“It’s sort of surreal, you kind of have to hold your nose,” she said. “My mind-set is completely, ‘I am Marty.’ I am doing exactly what I would hope she does for me if the tables were turned.”
For the two women, who usually avoid talking politics for the sake of their friendship, Election Day is a rare moment when their political differences come into sharp relief.
In 2016, Heckman, with Eaton’s help, voted for Donald Trump (“And I’m glad I did!” Heckman says emphatically). Eaton, a former Hill staffer who is very much not a Trump supporter, called casting that ballot “an out-of-body experience.”
But the idea of giving up their Election Day ritual — Heckman could opt to vote absentee, for example, or find another friend to take her — is out of the question.
“I enjoy going with her,” Heckman said. “We look forward to it.”
This Tuesday morning, the day of the Maryland primary, Heckman will wait by Eaton’s Subaru for the three-minute ride to East Silver Spring Elementary School, which Heckman attended decades ago.
After Eaton goes through Heckman’s ballot with her, she casts her own, opposing one.
“This is part of our joke,” Eaton said. “I go through the process to cancel out all of the things she just voted for.”
They end their morning with Heckman picking up a few cookies or doughnuts from the PTA table at the school for the two women to share.
Their lives have become intertwined during their 25-year friendship. Eaton, an attorney who was an aide for two Democratic members of Congress and now works from home part-time, helps with minor repairs in Heckman’s home. And Heckman, now retired from a two-way radio company, goes over to watch Eaton’s Maine coon cat Blaze when she’s away.
Political differences fade into the background.
“The friendship is more important to us. And we know we’re not going to change each other’s minds,” Eaton said.
Sometimes they can joke about it. Heckman once gave Eaton a sparkly American flag pin, and was tickled when Eaton wore it as part of her Sarah Palin Halloween costume. And after Heckman has cared for Blaze, Eaton returns home and turns on her television to find “Sean Hannity shouting at me” on Fox News. She teases Heckman that she’s going to put parental controls on the television next time.
But it’s gotten harder to kid around as American politics have become more polarized, even before the 2016 presidential election that swept Trump into office.
When Heckman commented recently that world peace was achieved after Trump’s summit this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, Eaton just bit her tongue.
“We get these little things that come up and we just have to drop it, especially now,” Eaton said. “It’s almost like before it could be like a friendly disagreement, but now it’s explosive. Now we can’t joke about it anymore. It’s not even funny.”
Heckman agrees, adding that she has stopped posting on Facebook and avoids talking politics with almost everyone — including Eaton.
“I don’t discuss it because it’s not worth it,” Heckman said. “It’s too much hate, too much bitterness. I don’t want any part of it. I’ll do my job by voting who I think to be my choice. And it’s my duty and my honor to do it.”
Heckman, who never married and has no children, still lives in the house she grew up in. She flies an American flag outside her home every day, one of two on the block that does so. A green “IMPEACH HIM” sign stands in the yard of the home across the street, but it doesn’t bother her — she says with a chuckle that her eyesight isn’t good enough to see it.
In fact, Heckman is used to being one of the only Republicans in a sea of blue. “I live in Maryland — I’m bombarded!” she laughs. She described meeting a new neighbor once, whose name happened to be Sean — the same as the Fox News talk show host.
“You’re Sean Hannity!” she had exclaimed in delight to him, describing his reaction as “Aaaagggh!”
“I think he wanted to move away!” Heckman recalled, laughing. “I’m so used to it, because I’m the lone old lady. You know, the little old Republican.”