In November of 2008, I was eighteen years old. (I know, I know. I’m such a baby.) I was living in Green Bay, Wisconsin, renting a room in the home of a very sweet and very protective couple whose kids were away at college.
I had attended that same school before, but had to drop out after freshmen year due to lack of funds. That college was every bit as sheltering as my resident family, with curfews, strict rules about how and when and with whom I was allowed to venture off-campus, movie checks, and even a mandatory lights-out time. I had enrolled in that school directly from my parents’ home, where I grew up under equally stringent guidelines – no hanging out with people who didn’t mirror our religious paradigms, no aimless wandering after hours, no real dating.
I grew up in a greenhouse. It was a greenhouse piloted by people who loved their children to pieces, and who taught us how to be functional adults who could do their taxes and hold down jobs, but a greenhouse all the same. We were republicans. Teetotaling, Bible-beliving, gun-owning, Rush Limbaugh-revering republicans, who were absolutely sure that the election of Barack Obama would signal the downfall of the mighty United States of America.
I remember feeling ashamed on election day that I had opted not to go to a voting center and exercise my right to vote. I think I even lied to people and said that I did. Somehow it felt wrong. And I remember sitting on my bed, in the dark, watching the votes tally on the screen of my laptop, and feeling the weight of my decision settle in my chest as Obama became President-Elect. I called my fiancee and told him I felt sick, and then I went to sleep.
That was the year after that same fiancee had been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. It was the year we would discover that insurance was allowed to treat his disease as a pre-existing condition. It was the year we began to pay upwards of $500 a month out of pocket for his life-saving medication.
I was too young, at 18, having lived my whole life in such a small, sheltered bubble, to know the ramifications of that election. I was too inexperienced to have predicted the cost of my eventual husband’s medicine dropping from >$500 a month to just under $50 with the passing of the Affordable Care Act.
I was too young to understand that a McCain presidency would never have given our very poor newlywed life a real shot. I was too young to have known that if McCain had won, many of my gay and lesbian friends might not be married today. That when we desperately depended on food stamps after a crushing layoff, those benefits might not have existed. That Obama would, in the next eight years, create 3.7 million new jobs in the private sector, bring many of my dear friends home from Iraq, give us two more female Supreme Court Justices, and get us on track for clean, renewable energy.
I was just too young, too little, to know.
Hindsight is always 20/20. But as I look back, I’m glad, today, that my eighteen-year-old self didn’t vote, because she wouldn’t have been voting her conscience. She would have been voting the way her church, her college, and her family taught her to.
I’m glad she didn’t influence the scales with a vote that wasn’t really hers.