When a Badass Shows Up
A Reflection from the Women’s March — January, 2017.
My phone rang, as I fluffed my fleece blanket and stuffed my bag in the overhead compartment of the Rally Bus. The bus driver announced we were only minutes from departing Cincinnati for D.C. and the Women’s March.
I fumbled in my bag for the phone. The caller-id read “Cheryl”. From New Orleans? At 9:15 on a Friday night? She should be out, or home sleeping off happy hour.
My eyes darted around the loaded bus. Should I step off to take the call?
Hours earlier, my husband, Mark, and I had cooked chicken stir-fry. While Asian food was not necessarily the dinner of champions for protesters, I didn’t want the weight of my meal to hold me down overnight while riding bumpity bump on a charter bus.
With time to spare before my departure, my conversation with Mark landed on our children. We had been married ten years, after both of our first spouses died of cancer. We merged three beautiful girls of Mark’s to one young boy of mine.
That week, I had returned home from visiting a niece whose mother was not in her life. While not experts in the realm of parenting, Mark and I understood a thing or two about raising children without parents. Over soy-soaked rice, we dared ask, “Would we have done anything different with our own kids?”
We addressed each child (now adult) in turn, and agreed along the way. Yes, having grown wiser, there were times we could have parented in a different manner. We would have made a few tweaks here and there. The adjustments might not have changed the course of our children’s lives or ours, but they might have made our children feel a little better. However, our young adults were progressing through their lives, encountering their own challenges and surmounting each in their own way. That was the short answer.
The shorter answer came later that night.
Mark dropped me at the designated Rally Bus stop in Mariemont. He and I trekked through the parking lot, and held hands, Mark wishing me a final goodbye. I firmly promised to return, safe and secure.
When I finally boarded the bus, I didn’t know a soul. A friend who had committed to the march was traveling back to family due to a tragic death of a nephew. My dog was still stick, but recovering. And my mother would and wouldn’t miss me, in her own way. The weekend fell on my birthday. I was nothing if not about signs.
As I scanned the bus for beauties I recognized, a voice rang out. “Annette, is that you?”
“Sara? Wow. Hi. Good to see you.” Sara Pearce was a former editor at the Enquirer. She was also someone who had composed an artistic rendering of my poetry. She had collaged a most private part of my life.
“Are you traveling alone?”
“I am.” I retold the story of how I signed up for the march, without planning to know a soul. How my friend had lost her nephew. “Plenty of others couldn’t make this march, so who am I to back out?”
“Well, join us,” Sara offered and introduced me to her husband and friends. We took an instant liking to each other. I felt confident I could spend days’ worth of my time with women who marched.
My phone rang after that conversation.
Cheryl had texted me earlier. She already had an inkling of where I was, or would be. “Hey Cher, what’s up? The bus is getting ready to pull out.”
I wavered. Should I hop off now?
She sniffled and chuckled over the phone.
“Cher, are you OK?”
“It’s just Shannon (daughter number two) and I were talking, and we think you’re a badass for doing this.”
The two of us laughed, or cried, or whatever the combination was. “Oh my goodness, that’s quite the compliment.”
Then, I cried some more.
“This is just really cool that you’re doing this.”
“Of course,” I said, again thinking I hadn’t felt challenged in leaving. I had no children at home. I had a dog to oversee the husband, a mother who would be fine without me for a day or two, and the stamina to sleep on a bus for two nights, because I had done so on a bus ride to Colorado when I was 18, and the ski club was stuck in a snow storm.
Many women would give up so much more.
“Oh, wow. We’re pulling away,” I practically yelled into the phone. “There’s a camera crew. And there goes Mark. We’re heading out. We’re heading out.”
“Send pictures if you can,” Cheryl called into my earpiece. “Love you.”
“Love you too.”
My seatmate smiled with curiosity. After introductions, I retold her my origin story. The one that began with three bonus daughters, all the more a bonus, because I never gave birth to one of my own.
I explained why that call meant so much coming from Cheryl, who lived 1200 miles away. The one with whom I had difficulty forging a relationship as bonus mother because she was the de facto mother for her younger two siblings long before I entered their lives. And Cheryl had moved out for college shortly after Mark and I married.
Minutes later, my phone buzzed with texts from Shannon, my second bonus daughter. “For the past week, I’ve been telling my coworkers what a bad ass my stepmother is.”
Was this a coordinated effort between the two?
I leaned my head back into the rest. My insides had been warmed. I was fired up. Let me off now to march. Let me off now to do whatever work I was meant to do, I thought to myself.
Hours later, our busload of women was deposited in the parking lot of RFK Stadium in D.C. Throngs of women and some men disembarking from the bus met with other throngs traipsing down Capital Street. Every coffee shop like Mia’s buzzed not from caffeine but from the heightened sense of what we were there to accomplish.
As we processed through the neighborhood of Lincoln Park, residents applauded, their hot coffee in hand, mine absent for the day to hold back the urge to pee. As we arrived at Capital Hill, a magical event occurred.
Women from every state, every city, every race, every religion, every body, every mind merge to become one, in that instant. We were forever joined.
My friends and I stood on our feet, walking for hours, hoping to catch glimpses of the speakers and snapping photos of the “best signs”. I got to know well those few women from Cincinnati. Women who had protested in the sixties. And now, here they were, protesting in their 60’s. We shared our disdain for the sandwich vendor who took our orders and money, then forced us to wait 45 minutes for a sandwich. I shared my peanut butter and pita bread with one of our sister marchers who was a vegetarian. Dried pineapple was our only treat that day.
We checked our cell phones and read aloud participation numbers from marches in other cities. Husbands, friends and relatives texted, called, snapchatted, Facebooked, tweeted and every other version of instantly communicating, hinting that we were creating something special that others one day would curate.
By three p.m., we could no longer hold our urges and snaked through the crowds to stand in lines twenty-deep at the porta-poddies. We had heard portalets in another part of the green were empty but padlocked, perhaps by special order.
Late afternoon, chatter from the crowds informed us we wouldn’t be able to truly march forward. We had already deduced that fact by the little mileage gained in plodding from restroom to street map sign. We ended our day with pizza, sharing Gatorades and chairs, then toasted with beers and cocktails at a bar in the Eastern Market.
Back on the bus, my new friends uncorked some wine and finally I drank, the wine symbolic not only for my birthday. I had been called a “badass” that day. I had carried that word like a trophy all day, marching a little taller than my five-foot frame (the crowds demanded that as well).
But it wasn’t just the word.
I gushed with pride over the gesture of the phone calls and texts from miles away, from two beautiful, extraordinary young women who, despite their age and their exceptional ability to think, act, and express for themselves, would rest well that night. Some woman over fifty was willing to cross the political party line, sleep on a bus for two nights, stand on her feet all day, and hardly move an inch due to the size of the crowds.
My Women’s March sign consisted of a line from Obama’s farewell speech. “Show up, dive in, and stay at it.” On the posterboard, I wrote the names or initials of the many women for whom I was marching (whether they liked it or not). When I returned home, I hung the sign in our rear entry hall. Its placement was akin to the Notre Dame Football’s Play Like a Champion Today sign football players tapped superstitiously before rumbling out onto the field.
Frustrated we couldn’t physically march in D.C., my newer friends and I believed we were there to be The Crowd. The one that was “greater than”. Our job had simply been to show up. There were others whose jobs it would be to act in other capacities. But first, we still had to show up.
My sign did not read “badass”. But sometimes, the mere presence of a badass makes things happen.
What would I have done differently with our children as we raised them?
My constant company was important. Dinner on the table. Introduction to a few Italian dishes.
Yet there were times I didn’t defend them enough. And there were times when I was angry or frustrated without understanding their aggravation. What mother of teenagers didn’t act that way, I told myself, though I knew the line between typical and atypical had been blurred long before I met the girls.
But I kept showing up. I kept showing up. I kept showing up. Eventually, I dove in to their lives. Once fully immersed, I found no trouble in staying in them and sometimes even straying where I didn’t belong.
If that made me a badass, then every parent who ever advocated for the rights of their children was a badass.
And those two beautiful young women, advocating for more and better arts in the city schools and for reproductive justice, for better outcomes on immigration and human trafficking, and women’s rights?
The girls had already stopped believing in fairy tales, other than The Princess Bride, and had learned God couldn’t save or bless every one and every thing.They had personally set off on their own march to remake this world. Yet their journeys over borders of states and countries and continents were nothing compared to the inner journeys they dared voyage to places no one willingly traveled.
And they turned out pretty badass themselves.