I was living in London when my grandfather died, only he didn’t die quite as quickly as you’d think for a man who’d had a heart attack behind the wheel so the ensuing transatlantic phone calls went a little something like this:
First, “You need to come home.”
Then, “Actually, he might pull through, so don’t book your just flight yet.”
And then finally, “Okay, yeah, it’s official, you need to come home. They’ve scheduled the funeral.”
Being that I was never particularly close to my grandfather, I did what any self-respecting Anglophile would do: I went out and bought myself a hat. It was the biggest, blackest, most obnoxiously British hat I could find.
I was a grad student at the time, so it was a second hand hat. I found it at a charity shop in Putney and it had a small but barely noticeable crease in the front.
Being that it came from a charity-shop-in-Putney, it did not come with a hat box, so I had to wrap it in a wrinkled Sainsbury’s shopping bag to keep it safe on the flight back to Philadelphia.
But oh did I feel regal when I showed up to that funeral. I was the last of the grandchildren to arrive; my grandmother’s jewelry had already been divvied up by my cousins and I was left with the brooch nobody else wanted.
My poor father was the saddest I’d ever seen him- the saddest, at least, since he’d hugged me goodbye at the airport when I’d flown in the other direction a year before.
My mother was politely telling my aunt thank you but no, she should not make a birthday cake for my brother (who turned 20 that same day) because I, his sister, was coming home and I’d always been the one to do it.
My extended family were in their usual cliques and I was doing my very best to give off a convincing fuck-if-I-care vibe.
And oh was I succeeding. If I remember correctly, (which I might not) even my brother told me I was being a bitch at one point.
The pastor told me he’d given me one of the more difficult readings for the funeral (one with lots of tricky, biblical names to pronounce) because he sensed that I, of all the grandchildren, would be able to handle it. But best of all, I had my hat. My big, beautiful, obnoxious hat, set off to perfection with a black pencil skirt and a new black ruffled shirt with tiny white polka dots that my mother had taken me to Burlington Coat Factory to pick out the day before.
I was happy to play the part of the dutiful daughter because I love my dad and I knew that having both of his kids there would make the grieving process a bit easier for him. And I was happy to play the roll of the grief stricken granddaughter, but for another, slightly less admirable reason: I knew I looked good doing it.
As far as I was concerned, I was a modern day Evita crossed with Kate Middleton, and even though I don’t think anyone aside from my mother knew it at the time, that hat was my personal “fuck you” to a grandparent I’d never had the guts to flick off in real life (except one time when my brother and I went to visit him in Arizona and were quite young and did it from the backseat of his car where we knew he couldn’t see us; as an 11 year old, it was quite thrilling).
Having recently gotten married, and having received perfectly lovely gifts from that side of the family, I feel a bit guilty admitting all of this- my uncles in particular were especially sweet leading up to and on the day of my wedding- but that funeral was a long time ago and I was, of course, mad about a whole host of things that had nothing to do with my grandfather. I was homesick but too stubborn to admit it; I’d gotten embroiled in an affair with a much older quasi-co worker that everyone (even my flat mates) knew was doomed to hurt in the end; my dissertation was coming due; my lease was almost up and my student visa was about to expire, just as I had finally fallen in love with London.
It is quite possible (and extremely likely) that I was being just as obnoxious as my hat.
But I was mad, and I felt the same way when I woke up yesterday at 5:00am, finally sick of the constant coercion, the constant condescension, and the constant brainwashing that is the Democratic National Convention. How had the party almost convinced me that I was happy to nominate Hillary?
My first thought was, “I need my black hat.”
My second thought was, “I think my black hat is at my parents’ house because I requested a Downton Abbey themed bridal shower and my mom rounded up every hat within a fifteen mile radius to ensure that my guests were appropriately coiffed.”
My third thought was, “Actually, that’s not why it’s there. It’s there because when I finally moved out of my parent’s house, I didn’t bother to move all of my stuff out because I’m a rotten, ungrateful, millennial child and why should I have to store that ridiculous thing in my 900 square feet of a house when my parents have like four times the space???”
My fourth thought was, “But I still need that hat. I NEED THAT HAT.”
I was about to call my mom and ask her to drive it over to me when I realized that it was still not even six o’clock in the morning. So I started pacing instead.
“Just you wait,” I told myself. “I’m gonna march into this morning’s delegation breakfast and I’m gonna give those fuckers a piece of my mind. I’ll show them. They can threaten to take away our signs and our credentials and tell us Bernie will have breakfast with us but only if we behave, well fuck that shit! I’m gonna wear my damn hat and every single reporter in the goddamn room is gonna to flock to me just like they always do and I’m going to tell them what a sham this is, that I am in mourning for my country.”
It was about this point that I realized our dog was shaking, and when I looked at myself in the mirror, it occurred to me that I might, quite possibly, have officially cracked the fuck up.
But then, a voice came to me and it was, of all people, the voice of Michelle Obama:
When they go low, we go high.
So I didn’t call my mom and ask her to bring me my hat. Rumor had it Bernie was indeed coming to breakfast with the PA delegation and I didn’t want him to think I was making a mockery of him or the amazing, awe-inspiring, exhilarating sacrifice he’d made during the roll call the night before.
So I went high instead: I put on my nicest white dress, the one I bought from Rent the Runway to wear for our rehearsal dinner this past spring. I added my favorite necklace, the one I bought from the fair trade women’s co-op in Iceland, and I even wore a bra for the first time all week.
A bra for Bernie, I told myself. Go high.
I coiled my hair into a bun and perched a white bird on top: my “Bernie Peace Dove,” courtesy of the Christmas ornament clearence rack at West Elm.
I felt a little bit like Carrie Bradshaw when she attempts (for the first time) to marry Mr. Big in Sex and the City The Movie, and he leaves her at the altar and she stumbles down the steps of the New York Public Library, bashes her bouquet on his limo and then mumbles to Miranda, completely dumbfounded, “I put a bird on my head.”
Well, I put a bird on my head too, with that same heartbroken, dumbfounded yet still fashionable sense of desperation. Not because Bernie left us all the altar- he didn’t, if anything he sacrificed himself upon it- but because Michelle Obama told me to go high and I’m trying to listen and don’t know what else to do but maybe if I wear my peace dove instead of that obnoxious funerary get up, something will finally change.
Hello Stage 3: Bargaining.