Requiem for an Office

They’re taking down all the photos in my office. Laying strewn about the carpet are the faces of my colleagues, the Secretary, the Vice President, and the President. My inbox is filling with goodbye messages, 27 at last count.

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel… numb.

Most of you probably know that when a presidential administration changes, the cabinet secretaries and senior appointed officials leave, to make way for the new administration to make their own political appointees. That’s the circus going on in the news right now, the cabinet secretaries appointment process. What many people don’t know-what the President Elect himself seemed to not know on November 9- was that in every agency there are political appointees intertwined throughout, at every level. In my office, 3 of 8 of us are political appointees. We have political appointees answering the phones, and political appointees making decisions. Everyone between me and the Secretary (including the Secretary) is a political appointee. And on Monday they will all be gone, like some sort of office rapture.

Political appointees can get a bad wrap. It can smell of cronyism when done poorly. But when done well, it is a process that brings literally the most passionate and committed souls and the brightest minds into an agency to transform the culture and change national policy. And I can safely say, with admittedly a few notable exceptions, that it’s been done exceedingly well in the people I have worked with over the last 6 years.

Now, this diaspora would happen even if Hillary had won. It happens often between Presidential terms, too. But the mood in the office today is somber. People aren’t necessarily going on to better things. Many don’t have things to go to. I’m sure some Trump supporters will cheer for this, see it as an example of draining the swamp. All I see are dedicated public servants being unceremoniously shown the door, with no one to replace them (as I write this, we’re still waiting on notification of who might). To quote Aaron Sorkin via Ainsley Hayes, “say they’re smug and superior, say their approach to public policy makes you want to tear your hair out. Say they like high taxes and spending your money. Say they want to take your guns and open your borders, but don’t call them worthless. At least don’t do it in front of me. The people that I have met have been extraordinarily qualified, their intent is good. Their commitment is true, they are righteous, and they are patriots.” (She finished with, “I’m their lawyer,” which, while technically true for me, is not, you know, the point here.)

So, I don’t have a good way to end this, because I don’t know how it ends. It doesn’t feel like an ending, honestly, it feels like the beginning of something hard and different, and while change is always hard, it’s harder when the smart, committed, competent, passionate people have left the room.

Goodbye, and good luck. I’ll see you on the other side.



Don’t They Know

I met Kelly the first night of accepted students weekend at Roger Williams University School of Law, only I didn’t remember it. For weeks afterward, this very kind girl on an email chain offered to be my local eyes while trying to find an apartment, and provided me advice and counsel based on her years in Rhode Island, but I had no idea who she was. I had spent most of that night joking and drinking with other people, and could not for the life of me put a face to the name.

When I did finally meet her, I remembered her as the girl I’d judged for not wearing business attire to the event. She was in a denim skirt, and I remember thinking it was inappropriate. It’s funny to think that now, because Kelly is so often the person who I go to for advice about how to steer my wardrobe away from what I refer to as “Womyn’s Studies Professor at Santa Fe Community College having a Chico’s Kind of Life.” Which is to say, she’s an impeccable dresser, she just hadn’t known about that particular event until two hours before, and at the time she was a college student, because she’s a tiny fetus-like genius who graduated from law school before she was 24.

I thought I was going to be best friends with someone else in law school. Someone very different, who was serious and a little intense and ultimately broke up with me., which was weird, because we were friends. But it ended up being the best thing that could have happened. I went to Kelly’s apartment afterward, to try to wrap my mind around it, and drink much white wine, and I sat there next to this woman, with the friendship I needed: one that would never judge me, even when I was being ridiculous. And I was often ridiculous in those years. I often still am. And Kelly is still there, reminding me to be kind to myself. Loyal, the quality I most value in a friend.

I could tell you story after story, about how we were sharing a room in a terrible hotel on a school trip to Washington DC, and she woke up in the middle of the night, Exorcist style, and just started clapping. When questioned, her response was “it was a really good speech, Hala!” Later she would blame it on the Golden Girls. I could tell you about our adventures in the Boom Boom Room, Newport’s premiere dance spot (but I won’t). I could write about the numerous bottomless brunches where one, if not both of us, fell off our chairs. Or the countless trips to Seekonk to shop at Home Goods, our Stop and Shop grocery buying dates, how she and my other friend Regina became weeknight barflies at the family run Portuguese restaurant I worked at, drinking Miller lites and eating chorico and peppers sandwiches. We weren’t allowed to give discounts, so I knew it was true friendship. I could tell you about the one time I texted her that I was feeling blue and didn’t have a dutch oven, and then three days later a dutch oven shows up in the mail. A purple one. It’s like a Grimace you can cook coq au vin inside. Do you know how heavy a dutch oven is? What a bitch it is to mail?

Suffice it to say there aren’t enough letters in the English language to share how important this woman has been to me. The sister I never had, and didn’t even know I wanted. We joke about getting old and living out our own Golden Girls fantasy, lanai and all, but it’s not a joke. We’ve got other people vying for the other chairs.

I’m an emotional being, which you might of picked up on. How emotional? All weekend long, “The End of the World” has been playing in my head. You know, “why do the birds go on singing? why do the stars glow above? Don’t they know, it’s the end of the world, it ended when we said goodbye?” That’s how maudlin and emotional. And Kelly isn’t. She’s a yankee, as I always tease her, who’s motto (on her instagram account no less) is “I’ll live.” Remind me to tell you about the time she asked if she could borrow my car but forgot to mention it was because she’d been in a terrible accident. But that’s another story. I share this only to convey that while I am an emotional basket-case, that is not how Kelly processes her emotions. She makes space for me to, but she’s never gonna join me in the emotional morass of my feelings. And that’s ok, I need that balance. I need to have someone throwing me a buoy instead of an anchor, or making jokes and reminding me to be silly. Kelly brought out my silliness again in law school, something that was in short supply and that I didn’t bring a lot of to the table in the first place. She was goofy, and encouraged my goofiness. We could be goofy together. We can be.

So the night she told me she was thinking about leaving, I knew thinking about meant: would. And indeed, a few months later, she and her husband are traveling further south for an awesome job opportunity and to continue building a life they love. I co-hosted a going a away brunch for them on Sunday, and instead of actually sitting and talking or dealing with my feelings, I did what every good Palestinian woman does and overfed people. I was afraid if I let myself process things I’d start crying, and no one want’s tear-soaked quiche. It’s not goodbye, of course, it’s just til next time. But it will be different, and this time I’m uncertain how.  I’m usually the leaver, after all. I do the leaving. I always have. I’ve moved a lot, and I’ve always been the one moving onto a new adventure. I don’t know how to navigate being the stayer. It feels itchy and sad, like a bulky grey wool sweater. There’s no answer for it, it just is. One day it will be warm enough I’ll want to take the sweater off.

That night, we discussed her leaving, and we took an uber home together because we lived nearer to one another in DC than we did even in law school. The driver had on some serious 90s jams, like N’Sync and Enrique Iglesias and Savage Garden, and in unison Kelly and I both started singing. At the top of our lungs. There were harmonies, there were beat breakdowns, we were laughing and singing all the way across town. Because there wasn’t anything that we could say to make it better. So we just sang.

Blog at