When the bus pulled up to the corner of 11th and G, I was already calling my sister to find out where she was. I had told her our estimated time of arrival (12:15), so when we pulled in at 12:20 I was already dourly calculating the fact that no one in my family bothers to be on time to pick other people up when they are traveling except for me. I’m spoiled, I suppose; between Couchsurfers and friends, there is someone to meet me at the end of a journey about 70% of the time. And I appreciate it: the smiling face, the way that you can reorient yourself to your new environs by the reassuring compass of someone else’s surety in their city.
This is why, when my sister said “We’re ten minutes away – you’ll be fine,” I was sincerely unamused. It was midnight on one of the coldest nights of the year.
I found myself huddling in the revolving doors of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. (DC is a city of remembrances; in some ways this inaugural is only notable because of the sheer numbers of people who recognize its weight and heft and are here to stitch a piece of this quilt of history.) I hate revolving doors – ever since an incident in seventh grade when I went on a swim team trip to Atlanta and cracked my ribs in the revolving door of the newly constructed Olympic swimming pool, they have been revealed to me as the unforgiving instruments of danger and cruelty that they are.
These were particularly cruel because they weren’t going anywhere; the library had been closed for hours, and the best the large V of the doors was doing for me was providing a shelter for me – and the wind – to get cozy and become better acquainted. While I was getting felt up by the bitter cold, I was also getting increasingly wrathful.
Who the fuck does she think she is to decide that I’ll be fine waiting out in the cold because she can’t be bothered to get off her ass and come get me on time? I stamped my foot. My hereditary lack of timeliness is something shared by all of my family members, and seems to stem from a mistaken belief that nothing will ever happen until it’s already happening: the beginning of a party, the arrival of a loved one, the departure of a plane. No matter how far away you are from someone who is supposed to picking you up, neither my sister nor either of my parents can ever be bothered to leave wherever they are until you’ve already arrived.
Re-living all those years of being the last kid to get picked up from daycare was bad enough, but I was also freezing. My sister knows all about the problems I’ve been having with seasonal depressions. She knows about my persistent anemia and the biological difficulty I have generating my own warmth (to wit: I can’t do it. My poor functioning blood cells are seriously overloaded, schlepping all the iron and hemoglobin they can, and they do it slowly. When cut I bleed slowly, and the blood is almost always heavy, under-oxygenated and an ominous looking garnet. My body works, after a fashion, but it’s the fashion of a German housewife. It’s efficient, but not fast or flashy, and it doesn’t have time for spare frills such as excess heating).
She knew how much I needed this weekend to be an escape from everything that was troubling me in Boston, and, most unforgivably: she knew what time she needed to leave her house to pick me up when I arrived. She knew all of this, and she ignored it. Impotent tears of rage began streaming down my face. Horrified, I tried to make them stop. No dice. Twenty minutes after I got off the bus, my sister finally bothered to make an appearance, at which point I tumbled into the car with the full nervous collapse I’d begun on a downtown street corner of a strange town in media res.
Back at the house, after tea and a good cry and apologies (which secretly I found completely inadequate, but I was too much of a mess to yell the way I would have hoped: probably a good thing, as it gave the weekend the chance to start on a slightly better foot than it would otherwise have gotten), I contemplated myself. I was in DC.
The city is saturated with legend and time, and yet every time I get here I can’t shake the sense that its inhabitants affords themselves a sense of gravitas and importance that they’ve lost, devolving into bad haircuts, staid ugly pantsuits, platitudes mouthed that they no longer believe and an endless stifling of the fact that everyone here has risen to power by wielding either money or their own desperate need to be loved – or, failing that, remembered.
Our capital is accommodating in that sense. There is more than enough history for everyone’s follies, foibles, and feats of greatness to be remembered, and everyone who lives here is a custodian of some part of that history, dusting it for their mantels, pulling it out for tea with visiting poor relations from less enlightened corners of the globe. I feel that it’s a fundamentally unhealthy place. If New York is thin, sprinkled with celebrities, models, and the botoxed old ladies who strive to emulate them, Washington is corpulent and marbled, full of wattles, receding hairlines, poor table manners and infarctions waiting to erupt, possibly while on top of a prostitute from the wrong side of the tracks (Baltimore plays this willing role).
But even the grizzled, sweaty, crude and cynical heart of Washington is stirring this weekend. I’m fascinated by the prospect of a president who delights in both words and movement, playing with both of them for satisfaction and pleasure rather than because making speeches and not being obese are two things presidents are supposed to do to keep their power, consolidate it, and pass it on when they go like an ever more battered, ever less desirable baton. It occurs to me that Barack Obama himself is both extremely embodied and highly intellectual; when it comes to finding role models, I could certainly do worse. I’m excited to see what the weekend will bring me, how it will feel, what I’ll hear and see. I go to sleep weary and ragged, but hopeful. This is the start of the reason why all of us came.