FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — She had made sure her sons voted and her daughter voted, and she kept pressing friends and people in grocery store lines. “Did you go vote?” Cynthia Kendrick had asked them over and over, and in the last hours, she said to her procrastinating daughter-in-law, “Come on, let’s go.”
She drove over to a polling station in a library, her final effort to turn out every single Democratic vote she could in her corner of Atlanta’s Fulton County, and now that voting was over, she settled in front of the television to find out what kind of country she was living in.
“Turn it up, baby,” she said to her husband, Gabriel, a disabled veteran who sat next to her in their house in the mostly African American community of East Point, where the voting lines had been long and enthusiasm so high that at one polling station, volunteers cheered as the last people hurried through the doors to cast their ballots Tuesday night.
“Please, Lord,” Cynthia said now, leaning in as a CNN anchor began talking about Georgia.
“Georgia seems to be giving Trump a run for his money,” the anchor said.
“My mind is going all over the place,” Cynthia said in response.
She thought of what a Joe Biden victory could mean: “In terms of pure humanity, he can relate to us. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has compassion. I saw this morning where he went to the graves of his children.”
She thought of what a President Trump victory could mean: “We’re going to be a white supremacist nation. We’re going back to before the civil rights era. We’re setting up for that.”
“Georgia, too close to call,” the anchor was saying now. “North Carolina, too close to call.”
She was 60, worked as an industrial buyer and was the center of a large, blended family of six grown children, including a teacher, a soldier, an account rep for a credit card firm, a nurse, a heavy equipment operator, and the youngest, Chance, a college student, who was now coming through the front door — past the word “love” that Cynthia had stenciled on a wall — and into the living room, where she had hung posters of jazz musicians and otherwise tried to make her home a welcoming place that valued family, responsibility and all of the things she was trying to keep believing her country valued, too.
“Who’s winning?” her son Vaughn, the heavy equipment operator, called from the kitchen table.
“Still the same,” she called back.
“Y’all got it done?” she asked Chance.
“Yep,” said Chance, who had driven a friend four hours to vote in Tennessee, where he was registered, and then drove him back, and now he sat in the living room watching the returns, too.
“All right, baby,” said Cynthia, returning her attention to the television, where the anchor was saying, “In Michigan, Trump leads… In Ohio, Biden leads,” and she tried not to think about another four years of waking up every morning asking, “Lord, what did the Trumpers do now?”
It was Trump and everything that had come with him. Charlottesville. The Proud Boys. A White former classmate who felt free to lecture her about how Black men got killed by police because they did not behave properly. It was the White woman in the grocery store going on a racist rant until Cynthia finally said, “You know you don’t have Secret Service protection, don’t you?” It was the footage she watched over the weekend of a Biden bus being surrounded by Trump supporters on a Texas highway, all of which was forcing her to reconsider the seminal memory of her childhood, when her grandparents took her with them to vote at an event hall in New Orleans in November 1964.
She had always focused on certain details: her grandfather polishing his tan shoes the night before, her grandmother dressing up in a gray suit and cardigan embroidered with flowers, and all the pride and possibility that moment contained.
Now her mind focused on the rest: The jar of dog feces a White man threw at them as they were leaving the hall. The Black man who fired a gun in the air after that. The rifle her grandfather used to hold when he sat on the front porch in the evenings.
She thought again about a Trump victory: “I’ve been considering carrying a firearm. I’ve been to the shooting range. I’m beginning to feel like we need to be able to protect ourselves. I’ve got to protect my family. I think he wants to start a civil war.”
She switched to another news channel where Trump’s face filled the screen. She switched to another channel. She scrolled through her phone and read more results out loud to her husband. Louisiana, Trump. Alabama, Trump.
“How did so many people think this man is qualified?” Cynthia asked.
“This is too much, baby,” said Gabriel, who decided to go to bed to avoid further stress, and soon, Vaughn went to bed, and Chance went to bed, and it was only Cynthia still awake in the house in East Point, an African American woman among the millions of African American women whom the Democratic Party had always depended on in moments like this, and who listened as the anchor said, “You see Georgia here.”
“Oh, Lord,” Cynthia said.
“And we’ve got Fulton County over here — the Democrats are going to need something massive out of the metro area,” the anchor continued, pointing roughly to the spot where she was sitting in the glow of the television near midnight. Rather than staying awake another hour imagining all the scenarios whereby Trump might try to steal the election, she took half a sleeping pill and tried to go to bed.
But she couldn’t, not right away. She found herself thinking about the night in 2016 when she went to bed and woke up to Trump. She thought about the fences now installed around the White House and the plywood covering the storefronts in downtown Atlanta, and she soothed herself by telling herself what she always did: “We’ll survive. We’ll go on with our lives.”
She woke up Wednesday and tried to do that. She went to work. She went to the gym to blow off stress. She came home and returned to the couch. Chance sat next to her.
“Georgia,” the anchors were saying again.
Cynthia put on her glasses. She leaned forward.
The president’s lead was shrinking, and now analysts were talking about Trump filing lawsuits to stop the counting.
“They’re going to stop counting the votes?” Chance asked, sounding incredulous.
Cynthia told him that was only a “desperation tactic” by Trump as she realized that whatever Trump might declare was becoming less and less important in America. What mattered was what the maps were showing on her television screen, and now those maps were zooming in again on Georgia, and then zooming in farther to Atlanta, and then farther still to Fulton County, and now a split screen was showing live video of workers counting ballots.
“Oh, my God,” Cynthia said as she realized that it was Chance’s vote, and Vaughn’s vote, and her daughter-in-law’s vote, and her husband’s vote, and her own vote that could put Biden in the White House.
She began to feel herself relax, and as Trump’s lead shrank further, she relaxed some more, and as the anchors kept talking about what seemed to be happening, she found herself saying the most hopeful thing she had said in four years: “It’s over."