The Voting Booth
It was only a choice, she told herself. But such a choice. How had I gotten to into such a state?, she wondered. It was all so complicated now, so frustrating. Here I am, and I don’t really know what to do.
It should have been a great day for her. She was allowed to vote, finally old enough, finally registered to vote, finally getting up the nerve to actually go do it. All the elections before she had either talked herself out of voting or allowed her husband or someone else to talk her out of it. All the times before she just thought her one little vote wouldn’t matter. So she just never did.
Now, though, it felt different. There was a lot at stake, or so it seemed. She didn’t like watching news, she hated it when the music was interrupted on her radio for news broadcasts. She really, really hated the people who had to explain everything over and over until she didn’t understand what she had just heard for herself. She was tired of the arguing and the name calling, the accusations and blame thrown form one side to the other. When did we all have to pick a side, anyway? Why couldn’t we just vote the way we wanted to? Without arguing and fighting about it, and threatening each other all the time.
She put her ballot on the machine the way they had told her, making sure it was right by checking it not once, but three times before she did anything. She started to sweat. She hated sweating, and she wasn’t sure why she was sweating, but she was. Maybe it was because it was her first time. Just jitters, she told herself, it would go away.
But they didn’t go away. Denial, usually her old friend, was deserting her now. She knew exactly why she was sweating. She had a choice to make. She knew what she had been told, she knew what she was supposed to do. Her husband had reminded her enough, coached her enough, and God knows had gone over every single reason in the world that she needed to vote for a certain man. Not just her husband, either, but almost every person she knew, in and out of her family.
The women surprised her, though. She didn’t like the man her husband had picked out. He seemed rude and talked about women disrespectfully, at least she thought so. Other women, when she mentioned this point, told her she was wrong and that a man like him just said things he didn’t mean sometimes. That sounded right, because most men she knew said a lot of things that they turned around and apologized for later, saying they hadn’t really meant what they said. Her own husband did that a lot. He said he was sorry, but only after he had made a real ass out of himself. This man, the candidate, he had made a pretty big ass out of himself in her opinion. But she had never heard him apologize.
She skipped over that office and voted the rest of ballot, marveling a little at how she could easily navigate through the ballot. It was kind of fun, and she wondered why she had put it off for so long. She had gotten the hang of it easily, even going back to the main office to vote for the candidate was easy. She resolved to vote every time she could. This was fun, and there was nobody looking over her shoulder.
And that’s when she started to sweat again. She in this booth alone. For a moment she was silently thankful she hadn’t taken the mail-in ballot her husband wanted her to take. He would have stood over her and watched, insisting that he show her who she voted for. She had been half surprised that he didn’t want to come into the booth with her and make sure she did it right. But then she remembered the poll workers and knew they wouldn’t have allowed it. He wouldn’t have taken the chance on getting them both thrown out before they could vote. Getting the candidate elected seemed awfully important to her husband.
The secret ballot was a good idea, she decided. It was a pretty good system after all. But her hand was still, and she labored to make up her mind. Everyone wanted her to vote for this man who she secretly (secretly because it would have caused a major fight with her husband that would have lasted until she backed down and changed her mind) loathed. She thought he was disrespectful, uncaring, not very intelligent, and worst of all a liar.
She actually didn’t like anything about the man. So why vote for him? Because every person she knew wanted her to. Because her husband told her to. Because when she went home he would ask her, point blank, who she voted for. She didn’t want to lie to her husband. She wanted to tell the truth. But if she told the truth, and truth was that she had voted the way she wanted instead of the way he wanted her to, it would be a fight. Probably a big one.
Her hand hovered. It was hard to make the choice. It seemed easy, but it wasn’t. She had been told what to do her whole life. She had been a good girl and done what she was told, her whole life. She had made people happy her whole life, even when she knew they were wrong. But it was what she had always done. Even now, she worried that she was taking too long and the poll workers would be upset with her.
And then she thought about some of her friends. The people she knew that her husband told her to avoid, to stay away from. People with dark skin, dark hair and eyes, people who spoke different. But they were all nice people, nice to her. She watched some of their children sometimes, even though the kids had to leave before her husband got home. Sometimes she would take the kids to the park and let the parents pick them up there, then tell her husband she had just been at the park for a bit. Just getting air, she would say. He would remind her that he liked her to be home when he got there, mildly scolding her. Then she would turn her back and smile, scolding him in her head. She liked that, doing something he wouldn’t approve of. Even if he never really knew exactly what it was.
She stared at the handle on the voting machine. She could do it now. She could just tell her husband it was a secret ballot, and do what she did when she took the brown kids to the park. She could even lie, but she wouldn’t like herself if she did. No, if she was going to go against her husband, her family, and her friends and vote against the candidate, she was going to own up to doing it. It was her right, wasn’t it? Didn’t she have the right to make up her own mind?
Did she? Her confidence wavered. She had depended on all these people to tell her what to do, what to think her whole life. Now, she just couldn’t. The candidate was vile, mean, and quite stupid at times. If she did what others wanted, she couldn’t live with herself. If she didn’t do what they wanted, she might not be able to live with them.
It was suddenly very lonely in the booth. It was a simple choice. It should have been easy. But it wasn’t. She didn’t like this, didn’t like having to pick a side. But there was no choice in that. Whichever way she voted, she would be picking a side. There was no other way. She hadn’t created this, but she was caught in it, and she would just have to make up her mind.
Then a thought came to her. Something her mother told her. “You can’t always trust people”, mother had said, “but you can always trust yourself. Never let yourself down, and always, always, do the right thing.”
Her mother had been nursing a black eye that her drunken father had given her mother the night before. Mom’s words may have been a bit hollow, but the idea was correct, she thought. I don’t have to live with them, she told herself, but I have to live with me, and my conscience.
She made her selection, voted against the candidate, checked her ballot, and took her first step toward an independent life. Her head was a little higher when she left than when she came, her step a bit lighter. She didn’t know what would happen next. She just hoped everyone would do the right thing on this election day.
This is going to take some courage, she told herself as she headed for home. But I think it’s going to be worth it.
By DeJante Jones