the museum of americana

a literary review

When I was FLOTUS—Fiction by Erin Fitzgerald

I woke up and without looking at my phone, I handed it to you and told you to use an app to order me a large iced coconut coffee, three creams, three yellow packets, and get yourself whatever you want because there’s plenty of money on there. If there isn’t, just do two orders, because I have auto-reload turned on. 

Someone showed me a couple of tasteful suits to wear for the day, but I went with black jeans because no one ever knows that dress pants are actually black jeans. I asked an intern to fly to Hartford and then drive to my house and get the leather jacket I bought in 1990 when I worked at Lane Bryant because I did not know where the hell my burgundy puffer coat was. I wore my slippers because all of my shoes were muddy. 

I borrowed Rex Tillerson’s phone to text you: Pay for the order after ours, too. I knew what that would start. I’ve seen weaponized chains of random acts of kindness. 

I used Hope Hicks’s phone to text the intern: If there are any packages waiting in front of the garage, just drag them into the garage. It’s not that I don’t trust my neighbors, but my car has been broken into twice in the last eight months. They only steal coins and Advil, but maybe they’d think an Amazon box is full of Advil, you know?

I wore my hoodie with the hood up because it seemed like the right thing in what is, effectively, a castle fortress—but one of the Secret Service agents asked me to take it off. I remembered when I was in high school and got pulled aside in the hall by a math teacher for playing my music too loud through my headphones. In both situations, I thought about Saying Something. In both situations, I didn’t.

You came back with my coffee and a Diet Pepsi for yourself and a 25-pack of Munchkins. We took our drinks outside, and I gave my phone to the Secret Service agent who asked me to take off my hoodie. I said: Go back to Dunkin Donuts, or go to Starbucks or Panera because I have all of those apps on this phone, and get breakfast for the demonstrators by the fence over there. Take their individual requests. If my apps run out of money, just wait a minute and they’ll reload. Or just go to Panera because they take Apple Pay, and I know you have my fingerprint.

Then I turned to you, and said: Let’s go see where I was born. Tell someone I have a headache so we can get a really close look. 

I was born in Bethesda Naval Hospital, now known as Walter Reed Medical Center. When I lived in the DC area, long before I was First Lady of the United States, the Medical Center Metro stop was where my husband dropped me off for work. Five days a week, as I descended into the Metro system, I’d look across Rockville Pike at the Walter Reed Medical Center’s white tower where it all began. 

The drive to Bethesda from the White House took forever. I had forgotten that DC traffic spares no one. When it is my turn to be First Lady of the United States again, I will remember the damn helicopter. Nevertheless, we got there and you said: It’s like the Emerald City, but white! Do you want to go find the wizard? 

If we’d been anywhere else, at any other time, yes, I would have. But when we were ushered past the waiting area, brought into an examination room where a tall broad-shouldered MD stood before us, I totally let you down. I said to him: Can you take me to where the maternity ward was in the 1970s?

I don’t know where it was then, Ma’am, he said. But I can take you to where it is now.

I reached for my phone to Google “Bethesda Naval Hospital maternity 70s.” But then, I remembered I’d given my phone to the Secret Service agent to order breakfast for all the demonstrators outside the White House fence.

Okay, I said, because I was the First Lady, not the First Ladyzilla.

It was a long walk to the maternity ward because no First Lady of the United States has been pregnant during a President’s term since Jackie Kennedy. While we walked, I told you and the world-class neurologist sent to treat my non-existent headache about the circumstances of my nativity. My father was a naval officer who worked with a UNIVAC at the Pentagon. My mother lived with him in an apartment in northern Virginia. She was from western New York State. She hated DC. Too warm, too phony, too lonesome. But the photos I have of the short time the three of us were in DC together aren’t like other photos from that time that I’ve seen. Interior pictures are very cool in tone. Outdoor pictures are so warm that even the browns and purples of our clothes pop against the grass and sky.

Here we are, Ma’am, the neurologist said. He introduced us to the ward desk staff. We shook hands, you took some selfies for everyone, and the neurologist headed back down the hall. He turned around and waved once. 

I didn’t tell the maternity ward staff why I was there. I told them I’d love to see a room, and I’d be happy to visit anyone on the ward who was bored and wanted company. 

They showed me a room first. It was like the room I stayed in after my own child was born. I told you: The last night we were in the hospital, the nurses strongly suggested I get some sleep. But I couldn’t sleep, so I walked down to the nursery and stood at the glass and just looked at them, in their little clear plastic bin with their name on it.

Why didn’t you go inside? you asked. 

I shrugged and didn’t say: I needed to let them sink in, first.

The new mother who was bored enough to talk to the First Lady of the United States was Laura. Her husband was stationed in Westeros. Her baby’s name was Crocus.

I love that name! I told her. It passes the President/cheerleader test.

What’s that? you asked me.

It works well for both a President and a cheerleader.

Crocus was a lovely baby who did not look anything like our President. I said the first part to Laura but not the second, because I needed being the First Lady of the United States to sink in. 

Crocus also looks very wise, I said. You are all going to have some adventures.

Good, Laura said, and that made me very glad that she had been bored enough to let me visit. I borrowed a nurse’s phone to text myself: Reminder: Knit blanket for Crocus when I get home.

After that, you and I got back in the limo because we still hadn’t remembered the helicopter. We didn’t mind the long ride because there was a state dinner scheduled that night, and plenty of people besides us knew it would be a total clusterfuck. When I’d learned I would be the next First Lady of the United States, the White House protocol staff told me there was no getting around the clusterfucks. Also, I would need a dress.

The dress I wore to the state dinner was that prom dress we found on Amazon — warm purple and brown. The intern returned with my leather jacket just in time for me to wear that, too. I’d bought Louboutins because I’d wanted to know if what everyone says is true — the more expensive the shoes, the more comfortable they are. I only wore them long enough to look the President in the eye, long enough for the two of us to have nothing to say to each other. So I still don’t know if expensive shoes are more comfortable. 

I’m at home again now. There’s a message on my voicemail from Whitney, who is a director of something at the Smithsonian. She would like my entire outfit from the state dinner to put on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. When I play the voicemail, Whitney lists it all: Gown, shoes, jacket, earrings, necklace.

I’m totally fine with letting the Smithsonian have the dress from Amazon — it cost seventy-five dollars, and it should be admired by everyone. I’m okay with letting the Smithsonian have the leather jacket because I found my burgundy puffer coat in my laundry hamper two days after I came home. My earrings were from Target — no brainer. They can even have the Louboutins — it’s not like I’m going to wear them to the grocery store. 

The necklace, though. They can’t have the necklace. It’s a pendant watch. Gold, spherical, sprinkled with tiny starbursts. It was my mother’s. My father gave it to her the Christmas after they got married. She wore it often while I was growing up. But first, she wore it while she was walking my stroller around the shopping mall at Bailey’s Crossroads in northern Virginia. She hated the warm, the phony, and the lonely, and she pushed me closer and closer to what I’d eventually become.

 

~~~

Erin Fitzgerald is the author of Valletta73 (Outpost19) and an online editor at Barrelhouse. She lives offline in Connecticut, and on Twitter at @gnomeloaf.