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.

The Author

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