You can read this series from the beginning here.
It was late on Friday morning, and I had decided it was a lot more fun to Photoshop pictures of Supreme Court justices into chauffeur and butler outfits–to demonstrate their servility to their corporate masters, you understand–than it was to actually read Supreme Court decisions. I hadn’t been able to finish the LSAT test-prep book that my dad bought me, so my chances of actually being able to understand all the details of any given Supreme Court decision was pretty low. Fortunately, the black robes they wear made it very easy to Photoshop them doing funny stuff, and that’s all anyone in the office cared about. Well, that, and one other thing.
"That deli tray isn’t going to move itself to the conference room," Polly said.
"I’m on it," I said. A few times a year, we had a donor’s conference, which was basically an opportunity for the people who donated money to our organization (which I still can’t identify in this blog in case the Koch Brothers are reading it) to come in and visit and eat sandwiches and get briefings from our senior staff on what’s really going on with the progressive cause in Washington. I always like donor conferences because the donors never eat any of the veggie subs we order, so I can usually count on taking one or two home. The occasional free sandwich is one of the few perks of being an unpaid intern, like stealing the occasional binder clip and spending work time on making Photoshop parodies of conservative Supreme Court justices.
Anyway, since I was the intern with the least amount of seniority, it was my job to help Polly ferry food in and out of the conference room where the donors were meeting. And it was my bad luck that one of the cardboard containers containing the deli tray had a container of mustard in there that had gotten overturned and seeped through the thin cardboard of the tray. When I picked it up, the mustard water splashed all over my freshly-pressed linen shirt and J.Press khakis.
"Damn it, Justin," Polly said.
"I don’t think any of it got on the carpet," I said. "So that’s good."
"Go home," Polly said. "Clean up. Take the rest of the day off if you want. Go see a movie or something."
I decided to splurge on a cab home, rather than taking the Metro and having people look at me like I was a victim of a terrorist salad-bar bombing. I went up to my apartment and took my badly-stained clothes off and took a shower. I thought about going out to see a movie, like Polly suggested, but I didn’t see anything interesting that I wanted to see. I put on an Amherst T-shirt and shorts and went to check the mail. There was a large, heavy cardboard box waiting for me outside my door. It was a copy of the new book by Hillary Clinton, and she’d taken the trouble to inscribe it. "To Justine, best wishes, Hillary." I was a little touched by this, even though she’d gotten my name wrong.
I sat down in my coziest chair and opened the book.
Six hours later, my cell phone rang. I opened my eyes and picked it up. "Hello," I said.
"Hello yourself," Samantha said. "You remember we were going to dinner tonight, right?"
"Oh, God," I said, and then mentally reprimanded myself for appealing to a non-existent social construct. "You’re right. I must have fallen asleep without realizing it." I looked at the book, and realized I had only gotten through the first two chapters. How had I fallen asleep so quickly?
"It’s okay," she said. "Look. I didn’t feel like going out, anyway. I’m right downstairs in your building. I have some gluten-free vegetarian Chinese food with me if you’re hungry."
"Okay," I said. "Come on up."
A few minutes later, Samantha and I sat at my tiny kitchen table, eating stir-fried shrimp with rice noodles. She had a happy smile on her face for once, but I didn’t say anything about it because I didn’t want her to think I was judging her facial expressions. "I have good news," she said.
"What’s that?"
"I quit my internship," she said. "I’m going to West Virginia, starting Monday. I’m going to be volunteering in the Senate campaign there, for Natalie Tennant. They’re going to start me off in the working-class communities in Wheeling, but I’ll probably end up in Morgantown when the semester starts for WVU, doing voter registration."
"That sounds like a good plan," I said.
"Senator Warren thinks that our best edge is to have a cadre of younger progressive voters that we can build on for the 2016 primary."
"I see. That explains the sudden enthusiasm for West Virginia," I said.
"She’s targeted this as a big race. It’s a key state in a crucial area, with a female candidate. I’ll be there through November, and then I’ll come back to DC and try and get a new job then. Ideally with Senator Tennant, but we’ll see."
"I’m going to be sorry not to see you anymore," I said. I knew the progressive cause was more important than any one relationship, but I would still miss Samantha.
"I’ll be back," she said. "It’s just for a few months. I wanted to tell you in person. I knew you’d understand why I had to go."
"Of course," I said. "You need to do what’s best for your career."
"So do you," she said. "I mean, you were effectively doing catering today. Why not leave and come with me to West Virginia? You know, really make a difference?"
"I like to think I’m making a difference right now," I said.
"The only way to make a difference right now," Samantha said, "would be to make sure the Republicans don’t take the Senate. And a true populist candidate can win in West Virginia."
"You mean, in the Senate seat that’s been held by a billionaire named Rockefeller for the last thirty years."
"Justin, that’s not like you."
"How do you mean?" I asked.
"Saying something intelligent." She leaned back in her chair and smiled, to show she was joking. "Seriously, though, you’re not usually that snarky. You’re sweet. I like that."
I didn’t want to be sweet. I wanted to be a warrior for social justice. I wanted to be a powerful behind-the-scenes operative, working to make this country a better, more progressive place. Being sweet wasn’t how I wanted Samantha, or anybody else, to see me.
"I don’t think I can go with you," I said.
"I think you should," she said. "Justin, you need campaign experience. You can’t sit around some cubicle all day, playing social media games. You need to get out there and talk to people in the real world. See how the real political game is played."
"In Morgantown, West Virginia?"
"Yes, exactly. The primaries are going to be going to be fought at ground-level. The more seasoning we get, the better we’ll be able to perform when the time comes. And it’ll be more fun if both of us are there."
I looked past Samantha into my living room. I could see Senator Clinton’s face looking back at me from her book cover. I imagined I could see her shaking her head at me.
"I’m enjoying what I’m doing now," I said. "And I’m learning a lot. When I’m ready to take a side in the primaries, I’ll be involved as deeply as I can. But I’m not ready to move on from where I am right now."
"I understand," Samantha said. "I have a lot of packing to do. I think I need to go."
Samantha gave me a long, lingering hug and left without looking back. I went back into the living room and put the book away so I couldn’t see the cover anymore. I told myself was going to make my own decisions from now on–and I devoutly hoped that said decisions wouldn’t cause me to be stranded in Morgantown, West Virginia.