I didn’t find out that Donald Trump would be our next president until 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning.
The night before, five friends and I rode our bikes out to Floyd Bennett Field, a campground on a decommissioned airfield off the southeastern edge of Brooklyn. We had decided to spend the last night of this godawful election cycle as far from the city as we could get without actually leaving it. The campground is small and surrounded by concrete, but once you step inside, Brooklyn disappears. There’s grass, trees, the occasional rustle from wildlife; save for the planes overhead, you’d think you were upstate. Someone was going to get elected whether we were sitting in front of a TV or in front of a campfire, went our logic, so we chose the second option.
Most of us had supported Bernie Sanders, but none of us had any disagreement about how we wanted this night to turn out. We weren’t running away out of apathy, but out of a recognition that screaming at Wolf Blitzer wasn’t going to do us any good. I had never thought a Trump victory impossible, and it was that sliver of probability that made being outside, with good people, so appealing on a scary night. It was not an abdication of responsibility but an opportunity for preemptive self-care.
The six of us put our phones on airplane mode around eight and agreed that, if one of us felt the need to peek, we would not break the embargo until we were clear of the campground. We steered conversation away from the politics and toward bikes, or our Thanksgiving plans, or really anything that didn’t fuel dread. We made chili and s’mores, heated up mulled wine, did the sort of stuff people do on a camping trip where they’re trying to forget that the next morning might be one of the worst of their lives. We turned that uncertainty into Schrödinger’s cat: if we sealed the returns in a box, they both would and would not exist. And if when we broke that glass it turned out there was poison gas inside, at least we’d have been safe for a little longer. Stealing a few hours away from a reality we were too scared to consider possible.
We turned in around eleven. The temperature had dropped to about forty degrees and the air smelled both fresh and smoky. I burrowed into my sleeping bag and slept heavily.
I woke up at 7:30 from dreams of of Clinton winning. This seemed like a bad omen: My dreams often invert reality, turning my best friends into villains and ex-boyfriends into friends. I listened to the planes pass overhead and, after about five fly-bys, found myself thinking that if flights were still running then at least there hadn’t been any overnight terrorist attacks. I resisted the temptation to turn off airplane mode and let the news flood in; that would defeat the whole purpose of this thing I’d decided was such a great idea.
Over the next two hours, my friends made the fanciest camping breakfast I’ve ever had: Scrambled eggs with kale over avocado toast, piping hot and filling. We pooled the water in our bottles to make coffee (the campground taps had been turned off for the winter), dipping Nutella-covered graham crackers into the mugs. One of us joked that hey, if these were our last hours of happiness, we’d better enjoy them. Another admitted she’d peeked, but kept a damn straight face; I never would have guessed. It started raining, stopped raining, started again. We got too nervous to stick around. By ten we had packed up and rolled out, taking the scenic route back on a bike path sandwiched between the highway and the sea.
Since those campground taps had been turned off and all we’d had to drink was coffee, we stopped at the bodega. I walked in with the friend who’d peeked and turned to her. “I want you to tell me,” I said. “Are you sure? Like, really sure?” she responded. I didn’t like that she was being so cautious. I said yes. “It happened,” she said, and I knew what she meant, and I sunk into her sweatshirt and soaked through a little patch by the zipper. We bought the water and walked back outside. My friends saw my red eyes and asked if I’d found out, and then I learned that every single one of them had already looked but kept a straight face because I, the person who’d decided to organize this whole hiding thing in the first place, wanted to wait.
I don’t know how they did it, how they kept me from seeing them cry. I know why they did it, though: They are good, considerate people. They care about their friends and want to keep them from feeling pain. They wanted to extend me this small mercy because it was just about the only kind thing they could do right then. We stood in a circle, stunned, scrolling. One of us got fidgety. “Can we just ride, please?” he asked. The box had shattered. The poison was in, no use staying away longer.
I doubt any of us regrets what we did even though the worst came to pass. I will probably do it again in four years, assuming elections are still something America does. Pulling out hair as states turn red or blue is not fortification for the days and years that follow. Strength instead comes from seeing friends, building trust between them, and reaffirming our commitment to taking care of each other. That has always been needed, and is even more vital in this particular wreckage.
We headed out, back to Brooklyn, back to that wreckage. Back to the world, whatever that means now.