I’m trying not to think about the election being less than two weeks away. I’m unsubscribing to all the political emails that have been cluttering my inbox, writing “STOP” to all the political texts. I’m barely skimming the headlines, “watching” TV news with the sound muted while I work a mindless coloring app on my phone. I’ve hand-delivered my own ballot to the county clerk’s office. I’m trying to stay focused on the present, the day to day, the hourly.

It isn’t working. I’m still obsessing about November 3.

It’s not like I don’t have a life. My husband and I have done a lot of stuff in the last month. It feels like, indirectly, the looming election has pushed us into taking on some major things.

At the end of a 4-day getaway in late September Vic and I learned of an opportunity to buy a pair of nearby rental houses with a friend. I immediately began scheming about how we could rent one of them out to three of our asylum-seeking friends (the two who have been living with us and another who needed a place to move into by November 1). This might be an ideal setup to introduce them to independent living.

After several weeks of negotiations, inspections, and estimates of needed repairs, we decided to back out of the deal. It turned out the rehabs had been poorly done and we didn’t want to be saddled with both known and unknown structural problems. But that left “Jeb,” the third person, in need of housing. He’d put his search on hold while we figured all this out.

Meanwhile, the work-permit situation for all the asylum seekers took another turn for the worse, as has happened constantly under this administration. The rules keep changing in ways that leave people stranded, helpless, squeezed out. The upshot of this is that people who are now working (like Sandra and Jeb, who are working in an Amazon warehouse) may not be able to immediately renew their permits when they come due. Or, in the case of our Ben, he will probably not even be able to apply for a work permit until next February.

So much for encouraging independence.

(Compounding the difficulty of the job situation is the transportation problem. So far the jobs aren’t where the buses go. Taking an Uber would cost you the equivalent of two hours of work and you might only be working 5-hour days. Or nights. Imagine never having driven; passing the written test after half a dozen tries; and then finding someone to teach you to drive, over 50 hours. And meanwhile you must lean on new work friends, who aren’t always reliable, to transport you until you can save enough to buy even a clunker. All our refugee friends are at some stage of this process. We have said we will not drive anyone to or from work or teach anyone to drive, though some sponsors have taken this on.)

By the time the rental house possibility had come and gone it seemed like by far the simplest solution would be to invite Jeb to live with us, in our one remaining spare bedroom-bath on the second floor. He is good friends with Ben and Sandra, they are from the same country and language group, and we won’t be needing that bedroom for family visits any time soon.

So last Saturday, Jeb moved in. We are now a merry household of five. I feel like something between a foster mom and a rooming house landlady. I’ve tried to avoid taking on more responsibilities for the extra people (beyond our original, Ben; the others still have their sponsors), but there are certainly additional challenges, mostly having to do with how schedules, meals, shopping, hot water use, etc. are organized and paid for, in a way that encourages growing independence, in light of continued stresses and uncertainty on the asylum front.

Oh, and the pandemic. Because our housemates are out and about quite a bit, we have instated a mask rule when we’re together on the main floor, which is mostly around meal-prep time once or twice a day. It was awkward at first but we’re getting used to it.

I am not complaining. We adore our housemates, who, it seems to me, are all unusually sympatico. It is all good, just a bit taxing right now as we get things organized. And it is indeed a distraction from all the election angst and turmoil. It is a way we can cheerfully and without undue effort on our part be of service—much more suited to my skills and personality than, say, election calling.

It’s something, for sure—like the daily encouragement texts I’m exchanging with the daughter and daughter-in-law—but not quite enough to get me off the election worry track. I’m still obsessing about what will happen if, and if not, and when.

How are you coping? Will we get through all this?

Some optimistic sidewalk art

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