Darlene, the dark horse

05Nov08

jane1“Your husband isn’t the jealous murdering type, is he?” I remember asking Darlene the night she locked me in her Volvo station wagon.  All the bars had closed and thrown us out. We were in a well-lit parking lot near the Blue Dome in Tulsa.  For the last three months I had been managing an insurgent Democratic campaign in Oklahoma’s first congressional district, a seat that the Republicans had held with ease since the mid-1980s.  For the last six weeks I had been eying Darlene, one of several diehard volunteers. During the final weeks of the race our campaign had surged. The polls indicated we were in a statistical dead heat with the incumbent, whom we were outspending nearly 3-to-1.  Beyond Darlene’s voluptuous and comely figure I had my sights set on D.C. and a posh lobbying gig on the Hill.

“Far from it,” she said. “I’d reckon my husband is more along the lines of the kind, sweet, unsuspecting type.”  Darlene was in her early 30s and almost always showed up at campaign headquarters with a tray of homemade cookies.  She had married her high school sweetheart, loved him dearly, but was now bored and unsatisfied by him. That night she bought me double after double at the bar and then insisted she drive me back to the flophouse where I slept.  We never got that far. As Darlene turned up the dance mix on the CD player and turned on the electrical seat warmers I began to wonder vaguely how many times she had done this before.  As she turned toward me for a kiss I closed my eyes, trying my best not to think about the car seat crouched behind us.

For the next week-and-a-half I found myself lost in the ether that envelopes all who throw the best of their being behind a cause they think they believe in.  I was working 18 hours a day, sometimes more, stealing ten-minute power naps under my desk when I thought nobody was looking.  I kept a bottle of Evan Williams, a carton of Chesterfields and a jar of Tums near me at all times, as I screamed into phones, pored over polling data and opposition research, and signed off on television ads.  Darlene was close by, ready to help in any way she could, which I often overlooked.  She made ginger snaps especially for me, and I didn’t bother to thank her.  Even our tryst in a broom closet one afternoon was passionless and mediocre at best.  Politics has a peculiar way of sapping us of our basic natures.

Looking back, it wasn’t much of a surprise that Darlene’s husband showed up at the campaign office two days before the election, removed his belt from his blue jeans and began lashing me in front of everyone. He even tore a clump of hair from my scalp with his bare hands.  The pain and the humiliation didn’t bother me so much. Nor did the fact that we had our clocks cleaned on Election Day. What still gets me, however, is the fact that I failed to exhibit even the slightest bit of common courtesy and thank Darlene for those ginger snaps.



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