Sad white people all over Los Angeles adopted pets this weekend. I was one of them. “I think I’m getting this dog because of the election,” I said to the white woman with the painful-looking nose ring who sat across from me with a clipboard. It had been five days since Donald Trump had been elected president. I hadn’t cried yet. Even the moment when I knew the election was over, on Tuesday night, holding my mother’s hand and watching John King’s snow-white fingers turn Michigan red. “I wanted to be with you when we elected a woman president,” my mother said. I couldn’t look at her. I just kept holding her hand and staring forward like we were both actors in a play that had been badly blocked. My mind had gone to static. In the Pixar version of my mental breakdown, there were little repairmen characters walking around my brain trying to figure out which wires had been crossed. But the Pixar version of my mental breakdown is beautiful and Oscar-worthy, and Lady Gaga recorded a special song for it, and the song is called “White Women Aren’t That Bad, Right?” All week, people had been asking me how I was feeling, and so I made up answers. The truth was that I felt nothing. The election had obliterated me, pulled the cord, hung me up in a closet like a slutty robot in Ex Machina. I was Major Tom, and Ground Control had given up and gone to get sandwiches. And now five days had passed in Trump’s America, and it was Sunday, and I still hadn’t cried, so I was adopting a dog.
“Yeah, a lot of people have come in this weekend looking for pets,” the woman with the nose ring told me. God, we are all so predictable. We are all such children. We all thought we were going to solve something by rescuing animals. I rolled my eyes. I had been rolling my eyes a lot. There was a new kind of buzzing, almost physical anger that had, all week, created a deafening hum in my head. The world was making me mad. Like the white woman standing nearby holding a puppy like a baby and wearing shorts that were so short I could see the bottom seven-eighths of her butt cheeks. She was also holding what looked like a picket sign that read “I just found my best friend!” as one of her human friends — not her best friend — took a picture. Then the two white women checked to see if it was good enough for Instagram. This was a scientific process that included an animated discussion and the pressing of buttons, and through it all, the puppy stared at the wall with enormous brown eyes. He didn’t know how he had gotten so lucky. He would go home with this white woman and later she would take off her short-shorts, and he would get to see the remaining eighth of her butt. And if she hit her head and died, and her body lay there for days, he could eat that butt and probably live for a week. I smiled at the woman. “Congratulations!” I said.
A lesbian couple came in looking for cats. Both were white. One woman wore athleisure; the other wore trekking pants. Athleisure was excited; trekking pants didn’t smile. Were they scared too? Had they woken up that morning and looked at the news popping up on their screens and decided a cat was the answer? A spoonful of cat would make Mike Pence go down? (Hahaha, my broken brain said, like Mike Pence has ever gone down on anything!) If the world made sense, Mike Pence would not only be forced to pay for this lesbian couple’s new cat, he would be forced to come to their house every day and scoop hardened poop cakes from their litter box as they made love in front of him. “What about this one?” the woman in stretch pants asked the woman in trekking pants. Her chosen cat was fat and wild and staring down at them from a perch. He had a Wolf Blitzer vibe in all the scariest ways. One look into the cat’s pulsing eyes, and you could see all the horrors witnessed by all the cats in all the world through all of time. This cat was in the Illuminati. The woman in trekking pants was scared. Maybe she didn’t need a cat. Maybe she could make it for four years inside one of those napping pillows you can wear over your head like a sack.
“Oh white women, white women, keep adopting animals if it helps you forget that 53 percent of you voted for Trump,” I sang to myself in my head to the tune of Dolly Parton’s Jolene. In the Pixar-movie version of my mental breakdown, that song is sung by an adorable round-faced little child with incredibly realistic-looking hair and the voice of Werner Herzog. Also in the Pixar-movie version of my mental breakdown, Mike Pence and a sassy clitoris named Cindy are an odd couple forced to work together through unbelievable odds. At first, Mike Pence doesn’t even know what a clitoris is, but by the end of the picture, Cindy the Clitoris’s brave, funky spirit inspires Mike Pence to loosen up a little and just shake it out, man! Mike Pence is played by Woody Harrelson and Cindy the Clitoris is played by Viola Davis. The Pixar-movie version of my mental breakdown is not a hit.
I realized, as I sat in the adoption area of this Los Angeles pet shelter that was larger and more beautifully decorated than the homes of most people in America, that I had become a terrible person. I had publicly spent the week donating, and emailing, and marching, and telling my friends that we would fight, but inside, I was furious at white women for electing this man. I had become a white woman who hates white women, which is a very strange kind of misogynist. Not the fun kind. Not the kind you want to run into at a party. I was the kind of misogynist who drank alone at the party and told anyone who would listen that she’s taken up archery. My veins had been transformed into Reddit threads, and now I was sitting on a tasteful couch mocking white women adopting shelter animals, as I proceeded to adopt a shelter animal. I hated myself. When Trump won the election, he had also beaten me. Inside my mind, I was building walls and closing borders and menacingly standing behind people while breathing out of my nose like an angry, horny horse. I was alone. I was static. I couldn’t cry. At some point during the election, I had seen a Trump voter with a sign that said, “Fuck Your Feelings,” and it stuck in my head. They were right. Fuck my feelings.
The woman with the nose ring told me that the dog we had chosen was scared of people. Something bad had happened to him. He needed time to warm up to strangers, so she suggested keeping a bowl of treats by the door and telling our friends to throw treats at him instead of petting him. I nodded and tried to imagine a world where my husband and I would be organized enough to have a bowl of treats at the door. The bowl was decorated with flowers, and my friends were all sober.
Actually, we had met our dog earlier that day, and when we did he was not afraid. He dove into the space between my arm and my chest and poked his head through as if he had always been there, as if he had known me all his life, as if I had always been his hero. It was a shock to my system. The world, for a moment, didn’t feel like that episode of Breaking Bad where the mashed-up corpse drenched in acid broke the bathtub. I knew he was just a dog, and I was a human, and we were all now living in the world we were living in, but for a moment, with his head under my arm, I felt something. A shock wave broke through the static. After that first meeting, we had left the shelter without adopting him, and I made my husband drive all the way back. And now I was just another woman in a blue state adopting a pet the weekend after the election, and we were here signing over the next ten years of our lives to this broken, beautiful creature who didn’t like to be touched by strangers. “You have to think of a name,” the woman with the nose ring said as she went to get the final adoption papers. “Pizza,” my husband said because he was hungry. “Pete,” I said. My husband put his arm over my shoulder and held me like he thought that maybe this day hadn’t been about a dog, like he thought that this had been about the survival of my heart. “Yeah. Pete. I like that,” he said. The woman in the short-shorts was sitting across from us on a couch smiling. “Peeete! I love that!” she said. I smiled back, and a tiny part of me even meant it.
Later that night, we washed Pete in the bathtub. The two of us held him, small and shivering, as the water ran down his body. I’m not sure why, but he let us hold him — these two strangers kneeling on the cold bathroom floor, singing him songs about soap, and wiping him clean.