I, Isabella Maria Lopez, just turned eighteen last week. Of course, that’s not what makes today, November 8, 2016, exciting. What’s exciting is that today is the first time I’m allowed to vote in a presidential election. If only the lines weren’t hella long. It reminds me of the time my friends and I waited to get into the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- Part Two. That time, however, I wasn’t alone and standing in the quiet hall of the local library. That time, there were cloaks, costumes, and laughter. And, after the line, I got to see Emma Watson in HD doing her Hermione thing, which I doubt will happen this time.
The line shuffles forward another inch, and I clutch the sample ballot I’m carrying closer to my body. I’ve been here for ten minutes now, which means, judging by the hundred bodies in front of me, I probably have another thirty minutes to go. But hey, each second of awkward silence is worth it if it means voting for our first female president.
Behind me, a girl about my age keeps texting. I know because we have the same ringtone and I have to check my phone every time hers goes off. Glancing behind me, I wonder how she types so fast. Her fingers seem nimble as they quickly tap at the screen. Only my best friend, Kira, is able to type that way, and that’s because she spent all of high school in a long distance relationship. As she says, it’s pretty easy to figure out how to type if you depend on it for romantic stimulation.
The girl scoffs and runs a hand through her brilliantly blonde hair. I admit, I’m checking her out. She’s pretty. Not Emma Watson pretty, but she’s got Hawaiian ocean colored eyes and a stance that says she’s confident and doesn’t give a shit about what anyone else thinks.
The line shuffles forward some more, and she scoffs again. I’m starting to think that might be her go-to sound, and that usually someone is around her to let her vent.
“Are you okay?” I ask, because what else am I supposed to do? I’ve been going over my choices that I’ve marked on my sample ballot a couple dozen times already.
“Fine,” she bites. But then she sighs and readjusts her stance. “I just don’t get why this has to take so long. Like, I should be sleeping.”
“Oh,” is all i can say.
“Right?” She stares into my eyes, and I can tell she’s used to everyone agreeing with her. In that moment, she isn’t beautiful as much as she is your standard Barbie. Perfectly poised and expectant.
“I don’t know… I’m excited.”
“You’re excited to wait in this stupid line, color in a few bubbles, and then go home?”
“I mean, I have work after… but, yeah.”
An older gentleman walks to the exit beside us. He’s wearing a Clinton shirt and hat, and I’m momentarily surprised because I’m used to getting dirty looks from people like that. Old men in my neck of the woods are usually outspokenly racist; they talk about the “good ol’ days” of segregation and sexism and lock their car doors when they drive through my neighborhood. But then, I’m doing the same thing they do, aren’t I? Judging someone before knowing them. Stereotyping. Good for him, I think. I’m grateful. It’s another vote in my favor.
“Ugh,” my new line companion groans.
I raise an eyebrow because I’m getting tired of the constant complaints. She shifts her weight and purses her lips.
“Can you believe all the brainwashed drones that are here?” She raises a hand and gestures to the people around us.
“Look at all the Clinton supporters. It’s insane.”
I tug on my thick braid because I don’t know what to say. Perhaps she’s said this to me because I didn’t come dressed head to toe in my democratic outerwear, or maybe she’s just used to being able to assert her opinion without people accusing her of being dramatic or mean.
“What’s insane about it?”
“Well, it’s mostly women so it makes sense. Voting with their vaginas.”
I step away from her. I’ve heard these words before, just never out loud. It’s usually confined to my Facebook feed and only if I’ve forgotten to block someone.
“I don’t think voting for Hillary Clinton means you’re voting with your vagina.”
She glances at me and rolls her eyes. “Of course you’re one of them.”
“Look, it’s great you want the next president to be a woman, but she’s awful. A criminal. A liar. Don’t be swayed because she markets to your people. Think with your brain.”
For a second, I see red, and I’m reminded of the Latina fire my abuela says she’s passed down to me. On any other day, I would stay quiet. But I’m passionate today, and she’s a woman. Shouldn’t she care about women’s rights?
“Markets to ‘my people?’ Because she’s not trying to build a wall to keep us out?” She opens her mouth, but I don’t let her speak. “Trump has said hateful things about women, Mexicans, all minorities… so yeah, I guess she markets to my people.”
“Everyone’s said awful things. He’s not under investigation for tr-”
“Neither is she. She’s been cleared.”
“As though a computer could really go through that many emails in such a short amount of time.”
“Yeah… it’s not as though they were built for that sort of thing.”
We’re glaring at each other. A stand off. I wish Kira were here because she always comes up with better arguments. Probably because hers aren’t fueled by rage and passion. Kira’s spent years tailoring her debates so they’re as kind as can be. That’s what you have to do when people automatically stereotype you as a crazy black chick, she says.
“Look, do whatever you want, but Hillary is a liar and a murderer.”
“Do you think for yourself or are you just programmed to shout out whatever Fox News has headlined?”
She gasps, her pouty pink lips forming a perfect O. I grin.
“I can think for myself, thanks.”
“Really? Because you sound like you’ve been raised by a pack of white supremacists.”
Another gasp, this one quieter. “I’m not… I don’t…”
“It’s fine if you want to vote for Trump. Just acknowledge that he’s racist and sexist and doesn’t give a damn about anyone but himself. Don’t hide behind his stupid slogan when he doesn’t even have a plan. He hasn’t uttered a single coherent sentence on what he’d do, realistically, if he became president.”
“Uttered a bunch of bologna on what he wishes he could do, but there’s no logic or reason behind it, just fear mongering and vague promises.”
“Whatever.” She crosses her arms and starts using her phone again.
I’m sure I’ve upset her, and for a moment, I feel sorry. I don’t want to be mean, don’t want to hurt anyone. But then, did I say anything cruel? Anything that hasn’t already been said a thousand times?
We’re close to the voting booths now. I mean, I can see them at least. And they’re totally not booths. They’re tiny stands with three walls around them so others can’t see… but they totally could.
A middle aged man turns around. He’s a few feet in front of me, and his face is contorted in anger. “You should shut your mouth. Stop trying to sway people.”
“Excuse me?” I manage, but my voice is squeaky.
“Are you even a legal resident?”
“I’m… I’m voting. I have to be.”
“Is your mom? Your dad? Where are they?” He hits the man beside him. They’re both wearing suits, dressed nice even though poison pours from their lips.
“Probably out mowing a lawn,” his friend jokes.
I step back but stand my ground. I won’t let bullies take this moment away from me.
“Picking oranges.” The first one laughs, but thankfully they turn to face the front. I can still hear them though, mumbling about how lazy I am. How they could easily do what ‘we’ do, how we leech off the government. They wonder how many siblings I have, if we sell our food stamps or actually use them.
I dig my fists into my pockets, counting backwards from cien. My abuela taught me this when I was small, but she said it never worked for her. It barely works for me either. But the tears stop pooling in my eyes, and I reread my ballot.
“Are you okay?” the girl behind me mumbles.
I nod. Inside though, I am a thousand supernovas, each star exploding brighter than the last. I stare at Hillary Clinton’s name until it becomes blurry. I can still hear the businessmen. They aren’t talking about me anymore. They’ve moved on to other minorities. But it’s not racist because they explicitly state as much, as though that takes away the hurt.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
I turn around and shrug. “I’m used to it.” I say this to sound brave, but I must not look it.
“Does that happen a lot?” she whispers, twirling the gold ring on her middle finger.
“Not a lot… but sometimes.”
She bites her lip and frowns. I can see that she’s thinking, her eyes moving from left to right as she focuses her stare on the ground. I decide, this time, I won’t remain quiet. I will keep fighting.
“But this, this will probably become normal with Trump. He perpetuates this behavior, being a loud bully. Sexualizing women, making rape seem okay, criticizing minorities because we look different. Wanting to ban us from the country we helped make great. Wanting to stop others from coming here to escape whatever demons they may face, which is why America was founded. Freedom. And he thinks only people who look like him are entitled to it.”
She doesn’t interrupt me, doesn’t argue. Her eyes soften, her lips part. I continue.
“It’s not about politics right now, it’s about human rights. Basic rights. We can’t elect someone to lead our country when they lack respect for more than half of the nation.”
“She’s corrupt. A murderer.”
“She’s not perfect, but which president was? George W. Bush had email scandals, but no one cares about that, do they? Because Hillary is paving a new road and this is just a way to distract from the good she’s done. It’s a way to keep things as they’ve always been. Maybe… maybe you think I’m thinking with my vagina. Maybe I am, because I care about its rights.”
And I stop for a moment because what I want to say is personal, is what a lot of people don’t know about me. Of course, Kira knows. My family knows. My close friends know. But strangers? No way.
“And as a lesbian, there’s no way I’m letting that man have control over what I can and can’t do. Over who I can marry. It isn’t just Trump either. Pence discriminates against us, has endorsed actual conversion therapy, and I haven’t even touched on Transgender issues or other minorities… I can’t vote for him… because I’m everything he hates.”
I take a deep breath because I haven’t talked about my beliefs this in depth… probably ever.
“I… I get that.”
“I’ve never argued that he hasn’t said awful stuff, I just think everyone has. And I’m afraid of what might happen with war if Hillary becomes president. I don’t like that she flip-flops on issues.”
I grin because no one could get through to her, and I don’t want to argue anymore. There are five people in front of me, the business men were last to go, and then I get to make history.
“I’m Taylor, by the way. Figured since I know your sexual preferences you could know my name.”
“Isabella,” I tell her.
“Do you go by Izzy?”
“Um… no… why?”
“So I know what name to write when you give me your number.” She smirks.
This time, it’s my turn to gasp. I’m not saying I can pick a lesbian out of a crowd or anything like that, but usually I get an inkling of whether a person is checking me or out or being friendly. And she didn’t even fall into that category.
“You’re a lesbian?” I ask bluntly.
“No. I’m bi.” She flicks her hair behind her and shoves her phone in my hands. “Number, please.”
I take her phone and hesitate. Do I want to give my number to someone like her?
“You’re a quiet type, huh? All right, so we have opposing political views… but you’re smart, I’m smart. You’re hot, I’m hot. You’re passionate, and I like that.”
“That’s all it takes to wanna start talking to someone?”
“We’ve got-” Taylor cranes her neck- “two more people to sort this out. So, hi, I’m Taylor Isaac. I like yoga, shopping, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. I used to get in trouble for talking too much in class, and I’m currently going to college to be a pediatrician someday.”
“Uh, I’m Isabella Lopez. I’m in school to be a history teacher, hopefully, and I like reading, movies, and painting…”
Taylor smiles. “See, now we know each other.” She nods to her phone in my hands, and I hold onto it tighter. “I’m sorry for being a bitch. I can be… stubborn. But I’d like to talk to you some more.”
I want to ask how in the hell she has the political views she does or if I’ve changed her mind, but I don’t. I follow my instincts, and maybe a bit of the butterflies fluttering around in my stomach, and plug my ten digits into her phone.
She takes it back, taps on the screen, and waits. My phone beeps. “Now you have mine.”
There’s only one person left in front of me, one person standing between me and one of the dreams I’ve had since I was tiny.
“Good luck in there,” Taylor says as someone exits their booth.
“Thanks. You too.”
As I step forward, she puts a hand on my wrist. “You know, my whole family has been dreading this moment since the primaries ended, but… today wasn’t as bad as I thought.”
“You mean it wasn’t totally awful waiting thirty minutes in a stupid line to color in a few bubbles?”
“No, it wasn’t.” Her eyes twinkle- at least, I think they would if that were possible.
“Ready, miss?” the volunteer at the beginning of the line asks me before gesturing to the table where I’ll collect my real ballot.
I wave goodbye to my new friend and step up to the table, tossing my sample ballot in the trash. I don’t need it anymore. I know who I’ll pick; I’ve studied the issues, and I’m ready.
As I walk to the tiny cubicle stand, there’s nothing else in my mind. Not whether or not Taylor will text me later, not the bullying I’ve endured for the last eighteen years, not whether or not I’ve changed anyone’s mind.
I shade in the bubble that means the most to me, and I’m filled to the brim with pride and hope. Hope for me, for my friends and family, for my country. I’ve done it. I’ve made a difference.