A Promised LandBook - 2020
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Herein are Barrack's love notes to his wife, may or may not part of the 311 quotes posted in Goodreads:
I’m a slow walker—a Hawaiian walk, Michelle likes to say, sometimes with a hint of impatience.
I asked them to describe their world as it was and as they would like it to be. It was a simple exercise I’d done many times, a way for people to bridge the reality of their communities and their lives with the things they could conceivably change. Afterward, as we were walking to the car, Michelle laced her arm through mine and said she’d been touched by my easy rapport with the women.
“You gave them hope.” “They need more than hope,” I said. I tried to explain to her the conflict that I was feeling: between working for change within the system and pushing against it; wanting to lead but wanting to empower people to make change for themselves; wanting to be in politics but not of it. Michelle looked at me. “The world as it is, and the world as it should be,” she said softly.
We didn’t just love each other and make each other laugh and share the same basic values—there was symmetry there, the way we complemented each other. We could have each other’s back, guard each other’s blind spots. We could be a team. Of course, that was another way of saying we were very different, in experience and in temperament. For Michelle, the road to the good life was narrow and full of hazards. Family was all you could count on, big risks weren’t taken lightly, and outward success—a good job, a nice house—never made you feel ambivalent because failure and want were all around you, just a layoff or a shooting away. Michelle never worried about selling out, because growing up on the South Side meant you were always, at some level, an outsider. In her mind, the roadblocks to making it were plenty clear; you didn’t have to go looking for them.
She took my face in her hands. “Have you ever noticed that if there’s a hard way and an easy way, you choose the hard way every time? Why do you think that is?” We both laughed.
AFTER SEVERAL YEARS of dating, Michelle and I were married at Trinity United Church of Christ on October 3, 1992, with more than three hundred of our friends, colleagues, and family members crammed happily into the pews.
Driving home in the twilight, Michelle and I sometimes talked about having kids of our own—what they might be like, or how many, and what about a dog?—and imagined all the things we’d do together as a family. A normal life. A productive, happy life. It should have been enough.
“Make sure Michelle’s all right with it,” she said. “Not that I’m the marriage expert. And don’t you dare use me as an excuse not to do it. I’ve got enough to deal with without feeling like everybody’s putting their lives on hold. It’s morbid, understand?”
Around six a.m. on the Fourth of July, Michelle poked me and said it was time to go to the hospital. I fumbled around and gathered the bag I’d set by the door, and just seven hours later was introduced to Malia Ann Obama, eight pounds and fifteen ounces of perfection.
At the end of each night, after feeding and bath time and story time and cleaning up the apartment and trying to keep track of whether she’d picked up the dry cleaning and making a note to herself to schedule an appointment with the pediatrician, she would often fall into an empty bed, knowing the whole cycle would start all over again in a few short hours while her husband was off doing “important things.” We began arguing more, usually late at night when the two of us were thoroughly drained. “This isn’t what I signed up for, Barack,” Michelle said at one point. “I feel like I’m doing it all by myself.”
Magic beans P1 of 2:
“If I win, hon,” I said, “it will draw national attention. I’ll be the only African American in the Senate. With a higher profile, I can write another book, and it’ll sell a lot of copies, and that will cover the added expenses.” Michelle let out a sharp laugh. I’d made some money on my first book, but nothing close to what it would take to pay for the expenses I was now talking about incurring. As my wife saw it—as most people would see it, I imagine—an unwritten book was hardly a financial plan. “In other words,” she said, “you’ve got some magic beans in your pocket. That’s what you’re telling me. You have some magic beans, and you’re going to plant them, and overnight a huge beanstalk is going to grow high into the sky, and you’ll climb up the beanstalk, kill the giant who lives in the clouds, and then bring home a goose that lays golden eggs. Is that it?” “Something like that,” I said.
Magic beans P2 of 2:
Michelle shook her head and looked out the window. We both knew what I was asking for. Another disruption. Another gamble. Another step in the direction of something I wanted and she truly didn’t. “This is it, Barack,” Michelle said. “One last time. But don’t expect me to do any campaigning. In fact, you shouldn’t even count on my vote.”
In the way people described their families or their jobs. In their modesty and their hospitality. In their enthusiasm for high school basketball. In the food they served, the fried chicken and baked beans and Jell-O molds. In them, I heard echoes of my grandparents, my mother, Michelle’s mom and dad. Same values. Same hopes and dreams.
I relished wriggling Malia into her first ballet tights or grasping her hand as we walked to the park; watching baby Sasha laugh and laugh as I nibbled her feet; listening to Michelle’s breath slow, her head resting against my shoulder, as she drifted off to sleep in the middle of an old movie.
Axe had us shoot two television ads: The first had me speaking directly to the camera, ending with the tagline “Yes we can.” (I thought this was corny, but Axe immediately appealed to a higher power, showing it to Michelle, who deemed it “not corny at all.”)
Michelle backstage, beautiful in white, squeezing my hand, gazing lovingly into my eyes, and telling me “Just don’t screw it up, buddy!” The two of us cracking up, being silly, when our love was always best, and then the introduction by the senior senator from Illinois, Dick Durbin, “Let me tell you about this Barack Obama…”
Michelle came out of the bedroom in a shimmery formal dress. “You look so pretty, Mommy,” Sasha said. Michelle did a twirl for the girls. “Okay, you guys behave yourselves,” I said, kissing them before saying goodbye to Michelle’s mother, who was babysitting that night. We were headed down the hall toward the elevator when suddenly Michelle stopped. “Forget something?” I asked. She looked at me and shook her head, incredulous. “I can’t believe you actually pulled this whole thing off. The campaign. The book. All of it.” I nodded and kissed her forehead. “Magic beans, baby. Magic beans.”
“And you need to disguise your voice,” Malia added. “People recognize it. You have to talk with a higher voice. And faster.” “Daddy talks so slow,” Sasha said. “Come on, Daddy,” Malia said. “Try it.” She shifted into the highest-pitched, fastest voice she could muster, saying, “Hi! I’m Johnny McJohn John!” Unable to contain himself, Mike burst out laughing. Later, when we got home, Malia proudly explained her scheme to Michelle, who patted her on the head. “That’s a great idea, honey,” she said, “but the only way for Daddy to disguise himself is if he has an operation to pin back his ears.”
Our evenings and weekends appeared normal so long as Malia and Sasha were swirling about, but I felt the tension whenever Michelle and I were alone. Finally, one night after the girls were asleep, I came into the den where she was watching TV and muted the sound. “You know I didn’t plan any of this,” I said, sitting down next to her on the couch. Michelle stared at the silent screen. “I know,” she said. “I realize we’ve barely had time to catch our breath. And until a few months ago, the idea of me running seemed crazy.” “Yep.” “But given everything that’s happened, I feel like we have to give the idea a serious look. I’ve asked the team to put together a presentation. What a campaign schedule would look like. Whether we could win. How it might affect the family. I mean, if we were ever going to do this—”
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