Plague Diary, 3/22/20

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A month ago today I had a party.

It was a fantastic party, combination housewarming and birthday. We had a king cake because it was a few days shy of Mardi Gras. And boxes of beautifully frosted cupcakes, ferried to town from family in Asheville. We had lots of booze and lots of fancy cheese and baroque flower arrangements. I wore a sequined skirt and got to see a surprising number of people that I love–friends, family, friends that are like family, family that are like friends.

Like everything else, the party feels like a lifetime ago. Whenever I think about it I reflect on moments from literature. Those, “It was a beautiful summer day in 1939 and we walked freely in the sun” kinds of moments, but look, life is hard enough right now that I won’t quote that effing poem.

Instead I keep thinking about “The Diamond Mines Again,” a chapter from one of my favorite childhood books, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. In which, the charming, wildly privileged, titular heiress, Sara, (not technically a princess) celebrates her birthday party and receives lavish gifts, including a doll, with a trunk of clothes that Burnett describes in extravagant detail. Sara dubs this doll, “The Last Doll,” because she aging out of toys. The doll will represent her end of childhood. But then Sara receives word during the party that her father has died, his fortune lost. She has nothing and nowhere to go. She is stranded without family, among people who are no longer friends. “The Last Doll,” taken away from her moments after its receipt becomes the symbolic end of innocence as well, as Sara is sent to the garret in an ill-fitting black clothes to live in solitude with naught but a curious rat and a curious chamber maid that shares the wall.

All of this happens very quickly in the book. A precipitous change of fortune in matter of paragraphs. I remember, being small, confused and scared that so much might be lost so quickly, for the same reason that watching a house burn down, in the safety of my mother’s car, at age four, made me impossibly scared and confused.

In fact, growing up, simply being a human in the world (even outside of crisis) reveals that sudden, immediate erasure is probably the most realistic part of the book. We never really know when we’re on the precipice. We never really know when we’ve arrived at the last doll or the last party. We never really know how long we’ll have to live alone in the garret, in an ill-fitting black velvet mourning dress, chatting to mice about the Bastille before coming out the other side.

A lot of people in my life who have been kind of keeping it together though this thing started falling apart today. Even out on the trails–I walked ten miles at least–the mood was somber, reflective. Every single person I passed seemed to be having a conversation with someone else comprised of variations on the theme of worry. We all just had the last doll yanked away from us. We’ve all been sent to the garret with scraps. We’re just now starting to accept that we’re not just there for a couple of days.

I’m doing okay today, thanks for asking. It’s weird. I keep walking around like a hippie or an Oasis fan, repeating “Be. Here. Now” under my breath, because there’s basically no point in even trying to think about the future. I listened to the Go-Gos and danced down the street while I ran and for the duration of “Head Over Heels”* I felt as close to normal as I’ve felt in almost two weeks.

I hope the party wasn’t truly The Last Party. I have way too many party dresses to go down without a fight.

Picture today is of said event, when my friend Lisa and I both wore the same gold sequins.

As of this writing, 97,847 people have recovered from COVID-19.

And lest I forget to say it, I love every single one of you weirdos.

The Author

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