Wednesday, September 23, 2020

30 Notes from June

I’m irritated by slowness and put off by inertia

I learned from an early age how to be alone

I did my panic-buying early. I was all set with paper and canned goods

Then the world shook and slid ever so slightly off-center

I take an empty escalator out of the belly of the building up to street level and step outside, where pigeons far outnumber people

Out I go, latex gloves from an old box of L'Oréal on my too scrubbed hands

I was acutely aware of the mask and its slightly plastic smell

In Second Life it's always a good hair day and I'm always ten years younger than my daughter

In other words, it’s June, but I am nonetheless deep into September

They just keep coming: race, politics, social safety nets, waste, greed, hegemony. Pandemic

This is clearly pandemic-think, a scarcity mentality part Little House on the Prairie, part Walking Dead

"Cut that part off. It's fine." Use what's usable. Get on with it 

I was making lunch when my friend Joy phoned to say she had delivered some items to the local homeless shelter . . . and saw a young black man walking down the street with a Black Lives Matter sign

My brother called me from Cleveland because he was worried about the white supremacists standing at the end of my street

I tried not to cry or say anything stupid. I tried to just listen 

The point is how different one life experience can be from another, even lived side by side. The point is how desperate white people are to feel good

Nobody likes the one/ who brings bad news, Antigone said

If we were lighter (closer to light?) skittering over the porch /floor, down the street, caught up next to a curb or between two strands/ of that spider’s web

I made my way through the books not on the beach but at our kitchen table, or on the couch, or lying in bed, in between working from home, which I began deeming homing-from-work

The other cat has started to throw up at least once a day now, choosing the orientals for his deposits

I’m seeing more clearly, from my present location, how young thirty-eight was. How scandalously quick seventy is. How the person inside the age is always saying, “but not me”

Small collapses/ an atom at a time

I should be clear that this was not . . . a metaphor for being hungover; a car literally backed into me on a busy sidewalk, popping my knee sideways hard enough to engage the impact sensor in the bumper

Unstructured time felt nearly as disorienting as the steady uptick of Covid cases and the nightly newsreels that mimicked a disaster film I wouldn't have watched a second time

Those who are thinking that once we find a vaccine for the virus that our world will return to the way it was prior to 2020 are ignoring history 

We sat on the tops of two fence posts and looked down a long time on the lake’s gray expanse

Almost everything seems to be happening at a distance -- just around the corner or down the block

I am standing under a tree. A small silver screen hangs from a low branch, like an ornament 

This moment always feels like sending a small boat out onto a wide sea

Come morning the dew will/ weigh down the grass in the field between us

We’ve taken a sentence or two or some lines from each blog post in May to create a quilt, a cento, a mini-collage, a fringe of whose story is this? We hope it’s ours, in the same way that holding hands can help (although we can’t do that now).

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

31 Notes from May

The first week of shelter in place, my mind felt swollen with time

I look up from the latest coronavirus article on Facebook, toward the window, as a siren screams in the distance. It’s only on TV

When a certain president was elected, I found comfort in reading about the Black Plague 

About a week into the quarantine, my five-year-old daughter started to say she was scared of monsters

Chicago’s “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” A present sent from 1970 by a higher life form with a sense of humor

Adaptable as finches, we embrace/ the routines of our grandmothers:/baking bread, writing letters

I come from a long line of worriers, and I am not about to give up worrying now

Last December in Glenville, before the quarantine, shelves inside the New East Side Market, which had opened in May, were already empty

Covid-19 is like a red stain, showing the rotten spots in our social and economic structures

There’s no TV, no broadcast news except the governor’s measured briefings, in this rented condo on Lake Erie where I’m sheltering, where all the chairs face north

Is that what we will remember?      a cold wet spring --/ everything     waiting ...

I’m a little embarrassed to say that ever since I had cancer my fondest fantasy has been of me on my death bed with my sons sitting near me, holding my hand, maybe reading to me

In one sense, fatalism is liberating

Hi from the middle of nowhere

Despite the herculean efforts of Netflix, Saturday has become the cruelest night

It never ended, this hope that someone would send something, whether I bought it or exchanged a letter for it

The joy of a pandemic puppy, though, is in the constant reminder that there are still good things, and they will persist

Covid came, Covid saw, and Covid kicked my ass

I am grateful to the four pileated woodpeckers who showed up together at the bird feeders, the black snake who coiled its length on a snag’s toadstool ledge, and one bald eagle following the Grand River 

I’m thinking about my daughter Susan’s birthday, which is today, which I will miss, as I missed her sister’s in April

I wonder if I know any parents whose fears for themselves this spring, despite age and health factors, outweigh their fears for their children

When the streets grow barren,/ most pick up their cross and guard/ what they call home

The limits imposed on us by the pandemic have helped me come to this realization, that all I have to work with is this day, my little part of the world, myself

I return to my car panting in anxiety, drive gratefully home, and remove my mask to gulp the air in my house, returning my heart to a somewhat normal pace

This spring, before coronavirus arrived at my suburban Philadelphia university, I was teaching my favorite course: “Life, Death, and Disease”

I wrote “I miss my friends.” I wrote “I miss swimming.” I wrote “I can’t stand this anymore”

In the midst of this pandemic, conspiracy theories have spread faster than the disease

I feel that I will look back on this cold spring, this season of forced isolation and uncertainty, as a magic time

I let the rabbit down into the hole and covered it with earth, sent it to its long rest

This is the moment in history that we occupy, and children know it. They will be the ones who write the story of Covid-19 years and years from now

“You can’t see the virus,” I tell Gus. “It’s very, very tiny.” He turns around. The cat continues his lookout for trespassing cardinals. “It’s a big gray ball,” Gus informs me. “It has little horns like Shrek”

We’ve taken a sentence or two or some lines from each blog post in May to create a quilt, a cento, a mini-collage, a fringe of whose story is this? We hope it’s ours, in the same way that holding hands can help (although we can’t do that now).

Monday, September 21, 2020

Reveries, Nightmares, and Dreams (Feldman)

My birthday comes—an inconvenient reminder of the misshapen state of our world. I should be on vacation. My older daughter should be on a plane home to attend her sister’s concert. My parents should be joining us for dinner. "Olympics Postponed" - reads the headline on my screen.

I am packing up my office essentials to start working remotely, not understanding yet that it will never be my office again, that my younger daughter’s concert will have no audience, that I won’t be seeing my older daughter for many months, that the pandemic will dissolve thirteen years of work for an organization I love in a vat of Covid politics.

For now the thoughts swarming in my head are about figuring out grocery shopping, a vet appointment for our aging pointer, Charlie, the extended spring break at our kid’s school.

Filling a banker’s box with folders and gadgets, I imagine the pandemic might subside by summer. My mind conjures a scene of a house party with our friends in print dresses and khaki shorts, oohing and aahing over my homemade Bailey’s milkshakes and bruschetta bites, talking over each other and petting the dog. I roll up the computer cables and give myself permission to envision the party as a celebration.

A tiny part of me—the one I keep buried like a dragon’s treasure—retrieves the mirage of having a literary agent. “Here’s what we’ll do,” this unicorn-muse-agent-creature says, the voice full of reassurance and inspiration. In a series of cinematic renderings, I am 1) at my desk, deep in the editorial process; 2) dancing around the kitchen when my manuscript is sold; 3) answering smart questions with graceful sensitivity on Fresh Air. “The publishing industry is hurting,” I hear my published self say. “I’m one of the lucky ones.” A knock on the door startles me back to reality. The fantasy fades.

On the drive home, I use the hands-free to talk to my husband. “We are safe. Our family is safe. We have everything,” we tell each other. I find an eastern European feast waiting for me in our dining room. Zucchini spread, chicken paprikash, chopped liver, mushroom ragout, even my mom’s famous layered Napoleon cake. Each container is labeled with sticky notes covered in my dad’s beautiful cursive. We eat over Facetime, connecting Boston and two suburbs of Cleveland in an awkward medley of cut-off sentences and partial faces.

Although it’s only been three weeks since the last time I walked in the park with my parents, life has taken on a new hue. Charlie can’t walk anymore. The white midsummer heat is my only companion now. My father hasn’t been able to overcome his fever. The red blotches on the interactive map, showing the spread of the virus, stir up images of blood. Turns out veterianrians make euthanasia house calls during pandemics.

When I sleep, the nightmare of being swallowed by an unmasked wedding crowd endowed with zombie determination, recycles in my restless brain with the same monochromatic persistence as the questions that haunt me when I am awake. I try to hide from them, to trap them in an empty cellar of my mind, to flush them down a deep well, but they jump from behind trees like the unchased squirrels in our yard; they claw their way out of envelopes with unemployment letters. Should I insist that my father go to the hospital? Could I have saved the dog, spent more money on treatments, given him more time to suffer? Why don’t I cry?

On the day my dad finally agrees to go, my mother can’t make the 911 call. I go to their house, make the call, say the rehearsed words to the kind dispatch woman who assures me that, with his symptoms, my father will be admitted. As the paramedics navigate the tight hallway to the bedroom, I stand on the balcony watching them through the glass like a cat burglar—a safe distance from my father’s illness and my mother’s panic.

“Ma’am,” one of the paramedics says to my mother, “D’you know there’s a lady on your balcony?”

At the hospital, none of the doctors know the exact reason behind my father’s pneumonia. His lungs look like they’re filled with shards of glass. The final consensus is, “It happens.”

Somewhere between the fever, the guilty soliloquies on the patch of grass where I held Charlie, and the meals prepared in the hopes that my mother will eat, an email comes. Dear Jacqueline, we are pleased to accept…

I cry then.

I’m on my way to teach a class at Tri-C. Pulling into the parking lot I realize I don’t know which building the class is in or what I’m teaching. There’s a vague awareness this isn’t real but I press on in search of my students. Inside the first door I open is, miraculously, my classroom. A dozen people stand in a circle, each with a puppy on a leash. A dream concocted from my years of teaching community college English, our neighbors’ unruly new puppy, and the hole left in my heart by Charlie’s parting. I am grateful it’s not the zombie wedding. “Dogs thrive in a predictable environment of order,” I inform my spectral students, taking my time to play with the balls of fur. Dream or not, I need this.

In the morning, I walk through our dining room, which now looks like a dance studio. When we bought the house, we had pledged to get rid of the '70s mirrored wall and the tropical wallpaper, but as these things often go, after a year or two we stopped noticing them. When our daughter’s dance rehearsals moved to Zoom, my husband built a ballet barre and we moved the dining table into the living room. With the wall of mirrors, our kid has an enviable home studio. The living room hasn’t been spared either. A music stand donated by a Cleveland Orchestra friend stands by the bookcases. Sheet music is scattered over the couch and floor and, as I head into the kitchen, our daughter rests her cello to her shoulder, tunes into her virtual orchestra class and fills our house with “Eye Of The Tiger.”

I take my coffee out to the garden. The ichiban eggplant looks ready. It’ll be a flatbread with eggplant and mozzarella night. My daughter calls from Boston while she walks. We make plans—careful not to promise each other too much—for her and her boyfriend to visit in October. After sending off another resume, I bake two honey cake loaves, pack up the groceries my husband picked up during senior shopping hours and head to my parents’ house.

We talk through the fabric of our masks, our voices traveling over the threshold of the open door. The sound of the oxygen concentrator fills the hall. “How was your night?” I ask.

“We slept.” My mother sounds like she also can breathe. “Dad ate his breakfast in the kitchen today.” She places a pot of matzoh ball soup on the floor and backs away. “Next year will be better,” we say.

On the drive home, my phone dings. It’s my California cousin. Loved your story. Will I ever stop crying?

My daughter requests a duck for Rosh Hashanah dinner. While it roasts, I simmer the orange glaze and send off another resume. After the meal, we sit shoulder to shoulder to fit on the screen, showing off our honey cake, and scraping together things to laugh about.

The news comes as we raise our glasses. Another layer of grief. It will take me half a dozen mournful tweets, a weepy embrace from my husband, a streamed vigil on the Supreme Court steps, to make room—somewhere between rage and despair—for this new sadness.

When it’s late and we’ve run out of feelings, my daughter plops on the couch next to me. “Star Trek time?” she asks. The old episode comforts us with scaly green villains who lose at the end. We make fun of the sexist uniforms that she calls outfits. My husband teases us about being geeky, takes his poetry books and heads upstairs.

For the first time since I was thirteen, I have no job but so much work. I don’t know what tomorrow will look like, except that it will not look like yesterday. I let my mind wander, and then I write, and I dream.

Jaccqueline Feldman holds an MA in English. She lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio, where she also serves as Programming Committee Chair on the Board of Literary Cleveland. When not writing short stories, Jacqueline is querying agents for her debut novel, Ten Days Until Tomorrow. You can find her on @JFeldmanAuthor