Well, I watched the debacle that was the Canadian Election 2004. I saw the crushing of high hopes and the destruction of expectations of real change, the gleeful commentary from CBC 'reporters' who were relieved to have secure jobs again, and felt the pain of a rather uncertain future for Canadian politics. We now live in a country where the sole power is not Liberal, but NDP. No longer are we at the behest of a government that makes a token gesture to capitalism (as inadequate as that was, it was still a gesture): now we are at the mercy of a socialist party with a very "central role."
All is not lost, though - no matter how badly I feel at this moment, things are better than they seem. The Conservative party did make real gains (though I don't think I'll ever learn to distrust pollsters, and so be disappointed time and time again), and - assuming they don't get stupid and dump Harper like they did Stockwell Day - they have consolidated and inched upward, positioning themselves (perhaps) for a future run with real possibilities.
But tonight, I don't feel any of that rational optimism. I feel only the sting of defeat, and the deflation of hope. So, like a good writer, I grabbed that and turned it into inspiration. Here's the thousand (or so) words that I came up with after the election.
There was a massive blue felt curtain hanging from the rafters. It served as a backdrop for the stage. In front of it were arrayed dozens of copies of the State flag, each sagging limply on an individual pole. Their brilliant and national red made a stark contrast to the deep, dark tapestry behind them. At the center-stage podium stood a man, droning about how good the electorate's showing was this time. About how hopeful he was for the future of the country. About how this was a first step toward the larger goal, toward a better country. It was a winner's speech, but it was not a winner's room.Well, I'm off to sleep. Hopefully I'll feel like this guy in the morning.
The line to the bar at the back of the large gymnasium was already stretching out past the double-turned felt ropes, and moving into the main gym area. It was growing by the second. The 'tenders had run out of whiskey and most of the other hard stuff, so now they were serving - ironically - Budweiser. The King of Beers. An American King at a watery 4%. How could the King be so weak?
The room wasn't paying attention anymore - hadn't been since the results came back, since the lineup for alcohol began - but the speaker didn't really care. He was almost done with his talk now, trying to get through the last few lines so that he could go home, shut it all off, and go comatose for a week. Jetting around the country this past month hadn't been kind to his sleep patterns, and he had been running on fumes for the last five days. That was the real reason he had kept his final campaign appearances brief: he couldn't maintain the façade. Maybe the voters could tell. Maybe that was why everything went so wrong.
Or maybe they were all too apathetic to respond. Maybe he was dealing with an electorate so set in their ways that the most they'd ever do was give their incumbent and perpetual rulers a slightly smaller majority. Or maybe the electorate was scared, frightened into acquiesence by his opponents' hateful propaganda that had blasted over the speakers and screens of the entire population for the past month. Or maybe...maybe. Maybe. The speech was reaching the final point now. Time to wrap it up.
"And, ladies and gentlemen, we've given this country a wake-up call. We're on our way!" That was it. The response was half-hearted. A third of the crowd was now in line to get drinks, another third was gathered around the stage - cheering, but only slightly - and the last third were milling about by the doors, drunk or getting that way. But no matter where he looked, all the eyes were hollow. Shaken. Not stirred, but depressed. Not motivated, but crushed. And for all the soaring rhetoric he had just delivered, he felt the same way.
He shook hands with those closest to him, caught the pungent odors from their breath, and the slight drawl of their speech. The smile he had on never faltered - though it wasn't the grin he would have worn had the election turned out differently - and he held on to it now as his only remaining connection to consciousness. He shook hands lightly, looked desperately for - and found - his wife, who had gathered their two children - both looking nearly as exhausted as he felt - and pushed through the remaining members of his election campaign with the help of the police that had been assigned to escort them around.
Outside by the limo, after he had ushered his family inside, he turned in the space between the open door and the body of the vehicle. He had one foot in the car's plush carpeting, one foot on the asphalt, and as he twisted around, he placed his hand on the top of the door. He looked back at the large building and its crumbling banners, at the streamers that had fallen and ripped and torn. It would all be gone tomorrow. He glanced up and saw a few stars, but most of them had been smothered by the city lights. He closed his eyes, took a long draw of the slightly flavored air, and ducked into the car. The officer behind him made sure all limbs were safely in, and then she closed the door.
Inside, the children were in the process of curling onto the seat cushions, just about asleep. His wife was on her cell phone, whispering something to someone about some aspect of the night's events. He slid into the middle of the large leather bench, put his legs out, and felt his muscles collapse. He closed his eyes. Inhaled the traces of champagne, confetti, and ballons. Saw those huge television screens with their massive talking heads as they read off the polling results, piece by piece. As they methodically unravelled his dream.
He felt a soft exterior pressure on either side of his torso, and half-opened his eyes. The images of failure vanished. His kids had moved to nestle under his arms, and - for the first time in what felt like ages - he smiled without forcing it. He looked up at his wife, who had shut off her phone and tucked it away into her small purse. She was fatigued, drained maybe even more than he was, and yet she was somehow still as beautiful as the day he met her. That glow had never faded.
She caught his eye as she slipped her heels off, and half-crawled, half-slid in front of him, making sure not to disturb the children as they drifted off into dreams. She locked onto his gaze with her own, and - as exhausted as she had to be - he felt her strength flowing back into him again, sustaining him, keeping him awake. They stared at each other - he noted how gorgeous her eyes were for the millionth time - and neither spoke a word. He felt another genuine smile play at his lips, and felt his wife place her hands on his knees as she leaned forward. He saw her mouth creep open into a slight grin.
Her weak smile met his, and they kissed like tired teenagers - not 'married couple' pecks, but kisses that were deep and long. Inside the warmth of this car, he was not the almost-successful politician, or the also-ran leader of the Opposition, or the disenfranchised Alternative Choice. No, inside this car, he was a husband with an amazing wife, and a father with two precious children. He was the most incredibly blessed man on the planet, and that was more than enough.
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