If pressed, I am going to tell you that the best two days of my life were when my kids were born. (If pressed further—and/or if Otto is there—I will slot my wedding to him in a very close third place.) Bringing forth new life and the miracle of birth and oh hey ALSO having two human beings grow from screaming lumps into semi-functional adults is pretty nifty, not gonna lie. So let us assume that those are the “best” two days of my life, okay?
THAT SAID, the last few weeks of my life contain two notable events which are giving my children a run for their money. Not only that, but my husband facilitated both of them because he is the greatest, and while it is always true that my life would be much more boring and significantly less joyful without him in it, he gets extra gold stars and a lifetime of adulation for these things in particular. Marriage is always an adventure, but y’all, Otto is the world’s best tour guide. For real. [Also? This is a really long post. Go get a cup of coffee and/or a snack. I promise to try to make it worth your while.]
We started with this: If you live anywhere in Georgia, chances are you know someone who has taken themselves down to Maranatha Baptist Church some weekend to attend the Sunday School taught by President Jimmy Carter. Otto has been talking about us doing this ever since we moved here (ten years ago), but it never quite happened. Life, the kids, etc… it was never the right time. But then one day we were hanging out with friends and the topic came up and someone (probably Otto) said, “We should all go. Let’s just plan it and go!” So we did.
The planning happened (by which I mean: Otto and the other couple planned, probably while I was playing with a dog or asking someone I gave birth to why on earth it is so complicated to just pair your socks, ZOMG) and the weekend arrived and we four drove south on a Saturday morning while discussing everything from football to whether or not one or more of us might actually burst into flame upon entering a Baptist church. We spent most of Saturday in Andersonville, visiting the Prisoner of War Museum and eating very southern food (confession: I had something for lunch called “southern slop” and I’m not even sorry because it was delicious) and generally being depressed both about the history of human beings’ capacity to be callous dickheads AND the number of people and places who seem to believe the wrong people won the Civil War.
So that was… something. By Saturday night I was ready to get to bed early in preparation for Sunday and something a little more uplifting. We went to bed pretty early, because here’s the thing: You cannot get tickets or reservations or anything for President Carter’s class. You just have to show up and wait in line and hope you get in. And because we are GENIUSES, the four of us, we somehow ended up going down there on President Carter’s 93rd birthday. Me, if I was turning 93, I would not be teaching Sunday School that morning. But it’s possible there are a few differences between me and Jimmy Carter, I dunno. ANYHOO. We realized that this MAY have been the wrong weekend to go, but it was too late—plans were made and we were committed, by which I mean we had already cleared our schedules and booked rooms at a Comfort Inn. So. On a “normal” Sunday it is recommended that you arrive by 6:00 or 6:30. IN THE MORNING. IN THE DARK. On account of the president’s birthday, we were advised to aim for 5:00, instead.
I barely slept on Saturday night. Some of it was excitement, I think, but a lot of it was an unfamiliar bed and room and sounds that were definitely NOT Duncan snoring on the floor beside me. By the time the alarm went off at 4:00 am, let’s just say that I was not exactly filled with the love of Christ so much as I was ready to cut a bitch just to get a cup of coffee. We showered and got gussied up and met our friends at the car and headed over to the church and (of course) got lost. Our planned 5:00 am arrival was botched! All was lost!! But not really—we rolled into the parking lot at about 5:10, whereupon we were given a number on a piece of paper and told that lining up would begin around 7:45.
Just in case you are not yet absorbing the enormity of this, yet, let me tell you that at 5:10 am we were the TENTH car in the lot. That means there were nine carsful of people crazier than us, there.
For two and a half hours we sat in the dark in the car. Our friends napped a little. Otto and I ate some of the food we’d purchased the night before at a local grocery store when we realized we’d forgotten to bring any breakfast stuffs with us, and we played on our phones and people-watched as more cars pulled in. Once the sun came up, people started emerging from their cars and chatting, and eventually we were lined up by number and given a stern talking to about the correct procedure for being examined and wanded by Secret Service before entering the church. Everyone is very friendly (hey, it’s the first time I’ve stood somewhere like a scarecrow while being scanned and the holder of the scanner has said, “Welcome! Where y’all from?”) and the whole thing is a well-oiled machine, and then we were inside and sitting in a pew and… had to wait two more hours before Sunday School started. Which was fine. People came and talked about MORE procedures (everyone can get a picture with the Carters after church, but they have a method that gets 400ish people through in about 10 minutes so STICK TO THE METHOD, PEOPLE, and do not touch the Carters or try to engage them in conversation) and about the church and the history of the town and you know, two hours passed pretty quickly.
[Side note: Obviously you go down there to hear the former president teach, but the pastor at Maranatha is a (very) young and (extremely) enthusiastic man and I wanted to put him in my pocket and take him home with us, and I swear I mean that in a non-creepy way even though now that I’ve written it out I realize it sounds pretty damn creepy. Brandon, if you happen to read this, I am sorry that I swear like a sailor and am probably going to hell, but you are DELIGHTFUL and a gift to all who meet you.]
President Carter is sharper at 93 than I will ever be in my entire life. AND he is funny, too, which just seems unfair. He came out and asked where folks were from and then talked about North Korea for about ten minutes before teaching the day’s lesson. It was truly the experience of a lifetime. (And yes, then we stayed for church—turns out, being the 10th party in line was perfect, because the Carters ended up sitting directly across from our pew and we could watch the president reacting to everything as we went through the service—and got our picture with the Carters. The four of us visitors look positively giddy while the Carters look dignified. Seems about right.)
That seems untoppable, right? I thought so. AND YET.
Let’s switch gears. As I am a faculty wife (hello yes please fetch my apron and fainting couch) it has come to pass over the years that Otto will periodically present me with various events he needs to attend in an Official Capacity, for which I am welcome to be his +1 if I feel so moved. Full disclosure: Most of them elicit a measured and mature response from me along the lines of, “Oh, gosh, I’d love to, but I have an appointment to punch myself in the face that night and so I’m going to be pretty busy with that. Sorry.” It’s not that I don’t like hanging out with my husband, because I do—more than almost anything—but many of these events are stuffy and boring. What’s more, when a dinner is involved, it’s often a comedy of errors trying to make sure there’s actually food I can eat, because food allergies are confusing. (See also: That time my dinner was a complete shitshow at a Big Catered Event.) ALSO I am just terrible at being a girl and dressing up and wearing makeup and heels to these things can be fun if I don’t completely screw it up, but I often screw it up. In short, when Otto pops up with a “There’s gonna be this thing…” opener, it’s a negotiation. If he’s winning an award? I go. If he says he really would like me to be there? I go. If it’s “just another dinner,” I tend not to.
But then this happened:
(I’m a lady.)
Here is where I tell you that I am an unapologetic Sally Yates fangirl. Here is where I further tell you that other than exercising my civic duty to research candidates/issues before voting and then, you know, going and voting, I was not terribly interested in politics for most of my adult life, until fairly recently. Something about one of the most inept and soulless people in the history of America becoming, first, a major party candidate, and then, second, the actual president of our nation has changed me, and by that I mean I now live in a constant state of fear, disbelief, disgust, and rage. Rather than just hiding under my bed and screaming constantly, I have tried to channel that energy into productive things like getting involved in local politics and keeping outbursts of NO SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH TRUMP??? to a minimum.
When Sally Yates was fired for DOING HER JOB AND DOING IT WELL she landed on my hero list. When she made Ted Cruz go from smirking to looking like someone pissed in his coffee, she shot to the top of said list. And when someone changed her Wikipedia entry so that the first line said she is “… an American lawyer and goddamn American hero,” that was the end of anyone in our house referring to her as Sally Yates. She was, thenceforth, Sally Goddamn Yates or Sally Yates, goddamn American hero.
How much did I want to go to a dinner with Sally Goddamn Yates? I WOULD EAT GLUTEN FOR SALLY GODDAMN YATES.
The invitation to this dinner was issued weeks in advance. In the time leading up to it I went about the rest of my life—working, reading, tending to my family, all of the usual things—but also began to talk about the upcoming possibilities, kind of a lot. Like: Would it be inappropriate to go sit in Sally Goddamn Yates’ lap during this dinner? (Otto: YES. DO NOT DO THAT.) Okay, but would I be able to get my picture taken with Sally Goddamn Yates, maybe? (Otto: We can try. DO NOT SIT IN HER LAP.) Do you think she KNOWS she’s a goddamn American hero? Can I tell her that she is? With a high-five? (Otto: *head down on the table* I can’t believe I invited you to this.)
Yesterday I went through the day and got stuff done, but I was distracted. What does one wear to meet Sally Goddamn Yates? How does one pretend to be sane and/or adult-y enough to get to meet Sally Goddamn Yates? Would straightening my hair increase my chances of getting to talk to Sally Goddamn Yates? (A cocktail dress; no idea; let’s go with yes.)
I memorialized my extreme excitement on Snapchat, as one does, and my kid “helped” (but has since been blurred out):
I looked good, right? Like, only a little crazy?
We drove to Atlanta along with Otto’s boss and a colleague and had a grand time chatting on the way in. Once we arrived at the venue, I started getting nervous. What if I didn’t get to meet Sally Goddamn Yates? Wait, what if I DID get to meet her? What if I acted like an idiot? (I would be sad; I would be elated; probably inevitable and best not to dwell.) Nevertheless, we entered the space for the “cocktail hour” and began standing around awkwardly like the grown-ups we are.
I’d had about half my glass of wine when I saw her across the room. SALLY GODDAMN YATES. She was being ushered… somewhere… by staff. I started poking Otto in the arm as they crossed the room and then actually tugging on his sleeve once their backs were to us and they continued down a hallway. “Was that her?” he asked, having only turned once her face we no longer visible.
“I think so,” I whispered. Why did I whisper? Who knows. She was already ensconced in the VIP Reception Room by then, and I’m pretty sure she couldn’t hear me.
We stood around some more. Otto talked to some people he knew and I shook hands and said hello whenever I was introduced to someone. I continued to sip my wine. I began to realize that okay, realistically, I was not actually going to MEET Sally Goddamn Yates. The room-crossing sighting and hearing her introduce someone was going to have to suffice. She (and other important people) were in the VIP room and we wouldn’t be sitting at her table (or, likely, even near her table) and I was just going to have to deal with that. Still… when they opened the doors to the banquet room where dinner would be served, we stayed in the “mingling” space and I continued to gaze longingly down the hall at the VIP room. Maybe she would just happen to come out and we’d be going in at the same time.
A couple emerged from the VIP room and approached our little group, and Otto reached out his hand. “Hey, Greg, how are you?” It was Greg Bluestein and his wife, and Otto knows him so there were introductions all around (and I am sorry, Greg’s wife, I am completely blanking on your name but also I forgot to tell you that YOUR DRESS WAS AMAZING) and the guys started chatting about something work-related, I’m sure. But, you know, I’M ME, so I looked at their name tags and noticed they did NOT have the little stars that the folks headed to the VIP space had all had.
“Did you… sneak into the VIP room?” I interrupted. They laughed, and Greg admitted they had, in part because he’d wanted to follow up with Sally Yates (I guess because he knows her, he doesn’t have to use her middle name) about—here it gets a little fuzzy. I mean, he was saying something, but my mouth was hanging open, and my husband was full-on laughing at me.
“Mir is obsessed with Sally Yates,” Otto confided. “The only reason she came tonight was to see her.”
“SALLY GODDAMN YATES, AMERICAN HERO,” I corrected. I turned back to Greg. “You KNOW her?”
“Oh, yeah,” Greg said, probably returning to what he’d been saying before (something about her running for office at some point in the future, which: YES PLEASE), but then my eyes were drawn back down the hallway as I saw a mass of people emerging from the VIP room, led by a staff member who was, obviously, shepherding them down our way to the ballroom for dinner. There were quite a few people, and I didn’t recognize any of them, but then the crowd thinned a little and there she was—SALLY GODDAMN YATES—walking toward us.
“This she issssssssssssss,” I hissed to Otto.
Greg looked at me, turned and looked down the hall, then turned back to me with a huge smile. “Do you want to meet her?”
“YES!” I said, or honestly, probably screamed.
Everything went into slow motion. She approached, and Greg reached out an arm between her and the woman she’d been walking with, and said, “Sally! There’s someone here who wants to meet you.”
Bewildered, I’m sure, but also poised and gracious and kind, she was pulled into our little circle of folks and Greg introduced me and SALLY GODDAMN YATES shook my hand and I think I managed to choke out “This is such an honor. Thank you for your service to the United States,” but it’s equally possible that I said “Bleep blorp? Your hair is even shinier in person,” I don’t really know.
Greg’s wife asked if we wanted a picture and again I blurted YES!, and she held up her phone, but of course Otto was there and Otto always has a camera, so in the time it took to confirm that Sally Goddamn Yates was okay having her picture taken he had already moved into position and was snapping away. I thanked her profusely and then she was gone. I was left standing there, still stunned, and finally managed to squeak out, “I JUST HAD MY PICTURE TAKEN WITH SALLY YATES, GODDAMN AMERICAN HERO!” I thanked Greg profusely, as well, and then I guess there was a thing? A dinner? Some awards? Geez, who knows. Because:
(Please note that I—in my size 2 dress—look like a giant next to her, because in addition to being an indisputable badass, Sally Goddamn Yates turns out to be tiny. But I don’t care because that’s a picture of me and SALLY GODDAMN YATES.)
In the space of fewer than fourteen days I have had the incredible honor of meeting two great patriots, two brilliant scholars and public servants, and the next time I want to hide under the bed and scream about what feels like a constant assault on our country by the very people sworn to defend it, I am going to remember that all is not lost. The real heroes are still out there and still fighting the good fight. I may be a fumbling, overly-excitable excuse for a legitimate adult, but I am also just plain inspired. I am humbled. I am hopeful.
[Also, WHEN (not if, please please please) Sally Goddamn Yates runs for public office, I AM THERE. If the preceding 3,000ish words haven’t scared the crap out of her and/or her people, CALL ME when it’s time. I will work for the campaign, I will canvass, I will do whatever I can to make it happen. This is a serious offer and now that we’ve met I will probably calm down a little soon. Listen, you call me and I’ll work on it.]
Y’all. I’m still pinching myself today. How can the rest of my life even compare??