trump paraphernalia to school. Maybe not a horde. At least a couple dozen. But it overwhelmed me.
Right now, I look more queer than I ever have before. My hair is short and bleached blonde; I wear men’s button-ups every day. When these students walk down the hall and make the turn into whatever room I’m subbing in that day, I can see them puff their chest out. Dare me to say something.
A student I had to send to the principal’s office for breaking dress code (failing to wear his mask properly, after repeated directives from me to put it on) hissed at me one lunch as I walked past, “Democrat”. I struggled not to laugh.
Teenagers have the amazing flexibility to be both inspiring and infuriating. Admirable and annoying. Deeply passionate and also deeply misguided.
The snippets I’ve allowed myself to watch of the debate, I can see what my smirky teen students see in a man like Trump. He offers them a role model who has obtained the highest office in the country without any need for further maturation. Beyond being deeply unfit for office, these children have nothing in common with him.
One day in an English class we read an introduction to Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. The textbook asked students: What defines a mob?
One girl joked, “Well we had some examples downtown a couple months ago.”
I asked them what differentiated a protest from a mob.
“A protest isn’t violent,” said one girl.
“There is no difference,” said the first.
On my break that day, pictures of Breonna Taylor, full of joy and deeply alive, fill my timeline. Her, and SUVs crashing through crowds of people. A bike officer running over the head of a fallen comrade.
I talk to my therapist about how much I am struggling to be content, or grateful in a system designed to exhaust me. How selfish I feel knowing that I’m this exhausted and I’m several degrees of separation closer to what the system says is “normal” than a whole lot of people. She says a lot of her clients have been feeling that way, and that the answer is as it’s always been: community.
There are pockets in the school—of queer kids, nerdy kids, proud boys, sporty kids. It isn’t as obvious in the classes, but when I have lunch duty, pacing around the cafeteria, I see them in their natural pods.
I see one of my favorite students, who just shaved their head and has glasses like mine, walking around with other students I had already pegged at around-my-degree-of-not-normalness, and it makes me happy, and deeply sad.
“I remember the awful racist opinions I had in high school about Obama, when he was running against McCain,” I tell my therapist. “I look at all these kids promoting what they don’t yet realize is fascism, and I worry. Will they get the chance to change their mind before other information isn’t available? Before we need to start allocating blame?”
She said she didn’t have the answer. That I was asking about age of responsibility, and that varies so widely. Some students are already so informed, so aware—mostly the ones that need to be because they already know their own bubbling differences.
But others will stay where they are—mentally, physically, emotionally. This is the final stop for them. They’ll stay in this town in these circles likely the rest of their life, and they’ll be as content as they allow themselves to be.
The ones that are aching to leave will go and they will finally feel like they can breathe and think I didn’t know I wasn’t breathing before!
And I am tired. I’m watching these students day in and out and they are beautiful. They are worth protecting. They’re wearing masks to school because we wouldn’t protect them from a pandemic. And they’re wearing Trump shirts because we wouldn’t protect them from a narcissist. I am tired, and I love them.
Can we please, please do better. For them. Please.