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It’s Knowing That This Can’t Go On Forever

One year. 

It’s been one year since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a worldwide health emergency.

At the time of this post, there have been over 102 million cases, over 2.2 million deaths globally. In the US alone, over 25 million cases, and over 436 thousand deaths.

You hear the numbers. They’ve climbed so high, they cease to make sense. Who can comprehend of hundreds of thousands of deaths? It’s as if Oakland were wiped off the map. All those people, gone.

You can see the effects. You look around; almost everyone knows, or knows someone who knows, someone who has contracted the disease. You see the businesses that have closed, the decrease in traffic, the increase of delivery trucks, and lack of big yellow school busses. I wonder, can you see the ghosts? The nursing home overnight environmental staff whose ’13 Honda doesn’t pass your house when you sit down to dinner. The schoolteacher who no longer needs her parking pass. The taciturn grandfather who used to pick up a 30-rack from the convenience store every few days. 

You taste your food, and you’re grateful in a way you never have been before. You have been home, cooking; all your ingredients are delivered, hand-picked. It’s easy to bitch when there’s been a substitution you weren’t expecting, and there’s no one there to explain or make it right. You make your sourdough, post it on Instagram. The tang of the warm bread, the melting butter seeping into all the nooks and crannies inside, are a comforting reminder that you have followed the rules, that you’ve kept yourself safe. Your hands taste like sanitizer, so you’ve stopped biting your nails while working from home. 

When you do go out, you smell your breath behind your mask, remind yourself to add mouthwash to your Instacart. Maybe it’s time to cut back on the garlic. You cough once, as the dry winter air reaches your lungs. All heads turn. Your eyes both apologize and deny that it’s the ‘rona, it’s allergies. Remember to wash your cloth masks; they’re telling people to double up, as new strains wind through communities, spreading through the mountains and the cities to raise the threat of contagion. 

You touch no one. You pay for your coffee from your phone, you do the still-awkward “I’d shake, but,” smile-and-shrug when you meet someone new. You watch people approach with the warning in your eyes, meeting the same in theirs as they watch you. You rub sanitizer on your hands when given the opportunity; you’ll scrub your hands at home, smooth and soothe the dry skin with a lotion made with oats or aloe. 

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe you go out, like everything is okay. Maybe you do your shopping at a busy supermarket, 2:00 PM on a Saturday, grab a free sample. Maybe you go to church and shake hands with your neighbor. Your kids go to school, you go to karate and yoga and soccer. Maybe you somehow don’t think it’s a big deal, that it’s just politics, the China virus. Maybe you think your faith will save you, or maybe you’re just tired of the restrictions.

I’m tired. I don’t know about you, but my hands hurt from the emptiness. My arms ache to wrap around someone; my cheek yearns to be laid upon another’s. I’ve always been a hugger; physical affection wasn’t just reserved for my beloved, but was always available for anyone who needed or wanted. 

The way I talk has changed over the past year, not just since Hawthorne died. I tell my friends that I love them more often; I tell people I miss them. The words “be safe” leave my lips every day. I make much more of an effort to stay in contact with those distant from me. I RSVP to online events with every intention of logging in, I promise. I have a harder time staying organized, keeping track of the days, remembering things. Relegated to mere mortal status, Hawthorne would say. 

There is no resolution, no lesson in this. Yes, the vaccines are coming, and again I recognize the privilege I carry in having had my first dose already. But the preliminary numbers show that as of December 13thover 16,000 people in the US alone have died over the past year than was expected based on data from the past ten years. That doesn’t include the past 6 weeks which saw nearly 140,000 additional coronavirus-related deaths.

Not everyone has a chance to live through history, and know it as it is happening. As we enter year two of this global pandemic, I again think back to the Ebola epidemic in 2014. I remember how terrifying it was to watch the newscasts and see these tiny numbers in large text in the corner of the screen, vying for attention with the different ALERTs and BREAKING NEWS banners that scrolled by. 11 people had Ebola here in the US. Now the numbers grow so large the news is forced to either abbreviate them or minimize the font size; I’m sure marketing teams decided based on what was thought would retain the most viewers. 

I remember healthcare workers scoffing at having to learn and then practice regularly how to don and doff the significant personal protective equipment required to safely care for patients suspected to have Ebola. It won’t get here, they said. And then, they were right. Still, they also believed that Ebola was a real disease, and a threat to anyone close enough to it. Nobody wanted to be the one who died bleeding from their eyes. 

I wonder if that jaded response helped to lead to where we are now; where people don’t trust scientists, where literally an entire disease is thought to be propaganda by some. Where people don’t want to take the precautions necessary. After all, no one is bleeding out in the streets. Not here. Not this time. 

I do have hope that with the old regime gone, we may have greater faith in a leadership who puts their trust in science. Will that change again in 4 years? Maybe. 

Maybe by then, everyone will know how to keep their mask over their fucking nose. 

I love you. 

I miss you. 

Be safe. 

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Are You Still Taking Notes

I can write anywhere. When I make it a priority – when I let myself make my writing practice a priority – I enjoy the trappings. The desk set up just so; pens and notebook ready, for whatever comes through that isn’t the topic I’m working on, or doodles and notes about pictures to add. My brain feels like it’s always firing, so I always have some version of a to-do list handy to catch the fleeting thoughts of “call the vet,” “get creamer.” There is a window nearby, natural light softening as it shines through the curtains, or lit from the other side by the warm glow of the desk lamp. There are plants within reach; stuck on a thought, I check the dirt for dampness, and usually add it to my list before rising for a stretch break and to cross it off. There may be music playing, there may not; it depends on my mood, and that’ll change during the writing. If certain tiny humans and old puppies didn’t demand my attention, I could sometimes move hours into the evening before noticing the shadows. 

When writing makes itself a priority, I can and will write anywhere. On the back of an envelope off someone’s desk with a quick, “can I use this?” Post-its, receipts, bank statements. The Notes app on my phone serves as a catch-all, thoughts recorded while driving, intermittent list items, ideas to explore for a blog post. I’ve written entire journal entries on it, if you can call furiously moving my thumbs clutched around a three-inch light in the dark as my brain races ahead beyond the screen “writing.” I do. Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on the cold wooden floor at the front of my new apartment. My posture is terrible (she says, straightening her spine as she types this), and my ass is frozen. In front of me is the thick braided rug that used to lay in Lucy’s room; I set up old lady Ella a little nest at my knee with a bathmat and the couple of towels I could quickly find. She’s tucked up against me, a scraggly black crescent of snoring dog. 

Yesterday was the day I moved the three of us into the apartment; the movers came the day before with the contents of the storage unit in Vermont, which apparently did not include a single chair. I had ordered an IKEA sleeper sofa which was supposed to be delivered yesterday and never showed (item for to-do list: call IKEA 10am). My desk is where I want it to be, but without the chair, I default to the couch – or where it should be. My pre-caffeinated brain put me in the right place, whereas my barely-caffeinated brain is telling me to move forward a few feet and join Ella on the rug. Yet my fingers keep moving, and my cold ass stays in place.

I am on a constant search for tools and tricks to maximize productivity, provide structure, and enjoy the results. Yes, enjoy – a deliberate choice of words, because using tools and structure to creates something – whether that’s a piece of art, a blog post, or a work product – sparks true joy (I will never KonMari my toolbox, and you can’t make me). One thing I stumbled across recently was a new app called GoalsWon. I chanced upon the opportunity to beta test it, and thus far, I’m finding it helpful. I’m using it specifically for my writing practice; I wanted something to keep me on track in this time of crazy transition, when nothing feels stable, and I don’t even have my coffeemaker unpacked.

On moving day, I set two goals in regards to my writing: make my daily goal of 500 words, and get my writing space set up. I hit my word count easily in the morning, pouring out my angst about the day, and how bullshit it is to have to be doing this. Later I muttered to Hawthorne that I never thought I’d be carrying them and our son under one arm to the car, I figured I’d be dragging them both; a kid-at-heart and kiddo not wanting to leave the playground when it was time to go. 

My other goal didn’t happen. My immediate thought was that I had failed; I wanted to get my writing space set up, and I did not. I automatically cast myself as both judge and defendant, Lady Justice peeking out from her blindfold to tip the scales and let me sink into the cold, comforting arms of the part of me who somehow always feels so undeserving. Reframing this as data doesn’t release me; it doesn’t give me the familiar path of saying, “well, guess I’ve gone and fucked it up again, what a surprise.” That loop of failure to accomplish equaling my failure as a person is a deep-set track; the banks are steep, and once I’m in, it’s easier to stay than grind my way out. 

One intention I set this year is to be kinder to myself; so rather than thinking about not meeting the goal as failure, I am trying to reframe it as a simple fact, one of two possible outcomes. Making this choice to deliberately turn failure into data is not easy; recently, one of my best friends told me that I could squeeze failure out of a tomato. It’s funny, because it’s true.

And clearly, the fact that I did not set up my writing space is OK. Because here I am, cold ass and snoring dog, banging away at the keys. 

I let go of writing for a long time; truly, it was a different world. The bright blue folder I’ve carried with me, hidden, house to house for over twenty years is ripped at the corners, the shine on it dulled from years of being tucked away. It is thick with my angsty teenage poetry, songs that I wrote in the shower, and fragments of stories that were not my own. I have been collecting these lines, building up the case to remind myself in ways that no photograph ever could of what my passion is; an indelible reminder of the kid that I was and the dreams that she had.

I had just recommitted to writing this blog when my world was utterly shattered for the second time in as many years. Hawthorne spent their last minutes asleep in our comfortable bed, Ella snoring alongside them while I sat with our daughter who was asleep in her swing. It was a sunny Saturday morning; I was awake, sitting at my desk, iced coffee going warm by my elbow. I was writing when the sky fell in. Exuent Hawthorne. Scene. 

One of my friends, a particularly badass and fearless woman, somehow held onto the thread of my writing through the chaos that became my world that week. She asked what no one else did, what I’m sure no one else was even thinking about; was I going to publish my blog on time? I told her, with some pride, it was already in the editing phase. One week after Hawthorne died, I met my scheduled biweekly goal when I published the obituary I couldn’t give to the papers. 

Part of why I had left writing locked up for so long was that Hawthorne had been planning on going to school. They didn’t think they had a career in sociology, so they were looking at their MFA in creative writing. I think their Facebook page still lists their major as “Sociology and Pretty Writing.” They were not so prolific as I find myself, but each word was hand-selected, a quality gemstone for just the right setting. Like their return to music, however, picking up the pen again proved difficult; pain robbed them of the ability to think of much else, and the medications that took the pain away also stole the keys to their creativity. For those who continue to fight through incredible pain, it is a battle engaged on every front and facet of a person. It’s too easy to forget that if you aren’t facing it day after week after month. 

I didn’t pursue writing because I wanted to give Hawthorne the space to do so. They never asked; they never would have dreamed of it. Instead, I let my impossible standards transfer leak out. I worried that success was pie, and there was only so much to go around; what if we both weren’t successful? What if writing turned out to be something good and important for me (which, clearly, it’s integral) and they did not have a good experience? What would the fallout be? So without breathing a word of this into actual conversation, I decided the best way to support Hawthorne’s writing dreams would be to put mine aside. 

It’s only now that I am able to articulate this thought process. Whenever it came up before, I’d always brush it off; Hawthorne was the writer, I was the data person. Qualitative and quantitative, a perfect match. It was one aspect where I did not want to compete; I was afraid for what either success or failure would mean, and I could not see beyond that binary. It took losing Oscar to find that in me again. The world had crumbled, leaving dusty artifacts and oddly preserved opportunities to build anew. Some of those are in Hawthorne’s own hand; I have a crate full of their notebooks that I cannot open yet.

Today, through the wonders of both time and therapy, I know that it’s not just writing. I find myself excavating pieces I had thought lost, for one reason or another, usually ridiculously self-imposed based on what I feared other’s perceptions would be. Each discovery is wrapped in grief and guilt, and must be carefully exposed. It takes time for the relics of my dreams to be brought out into the light, time I know must be dedicated. 

Hawthorne would never have knowingly buried my dreams. They were my champion; they gave me the pushes I need to take new jobs, to go back to school, to apply to my dream program. Once I said I wanted to write, they were all in, and they were hurt by my surprise at that. I tried to explain it wasn’t them, that this view was completely fabricated in my head. I’m not sure they believed me. 

I am getting to the point where I can talk to them again. I look at their picture on my desk or on my phone. I awkwardly met someone recently who happens to be quite attractive, and one of my first reactions was, Hawthorne’s got to be getting such a kick out of this. Our friends agreed when I told them, after only a brief internal argument that it was too soon for me to see another person as attractive. Hawthorne and I would tease each other mercilessly when this would happen; why not now? I like to think it’s their laughter that shines the stars bright enough to break through the light pollution of the city, giving them that extra twinkle.

It’s a different day; I still don’t have my writing space set up, but I do have a couch. I’m writing in bed, in my bedroom sanctuary, free of (most of) the flotsam of moving. I have the fan on, since the heat from the house seems to settle here the most. I’m much more comfortable than when I started writing this post; the urgency is no less intense. I can hear what Hawthorne called the sound of mice tap-dancing as my fingers fly across the keyboard, trying to keep up with my thoughts and outrace the red lines of misspelled words. Lucy will wake up soon, and the day will begin. By the end of it, I’ll find scribbled notes to myself, quick lines of prose enmeshed with shopping and to-do lists. Tomorrow morning I will take the time to sort it out as I find some space between the half-empty boxes to park myself and write again.

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Maybe It’s the Fire in My Little Girl’s Eyes

I was going to write about resolutions; it’s the time for it, after all. New Year’s resolutions; we make them, or say we do, when I don’t think that’s exactly what we mean. There’s a difference between goals, resolutions, and intentions. From

Resolutionthe act of determining upon an action, course of action, method, procedure, etc.

Goal: the result or achievement toward which effort is directed 

Intention: an act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result; purpose or attitude toward the effect of one’s actions or conduct

It feels imperative to understand this difference, especially this year. When we talk about setting resolutions, I think we most often mean intentions and/or goals. I don’t know how much planning the course of action factors in to peoples’ resolutions; I have never set a course of action when naming a resolution, and I’m a planner. Looking back, I realize that I have set goals and intentions. For example, for 2020 I said I want to lose 15 pounds, I want to read 25 books, try 50 new recipes, get back into yoga. I wrote it all into my bullet journal, pretty sketches and colorful checklists.

What were my results? For all I intended, for all the goals I set, I would say I accomplished about 25%. I did not lose 15 pounds. I finished 2 books. I tried about 30 new recipes, and in November, started doing yoga again. Not what I would generally call a success, but hey, 2020, amirite? 

I had no plans to go along with these intentions, no route to get me to the goal line. All of my planning went into other things: making childcare happen for Lucy, and somehow being OK with leaving her all day. Making sure Hawthorne felt supported in their music and creative expression. Splitting up the chore list with both of us back to work, and a tiny baby to work around. 

All those plans went to hell on January 14th

The pandemic was barely acknowledged then; it was still some strange outbreak in Wuhan. I had just returned to the office after maternity leave, and was looking forward to getting into the work after spending the first day just going through emails and things I had missed. I wasn’t quite at the office when Hawthorne called, saying they had gotten hurt at work. It was their back, and they weren’t sure they could drive. I remember being both pissed and worried as I stopped into the office to let them know and then headed back up the mountain to get them. I called a friend to blow off the steam; this was a major wrench in all the plans I had so carefully constructed. I hadn’t planned for wrenches. 

2020 continued to unravel, as we all know. We took a trip to Buffalo in early March and made it back to Vermont just before the first restrictions on travel were handed down. We ended up in isolation, as Hawthorne had picked up some bug; they were tested for Covid in the parking lot by a nurse in full isolation precautions, and we were sent home. We tried to get Hawthorne set up to have the upstairs to themselves, and Lucy and I would remain downstairs, so as not to cause any transmission. I divided out silverware and plates for them to use, designated linens and loaded toiletries and snacks into a canvas bag that hung from a rope on the stairs; they could pull it up from the aperture in the upstairs hall without any contact. We vowed to Facetime a lot, and agreed that this was the best thing to keep the family safe.

We made it about 3 hours. 

We just couldn’t make it work in any feasible way, not with a 5 month old baby in a non-partitioned house. They kept their silverware and plates and cups separate, washed their own dishes, and used their designated bathroom and linens; but I couldn’t handle the baby, the dog, the house, and take care of them more. They were still injured, still in a great deal of pain; we were holding out for hope, waiting for the surgical consult. 

The emergency room called us at 10:00 PM two days after the test, Hawthorne had tested negative for the novel coronavirus. We took that as our warning to take the virus seriously. The grassroots crafter’s movement of mask making hadn’t taken off yet, and our plans changed; we would just hunker down and go out as little as possible. 

Hawthorne spent lockdown in immense pain. The consult got pushed off; no elective surgeries were being performed, and all related appointments were being cancelled. They eventually had a virtual consult and were scheduled for surgery at the end of June. The day came slowly; the surgery was uncomplicated, and we went home. The pain continued without abating; I encouraged them to keep. Hoping it would change, maybe it was just swelling, but I think we both knew better. The pain and loss of feeling in their leg would remain nearly unchanged until their death. 

I don’t mean to gloss over any of their experience, it’s just not my focus. The summer was one long, difficult day after another, punctuated with appointments and bad news and a couple of bright spots. We made another trip to Buffalo, knowing we would have to quarantine upon return until we tested negative. It was worth it to attend the small, beautiful wedding for one of Hawthorne’s cousins. We danced; they were in so much pain, but we danced. Someone got a picture of us; Hawthorne had put their hat on my head, and we were pressed as close as we could be. We never missed an opportunity to dance. We just didn’t know it would be the last time. 

In so many ways, we are all ready to put 2020 in the rearview. Think of the jokes history professors will make about what we learned this year, in hindsight. I know I have a few tucked away; I might be her mama, but Lucy’s still going to get all the dad jokes. 

2021 dawns darkly for so many. I see the memes, the products advertised. “I survived 2020!” My reaction is vehement and immediate; hundreds of thousands of people didn’t. Nearly 350,000 families have lost loved ones to the pandemic. 24,000 babies were born still, never having taken their first breath. Black lives continue to be taken by police at disproportionate rates. More than 350 trans* and gender nonconformingpeople have been murdered this year alone. The pandemic situation is too dynamic for reliable data on suicides yet, though we know suicide has been the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

Hawthorne didn’t survive 2020.  This New Year’s marks the first they will never see. 

It’s so strange to think about. Here is this person, this complicated, beautiful soul with whom I laughed and fought and grieved and danced with – just gone, in a fingersnap. Most days, it just feels like they’re missing; they’re on assignment, a trip, deployed, something that keeps them away. The wedding in Buffalo was the last celebration they’d be a part of. They missed Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos. They missed Lucy’s birthday, her first steps. They missed Thanksgiving and Christmas and the solstice. 

But they’re not just missing; they’re not going to walk in the door for some emotional reunion moment that gets broadcast on Tiktok. They aren’t anywhere in this world to see the sun rise on 2021; they are nowhere to be found.

And that means that we aren’t tucked in our woodstove-warmed house in Vermont, wondering if we can make it to midnight, or if we should set an alarm to kiss and fall back asleep. They’re not going to creep out of bed to visit the crib, and I don’t have to beg them not to wake the baby at midnight to celebrate with us. I don’t have to worry about hearing gun shots or fireworks set off up the road, scaring the dog as neighbors bid adieu to this shitty year, and hear Hawthorne grumble about it and threaten to message the constable – in the morning. 

2021 dawns with the weak light of January, cold and unforgiving. Hope has never felt more tempered with reality. The wan sun shines through branches frozen in wintry relief; the wind bites, her teeth leaving marks of red on my cheeks, the only part of my face exposed between my hat, sunglasses, and mask. 

I have set intentions and goals again; I want to lose 15 pounds, I want to read 12 books; try 30 recipes, stick with my yoga practice. Rather than resolutions, this year, I have resolve.

I am one of the lucky ones; I survived 2020. So did my daughter, my friends. Though it feels like it, all is not lost. The sun rises and sets with more time in between, and I have already made the choice to live each of the days I have, as hard as it is. Some of these days, survival is enough. The difference is now I go into each day with that resolve, and with the intention of finding the good, the laughter, the progress; to at least acknowledge that these things exist alongside the grief and the hardship. There is no way to focus solely on the positive; such a narrow view serves no one. Whatever plans I make, I do so with the understanding that they can be ripped to shreds in a moment. I am learning the hard way to not become attached to my plans. My dreams have been shattered more times than it feels like I can carry; I continue to rebuild them, as strong as I can, but with that same awful caveat in the blueprints. 

I’m starting the year with strong coffee, great music, and an open Word document. I have my intentions and goals set, and this time, I’ve left room for wrenches. I do have hope; it ebbs and flows without pattern or consistency, crashing against unforgiving reality. I have a new job to start, a new apartment to move into, and a 14-month-old daughter who is the brightest light in this dark world. I have no idea what 2021 will bring, but I have the resolve to see it through.