Eternal Flame

Music / Nostalgia / Personal History / Uncategorized

It was maybe the second dance of the eighth grade, early enough in the school year that I didn’t wear a coat, early enough in my career as a teenager that I hadn’t yet learned I could skip the dance. Mom dropped me off outside the gym l and I entered in through a chorus of nervous mothers squeeching out last minute instructions from minivan windows. Be careful. Don’t leave the school grounds. Be sure to call if you need me.

My particular junior high school was broadly considered to be the worst school in town. There were a lot of transparent reasons cited, but the truth was that it brought together a bunch of affluent, mostly white kids from the north side of town, a bunch of working class white kids from the west side of town, and a near majority of black kids from the center and south sides of the urban doughnut, so to speak. Parents were outwardly supportive but quietly concerned. And the integration of all of us played out like you’d expect at an Appalachian public school in the early 1990s. Which is to say, we didn’t really mix. The school kept us rigidly tracked by academic decree established so early it might as well have been Predestination. It was entirely possible to go through a whole class year in a school thronged with strangers without ever sitting beside someone you hadn’t gone to kindergarten with. And teenagers are masters of self-segregation on their own. Even the dance arranged itself by geography. The West Asheville kids in the bleachers on the far side of the gym. The North Asheville kids in a topsider-ed circle on the floor by the door. The Central South a moving column that divided the room between the two non-dancing groups of white adolescents seemingly oblivious to the other’s existence.

I found my place in the Northside corner, on the outer rim of the outer rim of popular North side kids. I glanced toward the dance floor with yearning. It was a dance.  Hadn’t we come dance? But all the nerdy girls that were still talking to me were transfixed by The Diplomat, a boy in our class in possession of the full arsenal of traditional North side popular traits—rich, smart, athletic, conventionally attractive, but he was uniquely regarded as nice. He always kept his distance—and convenient obliviousness—to the sniping and bullying of his expanded coterie, and eschewed long term relationships, making him a perfectly agreeable, acceptable crush for any girl in Honors Algebra.   

I tried to pay attention to conversation around me but the gym was loud and the music was infectious. 1989 was an exceptional year for hip-hop, thick with songs that were funny and sexy and furious and drunk with joy, and whoever the school hired to DJ was playing all the hits. I had a kind of out of body experience, coasting on beats while the kids around me stood around in tight rolled jeans and Duke sweatshirts like a pouty toadstools. I couldn’t figure out why we were standing stock still. What were we all waiting for?  

The  answer came soon enough when the DJ turned down the lights and turned up Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The floor cleared, and west side descended the bleachers across the room mustered in the center of the gym with the northside kids—some sad confluence of white adolescence—and then paired into couples to sway along to Robert Plant.

Annoyed, I turned to one of the nerdy girls to ask why it was that white people were so determined to dance to this undanceable song, or why they’d even want to. Instead, I said: “I hate this song.”

I thought she might agree. She owned a B-52s shirt, after all,  but before she could respond, The Diplomat tapped her on the shoulder and asked her to dance. I found this both shocking and disappointing, but Algebra Class was thin, so she wasn’t monstrous in the the way I was. I skulked off to the sidelines.  I looked around at the silhouettes of the other remainder girls, wondered if I looked like them, staring mournfully at the dance floor, while a significant proportion of Asheville’s white adolescents attempted to bustle a hedgerow. Whatever that means.  I wondered if the other remainder girls expect something  more or different to happen at this dance? Did I?

I walked out into the gym lobby, now packed to capacity with dancers griping about whatever bullshit was being played inside. I missed being a little kid, when you could wander up to another little kid in the supermarket checkout and ask straight out if they wanted to be friends. I imagined myself doing that now, and blushed with mortification. I would die. I would die right here.

Around me, the crowd shifted. I heard the vice-principal clapping students back into the gym. I rode the wave back inside during what I believed to be the longest, wankiest guitar solo in history (I was wrong, sadly). The rest of the crowd started massing around the edges of the dance floor, heckling the slow dancers.

The DJ must have felt a riot was imminent because he cut “Stairway” off about three steps shy of the landing to what must be described as jubilant relief and played what I remember as “Bust a Move,” but I don’t think that’s possible chronologically speaking. Regardless, I started hopping around, in the intermediary zone, not quite in line with the dancers, but far enough away from the bleachers to, I thought, the kind of confident, devil-may-care energy that would differentiate me from the other remainder girls. I got a chorus of laughs when I attempted the Roger Rabbit, and took that as cue  to never dance again. So I went to the bathroom with the girl from Algebra and watched her fluff her spiral perm and reapply blueberry LipSmackers. She told me that The Diplomat was the only one for her. She was sure he would ask her out now. I felt torn. I was pretty sure The Diplomat was the only boy who had ever asked her to dance. Seemed like a pretty low bar, but what did I know? I’d never been asked to dance by a boy either.

A couple of  high-banged West Asheville girls produced a pack of cigarettes, and fearing Algebra Class would freak out or narc or both, I ushered her back into the gym, where she fluttered around The Diplomat, giggling and I stood aside until the next slowdance, when shockingly, unbelievably, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

When I turned, I saw the Diplomat. He gave me a line. “I’m dancing with all the coolest girls in the class,” he said, and I knew it was a line, because I wasn’t cool and neither was Algebra Class. But the song was “Eternal Flame” by the Bangles. And he was cute. And he was smart. And he smelled like laundry detergent and Flex shampoo. And no one had ever asked me to dance before. I followed him to the dance floor. He put his hand on my waist. I worried he might feel a fat roll, then my stomach sort of flipped, because he grinned and pulled me closer. I touched the woven sleeve of his polo. It was blue. Susannah Hoffs asked if she was only dreaming.  I totally forgot about the girl from Algebra class. I totally forgot that I didn’t really even like The Diplomat.

When the song ended, he pulled me close and whispered, “Thank you,” before walking away. I stood on the floor, while a not-yet-problematic Bobby Brown summoned the crowd back around me. And even though I knew I wasn’t real, even though I knew he’d just done the same thing to Algebra Class, for a second I thought I was maybe, actually cool. That The Diplomat hadn’t lied. That he’d wanted to dance with me. Maybe he even wanted to go out with me.

The girl from Algebra class was annoyed when I got back to the corner, but now I was the infatuated one. I drifted around him, laughed at his commentary, and  ignored the stink eyes of the actual popular girls. At the next slow dance, I tensed up, full of expectation, and peripherally saw Algebra Class do the same. But The Diplomat walked past us, further down the bleachers to the next of the Remainder Girls. He asked her to dance. I heard him say, “I’m dancing with all the coolest girls in the class.” I could almost feel the warmth of her blush from a distance. I felt sick.

He did it four more times that night. Each time with a different girl. Fat girls. Plain Girls. Girls with visible handicaps. Girls with bad skin. Girls that no one much liked. Pariah Girls. Invisible Girls. Girls that everyone felt sorry for.  All of us weird and unfortunate and grotesque. And him such a saint to condescend to treat like real humans for the length of a song.

The dance ended after the last slow song. He helped the girl with her crutches back to the bleachers and again, turned, without looking back and returned to his friends.

Outside we waited for rides between rainslicked breeze blocks. I watched my crowd dwindle and other kids, laughing, took off walking out of the parking lot I had been instructed not to leave. I could see The Diplomat from where I was standing, talking to a couple of popular girls, triple threat girls like him, rich, pretty, smart. They were flirting, buzzing around him, full of compliments.

“It’s so nice that you danced with those girls tonight,” one of them said. “They’re all so sad. I mean, they might not ever get asked to dance again. And you are, like, such a good person.”

“I mean, I think it’s important to be try and be decent to people,” he said, and I swear he saw me then. I swear he made eye contact with me. “Especially people who aren’t as lucky as we are.”

I probably should have yelled at him, but I was in the eighth grade, still making all the wrong decisions and feeling all the wrong feelings. I saw the shape of Mom’s headlights and stumbled toward the car, because I didn’t want to cry in public yet. I pulled at the door handle and hoisted myself into the station wagon.

She asked how the dance was .

I blinked. I thought about Susannah Hoffs. ” You’ll never guess who danced with me,” I said.

I saw her smile. I saw her thinking maybe that I was cool and pretty, that I was the kind of girl someone wanted to dance with.

“So you had a good time?”

I closed my eyes and reconfigured the plot, until the memory looked the way it was supposed to. “It was the best,” I said.

“Tell me everything,” she said.

I didn’t, but the version I told was so much better than the truth that I almost made myself believe it.

Summer Jams

Nostalgia / Personal History / Pirate Necessities

In early 1989, at pirate camp, I let a bossy, chain-smoking, fourteen-year-old liar from Atlanta cut my hair during a tornado. This seemed like a good idea at the time.

She was kind of mean and definitely full of shit, but she was the only one of the cool older girls in my cabin that didn’t talk to me like I was a child. She’d been hassling me for days about my look, and I, a noted soft-target for any promise of makeover was finally, like, Fine, then. Do something about it. After all, we were stuck inside during a storm. What else did we have to do.

We’d been evacuated off the sound about fifteen minutes before, just after our visibly stoned junior counselor maybe named after a liberal arts college, executed a perfect swan dive off the swimming platform between two blue-white crackles of lightning. She surfaced moments late and climbed up the barnacled ladder, flashing the awestruck onlookers a woozy peace sign.

“Tubular,” said one of the boys I had a crush on.

I thought it was a little reckless, but I was still young enough that I couldn’t apply the lessons of myth to real life. So hubris often looked like superpowers, especially when strutting past back to dry land with one boob almost completely liberated from a string bikini top, like an Amazon on spring break. The older camp staff were screaming at us to come in panicked from the shoreline, but Liberal Arts College simply had to gesture and we all followed.

In the nick of time too, because the wind kicked up when we came ashore, tossing around loose towels and surf boards. I narrowly avoided a tumbling catamaran in my path. I climbed the stairs of the weather-beaten two-story cabin I occupied with some thirty other girls. The counselors shut the storm shutters over the screens while we shrugged out of wet bathing suits and vied for showers. The wind had knocked out the power, but water was as warm and almost as salty as the body of water we’d just left. My skin stuck to my clothes–cutoffs stiff with salt, and an R.E.M t-shirt worn to near translucence, neither of which technically mine, but borrowed or bartered—and I remember the whole cabin listing and creaking with the wind, almost as if it were a ship itself.

“You know, if this thing gets intense, we’ll probably die in this cabin,” said Liberal Arts College. “Sorry if you’re still virgins.”

She fired up the boombox, which contained a mixtape her boyfriend (who was named after a city in Alabama) made for her. She played it obsessively, so I primed for the opening bars of “Dear God,” and tried to imagine what it would be like if we were about to die. I followed Atlanta to the rail-less enclosed stairs at the back of the cabin and she propped a flashlight between her knees.

“I think we should start by cutting the rest of this perm out,” said Atlanta. “Perms are over.”

I might have blanched at the first length of still-sopping hair that dropped down the landing at her first hack, but I settled into the rhythm of it, as the storm shuddered and Andy Partridge wrestled with faith from the speakers. An epic roll of thunder opened for track two, Cult of Personality. I mouthed the lyrics, like Mussolini or Kennedy, while Atlanta talked about her act for the forthcoming talent show. She claimed she was a celebrated freestyle dancer which was like a breakdancer, but with more serious moves and, like, cheer skills. One could only learn freestyle dancing on the streets, and she’d grown up hard on the mean streets of Buckhead.

I hadn’t spent much time in Atlanta, but I knew Buckhead was my Nana’s favorite neighborhood on account of the fancy malls. Seems like a weird place for dancing street gangs, but Atlanta was currently wielding sharp things pointing at my head, so I didn’t say anything.

She stopped to ask if I was into New Wave, which I figured was maybe because we’d moved onto track, Blue Monday, but she meant my hair. “It might be kind of New Wave, when I’m done,” she said. “But that’s going to be way cooler this fall than a grown-out spiral perm.

“Fine,” I said, and listened to the cool girls in my cabin sing along. If she’d promised there was hair of a chance that it might have made me interesting to them, I would have let Atlanta shave my head.

***

“I let someone cut my hair,” I told my mother, on the phone that night on the phone, in the camp office, overseen by the small cadre of actual camp adults. I didn’t mention the tornado, because my mother was afraid of them and would have freaked out

Mom didn’t seem worked up about the haircut. She asked me how it looked. I hadn’t exactly reached a solid conclusion yet. I gave it another looksee in the reflective panel on the pay phone, and told her it was kind of cute and close to a bob, without going into details, because the details were that I’d let a gossipy, fourteen year old fabulist from the mean streets of Buckhead pretty much do whatever she wanted and it looked like it.  

One of the other adult staffmembers, the one that forced me to call my mother when she saw my hair, took the phone from me and performed a thirty second tone poem of uh-huhs. When she hung up, she shrugged and released me to dinner. It was shrimp night. Shrimp night was always the best night at pirate camp.

After dinner, I wandered out past the knuckle ball tables where a saucer-eyed older camper with Jami Gertz hair shot fireballs at boys she thought were cute with a Bic and a can of Aqua Net. She laughed at me when I flinched. I sidestepped a group of boys by the water cooler, and headed to the water so I could feel what the breezy afterside of the storm felt like when it ruffled my hair.

I took the storm damaged pier a launch halfway down and planted myself two staira closer to the water with my feet in the warm briny Sound and my finger marking the pages in Stephen King’s It, which I’d borrowed from Atlanta. I tended to spend most camp nights on the halfway launch, back to the younger campers, digging up clams in the reedy patch behind me. Sometimes Irish Name, my oldest friend from home, came with me, and we faced the end of the pier together, watching spectral boats and barges float up the channel past, the top of the island and into the sea. Increasingly she didn’t, which was okay, because increasingly we had nothing in common to talk about except our increasingly unlikely friendship

Tonight, the pier end was occupied by a few counselors and older campers half-assedly trying to aright the fleet of small sailboats—mostly Sunfish and Flying Scots—that had capsized during the storm. Just beyond them, on the outer edge of the boathouse, the typical evening crowd of underage smokers had gathered for a post-dinner puff. The counselors ignored them, probably because they’d soon join them, as soon as they’d drained the fleet of kayaks. It seemed preposterous that I had gotten in trouble for a haircut, a camp activity so benign that it had been figured into “The Parent Trap,” while no one was making the smoking section call home. I watched them enviously, wishing I’d been invited to join, terrified I might be, because I had no idea if I wanted to do whatever they’d expect me to. I suspected I’d be met with the smirks of boys, the haughty bitch-faced pity of girls, or worse, they’d just ignore me, pretend that I wasn’t there.

The sky darkened, gold to pink to violet. Sunsets are usually spectacular after a storm.

I could hear the muffled bass of the music from the barn, where the camp hosted a “dance” every night nights they didn’t show old James Bond films or host Atlanta’s beloved Talent Show. They were playing Stairway to Heaven, which was a terrible song to dance to, but a popular favorite among white kids named after cities in Alabama or liberal arts colleges (and track seven on my counselor’s mixtape). Most of the camp only went to the dances as an excuse to hang out in the dark and try not to attract too much attention while they messed around with each other’s shorts and bra straps. Stand By Me would play later–—the camp dance playlist was as predictable as Liberal Arts College’s mixtape. I loved that song. It sounded like floating under the stars on navy blue sea. It sounded, I thought, like what it must feel like to be loved back. Eventually they’d play Violent Femmes or Beastie Boys and I’d skitter back over the splintery planks to shore so I could pogo around the for a song and half and hope people would be so disarmed by my new hair that they’d suddenly start talking to me, that they’d realize I was so much more than what I’d seemed, that I was the kind of girl who’d let a bossy liar cut her hair during a tornado.

Because, why not?

Plague Diary: April 9, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

My first vaccine dose happened on St. Patrick’s Day. I was scheduled in at a family health clinic one county and about thirty-five miles away. I left about an hour and a half early, terrified some unforeseen circumstance might stand between me and my fresh antibodies. I listened to disco in the car, hopeful the songs might lighten the mood, and quell any last minute “oh shit, does my throat hurt? Does that mean I have covid? What if I get covid and can’t get the vaccine” hypochondria. When I got to the parking lot, I had forty-five minutes to kill and spread out in the front seat with a couple recent issues of the New Yorker. After about ten minutes a nurse came out and knocked on my window to ask if I was there for the vaccine. I said yes. He told me I could come on in.

The vaccine staff were St Paddy’s-ready, bedecked in Mardi Gras levels of shamrock beads and antenna headbands with flashing green lights. They were listening to Katy Perry. The mood was about as close to barely controlled jubilation as you can in a room full of no-nonsense nurses shuttling you from table to table on the way to a needle. The nurse who gave I had to tell the nurse who gave me the shot about my preexistings. She was about my age and wore a Flava Flav-sized shamrock over her scrubs. “I’m an obese ex-smoker,” I said. She shook her head sympathetically “Who isn’t?” and jabbed just south of the left shoulder. I sat in the hallway in a line of distanced chair, waiting my required fifteen minutes, weeping with something like relief but more weight, while the nurse who fetched me from the car danced along to “Teenage Dream” in the open front door. Beyond him, past the parking lot, I watched an old man walk a terrier across a winter field, just starting to green. I drove home on a winding back road, barely paved, past tidy nooks of meadow with gingerbread farmhouses and storybook barns. I’m not sure it qualifies as a side effect, but that night I slept so hard, I don’t even think I rolled over.

I don’t remember the last time I slept like that. I haven’t slept like that since.

***

One of the nicest people I know opened an art gallery in the middle of town at the beginning of the maybe end of the pandemic. Most Sundays over the last few weeks, I’ve dropped by, because she’s lovely and talented, because I like petting her dog and looking at her art, because the act of going to a place for something other than food feels satisfyingly dangerous, and it is the only place like that I go. I walk past photographs and canvases, thumb through glossy-paged art books. It feels decadent in that it is, strictly speaking, an inessential errand.

Still, we stand masked, doors open, yards apart. I feel my hackles rise when another person comes in. I pretend at lingering, but never do.

Early on, I thought I was a risk taker, I bristled at people telling me what to do. Now, I feel timid and fragile and if feels like everyone does more than I do at this point.  They sit outside at restaurants. They go to non-grocery stores. They have dinner with friends. They, improbably, travel to places for pleasure. I feel their irritation with my reticence. Do they think I’m a coward? Do they think I’m a scold? Do they know I’m jealous of their bravado? Do they know that the last year has turned me into a constant gnaw of worry, of second-guessing? I’m historically a person who does not say no, because I’d rather regret the thing I did than the thing I didn’t, but this thing has messed with my brain.

“You know a third of the people who get Covid have long-term mental health issues,” said a friend, this evening on the porch. “They become anxious and depressed.”

I shook my head, sympathetically like my vaccine nurse, thinking, “Who isn’t?” But I didn’t say it aloud. I just came inside, worried, and pulled up the articles on my computer, trying to figure out if anyone in the study was anxious and depressed beforehand they got Covid and how much worse it made them. Then I thought maybe I had a sore throat, but it was just that I’d been sitting outside all day in a chartreuse haze of pollen.

***

“How do you figure we go back to normal?” someone asked on a work call last week. She was making conversation between agenda points, but we all kind of got quiet mulling it over.

“It’s going to be a long time before I go back to dinner inside a restaurant,” said someone.

“Or a concert,” said another.

“Or to the office,” said another, and then kind of blushed when she realized she’d said it aloud in front of her boss.

I made some point about bathrooms, which I didn’t really mean. Peeing in a restaurant bathroom seems infinitely less scary than spending a couple of hours there, crowded, eating and drinking, with the doors closed.

I’m hungry for normal, but I still get weirded out when someone stands too close in the supermarket line.  How the fuck am I going to board a plane or get on the subway or go see a band play or sidle up to the bar, like old times? Will the second vaccine make all that go away?

***

I went to Virginia last weekend, ten days before my second vaccine, in order to help my mother clean out the rest of my grandmother’s house. At 12:15 Easter Sunday, I was bone tired, wrapping stacks of Dresden china that Nana loved, but is out of style and no one wants, in sheets of newspaper. Earlier that day, I’d followed my mother into a general store-style quickie mart down the block from Nana’s soon to be ex-house, and remarked, as I stood, masked, in line with a six pack of beer under my arm, that I hadn’t been inside a convenience store since August 2020. And I’d held my breath the whole time.

I left with a car full of stuff, pretty things I certainly don’t need, because I’m taking on the material weight of the woman I’ve lost, I guess, because on some level, I still don’t feel like I had enough time with her and I couldn’t give her a proper goodbye. A day later, my mother arrived with a truck full of things and we loaded them into my overburdened house, and I tried to figure out how many overpacked shelves I was from becoming a Collyer brother.

I showed off my new things, my new old things, my relics for elder worship, and endured friends’ ambivalence as they struggled to find a nice way to tell me that the picture I’d send of the thing I’d put there didn’t fit in my house and it all looked faintly ridiculous. My best friend, who I prize for her honesty, just flat out told me that it was too big. And I snapped at her, told her to fuck off, ungenerously, disproportionately hurt by what is, what was self-evident. To wit: my grief is too big for the space I inhabit. The things I have lost take up too much space. At which point does the past looming around you impede even your present

This morning, an electrician, a supremely nice dude, opened a box containing the ridiculous crystal chandelier that Nana kept hanging over her bed and tried to install it in over my dining room table. Every step in the process involved a nagging setback, but he finally got it hanging, and at the moment of glory, as the sunlight prismed and covered my stairwell in rainbows, he came out to tell me that the wiring was off, the whole thing would have to be restored. He couldn’t, in good conscience, connect it to power. He couldn’t, in good conscience, even leave it hanging.

Reader: I flipped out. I choked up. I called my mother like a baby. I saw this thing, this fragile object, this ridiculous glittery doo-dad go back into a dusty carboard box to be stored (who knows where), to be fixed (by who knows who and at what cost), to be reduced from treasure to burden, to become this weight that I can’t even move by myself, that maybe I shouldn’t even have.

“We’re not going to throw it away,” said my mother, on the phone, as I sobbed and watched the pollen marble the pond, while the embarrassed electrician repacked all the bits back into ziplock bags.

And I thought, maybe we should because it’s just turning into another disaster for me to drag around. And then I felt immediately guilty for thinking it.

“It’s just that this a lot for me to handle alone,” I said.

This is a lot for me to handle alone, after he left, staring at the mess, trying to figure out how to summon up the energy to even deal with it.

And felt guilty for being selfish. And I was selfish. And I felt guilty.

***

I should be clear: I have friends. I have family. I have neighbors. I am a social person, even in comparative isolation. I know that if I send up flares, boats will appear on the horizon.

But I am also a single person who survived a pandemic at a few hundred miles remove from family in a single-family home without a roommate. I did all the calculus on what would happen/what would have happened if I got sick. The things I could realistically depend on people to do (bring groceries). The things I could not (leave food outside my bedroom door). The things I would have been afraid to ask (take me to the hospital), because the last thing I would ever want to do is put other people at risk.

I don’t know how to make a decision anymore without calculating risk. This sounds like a good thing, maybe, but it lacks any possibility of spontaneity, of surprise, of fun. I hate living this way. I hate that I don’t know when I’ll be able to stop.

I get that I’m not alone with this. I read articles about who we think we’ll be after Covid, but it seems like a lot of people they talk to have come to solid, affirming truths about themselves. “I’ve learned to be more forthright in the things I want.” “I’ve learned that work isn’t everything.” “I’ve learned to find strength in meditative silences.”

I’ve learned that I can finish a whole 1000 peace jigsaw puzzle in about six hours if I put my mind to it. I’ve learned that I can still spend a lot of money on going out clothes when I can’t go anywhere, and all the sane people have been living in sweatpants for thirteen months. I’ve learned that, in absence of anyone else to cook for, I’d just as soon eat cheese and crackers for dinner. I’ve learned that I am a collection of bad habits that look worse the longer I am alone with them. I’ve learned that the most stressful, demanding, capricious, judgmental person I hang out with is, by far, myself, and she is very hard to get away from. I’ve learned that a shoe only has to be a little uncomfortable to make your toe go numb. I’ve learned that I my skin tone is 100% more mauve than anyone else on the same Zoom call. I’ve only recently learned that you can hide self-view on a Zoom call. I’ve learned that grief is exhausting, and stress diminishes you. I’ve learned that cardinals live on my roof and what their song sounds like. I’ve learned that disasters turn you into the kind of snooze that’s into all kinds of boring shit, like jigsaw puzzles and birds.

I don’t care for the person that Covid has made me, or rather, I don’t care for the person that Covid has revealed me to be. But I’m alive and the flowers are blooming so . . .

***

I get my second shot on Wednesday. I’m sure I’ll leave two hours early. I’ll drive down, worried that my spring allergies are a freak case of Covid. I’ll listen to disco. I’ll bring a New Yorker for the parking lot, and maybe the nurse will come back early to the fetch me in for my final inoculation.

I don’t know how I’ll feel on the back side, side effects, notwithstanding (they’re worse after the second shot, they say, and I’m getting Moderna). I guess I’ll feel relieved. I think I’ll feel like, at the very least, I’ve put in the foundations for After, whatever After is.

Fingers crossed.

Picture today is of a chandelier that is more than the some of its parts in a distended cardboard box .

As of this writing, 108, 457, 156 people have recovered from Covid-19. 175 million vaccine doses have been given worldwide.

Traditional Fields Family Easter Protocols: 1985

Family History / Nostalgia / Personal History

5:30 am: Wake from dream about playing mini-golf with friendly monsters. Tremble at the sound of the “creepy bird,” whose song signals the arrival of the evil zombie Easter Bunny doppelganger who rises from the dead every Easter Sunday to abduct over-eager, non-sleeping children and fly them away to a dusty fairground populated by the dead. Quiver under the covers, as terrified of being discovered by the evil rabbit as you are terrified of being discovered terrified by your still-sleeping mother, whose habit of explaining away childhood fears by brain chemistry and behavioral psychology, is so effective you come out the other side feeling both comforted and completely ashamed of yourself.

5:45 am: Satisfied the demonic rabbit has moved on to the Orr’s house up the street, you crawl out of bed making as much racket possible. Stomping across the landing, slamming the double doors, messing with the toilet seat and opening and closing the radiator cover cleverly disguised as a shuttered cabinet. Recoil in horror at the sight of a giant spider trapped between the actual window and storm window. Contemplate the mermaid shaped bathroom toys. Braid their hair. Investigate the contents of the medicine cabinet. Make flowers out of toilet paper and bobby pins. Wonder what would happen if you sprayed the entire can of bathroom cleaner into the toilet bowl. Pretend to be the long-suffering prisoner of a despotic regime and deliver a rousing, if whispered, gallows speech to a crowd of demoralized populace, encouraging them to fight on for another day. Flush toilet to punctuate. Flip the light switch off and on several times.

6:05 am: Begin waking people in earnest now go about waking people in earnest. Go first to your parents’ room and say “mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” until she rolls over, groans and tells you to go back to sleep. Calmly inform her that this is not possible. Scoff and walk across the hall to wake your three-year-old sister. Tell her if she doesn’t get up the Easter Bunny will steal her candy and return who to her actual parents, who are monsters in another dimension. Do not acknowledge that she will one day use this against you as evidence of childhood torment.

6:08 am: Return to parent’s bedroom with the enlisted support of your sister, her security blanket and your own stuffed raccoon (named Violet DuBois). Stand perfectly still with stare at your mother with the most puppy dog expression imaginable, trying to create the illusion that you are one of those sickly, yet saintly Victorian children from the most boring books in your library , instead of the Machiavellian tyrant you know yourself to be. Sniffle a bit. Let your sleepy eyed sister say something treacly like “Do you think the  Easter Bunny brought something for Daddy?” Try not to roll your eyes, because parents just eat that shit up. Listen to mother groan. “All right. All right. Go put on your slippers and give me a few minutes.”

6:10 am: Sit crouched on upstairs with little sister, awaiting the green light to go downstairs, as Mom puts on bathrobe. Wonder at the amount of noise coming from Dad’s study. Secretly hope the Easter Bunny has brought you a Walkman.

6:12 am: Enter den, where two large, elaborately beribboned wicker baskets sit atop the gate-leg table infront of the window. Outside the sun has just cleared the tops of the mountains and you feel like you need to squint. Dash over the soon-to-be completely refinished floor to gape the mounds of chocolate rabbits, jelly beans, egg shaped petit-fors, sour candies, gummy bears, white chocolate lollipops, tiny pastel stuffed animals and one of those imitation Faberge eggs made of sugar with a tiny confectionary vignette inside. Wonder if it would be satisfying to eat. Know you will not.  Trade sister a bag of gummy bears for all of her petit-fors. Thrill to discover, at the bottom of the basket, a cassette copy of Wham!’s “Make It Big,” but no Walkman. Your cousin once got a Walkman from the Easter Bunny. Your cousin also got one of those fancy pre-made playhouses from the FAO Schwartz catalog. You spend a lot of time trying not to think your cousin is an asshole, even though she makes you play a game called “Interior Decorator” every time you visit, which involves her locking you in her bedroom closet with a wallpaper book, while she goes downstairs and flits dramatically around the adults until they tell her how pretty she is. The last time you were locked in her closet for an hour. Your grandmother found you, said you were being dramatic when you cried and then gave you a sip of her Gin and Tonic. It is possible your grandmother is an asshole. It is also possible your cousin is an asshole. “So why did the Easter Bunny bring her a Walkman?” you ask your mother on the way to the kitchen, as you lick marzipan frosting off your fingers. Your mother explains that life isn’t fair. This will continue to be an unsatisfying response for the rest of your life.

6:35 am: Coffee is made. You request a cup. It is served “Nana-style” with a lot of milk and at least three heaping teaspoons of sugar. Mom sticks a pan of hot cross buns in the oven and requests that you stop tormenting your sister. Which strikes you as typically unjust, as your sister has been trying to bite your arm for the last half hour. Your father emerges in a threadbare brown terrycloth robe  that makes him look like the only monk in the frat house, and  sits down in the den to delve into “The New Yorker”. He may opine that “Maybe we should go to church” This discussion will continue, in fits and starts, in the background, for the next 3-4 hours.

7:30 a.m: You are nominated to call Nana. Nana tells you she loves you and wishes you a Happy Easter as you jerk the cord away from your sisters grasping fingers. Before handing the phone to your mother, you tacitly suggest that Nana is infinitely cooler, more loving and more generous than either one of your parents. Nana has a pillow on your bed at her house that says “If Mother says no, ask Grandmother.” You point blank ask Nana for a Walkman before your mother grabs the phone away from your and tells you to play with your sister.

8:00 a.m: Dressing begins. For you, this involves dress (sometimes with pinafore), white tights and white leather Mary Janes that your mother special orders from the shoe shop downtown because they often only carry white patent leather and “everybody knows white patent leather is tacky.” When you were little sometimes you had a hat (once an actual bonnet), but it is the mid-eighties which means you’ve moved on to the on-trend oversized pastel hair ribbon worn on the clip you’re using to grow out your bangs. Your Mom thinks the bow is kind of French. You think the bow is kind of Madonna, but you’re both delusional.  Your sister’s dress is in a complementary color with a French lace collar and satin sash. Your mother takes you outside to pose you in front of the forsythia and pink dogwood so she can get a few snapshots before you get grass stain on your tights and chocolate all over your dress. Your sister gets a speck of pollen on her dress and starts to cry. You take off running for the swingset deaf to your mother’s appeals, promptly fall and get grass stain all over your tights.


9:30 am: Your father has yet to shower, but your mother looks like she’s ready to go to a yacht party in Monte Carlo with Cary Grant. Her high heels precisely match the indigo of her low cut, full skirted linen dress. She wears a shiny gold choker and matching earrings, and you think she looks quite fabulous, despite the fact  that if she’d asked,  you would have gone with something with a bit more pizazz (ruffles, feathers, sequins), but no one ever asks. She taps her heel against the floor of Dad’s study and suggests that he might hurry up if you’re going to have a prayer (no pun intended) of finding a seat. Dad sits in a leather chair of roughly the same color and condition as his bathrobe. He looks irritated at having been distracted from a book about either golf or Kilimanjaro or maybe both. You cross your fingers and hope your father ignores this request. “I, for one, don’t need to go to church,” you say, in your best approximation of a world-weary thirty-six year old. “I mean, don’t we all know the story?” Your mother warns you against blasphemy and shoots your father a “see, this is why we should take them to church” look. Your sister asks for some orange juice. Your mother sighs. Your father tells you that Hemingway once climbed Kilimanjaro and he was a master of concision. “Have you read A Moveable Feast, bud?” You haven’t. You are nine. Your mother sighs like her last nerve has finally given.

9:55 am: You sit on the sofa in the den with your sister, disappointed that there are no cartoons, only church programming, which is boring and weird, though sometimes they wear interesting costumes. It is clear you will not be attending Sunday School, which is fine with you, because Sunday School is always boring. A few months ago,  you spent the night at Kristina’s house and went to her Sunday School class at the Lutheran Church where you learned two important things: 1) Martin Luther was not the biological father of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.and 2) Palm Sunday has nothing to do with Jesus taking the disciples to Miami beach for a little r&r. It’s hard to say which of these realizations was more disappointing to you. After you told her about it,  your mother took you to back toSunday School at the evangelical church she grew up in  for a few consecutive Sundays because she thought you might learn something about the Bible. But really all you did was memorize the titles of the books of the Old Testament with the promise of a prize. So you did, thinking that prize might include a Walkman, but after you rattled them off, the Sunday School teacher told you the prize was Jesus’ love and the promise of everlasting salvation, which sounded like bullshit to you, and because you mentioned it to the Sunday school teacher, you’ll never return to Sunday School again. You wrangle the remote from you sister and manage to catch the conclusion of Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” on Mtv.

10:10 am: The airing of Madonna’s “Material Girl” video prompts a frantic dance party. Your three-year-old sister knows all the words. You indicate that you have a personal relationship with Madonna. Your sister appears to believe you.

10:35 am: The entire family loads into Dad’s sputtering Saab. Your grown-out  bangs have liberated themselves from the bow. Your mother tries to correct this as you fiddle with the rapidly expanding hole in your tights. The backseat is cramped, and feels more so because the red felt upholstery covering the ceiling sags like an old lady’s panty hose and threatens to engulf you.. Your mother reminds your father that there will be neither parking nor seating still available at the church. Your sister breathes. It irritates you. You ask her nicely to stop breathing and she takes the opportunity to smack her lips in your ears. By the time you get to the expressway, you’re hitting her and she’s biting you. Both of you insist that the other one started it. Your mother threatens punishment if the violence continues. Your sister keeps slurping. You raise a hand as a warning. Your sister screams that you hit her.

10:52 am: A parking space is discovered in the drive-thru lane of the Biltmore Village branch of Wachovia. You hustle over the green in front of the Church, where two ushers try and direct the bottleneck of tardy parishioners. Inside they’re already vamping on the pipe organ and some guy with a French horn,  and you hope maybe this year you will get a seat with a decent view of the stage. But of course you don’t. You’re directed to the furthest back corner of the side arm of the cross-shaped sanctuary, which pretty much guarantees you will see nothing but the procession and recession. Once seated you crane your neck, see a few of your friends and try to get up and go see them, but are directed to sit down or else by your mother who mutters that she needs a cigarette and a Bloody Mary.

11:00 am-12:00pm: Stand up. Sit down. Kneel. Stand up. Kneel. Sit down. Sit down. Stand Up. And also with you. Scoot the embroidered prayer bench back and forth using the heels of your shoes against the stone floor. Pick up the Book of Common Prayer. Put It Back. Pick It Up. Skim the Text. Add “in the bedroom” to the end of every sentence. Giggle. Ask your mother for a mint. Flip through the hymnal. Add “In the Bedroom” to the end of every title. Tilt your head back to look at the people in the stained glass. Try to figure out which one of them is supposed to be Jesus. Ask Jesus for a Walkman. Ask Jesus for a copy of “Like A Virgin.” Think about being a nun. Wish you were Catholic so you could be a nun. Figure you’d make it in a convent about a week, but at least you’d figure out what kind of underwear they wear. Twiddle your thumbs. Mess with the hole in your tights. Wish your guardian angel still brought your presents. Listen to your mother explain, again, that all the flowers in the front of the church came from the Biltmore Estate. Find the choir sort of boring. Sit down. Stand up. Ask if you take communion because you’d like a snack. Get denied. Go with your Dad while he takes communion and kneel beside him on the bench. Get blessed by the priest, who is wearing a fabulous sparkly gold poncho. Mention this to the priest. Get blessed again.   Go back to seat. Be bored. Try to make faces at friends across the church. Stand up. Ask if it’s almost over. Thrill at the recession. Watch an acolyte stumble while carrying a candle. Wonder if you’d survive if they had to evacuate the church in a hurry.

12:05 p.m: Help yourself to iced butter cookies from central table in fellowship hall. Find friends. Ignore little sister. Tell your friends that the Easter Bunny brought you a Walkman. Pretend not to hear when little sister calls you a liar. Walk outside and try to enter as many closed doors as you can. Get shepherded back inside by your neighbor, who teaches your gifted class at the  elementary school. Ask her if it’s true that the Episcopal Church only exists because Henry VIII wanted a divorce. Glow with praise that you are precocious. Figure being called precocious at church means that God wants you to have a Walkman. Think that all the cool people you know have divorced parents. Wonder how long it will be before your parents get divorced (four years).

12:30 p.m: Drive to the Biltmore Estate, access using Dad’s pass, which he has because he does all the advertising. Listen to your mother ooh and ah over the spring greening of the grass. Wonder why there’s so much bamboo on the estate and no pandas. Ask to go to the house. Get told that you’re just going to the gardens to take pictures. Sulk because the gardens are boring. Walk through greenhouse. Get posed with your little sister. Ham it up for photographs. Try to appear as if you are a glamorous movie star. Get annoyed when your father does not take a picture of every single one of your practiced facial expressions—furious, distraught, sultry, tragic, “Starring Linda Carter as Wonder Woman.” Run out through the tulips, imagining that Han Solo or ideally David M. from your gifted class will pop out of the jonquils to receive your theatrical embrace. Imagine that you are a princess. Imagine that you live in the house and all the other people around you are peasants. Call someone a peasant under your breath. Feel bad. Know that as princess you would abdicate to lead the peasant revolt. Ask your dad for fifty cents to buy a Fresca from the vending machines. Wish you were in the throes of an epic romance. Make plans to call David later and ask him if he likes you and then hang up before he responds. Complain that your father is wasting all his film on your stupid sister.

1:45 p.m: Arrive at  Club. Immediate take off for Ladies Lounge to lounge on the sofa for a little while, pretending that every woman that comes in is a guest at your Parisian salon. Make rounds through dining room, greeting all your friends. Brag about your haul from the Easter Bunny while finding some way to highlight the tragedy of not receiving a Walkman. I mean, I got a Wham tape, but what does the Easter Bunny expect me to play it on? The Fisher Prince tape player. God, I think not. Get called out on having previously lied about the Walkman.  Get told by at least six people that the Easter Bunny isn’t real. Explain that you know that, but that your three-year-old sister does not and so you have to go on pretending. This is absolutely true. Explain to no one that you are terrified of an evil, Easter Bunny doppelganger that haunts the pre-dawn hours of Easter morning. After all, that one might be real. You don’t really have any hard evidence one way or the other. So better safe than sorry.

2:00 p.m: Order a Shirley Temple and join the Easter buffet line for large helpings of some sort of casserole, chicken salad, overcooked scalloped potatoes and whatever seafood options are available. Avoid the beef for fear that it might be too chewy. Excuse yourself to return to the Ladies’ lounge at least three times during the meal. Practice an English accent. Practice an Irish accent. Practice a Russian accent. Think your French accent is pretty believable. Elect yourself chair of an imaginary committee. Try to replicate the opening dancing sequence from “West Side Story.” Perform a “Camelot” medley. Pretend to be imprisoned. Practice your swoon. Think you have tremendous natural talent as a tap-dancer. Flush a bar of soap down one of the toilets. Try to hide in the lobby. Run into Teresa in the hallway. Encourage her to play Cabaret Singer by Day/ Spy by Night in the bar. Discourage Teresa from inviting Erin, your nominal best friend to play along. Erin will want to add babies into the mix. Everyone knows that a glamorous spy would have nothing to do with a baby. War is hell. Tough women have to make sacrifices. Dodge the Gestapo all the way back to the dining room.

2:30 p.m: Convene outside the Pro Shop for the Annual Easter Egg Hunt in and around the tennis courts and the eighteenth hole. Listen as some guy in a green golf shirt with David Cassidy hair  who looks like he’d rather be tokin’ up for topless coed volleyball explain that there will be prizes for the most eggs collected. And one lucky person stumble upon the Magical Golden Egg that contains a magical prize for one very special little girl or boy. This last bit is delivered in a monotone. Look at Erin and roll your eyes. The countdown begins. Three. Two. Egg Hunt.

2:35 p.m: You’ve been shoved, elbowed, trampled and roundly inconvenienced. You’ve crawled through pine mulch to retrieve two or three empty plastic eggs under a buggy rhododendron. You’re too short to reach the high places and too tall to crawl around under the shrubbery, and you do have some dignity, not to mention three new holes in your tights and a lot of pine needles stuck to your pinafore. Erin has managed all the same things without getting one single thing on her pink smocked dress. Which defies logic. Likewise the fact that what’shisface has found the Magical Golden Egg for the second year running. Amy tells you that what’shisface goes to Asheville Catholic and has a real Pac-Man machine in his house. Also he breakdances. You are so over breakdancers. You tell Amy he’s probably lying about the Pac-Man machine. And you should know. You’ve absolutely told that lie before.

2:38 p.m: The magical golden egg is not magical at all. It’s a plastic pantyhose egg spray-painted gold. Contained inside, however, is a ten-dollar bill which pretty much the most magical thing you can take to the mall. What’shisface walks through the crowd cradling his prize with a smug grin and as much swagger as a four-foot tall third grader with a clip-on tie can muster. That guy is a dork, says Amy; because dork is about the worst thing you know to call someone. I don’t like him, you say. One of the boys flips him the bird and gets in trouble. You have no idea what flipping someone the bird means and are terrified of appearing uncool so you do not ask. It will take another three years before you figure it out.

2:55 p.m: Your mother takes a million years to finish talking and leave. You try to get Kristina to invite you back over for a sleepover at her house, despite the fact that you were there the weekend before. Kristina has a laundry chute large enough to crawl through, a Persian cat and a large, round sunken hot tub. Last time you stayed over at  Kristina’s you kept her up all night to her parent’s great consternation and taught Kristina and her seven year old brother the word “motherfucker,” which you’d recently learned from your neighbors, who are all gross boys, but useful in small doses. It does not cross your mind that you’ve done anything wrong. Even after you are never invited to Kristina’s house to spend the night ever again.

3:15-9:15 p.m: Return home. Eat candy. Sit in the kitchen hallway eavesdropping on your mother’s telephone conversation while your sister falls asleep on the sofa to HBO. Later your dad will play a Miles Davis record and you will eat a grilled cheese. “The Sound of Music” will be broadcast tonight on one of the networks and you just can’t get enough of the nuns. You will be made to go to bed just after the wedding, but before the Von Trapps must run from the Nazis. You will be unable to fall asleep and sit up reading one of the four books you have squirreled away beneath your covers the light of the streetlamp. You have survived Easter.

Past Lives

Nostalgia / Personal History / Women

In my favorite episode  (4) of my favorite season (2) of one of my Desert Island Top 5 favorite televisions shows (“Fleabag”)an acknowledged Hot Priest stops on a meander through a drunken crisis of faith to ask the protagonist if she’s a nostalgic person. He admits that he can hardly encounter Winnie the Pooh in the wild without turning into a sobbing wreck, and they share a moment of heartfelt reverence for Piglet. It’s hardly the most memorable exchange in that episode( and in fact, so far from it, that you’d be forgiven if you’ve seen it six times and have no idea what I’m talking about).

I think about it all the time, though,  for I, too, am an intensely  nostalgic person. Pooh is not my poison, maybe because I grew up in the U.S .on a steady diet of 1970s and 1980s kid-friendly pop culture, (which, in retrospect seems like it was engineered at the time to produce an endlessly addictive nostalgia high some thirty to forty years later).  My list of particular nostalgia triggers is pretty varied (it includes everything from Chaka Khan to “The Pirates of Penzance” to the smell of a Pizza Hut). The Muppet universe pretty much wrecks me.  I cannot listen to Kermit the Frog, or anyone really, sing “The Rainbow Connection” without blubbering all over myself (the last verse slays).  

Quality has little to do with nostalgia triggers. Objectively speaking, I’m not sure Maxell cassettes smell good. I mostly hate Mr. Big’s “I’m The One Who Wants To Be With You” even though it transports me in the back of a friend’s mom’s station wagon at peak fifteen like I’m on some kind of virtual reality ride at Psychology Funland. For me, anyway, nostalgic things are different from influential things. The latter are on some level aspirational, thus future focused, and sometimes challenging at first bite; the former are well-worn magnets that draw you back to the past. This is not to say that influential things are always objectively “better” (witness the eyerolls whenever I try to talk about what “The Legend of Billie Jean” means to me) but they do more than provide a comfortable balm and a bar anecdote.

Like most intoxicants, nostalgia should be enjoyed responsibly. People get weird when they start overdosing. They take it too seriously, and freak out if anyone says anything questionable about their favorite nostalgic triggers, terrified that if we start recontextualizing the beloved things of our pasts we might undo the magic that transformed the stuffed rabbit on a trash heap into a wild hare in the moonlight. I’m a person that loves to deconstruct essentially trivial stuff, but even I get tetchy when it comes to excavating my own nostalgia. Like, I know “The Goonies” is a problematic text and I still love it. And I don’t actually want to think too deeply about the Jennifer Connelly/David Bowie age difference in “Labyrinth,” or what it says about me and girlhood in the 80s that I always thought they should have ended up together.It’s hard when things get ruined. I mean, a possibly unfillable hole exists in my best party playlist where “P.Y.T” used to be, even if that song is done for me these days.

Nostalgia is not the real past, not even close. It’s just a candle that smells a little like your grandma’s house. You can get lost in a collage of evocative, if anodyne fragments and mistake them for actual history. And that’s dangerous because the 90 minute mixtape version of the past tends to edit a lot of narrative out, in favor of mood. Which is why the embedded version of the 80s in pop culture never forgets “Ghostbusters” but mostly leaves out H.I.V.

As a person that spends a fair amount of time writing about the past, and specifically my own, I can tell you that it is hard to navigate around the nostalgia when you’re trying to tell something true. I write a fair amount about my own teenage and young adult years. I was a pretty miserable teenager, dealing with a lot of uncomfortable, depressing, infuriating crap. I was also extraordinarily lucky, as far as relative level of privilege was concerned. I escaped any violence and oppression and real material want. I never starved, either for sustenance or familial affection. I went to a fancy high school with a 100% college acceptance rate, where I learned at least as much about indie rock, post-modern novels, and what cool Europeans wanted to dance to and as I did about Shakespeare and Modern European History ( and significantly more than I did about math).

Those years were a storm of worry, boredom, and gutting sadness, inconsistently broken by hilarity and thrill and waves of near-euphoric anticipation, probably enhanced by a steady diet of black coffee, Camel Lights, the 3.99 Vegetarian Taco Loco from my favorite Mexican greasy spoon, and increasingly, almost competitively obscure track listings on friend-made mixtapes. And note, even as I write this, I am falling prey to the nostalgia version, woven into everything I write about that time. Sometimes it so threatens to supplant my actual lived experience that I have a hard time remembering what was real and what is a figment, conjured by an air freshener that smells like Salon Selectives and/or the opening bars of Tears for Fears “Break It Down Again”(still a banger), of my high school best friend, drunk at seventeen, dancing wildly on her front porch in a lavender shorts and argyle knee socks in the dead of winter.

I’ve revisited that story, even told that story, a bunch of times, and every time I forget  that  she was heartbroken that night. That I, myself, had shown up at her house in tears. That our world was mostly populated by other fucked up and heartbroken teenagers, a handful of often fucked up and heartbroken adults doing the best they could, and a whole world of people that we–ourselves posers, liars, fakers and pathologically desperate to be cool– had only begun to realize were not who or what they seemed.

Years ago, a friend, who went to the same high school as I did, but a few years later, heard a few of my stories and lamented that her experience hadn’t been fun like mine. The school, she said, sounded so much better when I was there. I laughed itoff. I may have even agreed, already old enough to have fallen under the sway of nostalgia, to have edited the playlist so I wouldn’t wreck the mood. But caused me to dig in the stacks, revisit a few songs I hadn’t heard in a while, and reflect that it’s a whole lot easier to tell a story about something wholly good or something wholly bad, than one that is equivocal or complicated.

None of us live in a vacuum. Our experiences touch others and others’ shape ours. Nostalgia can erase that complexity so completely that when you’re remind of it, it can feel like a slap in the face. No wonder we get defensive, no wonder our first impulse is to minimize, if not flat out deny, things we once knew to be true, the things we know to be true if you just widen the frame on the memory.

I’m not a journalist or historian, despite occasional feints. I don’t tell other people’s stories unless they tell me to, and even then I do my best to call it fiction. I have learned that lesson the hard way. So even I as stick to the (unreliable?) narration of my own experience, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a whole other story, in which I may or may not play a part at all, happening off camera, or left on the editing room floor in someone else’s memory palace.

I am trying to reckon with the past without the distraction of nostalgia, because I don’t want to forget all the hard stuff, because I don’t want the hard stuff to happen again, or more accurately, to keep happening. Because, if I’ve learned anything from both activists and  nostalgia-bait time travel movies, it is that often the first step to changing the future is changing the way you view the past.

I am trying to remember that.

I am trying to remember.

I am trying.

Artifacts

Family History

Nana had a little three drawer chest by her bed that she used as a nightstand. On top she kept and ashtray and a little dish full of hair pins that she used to secure her sleep scarves. These were always chiffon, usually pink, yellow or lavender and lived in the drop drawer of the chest. The other drawers were also full of scarves, but silk, the kind  you wore with a sweater or blouse. They were all colors, with bright prints and sometimes French names printed across the bottom. When I was a very little girl, she’d let me take them out while she sat at her wide vanity, lining her eyes in a magnifying mirror. I’d drape them all over myself and run to the closet mirror, soft ends unfurling about me like a small, pigeon-toed human kite, then I’d open the closet, which smelled like leather and gently lift the lids on a wall of shoeboxes.

I was a curious child. Inclined to open every lid without a lock and cabinet I could reach. Some adults found this trait horrifying and impolite, but Nana never minded, even encouraged. If she saw me pulling at a brass draw pull or nosing behind a rack of old kimonos and evening gowns, she’d often help, ask me about what I found, and afterwards keep an eye, as a I carefully put what I found back into place. She’d send me on a coat closet safari to find lighters she left in jacket pockets. “And if you find any money, you can keep it.” My ever-generous grandfather, observing and not to be outdone, tried to pull the same trick, except he also left a Hershey bar and twenty-five dollars in the pocket. That was, for me, at nine, a tycoon-level score, but an obvious gift. Nana’s felt more organic, even serendipitous. There weren’t always dollars in the pockets, and if there were, no guarantee how many, or how deep into the closet you’d have to go looking. It was somewhere between archeology and gambling, which, as it happens, is a fair description of the antiques business.

It suited me. The quest. If I got the hunger and curiosity from Nana, I got the mythos from the other side of my family–my paternal grandfather, who spent his whole life the sole protagonist of as yet-unwritten Arthurian legend (the only Knight of the Round Table to be felled by cirrhosis in Defuniak Springs, Florida). There wasn’t a corner safe from my inspection, a shelf protected from my wandering fingers. I was tireless in my efforts to see what was there, and if I was very lucky, find some reward, either tangible or intangible.

Occasionally, I found things I knew I should not have —a Highboy drawer full of blue-boxed dolls meant to be doled out as Christmas and birthday present presents, a black and white snapshot what appeared to be a dead man among ruined aircraft on a South Pacific beach, the cold barrel of a revolver under the edge of quilt. When that happened, I knew I’d gone a step too far, and I was always quick to shut the drawer, but not before I catalogued the contents. Sometimes, I’d return to see if the items had moved. The gun stuck around until it was sold after my grandfather died, the last doll lived in in box in the drawer for decades after I outgrew her, but the photograph, which still haunts me, disappeared so quickly after I saw it, I wonder, to this day, if I imagined it.

I don’t know what happened to Nana’s scarves or what became—or perhaps what will become–of the little chest that held them. In the years before she died and the months since, the catalog of things missing or unknown is greater than or equal to the text messaged snapshots of flowerpots, cake pans, dessert plates, baskets  and Pyrex–so much Pyrex—that well-intentioned relatives have sent me in these last remaining weeks of Nana’s house still being her house.

A half year out from her death, we’re in the scrambling, tidy-up section of the grief process, where it is assumed settlement brings closure. Nana’s house—not the one I visited in childhood with all the magical closets, but the one she move to after my grandfather’s death—sold quickly. It’s a hot housing market out there, even in the places you don’t expect. What’s left in the unloading, the parceling out, the arguments, the antique dealers, the estate sales, the junk collectors. Nana was a person who measured her life in beautiful things, which makes the process of figuring out where things go unusually complicated. Because every item seems valuable, every object imbued, even the ones that actually aren’t worth much.

My mother and my aunt are hard at the business end. The negotiations, the arrangments, the various checklists and forms and contracts and appraisals. Theirs is a numbers game, prices and dates, and estimates that offer a relatively stable, objective filter and an orderly to-do list that purports to eschew sentimentality (it does not). It’s a well-trod path in the management of grief, because it addresses the hard, practical “No one wants this old thing and maybe someone will pay good money for it” as opposed to the sensory flights of fantasy that come when you handle an object and catch a whiff of her perfume or a scratch from her pen or remember how some fabric felt against your face when you were young and you still believed your grandmother was the most magical person in the world.

I always imagined I’d be part of the organizational process. I’d assemble the catalogue before the inevitable disbursement and disposal. I’d sort through that scarf drawer one last time. I’d count the gloves and handkerchiefs, the napkins, the decades old ledgers, even the Pyrex with the same curiosity, the almost archeological fervor Nana instilled in me. I might build narrative through the pieces, before they are scattered. Maybe I could even conjure some final impression of her, one that could feel just tangible, if imaginary, enough,  that I’d feel a sense of lightness as I let it go.

But you know, 2020. Covid. Life. Reality. I am a grandchild—one of three–not a child. I don’t live there. It wasn’t the right time. There honestly just wasn’t time.

And in reality, I don’t know that long days of packing boxes and sorting through the incidental detritus of a life, even a life as materially lovely as Nana’s, would have provided any critical substance to her biography or allowed any useful vehicle for my grief. Because no tablecloth, no chandelier, no chest of draws, no number of hairpray-scented chiffon scarves can even begin to fill the empty space she left.  

I miss her being in the world more than I can say, though I know she lived a long life, and nothing, not even Nanas, last forever. But selfishly, and with even greater intensity, I miss her being in the world for me. Because while I’m often a mess and famously kind of a fuck-up, Nana loved me like I was beyond reproach, like I was practically perfect in every way. Even if she was momentarily peeved, even if there were parts of my life, as I got older, that I kept from her. It was like she knew and it didn’t matter. She made me feel like I lit up a room whenever she saw me, even if she was the only one that noticed the glow.

Everyone should have that  kind of advocate in their life, that kind of full-heart support, even, especially, if we don’t deserve it. I know I’m lucky, enormously so, that I had that person as long as I did and had her for as long as I did. Remembering that allows me to float along as the grief ebbs and flows. It gives me the focus I need to keep digging around in the corners, looking for the traces of her magic still left in the world, and the lingering confidence of knowing that you have been well and truly loved, and may yet be again.

Plague Diary: March 15, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

Exactly one year ago and one day ago, I wrote the first plague diary.

It was early on in the pandemic, back when there was no toilet paper and we were hoarding dried lentils, back when we were all pretty sure we would keel over and die if we fetched the mail or made eye contact with a neighbor at any distance of less than 100 feet. Everything was closing up and yet, much of the world had not yet officially closed up, and I was spiraling into a panic attack that would last somewhere from three weeks to . . . well, it’s entirely possible I’m still in it, but it’s now just part of the landscape, almost comforting, not-even-“new” normal now.

I was having serious conversations with serious friends about impending food riots and when it was time to fill the bathtubs and write end of life requests on our chests in Sharpie, lest we take up too much valuable real estate in the hospital. I’d made what was one of my last unmasked supermarket trips to a local store full batshit panicked neighbors, where I ran into a friend whose wife had been hospitalized for kidney stones, and managed to drop a dozen eggs and a bottle of orange juice in the dairy aisle and just kind of stood there, unable to handle, while a shockingly nice employee tried to keep me from crumbling into a fetal position on a puddle of spoiled yolks. I remember thinking, This is the end. This is the end. This is the end, like I was a scratched Doors record. And I then I remember thinking, God, I hate The Doors. Of course, fucking Jim Morrison would come to mind at the end of the world.

It was some seriously bleak stuff, but you wouldn’t know that from the first plague diary (reproduced in entirety):

“3/14/20: I went on a long walk today because it was beautiful and sunny and there are flowers everywhere. When I got home, I wrote, I read, I worked on a puzzle, I m made dinner, I ate dinner. Afterwards, I realized I felt a chill, and my skin felt hot. I thought, “Oh God, this is it. High fever. First sign of COVID-19!” I went upstairs for the thermometer and while standing with it in my mouth I realized that I was deeply, hilariously, embarrassingly–like obvious t-shirt and bra-strap tanlines–sunburned from the hours I spent outside. (I was not running a fever). Anyway.”

In fairness, I was new at the gig. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with a plague diary, or even if doing a plague diary was a thing worth doing for more than a minute or two. My only model for plague diary-ing was Restoration-era oversharer and bewigged gadfly, Samuel Pepys, who covered 90% of his the holy shit, we’re about to get nailed by the bubonic plague hype via tossed off notes about things he overheard at the coffeeshop. People getting sick in Genoa then Avignon then traders in Amsterdam etc. This all sounds very ominous to our 21st pandemic-wracked brains (and it certainly was) but the dramatic tension was mitigated somewhat by the inevitable slowness of 17th century shipping speeds. Like, early modern pandemics didn’t have it easy like pandemics today. Like, the bubonic plague couldn’t just hop on a 737, circulate through a bunch of Cinnabon customers by the Duty-Free in the International Terminal, and infect all seven continents in the roughly amount of time it takes to receive an Amazon delivery. No, those old school pandemics had to wait on decent weather and an advantageous wind to, say, convey a vermin-infested boat across the English Channel and then a horse to walk uphill both ways (probably in the actual snow because Little Ice Age). Pepys’ was a creeping dread as opposed to a high speed train wreck. I’m not about to judge which one is better (though my gut says a train wreck with science is probably better than several extra months to get sold into marriage, die in childbirth or get burned as a witch while waiting for buboes to trend in Hampstead or whatever ), but the traumatic suddenness of Covid’s arrival circa 2021 certainly compromised my plans to be a classic, pithy, “just the facts and the jokes” diarist.

That was one year and one day 86 plague diaries, 369 marks on the interior of my office closet wall and won’t even tell you how many words ago. Everything has happened since then, despite the fact I’ve barely done anything except finish a bunch of jigsaw puzzles and write plague diaries. If you’ve read any of them, I don’t know whether to thank you or apologize—maybe both? I’m sure I’ve been plenty repetitive, anxious, frustrated and depressed. Because what has this whole experience been other than repetitive, anxious, frustrating and depressing.

There will be people out there in the coming weeks and months, as we become more vaccinated and less likely to have our groceries delivered, that will try to put some kind of positive spin on all this. They’ll talk about the critical reconnections with loved ones, the relaxing commute-less days, the myriad projects they’ve completed, and their hard won-resilience in the face of a global crisis. And good on them, I say. A manifestly shitty thing ought to have a few high points for some ordinary-ish people that are not, say, bajilliionaires profiting off a world of suffering.
To be completely honest, I had good days, too. I read some great books. I lounged on the deck in the sun watching the seasons pass around the pond. I did reconnect with friends, especially friends at a distance. I had hours long continent spanning phone conversations as I wandered down sun-dappled paths in a winter forest, like some chatty disturber of a Robert Frost poem. I listened to good music. I planted flowers. I spent more time with my best friend than I ever imagined possible, given our actual geographic distance, and it was just as dreamy as I imagined. I bought an irresponsible amount of the exact kind of clothes, shoes and statement earrings most sane people have spent Covid rejoicing at being able to avoid. I am the now the owner of two pairs glam rock boots (pointy toed glitter stars and heeled green metallic leather). I had a surprisingly glorious birthday. I upped my shortrib game. I swam in a lake with my favorite cousin. I hugged my mother. I made a killer batch of Vieux Carres.

Of course, a true accounting of the last year doesn’t stand without factoring in all the things I didn’t do. I didn’t hug my father or my sister. I didn’t see the ocean. I didn’t eat a single oyster. I didn’t fall in love. I didn’t lose my job or my home—and those are big ones. I did not get a positive Covid test result (and I hope I don’t). I did not complete a single home improvement project. I did not finish a novel. I did not perfect the Bill Evans version of “Here’ That Rainy Day” (it’s really hard, guys). I did not learn a language, although I achieved greater fluency in the dialects of grief. I did not bake a single loaf of bread. I did not talk to my grandmother in the forty-eight hours before she died. I did not ever get around to reading Proust.

In the grand scheme, I suppose all of this comes out as kind of a wash.

But then comes the big loss. 2.6 million people, 535,000 of them US citizens, were lost to Covid. That’s so many lives, breathtaking, unimaginable on those terms. And those numbers don’t reflect the many more lost, some of them people I loved, who died of other things because everything else didn’t stop just because Covid happen. And the ones who survived, but not unscathed. The long-haulers. The grieving friends and families. Then the first responders. The medical community. The millions of mostly overworked, underpaid people we’ve all depended on to do the jobs we’ve been unable or afraid to do over the last year. The number of people who are just totally burned out. The number of people who are unemployed and overstressed. The high school kids. God, I mean, sometimes I just can’ stop thinking about the high school kids.

Then, there’s the cafes that won’t come back. The bars that will stay shuttered. The clubs that have closed. The plays that didn’t open. The movies unscreened. The songs unperformed. The kisses unkissed. The gaps, the absences, the silences, the empty spaces, all the precious missing things we won’t even notice until we realize they haven’t come back, until we realize they can’t, that they won’t.

And even here, now, on the cusp of hope, there’s this sense that we’re nowhere close to a stable framework. We’re still talking about the new normal. We’re still, still trying to figure out if we should be afraid of it.

Why shouldn’t we be?

Why shouldn’t I be?

Among this year’s most trivial, yet surprisingly devastating losses was any notion that I am a brave, bold and/or useful person in moments of crisis. Turns out, I’m not. At all. And as a person with a Walter Mitty-ish fantasy life and strong impulse toward heroic narratives, it’s pretty disappointing (though probably not surprising to most of you) that when the shit well and truly hit the fan, I dealt with it way more like Little Edie Beale than, say, Imperator Furiosa. Like, here we are in a historic moment. Courageous souls are doing impossible things. Circumstances demand toughness, selfless dedication and keen insight. And !? I basically devolved into a full-tilt flibbertigibbet, playing dress up, and performing numbers from an imaginary musical on the stairwell for my cat while I re-alphabetized collections of not-exactly-critical necessities in my lonely house.

I’m pretty hard on myself, though (I’ve had honestly less people around to be hard on recently). And if I were talking about anyone else, I’d tell them that prolonged grief and global trauma is, at the very best, a perilous and unlikely path to self-improvement. Real life doesn’t operate like a superhero origin story or a heavily fictionalized inspirational memoir. That which does not kill us actually just makes us a little more fragile and unsteady when we finally start to stagger out into the other side. Living in a constant state of worry and uncertainty for a full calendar year+ does pretty weird things to a person. You need to cut yourself some slack.

I need to cut myself some slack.

And you’re free to remind me of that when I apologize for not writing a novel during quarantine whenever we’re out drinking together again. Which may . . . happen?

Probably not tomorrow. Probably not even next month. Maybe not even next season. But if I can make it through the next forty-eight hours without getting Covid, I have an appointment for my first vaccine Wednesday which, to a secular, depressed heathen, who probably doesn’t deserve it and is worries sick she’ll screw it up, tastes a little like hope and, after this year, after this terrible, no good, very bad year, feels about as close as I’ll ever get to what the church folks call grace.

86—wait—87 plague diaries. Shit.

Whenever we get to it. First round is on me.

Picture today is of yours truly being menaced by “gladiators” in the Roman forum, circa 2006. It is the Ides, after all.

As of this writing, 97,394,780 people have recovered from Covid-19. 359 million doses of vaccine have been administered.

Plague Diary, March 9, 2021

Plague Diaries / Women

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, which a friend on Facebook reminded me was one of the only two Communist Holidays celebrated in the other states. This makes sense to me. Why else would they have color coded girls pink if not for our collective devotion to socialist revolution?   

Unlike many of the rest of you, I did not spend the holiday putting up pictures of my mother or the late RBG or resharing that video of Maxine Waters talking to Megan Thee Stallion (If you haven’t seen it, please go seek it out, it’s absolutely delightful). I did however have a small surgical procedure aimed at removing a few (five to be precise) vexing fibroid tumors. It was outpatient, performed in a neoclassical office park in that part of peak Cary, where everything, including the homes, looks like it’s part of a neoclassical office park.

Because it was Covid, I went in alone, double-masked, had my vitals collected and IV loaded by a nurse who swore he was a master of locating anyone’s hometown by their accent. “You’re from New Jersey, aren’t you?” he asked.  (I’m not)

He also absolutely loved cruises. “Where else can you find that many drag queens, sparkly muumuus, and all you can eat lobster tails? I just about died when Covid made me cancel all of my cruise plans for last year?” he said. Then he told me that there was a real possibility I would be in considerable pain after the procedure. “Like period pain,” he said, “but worse.”

A few minutes later, the doctor performing the surgery stepped into give me a similar spiel once my IV was hooked in. I don’t think they were hitting me with rock star level narcotics yet, but I was certainly just woozed enough that I didn’t reflect too hard on another man trying to color in the edges of exactly how a thing would hurt that he could only understand in basic anatomical terms. “The way I understand it is that it’s going to be kinda like a bad period,” he said, and then I was wheeled off to surgery.

I drifted out to a conversation among the OR staff about the costumes in “Coming2America.” I was able to get in a comment about the genius of Ruth Carter. “Who’s Ruth Carter?” asked one of the nurses, also male. “The costume designer,” I said. “She won an Academy Award for ‘Black Panther.”

“Weird,” said the nurse, who sharpied x’s on my feet like my toes were trying to get into a hardcore show.  “I would have figured it would have been a man that did those things.”

Then the fentanyl hit  and my brain congealed to aspic.  

A few hours later, I was dressed and sitting in a wheelchair on the office-park sidewalk with the cruise-loving nurse. “Remember to get ahead of the pain,” he said. “It could get pretty bad.”

“And by pretty bad, you mean.”

 “I told you,” he said. “Like a really bad period.”

I shrugged this off, half-amused half-annoyed by grown men talking about my periods.I felt a little sore, but okay. I thought, Men don’t have the foggiest notion of female pain. Then I thought, I don’t have the foggiest notion of how it feels to get kneed in the balls either, but at least it’s not my job to try and describe it to somehow who is about to have it done.

I slid into my mother’s car. We drove home. By the time I walked into my front door, I ‘d skipped right up the pain scale, from a mildly uncomfortable 3.5 to a bursts of “I might pass out” 10. It was the kind screaming, edge-of-reason pain that was barely touched by pharmaceuticals. I was rendered mute, with no thought but holy shit, this hurts.  It was, as I  described to a friend this morning, once things had settled down (they did settle down, considerably, I’m now sitting on the porch, upright, a little achey, but mostly fine, having exchanged the narcotics for ibuprofen about twelve hours ago), “Rather like being shot in the lady business with a flaming cannonball, and the flaming cannonball got stuck there.” It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, and I say this as someone who’s had a concussion, an abscessed tooth and an infected gall bladder (though not at the same time). I know hurt from hurt.

In case anyone needs to know,  this is not what “having bad period cramps” feels like. To describe it relation to would be sort of like the difference between a papercut and having an arm amputated without anaesthesia while a whole hive of yellow jackets stings your feet.  Simply does not compute. Simply does not compare.

In the moments of yesterday when I could sneak in a few rounds of rational thought before the next wave, I kept coming back around again to watching  “WandaVision” over the weekend, because evidently Marvel properties are the new standard for how I’m weathering these challenging times. “WandaVision” was a pretty entertaining, well made, often silly superhero show that also managed to be about what it means to be a woman in such misunderstood and unmanageable pain that it overwhelms the world and creates another one made entirely of grief forced into the shape of nostalgia.

I wondered yesterday whether what I was feeling was so great that it could spill out and infect others. It seemed impossible I could feel something so tremendous without it leaving some kind of toxic afterglow that would  seep out from beneath the door and roll out around the neighborhood like a bruising miasma, until it was consumed by everything I was feeling. I wasn’t sure I could even come up with words to describe it and yet, here we are.

The ultimate goal of the surgery was less pain long term, which I guess is a trade-out for yesterday. Still I feel like I’m 100% the kind of weenie that would have maybe backed out if I’d known in advance what yesterday felt like. I definitely would have backed out if yesterday had gone on for days. There are people in the world who take perverse pleasure from what they endure. I’m not one of those people. I don’t think we learn anything from pain except for what pain is, and if we have any empathy at all, that we should be doing everything possible to limit the amount of pain people feel. Because, no way it’s good for you, no matter what your weirdo ex or  your fitness instructor says.

In the meantime, it’s about 70 out and sunny. I feel almost miraculously better, but I’m just superstitious enough that I’m not making a big deal about it. Just in case.

Happy International Women’s Day (a day late).

Picture is of my xed out ankles. One day later.

As of this writing, 93,715, 490 people have recovred from Covid-19. 313 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide.

45 Things

Uncategorized

My birthday was over the weekend. I turned 45, an impossible seeming age. I was thinking doing some list of media–45 best records, books etc–but instead, I decided to be even more self-indulgent and share with you the 45 most important things I’ve learned in this first 45 years. If I’m still around at 90, I’ll consider an update.

For now though, and without further ado, wisdom!

1. Only talk shit about your own mother, hometown, spouse, dietary restriction, region or nation of origin, even (especially?) if it seems like the person you’re talking to is inviting you to do otherwise.

2. Having a bed that is easy to make-up makes it a lot easier to make up your bed every day. Also, decorative throw pillows are an attractive way to conceal your half-assed job.

3. Finish the first draft before you revise. Know that it’s cool to abandon a thing if it’s not working.

4. Money may not be the end all be all, but’s easier to say that if you have plenty. At the very least, as the philosopher said, it changes everything.

5. The kids are all right. It’s probably just that you’re too old and boring to understand the appeal of either Tik Tok or Taylor Swift.

6. If a job requires a license to do, you should probably not do it yourself, even if you have watched a YouTube video.

7. Always punch up.

8. Everyone suffers. Anyone can have a bad year. No one handles things well all the time. Any person that claims otherwise is trying to indoctrinate you into a cult.

9. The secret is probably more butter and salt than you want to admit.

10. After a certain age, you can either have one more drink or stay up late. Pick one.

11. The harder you try to not be like your parents the more you doom yourself to people telling you just how much like them you are.

12. Do what you love, but, like, understand that even people who actually do the thing you love and are successful at it most likely have a reliable secondary source of income. Thus:

13. You don’t have to love your day job (you probably won’t), but you’re going to need it, so it helps if it’s tolerable.

14. It’s absolutely fine to wear black and navy together. Or jeans to weddings. Or tutus to the supermarket. Or white after labor day. But seriously what is the point of white jeans? Who do these work for? Who are you? Do you live in an actual bubble? I’m asking genuinely.

15. Shockingly, other people really don’t notice the vast majority of things you’re self-conscious about. Even more shockingly, most people don’t notice you at all, and if they do it’s for a fleeting second. So you might as well double up on the sequins.

16. As an adult in America, it is extremely helpful to know of at least one lawyer you could call, even if it’s just to get a referral to another lawyer, because you’re never actually going to read the fine print.

17. Tell at least one person where you’re going, especially if it’s a trip abroad, a political demonstration, a hospital or a hike to a remote area. This person should maybe not be your mother, unless, what? You want to give her a heart attack from the worry? What kind of monster are you?

18. Taxis are cheaper than DUIs. If possible, live walking distance from at least once decent bar.

19. Things that are personal are always more interesting than things that are perfect. Taste is rarely about how well things go together but how they artfully don’t.

20. The best argument for honesty is how exhausting it is to keep track of the things you’ve lied about.

21. The difference between a delightfully quirky personality trait and a deeply exasperating pathology can be measured in as little as half an hour alone in a room with a person. Which is a thing you should definitely keep in mind when thinking about long term relationships of any kind

22. In most cases, you’re better off never telling anyone the identity of your secret crush other than (maybe) your secret crush. This is doubly true if you are a teenager.

23. It is perfectly fine to think a piece of art or media is sublime and life changing or absolute garbage . It is less fine to think a person is garbage for feeling however differently about said piece of art or media than you do (your favorite band, however, is overrated).

24. Like most things marketed toward women, bras are an absolute racket. If you’re the sort of person that needs/wants one, never pay full price.

25. It is shockingly easy to not be an asshole to people, especially strangers, especially people in service jobs, who are just trying to survive and get through their shift. You never know who is having the worst day of their life. Related: Tip generously. Always.

26. The crazy thing you’ve always wanted to do with your hair? Do it, but see 6. Especially if it involves bleach.

27. The only scenario more potentially catastrophic than buying a car from a family member is going into business with your best friends. Related: good clients can become close friends. Close friends almost never make good clients.

28. Always check your sources.

29. The coolest, smartest, most awesome person you can think of still probably mangles the pronunciation of a word horrifically every now and then. Especially if they’re speaking French. Especially *especially *if they’re speaking French in Paris to a Parisian.

30. Technically, you can get away with putting a lot of things in the washing machine that say you can’t. You just have to remember to NEVER PUT THEM IN THE DRYER, unless you’re keen to turn your favorite cashmere sweater into a thoughtful gift for a corgi.

31. People do not want to hear your opinion on what they should name their baby, which is a real shame because I have some great ideas. FYI: Tiberius is an A+ name, regardless of gender, and you’re all cowards.

32. In nearly every conceivable context: “I told you so” is better thought than spoken aloud. Even though we all knew that relationship/business/brief foray into macrobiotic scientology Cross Fit was ABSOLUTELY DOOMED.

33. It’s a good idea to have more than one LBD, because once a dress becomes a funeral dress, it’s hard for it to cross back from wake to a dance floor. That said, the absolute best funerals are the ones that are most like parties, so anything’s possible.

34. If you’re having people for dinner, it’s wise to cook enough to feed the people who forgot the RSVP. Because they’ll probably show.

35. It turns out that some of your grandmother’s etiquette lessons– the ones you used to roll your eyes to?—will spare you so much cringe. Also, thank you notes can do a lot of heavy lifting.

36. Flip flops are for beaches and pools. They are never, ever for large cities. I don’t care how they do it in Florida. Related: nothing ruins travel faster than the wrong pair of shoes.

37. Apologizing well is hard. Forgiving someone is harder. Forgiving yourself is really hard. Forgiving yourself for never seeing Prince live in concert when you actually had the opportunity and INEXPLICABLY PASSED? Perhaps the hardest thing of all.

38. Most of us have a surprisingly small window in which we can justifiably blame our families for ruining our lives while still expecting room, board and unconditional love in return It’s a real gift, seventeen-year-olds. Enjoy it while you can.

39. People do change. All the time. But rarely in the ways you expect and almost never the way you want. Which is an important thing to remember when you’re trying to figure out why all your old punk rock friends are into jam bands all the sudden.

40. You do change. All the time. But rarely in the ways you expect and never to the degree that you want. Which is an important thing to remember when you’re still the same clumsy, fat person with weird skin, gappy teeth, social anxieties and not great hair as you were at seventeen. It’s not ideal, but on the plus, dry shampoo is a real game-changer, you still fit into your prom dress, and that tooth gap is kind of on trend these days.

41. Exercise is not complete horseshit; it’s kind of an emotional lifesaver, and and there are plenty of incredibly rewarding ways to do it that don’t involve people yelling at you, blowing whistles, groaning, talking about sweat, and trying to compete with you. Oh, and, this may blow your mind, but it turns out running is a lot easier after you quit smoking.

42. It’s completely human to do a thing just to get the tote bag. Just make sure you remember to cancel the subscription.

43. The best and most reliable places to pee while travelling are almost always the lobby bathrooms of fancy hotels.

44. I don’t know if it’s responsible or preferable to regret the thing you have done versus the thing you haven’t. I can say the former will give you way better story material.

45. Make good friends. And when you know you have one (you’ll know), don’t take them for granted. They are invaluable. They can make your life worth living. Understand that they will totally expect you to reciprocate if you ask them to help move your record collection. Don’t be a jerk. Do it.

Plague Diary: February 18, 2021

COVID / Plague Diaries

: It’s probably bad form and almost certainly bad luck to tell you that I well and truly hit the low point on Covid/the 2020s/life on Wednesday. There are things beyond pale and places past the rock of the rock bottom. Personal nadirs, unlike the Alamo, usually have basements to spare. So let’s stick with the sidewise pop cultural references and instead say that we 100% reached a new low, but without the bouncy chorus.

As it happens, said low appropriately occurred spitting distance of Cats Cradle, at about 4:30 in the afternoon when the first wave of plague-reduced rush hour traffic at the fork or Rosemary and E. Main Streets was greeted by the sight of my ghostly pale, fat backside that had somehow liberated itself of underpants static-clung to the high-waisted (lies), tummy smoothing (damned lies) performance (fair) leggings as I wriggled out from the beneath my car, butt-first in the direction of the oncoming cars. I’d ended up down there because the black plastic brick that now constitutes a car key slipped from the keychain as I walked by on the sidewalk with a takeout burrito and a hard copy of the Indy (for crosswords and kindling purposes) and traveled apace to a spot on the asphalt uniquely out of reach from any direction. There were no sticks nearby and whatever long handled tools (ice scraper? umbrella?) were inside the car inconveniently locked over its fugitive key. Adding to the full red-faced horror of the situation was the fact that I am a claustrophobe, a condition that seems to worsen as I age. I can barely walk under a bridge these days without my heart rate rising, (you would be amazed at the lengths I go when I have to haul out my recalcitrant cat from under the bed), so when I realized my only option was to shimmy under my automobile, it was actively nightmarish.

And that was before my pants decided to head south.

The truth was I should have expected it. The whole day had mostly been a disaster, from the moment I overslept, and woke, groggy to multiple new alerts informing me that, as well as democracy ending, the planet collapsing and pandemic sucking every reason worth living from living for the indefinite future, none of my friends in Texas had power or potable drinking water, and oh yes, PS, I was also under a winter storm warning.

As a career catastrophist with, cruising into Year Two of “Fears Being Tidily Being Realized” with a real fear of being alone in the indefinite cold and dark, this was exactly the sort of information I needed to crawl back under the covers for a cathartic wail. Just the night previous (Tuesday), I’d regaled the screenful of faces that passes as a social life in these trying times that I’d hit a previously undiscovered country of Covid-related malaise that found me sitting on the sofa early in the week, letting supermarket stracciatella gelato melt over my hands from its leaking contain as I, a grown woman who never even read a comic book until she was thirty-five, Sicilian wake style wept at a Marvel movie (Was it recognizing the real loss of Chadwick Boseman? Was it the evident real world bankruptcy of the beautiful idea that people work together to fix things? Was it the very idea of a happy ending existing ever, for anyone? Why yes! Yes to all). “That,” I had assured my friends, “was definitely the low point.” Thereby assuring my certain doom via cavalier use of a definite article.

The under covers wailing didn’t make me feel any better, and by that point the energy company had sent a panic reminder with a “BE PREPARED FOR A MULTIDAY POWER OUTTAGE.” I realized I was almost out of firewood. I berated myself for my hedonistic and irresponsible use of the fireplace on occasions I didn’t actually need it for warmth. I called around to a variety of local business and found that everyone else, similarly spurred into action by EMERGENCY WEATHER UPDATES, had panic bought the existing stock. My house is surrounded by trees but I don’t own an axe or saw or any sharp object at all past kitchen knives and scissors. I guessed I could burn books, in a pinch. I have plenty of those, and in fact a rather large box of “To Be Donated” afer the Library Reorganization of a couple weeks back. I wondered how long I could stay warm off of “Existential Prisons: Captivity in Mid-Twentieth Century French Literature.” Certainly longer if I paired it with “Essays in Self-Destruction,” “Best American Short Stories: 1995,” “Gone Girl,” and my middle school yearbook.

To be fair, I have some cold weather PTSD from surviving Ice Storm 2002, an event that found me in a drafty old rental house without power for something like five or six days. At the time, I was living with two friends at the time and we spent the first day chain smoking, drinking beer, eating snacks, attempting acapella Pavement singalongs, and trying to keep morale up. It was good fun until around 10pm, not quite 24 hours in, when alreayd sobering up from early overconsumption of lukewarm PBR, I found myself faintly nauseated, headache-y and so very, very cold I could not even begin to concentrate on my roommate’s boyfriend’s freestyle rapping about microbiology and Marxism (not as bad as it sounds, but still . . .) Then everything just got so much worse.

I shuddered at the memory and so I swallowed my pride and asked Facebook for firewood. First offer came from a poet, which felt weirdly propitious, so I took him up on it, even though it involved a driving to the other end of the county. I also ground coffee in advance and ordered a charcoal grill for curbside pickup—because I couldn’t figure out how to heat a kettle in my smallish fireplace. Thus sorted, I walked out to the car, and so preoccupied was I with my planning that I started the car and backed right into the (still closed) garage door. It left a dent. More importantly it knocked the door off the track so it wouldn’t open. I tugged for a while and it finally rose. I backed my car out. My stereo inexplicably started playing Thin Lizzy, and I don’t think I’ve ever cried to “Jailbreak” before, but I just looked at my open garage door and wept. Thus I sat, paralyzed, for most of what constituted Side A, I managed to rouse around “The Boys Are Back in Town” and resolved to fix the situation. I gave the door a powerful tug and somehow, miraculously, managed to fix things.

Slightly satisfied, I drove to out to see the poet. He met me in his driveway with a wheelbarrow full of chopped pine, which he kindly loaded into the trunk. The poet is a regular attendee of a weekly Zoom, so I thought on the fact that I’d seen him pretty regularly, but not in person, for well over a year. It was nice to see him in three dimensions. It was nice to see any human being in the flesh. I realized, as I drove away, how much less dire things seemed when I could just exist in the same frame as another human. I wished I could get a hug, but none of what constitutes my teensy Covid hug bubble even resides in this area code.

At the hardware store, an angry teenager shoved a grill in the back of the car, maybe because I was the only shopper availing myself of curbside pick-up at what otherwise appeared to be a crowded store. I found myself apologizing to him, though I don’t know why. I took the long way home hoping for perspective. I pulled off for a hike but the trails were so washed out, I wasn’t sure I could stay upright, so I called in a takeout order, and the rest is history.

I did get from under the car and I managed to get my pants, if not fully restored, then at least to a PG rating. I somehow managed to do that without attracting the attention of any neighborhood watch that might have thought I was trying to steal a catalytic converter (which, according to the news, is was all the cool hooligans—cooligans?– are doing this days). I got in the car and nearly drove off before realizing my phone and the burrito were still sitting on the sidewalk. Thus retrieved, I tried again. I cried again. I went home and stuffed my face like a sad old sow. There’s some relief in knowing your outer boundaries. If nothing else, you have a kind of emotional perimeter, a standard by which you can operate, an “at least I didn’t end up unintentionally mooning downtown Carrboro at rush hour on dull, bad day.”

After dinner, I walked around the neighborhood texting with a friend about the incipient natural disaster. I reflected on my friends in Texas, who’d been suffering for days. I had no reason to expect better. Besides, the hits just keep on coming right now. My friend advised that I stay hopeful. “You know how it is,” she said. “There’s a 50% chance it will be worse than they say and a 50% chance it will be way better. “

That sounded reasonable. But, it’s 2021. So I said: “Given that it’s this year, I think there A 30% chance it will be better 30% worse, and 40% chance of alien invasion, anthrax, giant extinction event meteorite, civilization collapse, nuclear war, or the reanimated corpse of Hitler rising from the grave and retaking Poland with the help of Elon Musk and congressional Republicans.” I was kidding, of course. Kind of. But like, “stay hopeful?”

I ruminated on that after we got off the phone. Not about the “hopeful” part but the “stay.” Staying hopeful would suggest that I was already and it occurred to me as I walked, circles round my neighborhood in the cold and deepening twilight, that I couldn’t put my finger on the last time I actually felt hopeful. That was a real bummer.

At the top of the hill, I could just make out the last bar of sunlight over the horizon. I stood there and watched it fade. The day was over. The next day would bring a storm. It was already too cloudy for me to see the moon, so I pulled up Debussy and listened to what it would sound like if I could over and over and over until I got cold enough to stop walking and go inside.

Epilogue: the storm never came, at least not the way they said, but I bought a new pair of leggings. And I have a grill and have plenty of firewood.

Picture today is the pond at long twilight on Wednesday. BYO “Clair de Lune” soundtrack.

As of this writing, 85,941,244 people have recovered from Covid-19. 193 million doses of vaccine have been administered.