"I could lose my health insurance," a friend whispered to me recently. He is a freelancer with a pre-existing condition. In the old days, no one would take him; freelancing was not even an option. "These days, finding staff jobs with benefits is the trick once again," I murmured back.
"What about my daughter?" another friend asked me. Her daughter has had multiple surgeries. She and her husband are both freelancers, independent contractors, like so many people in Los Angeles.
"What if I don't have enough hours?" I overheard a woman fretting. In this town, you need hours, credits and gigs to qualify for the different entertainment unions' health plans. They're good plans, if you're in. But it's painfully easy to fall out.
No one I know has a kid who is getting benefits through a job. What about them? "Don't grow old," someone joked. "Stay in school." If only it weren't for all those loans. I have never seen so many sad and dejected young people, convinced that they will be left behind. The market's soaring doesn't mean much at the grocery checkout line.
I try to reassure people: This is America. We are good people. We will not break up families. We will not let children die.
People like me will have to look away when we see people abusing the system, understanding how many more depend on it to survive.
I try to reassure people, but no one really believes me. I don't believe myself. I didn't think Donald Trump would win, even if my gut kept telling me that Hillary Clinton would lose. I have been in many campaigns, but this one is somehow more heartbreaking than the ones I lived and ran.
Who are we really?
Have we suddenly gone from being people who believed in hope and change to people who would tear up families, deny medical treatment to needy people and bankrupt a generation between student loans and entitlements? Can it really be that connecting with Clinton was more difficult than connecting with the oligarchs now passing through the confirmation-hearing rooms?
How have we arrived at this place? Who will save us?
"Don't worry," I try to reason. "There are too many voters with pre-existing conditions, and Trump won't hold the moderates on that one." No one asks me whom I mean by "the moderates." The truth is, I don't know whom I mean. I mean that I can dream. "The women," we say, "maybe they will save the children." Our health care system needs work. But we must go forward, not backward.
It was two days before Christmas, and there was hardly anyone in the department store. "Feeling good about the economy?" I asked the crowd (three people) looking at makeup deals. No one bought anything. We smiled. One woman smirked. "Maybe everybody is buying online," I said to the three women rushing to help me make a minor purchase.
Or maybe they are as scared and confused as my friends, afraid to say it out loud, not knowing right now which winds are blowing from which direction, but feeling that the step we will take this Friday is not like any we have taken before.
A patriot must hope and pray and work for the best. It is not just for the sake of the "winner"; it's for all those who must now depend on him.
I used to have a plant, a scraggly thing. My friend Judy named it Hope. We shared a place for a while, both of us with jobs and families in different cities. "Keep Hope alive," I would say to Judy when I went back to California. Jesse Jackson used the same line. Judy has been gone 17 years, but she would have been fascinated by Trump. I hope she is watching, laughing at my fears. And I hope she is right.
Keep hope alive.
To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.