I get out of bed an hour or so later than my partner. Sometimes she gets up even earlier. I sleep in with the dog, Rubee Tuesday. It’s useless to count from 10 to 0 and get out of bed at zero. It’s easy to play tricks with numbers (9.9, 9.8…) So I’ve taken to setting my alarm for 8 a.m. and getting up up up when it rings.
My partner has made coffee. I ask a question right away. It used to be: “Is it over yet?” When that yellowed it was: “Any really bad news?” Now, this morning: “Is this still just a dream?”
I look at the dog who has followed me out of the bedroom. I tell her I’m very happy she doesn’t know there’s a pandemic corralling us in. She always puts her head at an angle, trying to glimpse my meaning; but mainly she just wants her stomach rubbed and for me to throw her ball. I’m teaching her a larger vocabulary. I’m teaching her my name. My partner teaches me not to rough-house with Rubee because otherwise she’ll just be like every other needy, uncontrollable dog, when actually she’s a god-dog. I absolutely comply when I remember.
We listen to the news on the cell phone. We use the cell phone so the news will seem smaller, the voices less consequential, the shocks buffered. Or maybe it’s some distant memory of gathering around the large console farm radio (which looked like it could house a church organ) listening to something to which the adults paid their attention like nothing else, like the news of war.
The present is stalled. The news seems to be stuck in a loop. Every day the same startling revelations of the same things. But maybe I’ve stopped lis-tening. My hearing is getting worse. I have to ask my partner to bring me up to date. Sometimes she yells at the cell phone, calls the speaker “stupid” “a bozo.” I like when she does that.
I used to spend all day reading the New York Times. I don’t do that any more. It crushes me.
People continue to die of causes other than Covid 19. It’s surprising. I thought the virus had taken up all the room there is for death but it hasn’t. Death has always been abundant and greedy. These other causes keep slipping into the pleats of reality and falling and dying at my feet: my friend’s lover; an elder I worked with.
We’re all in a state of shock. If reality is discontinuous, discordant, baf-fling, the trauma isn’t. I am wired into shocks of earlier times. My brother-in-law, a financial consultant, fell ill with cancer just before the stock market crash in 2008. The cancer metastasized. He said, “I don’t have enough time to fix this.” And he didn’t. We are there again, especially those of us who were there then.
I think of my mother who was a teenager in the Great Depression. They were farmers in Saskatchewan. My mother and grandmother went door to door, selling eggs. My mother wasn’t allowed to mention this to her father. He would have been furious, humiliated. I understand more, now, what she went through. For a decade. She was very careful with her money, except she loved to spend lots on herself. The month before she died she bought herself a stylish suede coat that costs $2000. I wear it now.
We always hope to fix things. This car of our civilization is spinning out of control, hitting the gravel, circling, banging into cardboard coffins on the side of the road, not coming to a halt. And all in a motion so slow it downs time, like an event horizon.
Time is in a great mix up. It seems not to be moving at all, the hours are endless, and then suddenly it moves forward “with God’s reckless wobble.” It’s dark and, oh joy, it’s time to go to bed. The day has lost its structure; its bones are broken. My heart is broken.
I cry a lot. Although I always have. But more now. There’s nothing to do about it. My partner doesn’t cry. I say to her “If not now, when?” She smiles. I cry.
I’ve been perplexed that I get so little accomplished during the day. My friends say the same thing. Is it the looping of time and events? The stuckness of it all? Are we grieving? I don’t think the logic of the soul enables us to expe-rience grief for what is still upon us, a death that hasn’t finished dying. That doesn’t seem quite right. Rather, some misalignment is surfacing; some way in which we have been living, out of sorts with who we are. Everyone has been exhausted by this for years. Now, we are sleeping. I am sleeping. I sleep ten hours a day. I’d sleep more except I set the damn alarm.
In the early days, I started to recognize my reluctance (or my withdraw-al), from telling my partner some things that were on my mind. Eventually I tried to broach these subjects which were in hiding. Such as my fear that this pandemic would require a courage and generosity of me which I simply do not have. I am still worried about that.
And then there’s eros: a decided shrinkage, a desiccation, a distracted-ness. Pandemics are not sexy, the physical becoming associated with a source of potential contagion, even if that contagion is not a danger between us. At the best of times, eros needs to overcome a point of static friction, or some-thing, but these days it requires a more concerted effort. And it’s an antidote.
I speak to friends on the phone. The phone is having a come-back.
One friend, who lives alone, said, “If I’d had a daughter, I know she would call me every day. But I have a son, and he doesn’t call me.”
“I’ll call you every day,” I tell her.
“Would you? Just to say ‘Are you okay?’”
I hear a lot of women worrying about the state of their hair. Like Sam-son, our identity is entangled in our hair. But I don’t look in the mirror much these days. In the morning, if I do, I see that I’m like Michael Gambon. In the evening, if I look, I am still Michael Gambon. He’s a great actor, but he looks terrible.
Yesterday I spoke to my beloved friend of fifty years. I’d lost track of her because she doesn’t often answer her phone. But I found her, through her daughter who called me after a dream I’d had that she’d called me.
My friend said, “This is right, what’s happening. The world needed to be stopped. It’s a divine hand.” I don’t really believe that, but I do when she says it and don’t when she stops talking. She’s very happy these days, happier than I.
This was written in May, 2020, three months into the pandemic. Much has changed since then; nothing has changed — except the bright hope of a vaccine