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Election Widow

Amy Boyes, August 16, 2021

“I’m going to miss you, Daddy!”

Madeline presses her tearful face into Josh’s shoulder. Everything is dramatic for an eight-year-old but her father’s departure for the federal election especially upsets my daughter. She pulls back to say something about him missing her canoe club on Thursday night but stops short as blood streaks over her lips and splashes onto the kitchen floor.

“Don’t move!” I shriek, eyeing my husband’s crisp white travelling shirt. He doesn’t have time to change and all his nice shirts are already packed.

“More is coming!” Madeline’s eyes are wide from the horror of a nosebleed.

We both scramble, Josh to yank tissues out of their box, me to pick up Baby Zachary who wails from his highchair. Zachary had been calmly watching the farewell, stuffing a few rice puffs into his sticky mouth, but mostly dropping them onto the floor with a curious glance, as if to doublecheck the dependability of gravity. He’s alarmed now by the blood and his parents’ frantic gestures. 

“I didn’t even pick my nose, Mom!” Madeline sobs. “It just started bleeding.”

“It’s okay. Just breathe,” I soothe to no one in particular. “Everything is going to be fine.”

This is only the first day and I must be tough. I am an election widow, after all.

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We have been here before. This is the fourth election of our marriage.

Preparations have all been the same: suitcases spread over the bedroom floor, last-minute appointments for teeth cleaning and oil changes—"I should really get that done before I leave.”

The only variation occurs when there’s a minority government. Then an election looms for months, sometimes for years, as the sitting government careens from success to failure and back again. Every day decisions are shadowed by the prospect of a campaign. Do we book a vacation or wait to see if an election is called? Should we save money for unexpected travel expenses or repave the driveway?

Pundits tease out hints and whispers in endless columns much like dogs mulling over bones until public interest is lost and new bones must be acquired. Perhaps even they grow tired of the uncertainty.

When at last speculation culminates in a chauffeured car ride to Rideau Hall, my husband takes leave from his position as Parliamentary Assistant to a Member of Parliament and assumes the role of campaign manager. From the riding in rural Saskatchewan, he organizes door-to-door canvassing, campaign events, and media interviews. He drinks far too much coffee, marks up a gigantic map with Sharpies, and drives many dusty gravel roads across the riding. He video-calls when he can, the two-hour difference between Ottawa and Saskatchewan surprisingly difficult to maneuver. Thankfully, his candidate has won each of the four elections and the morning after the votes are counted Josh flies home to Ottawa and our lives go back to normal.

With each election, I have become more accepting. I ought to be glad for elections, I tell myself. Free elections are a sign of a healthy democracy. People fight and are killed all around the world for the cause of democracy. I should be proud that my husband contributes to the cause.

But that’s the thing about causes. They are all good in principle, but when you face single parenting and your husband risks losing his job should his candidate not be re-elected, you stop thinking about the cause and start feeling sorry for yourself.

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“It’s only six weeks,” Josh says as he kisses eleven-month-old Zachary whose first birthday he will miss. “And it will go quickly; we’re both so busy.”

I smile broadly as a supportive wife should. “Enjoy yourself!” I say, prying the still-howling Zachary out of Josh’s arms. It’s as if Zachary knows his father is about to leave. “Did you pack your antihistamines? You always get allergies in Saskatchewan during harvest.”

Josh pats his workbag on his hip. “In here. I’ve got a full package. And you will try to rest, won’t you? You won’t overdo it?”

“Of course not!” I say, still forcing a smile. We both know I’m lying, that there isn’t a chance of me getting rested during his absence, but that’s what goodbyes are. Best wishes. High hopes. False promises.

Josh consults his phone. “My ride is here. I’ve got to go.” He quickly kisses my forehead and then my lips as if he suddenly remembers in all the chaos that I’m also his wife, not just the caregiver to his children.

Zachary reaches out but Josh ducks away from his sticky baby fingers. Goodbyes could go on forever, but we must end them quickly for all our sakes. The children get more upset and calming them down takes longer. It’s better to say goodbye and then distract them with a Disney movie, something with villains and princesses.

After kissing the blood and tear-streaked Madeline one more time, Josh walks out the front door, past wilted petunias that I really must water, and into the waiting cab. We watch him leave from the front window and try not to cry.

We’re proud of him. We really are. He joins the many volunteers who leave their families in Ottawa and return to ridings across our vast and varied nation. Campaign workers care deeply about their visions of Canada and, on doorsteps and telephones, at pancake breakfasts and townhall debates, they argue their cases. Make their points. Remind you to vote.

And do vote, dear Canada. For the sake of democracy. For the sake of the campaign volunteers. And for my sake too, vote.