Glass: the last word

I angled my left hand slightly the wrong way, evidently, while setting down my cell phone; instantly there was an explosion of pain in my wrist.   It’s happening every couple of weeks this summer.   I got an ice pack and pillow case and settled grumpily into an armchair in our bedroom.  I hate my wrist, I told Dave.

“I hate my shoulder,” my husband replied from his position in the armchair’s twin, and returned his gaze to Jack Nicholson, but it was too late: A Few Good Men had gone to commercial.  Dave’s shoulder started bothering him a few months ago and worsened; he’s doing physical therapy for it now.

Our bodies—the joints, especially—have become our frenemies.  Coming to the party  and then picking a fight.  I guess it’s understandable.  As a musician who also types a lot, my wrists have a right to protest.   But I don’t have to like it.

The commercials played on.  I scrolled down my Facebook feed.   Then Dave escalated: “I hate my knee.”

Fortunately, I had a comeback.  I hate glass.

“No you don’t, you love glass.”

The commercial break ended before I could defend my position.  Tom Cruise and Demi Moore and other assorted characters in the movie ate pizza and argued.  About what, I wasn’t certain—I’ve never watched this movie as a whole, just bits and pieces.   Dave sipped his wine.  The ice pack had dulled the edge of the pain and I was reluctant to move out of my seat, even to give Dave a closeup of the Band-Aid on my finger.

Dave is right in the main: I love glass.  The poet al-Hariri of Basra describes glass perfectly: “congealed of air, condensed of sunbeam motes, molded of the light of the open plain, or peeled from a white pearl.” Gorgeous!  I have glass earrings,  paperweights, sculptures, containers.  I’m writing this blog on the dining room table, which currently has five glass vases on it.   However…

About an hour before our conversation, while waiting for the rice to finish cooking, I’d emptied a box of  various odds and ends as part of my office reorganization project.  At the very bottom there was an 8” x 11” piece of glass.   That meant the box had been filled several years ago, before I acquired a desk with a glass top.   The glass in the box came from a cheap drugstore picture frame, pried loose from that setting for clarinet reed work.  Adjusting clarinet reeds involves getting them wet and then shaving off little bits of cane.    Glass, being flat and non-porous, reduces warping as the reed dries.   The kitchen timer beeped.  I stuck the glass on top of a piano book and pulled the rice pot off the burner.   I was about to give a final stir when I noticed one knuckle beading Christmas-ornament red in two places.  The glass had cut me as I’d moved it and I’d never felt a thing!    

The exhibition of the Band-Aid, followed by reassurance to Dave that I was confident that I hadn’t bled into our dinner took up most of the next commercial break.   Then more movie:  courtroom scenes, Jack Nicholson erupting.  Evidently a lot happened while I was looking at animal gifs.

“You can’t handle the glass!”  Dave said, chuckling the tiniest bit as he wrapped the glass in layers of paper and packing tape.    

“Where should we put it?” 

“The basement trash.”  It seemed a pity, but I couldn’t think of anything better.  The same trash had served as a repository for various wine glasses over the years, so it was an appropriate resting place.   So there I took it, to spare Dave’s knee the journey, while he watched the ending credits.       

First Day

This Sunday sits just a little more than halfway on the shelf bookended by Memorial Day and Labor Day.  Already I feel the siren call of September.   Even during this terrible year, with school long past, September promises the possibility of a fresh start, a first day of school.

Retailers know September’s coming, too.  Just as Christmas displays and ads appear earlier and earlier, so do back-to-school displays.  When I was a kid, school supplies showed up for sale at the end of August.  Now our Target replaces the patio furniture/outdoor living section with back-to-school stuff early in July.   And as goes Target, so go Walmart, CVS, Walgreen’s, and the rest.   Many of these stores still look like they’ve been hit by a time bomb, freezing the winter merchandise onto the shelves, jumbling displays, and leaving stretches of cold, empty shelves.  People are cautious, languid in their shopping.   No one knows how much time students will be spending in school.  It’s hard to put the unicorn lunchbox in the shopping cart if it will be retired after a month.  

Still, when I go to pick up peanut butter, Sonny’s favorite cookies, and toothpaste, I also trek to the back of the store and linger over the notebooks, binders, glue-sticks, backpacks, pens and folders, pencils and compasses and scissors.   Sometimes a notebook or a pen set finds its way into my shopping basket.   I try to avoid September fashion.  Though a first day seems to demand a new outfit, I can’t see September clearly enough to craft the new me who will thrive in that future.

When Sonny was in school, I loved shopping with him for school supplies and hated shopping with him for school clothes.   Like his fellow millennials, Sonny’s always been particular about his aesthetic.  Three folders?  Easy: a red one, a green one, a yellow one.  The perfect black graphic T-shirt?   “Umm…I”ll text you when I’ve found one, Mom, and then we can go to the checkout.”

This will be Sonny’s first September without school in 19 years.  He has September plans, but they don’t involve shopping for notebooks.  He’s been hunting for an apartment and has found a place he likes about three miles away from here.  Just across from the Target, in fact.  It’s a nice little one-bedroom.  If all goes smoothly, he should be moving in sometime in September.

I guess that makes my First Day outfit easier to choose:   what should I wear for moving day?

September comes through for us again.

Blockity block blocked

Most weeks, I figure out a blog direction on Wednesday or Thursday.   Unfortunately, here it is, Friday morning, and I got nothin’.  Panic!

At the auto repair shop this morning—my car’s brakes are acting up—I text Dave to come get me and check out online topic generators.   I’ve read about them, but never tried them.  Once I get home, ready or not, I will be applying the seats of my pants to the seat of my blogging chair.      

I start at hub spot.com, whose Blog Ideas Generator instructs me to “enter a noun to get start” and generates five blog titles for up to five nouns.  I settle on three:  block, writer, and turtles.  I don’t know why turtles floats through my brain.  Each of the five titles uses just one of the nouns rather than combining them.  All the titles are familiar and, admittedly, clickable.   Block: Expectations vs. Reality.  This week’s top stories about Writer.   The Next Big Thing in Turtles—my strong favorite.  Even though my experience with turtles as an adult has been limited to the occasional encounter in a park or zoo, I’d still want to know what the next big thing in them might be.

As a kid, for a while we had two tiny turtles as pets.   They were almost certainly red-eared sliders, which breed was banned as a pet in the US in 1975 because they were a common source of salmonella  poisoning.  My family dodged that particular bullet.  The turtles lived in a what the pet store sold as an appropriate habitat (unacceptable nowadays): a small plastic tank that could be filled with a few inches of water, as well as a basking ramp rising out of the water and leading to a ledge  with a screw-in plastic palm tree.

Capitalizemytitle.com’s Random Topic Generator and Conversation Starter includes ice-breaking questions, fun to answer (“What do you do after you get done with work?”) and useful as writing prompts.   If I’d tried this site yesterday today’s blog would be different, but the turtles have grabbed me.  Inputting “Turtles” into the blog title generator provides some interesting, if not particularly pertinent, titles.  Number one is  10 Celebrities Who Should Consider a Career in Turtles.  Number two: What Freud Can Teach Us About Turtles, an article that I’d read in a heartbeat.

Our turtles were named Batman and Robin.  My three-year-old brother came up with the names.  Definitely the monikers were not my parents’ choice.  My father tolerated pets but interacted with them very little.    During his between-marriages years, he had no pets; his second wife brought along a dog, Honey, but the dog was very much hers.   My mother named our miniature French poodle Leonidas Menelaus and our parakeet Plutarch.  Freud might have made something out of that…

Essaytopicgenerator.com lets me enter several words, then generates a lengthy list of titles, only the first of which relates to turtles: Ecological effect of ecosystem on sea turtles. It’s not really an intriguing title, is it?   I refresh the list; the top entry now is  Discussion 8: training and staff development.     An ad in the middle of the page promotes custom essays for $12.93/page and suggests that I’ve stumbled onto a term paper factory.   Move on.

Batman and Robin were the first of the animals in our house that my mother let us take care of ourselves.  Like many kids, we were sure we would take care of them every day.  Mom managed Leo, Plutarch, and the cat, Wimpy (named before he came to live with us).  She showed us how to scatter the flakes of turtle food into the water and how to clean our shelled crusaders’ tank.  Tank cleaning was done in the bathroom.   Batman and Robin would scrabbled around the bottom of the bathtub, the claws on their stumpy legs unable to get much of a purchase on the porcelain, while I scrubbed the muck off their home.

Randomlists.com looks promising in terms of writing prompts, ice breakers, but I can’t find a title generator or a place to enter turtles as a search term.  The lists, though, are great.  Eight nouns.  My first pass yields  “typewriters, shoes, dogs, justice, pottery, dentistry, cycling, volcanoes.”

You could get a plastic island with a volcano at the pet store to decorate your turtle tank.  I wanted one, but it cost more than my mother was willing to pay, especially since there were more animals in the house these days.   My sister had discovered rodents, and our room had a cage in one corner with smelly bedding, her first pair of white mice, an exercise wheel, and a mouse house.   I eventually talked Mom into a second palm tree and a pirate treasure chest for the turtles.

Portent.com has a title generator.  I like it immediately because the font looks as though it were typed on a manual typewriter with slightly misaligned keys.  The first title suggested is a listicle—10 Ways Turtles are Cooler than Michael Jordan—moderately click-worthy, as well as annotated with useful writing reminders.   A second title: Why Mom was Right About Turtles.

My mother reminded us regularly that animals were a big commitment.    I was nine and probably not ready.  One day I took Batman and Robin to the bathroom to clean their tank.  I slipped on the rug, the tank angled, and both turtles fell into the open toilet.  At first this seemed a lucky accident; they were both strong swimmers.   I put the tank on the floor and pushed up my sleeves, then stared, horrified, as Batman dove straight for the drain and disappeared into it, followed in a flash by Robin.  I stuck put my hand and arm as far down the drain as it would fit (not very far) (feeling no turtles) and yelled for help.   My father came in, listened as I gasped out the story, and flushed the toilet.

I cried in my mouse-scented bedroom.  My father tried to comfort me by speculating that Batman and Robin possibly could have traveled the sewer system to freedom.   (It turns out that theoretically, turtles can survive a sewer, sometimes.)   Maybe anything seemed better to the turtles—animals that I know now could live into their 50s or even longer—than a 12-inch-diameter world featuring two plastic palm trees and a pirate chest.   I hope they made it, that they’re somewhere in the wilds of Fairfax County,  grown to 10 times their size.

 

Head in the Clouds, Butt on the Branch

When I was eleven we lived in a housing tract.  The developers had buzz-cut much of the old foliage for ease and cheapness of construction, but left a few fringes of untidy mature trees and bushes around the backs and sides.   Our back yard bordered one of those fringes, a weedy drainage ditch that we called “the creek” and a couple of old trees, one  with  branches low and sturdy enough to climb.

I was the only person in my family who liked to climb trees.  I’d clamber up other stuff too–laundry poles, big rocks, furniture–but trees were my favorite.  Once I’d made it to the first branch, the challenge was to find the highest spot that would bear my weight.  Branch to branch, always a limb wrapped around the trunk, through the crown to where the trunk tapered  and thrust its twiggy fingers into the sky.   I would settle into the highest fork, my protected perch, let a foot dangle into thin air, and look.

People walking a dog along the road on the other side of the creek.  A caterpillar bunching itself along a twig.  My mother hanging laundry out to dry, snapping wooden clothespins onto towels and sheets, the clothes line drooping under the weight, stopping sometimes to rest her back and stare, her face empty of her mom expression.    White butterflies on their way to the clover.  Ants marching up the bark grooves of the trunk and onto the smooth branches.  Birds chattering and chirruping on a thin bouncing branch.  Water moving around the stones poking out of the creek bed.  A green, living leaf brushing my cheek.  Sunlight and shadow moving across the notebook (carried up tucked into the front of my shorts) as I wrote.  And always the sky above me, framed by the leaves in an ever-shifting mosaic.

Anchored by the scratchy, solid trunk, I rustled and hummed with the leaves.   I thought human thoughts about why my mother was sad, about a friend’s birthday party, about clarinet fingerings.  I imagined plant thoughts about feeding on sunshine and pulling water from the creek, the wind soughing in my canopy.    Existence felt exquisitely bearable as the perspective shifted from butterflies to philosophy to the taste of honeysuckle to a lovers’ quarrel.

On my walks around town this spring, exploring the back ways and side streets, I’ve come across a few treehouses.  Some were simply a ladder and platform.  Others were  more elaborate, some completely enclosed, with garden furniture and screens to keep out the gnats.  (I even saw one with an air conditioner sticking out of a window!)

I wonder how it would feel to write in a treehouse.   In the end, it probably wouldn’t differ much, except logistically, from writing on a tree branch, or in my parked car, or in my study.    Tree sitting did develop for me a habit of shifting from small to big and back again, of letting the breeze blow from thought to thought, weightlessness to gravity.   It helped me have thoughts that were worth writing about.  Or so I hope.

Imagination and memory can return me to that leafy hammock any time.   Here in my crowded study with the wheezing fan, I can conjure bark at my back.  I can watch the oak leaves breaking the sun, notice the FedEx truck grumbling past, stretch out my hand to catch the best word as it flutters towards the clover.

 

Storms

Yesterday afternoon I was practicing in my studio when it got so dark outside that I had to turn on a lamp.   Summer storm coming, clearly.

Summer storms are immensely better than winter storms.  If it starts raining sideways, cleanup means righting a tipsy lawn chair.   Snowing sideways means shoveling and scary-slippery streets.    From a sheltered spot, a summer storm can be a beautiful thing.  Not so much up close.

Last summer I lost an umbrella in an encounter with a gorgeous but ferocious squall in Ogunquit.  Dave and I ambled along Marginal Way, a path that runs along the oceanfront, when we felt a couple of raindrops.  I was already using my umbrella as shade from the sun.  As the drops became a deluge and the breeze became a gale, the poor thing was bent inside-out and broke one of its spokes.   We ran towards a cluster of beachside hotels.   

As I put my flute away Dave’s car nosed out of the driveway.   I hoped he’d finish whatever errand he was running before the rain got started for real.  Just a few minutes later the storm hit.   Raindrops lined up like beads in a curtain, making the wind visible.  I thought about Sonny.  

Sonny is a walker.  He takes a walk every morning and some afternoons.  Even when it’s raining he walks, if it’s one of those long gentle rains.  He gets all wet, which is one of his graduation presents this year was a raincoat.  The raincoat was hanging on its peg in the front hall.  Sonny wasn’t in the basement, and his bedroom upstairs was empty.   The rain lashed against the kitchen window.  Not so pretty anymore, while imagining Sonny caught out in it.  I grabbed my phone.

Dave and I headed in the direction of a pavilion overlooking the beach, hopping from awning to awning.   Like sandpipers spotting a snail, we were delighted to discover an awning that sheltered an ice cream stand.  Dave got a cone, extra jimmies, and I got a cup, no jimmies, and we ate slowly while the rain returned itself to the gray waves of the Atlantic.  Wet clothes and ice cream was a shivery combination but deliciousness outweighed the discomfort.   

I had to look up Sonny’s phone number in my contacts list.  The only phone numbers I know from memory now are mine and Dave’s.  I usually text Sonny.  I waited for Sonny to answer and wondered what happened to the space in my brain that once remembered phone numbers.    Not for long: he picked up on the second ring.  “We’re almost home,” he said.

Dave and Sonny pounded up the back steps.  I opened the door.  Both of them were soaked.  Sonny had called Dave just as the storm was getting started, said he was stuck near the  grocery store.   Dave drove to get him:  “I could barely see the road!”   We watched the rain pelt itself into the thirsty ground.  The big gusty gouts turned vertical, slowed to little droplets, and stopped.

Dave and I made it to the pavilion.  We stood at the sandy edge, our clothes steaming in the sun, the ocean blue again.  A double rainbow rose from the waves to much oohing and aching.    We took pictures and I texted one to Sonny, who was taking care of the house and Capone during our Maine weekend.   

Sonny thanked his dad for the rescue and me for the call.  “I know I can always call one of you and you’ll help,” he said.   Better than a double rainbow.

Decisions, Decisions…

When I returned to writing this winter, I aimed to reinforce this habit by combining it with visits to libraries, bookstores,  and coffee shops.  A couple of times a week, I stuffed my backpack with a journal, iPad, pens, and stickers (my inner 5-year-old has welcomed the emergence of stickers into grownupland and accumulated many packs of them).   Then I’d explore, returning with my notebook–and oftentimes my stomach–a bit fuller.

Yet sometimes I found myself feeling reluctant.  I wondered if my choice could have been  better.  Selecting a writing location came to feel like a bit of a chore.  I searched Google for possibilities.  Sometimes I lugged my backpack into the car and drove around aimlessly for half an hour before admitting failure and going, again, to Panera Bread or Starbucks.  Once I just drove and came back home (and didn’t write there, either).  Then came the stay-at-home orders and I wasn’t able to drive anywhere at all.

For the first couple of weeks of stay at home, I missed these trips, and these places, terribly.  Being able to move around a space, sit, watch other people.   Having that set of choices taken away was enraging.

Stay at home changed lots of things.  Friday nights, pre-pandemic, involved discussions about food type, familiar versus new restaurant, driving distance, likelihood of a wait time, and best route to take.  Nowadays we ask, do we feel like cooking?  If not, we pick between two local places to call for takeout.  I used to spend minutes at the grocery store staring at the peanut butter displays, trying to figure out whether I wanted creamy, crunchy, gourmet with honey and chocolate, natural, comparing calorie counts, etc.  Now I grab the biggest jar left on the shelf, which takes about three seconds.    Of course I welcome the opportunity to buy the occasional white chocolate honeycomb fancy pants peanut butter, but reducing my options has freed up time I didn’t realize I was wasting.  Also it’s stopped the second-guessing game in my head.

Probably time to reset my relationship to choices, and to things.  I saw some cute stickers in a YouTube video and went to the linked website to look at them; the site had hundreds of sticker books, sticker sheets, and sticker rolls, and a little “do you need help” box that kept popping up on the side of the screen.  I felt intrigued, but rapidly this faded into fatigue and anxiety.   So I clicked off.

I’m no longer upset that I can’t go out to a coffee shop, or a mall, or a bookstore, though I hope all of these places can reopen as soon as it’s safe.  For now I’m at peace with the knowledge that my biggest decision on leaving my house is whether to turn right or left at the end of the driveway.  I do sometimes have a route in mind–there are lots of side streets that I haven’t explored yet–but it’s not a choice that causes any internal agitation.

Thursday I went walking early.  I had planned a rightwards journey, but got about a block into it when the rain started.  I backtracked to the house,  retrieved an umbrella, and decided to walk leftwards instead, around a park with a little pond.   I got to see a bunch of nature:  Swan and his bestie Duck owning the pond, a flock of geese, and a pair of swallows (maybe? I’m not good with birds) doing a flight show the Blue Angels might envy, and a family of five deer–more deer than this suburbanite has ever seen together, at least outside of a zoo.     It was a beautiful experience.  The next day I explored the side streets.    That was beautiful, too.

#*&^$?!!

Content warning!  This post has a bunch of swears.  If salty language bugs you, this isn’t one you’ll want to read…

————————————————————————————————————

“I think we can get that movie for free,” says Sonny.

“I know,” says Dave, “but I rented it anyway.”

“How come?”

“Because when Samuel L. Jackson says I’ve had it, etc., I want to hear mother-fucking, not monkey-flipping.”

“Or Monday-Friday,” says Sonny.  Sonny’s not yet seen the movie (Dave has, several times), but one of his hobbies is watching YouTube movie commentary channels, so he knows all kinds of trivia about Snakes on a Plane.   Motherfucking overdubs: check!  “Snake” button on the microwave: check!

I chime in with my personal least favorite solution to movie profanity: replacing it with nothing at all.  Makes me wonder if I have suddenly gone deaf, or if we’ll need a new TV because the sound has stopped working.  Especially if I’m watching the kind of movie where swearing is a large portion of the dialogue.  (Of note,  Snakes on a Plane isn’t that kind of movie.  At 106 minutes long, the film contains just 90 instances of foul language, about 30 of them involving some variant of “fuck.”)

We’re in a mood for some cathartic cursing.  It’s been unseasonably cool most of the week, and we made it to the weekend only to be pranked by  Mother Nature:  snow overnight.   I Samuel L. Jacksoned a bit, myself, when I peeked outdoors this morning.

The arguments against swearing don’t persuade me:

 —  Swearing shows a lack of class/lack of imagination.  Truly well-bred folks swear like Shakespeare.  I read all of Shakespeare’s plays in 2019:  nobody can sling the shit like he does.  His level of inventive invective is unachievable by non-geniuses.  As well, people won’t like you much (Shakespearean swearing wounds and insults, which is not the way a lot of people use profanity).  Plus Shakespeare’s characters use a lot of garden-variety oaths like “marry,” and nobody seems to fault that.

 —  Think of the children!  I see no problem with modeling situational awareness so that kids know what kind of language is appropriate in a particular space.  Most children already understand this, but reinforcing doesn’t hurt.   However, it’s a strange notion that knowing the word “damn” will damage a child who hears that and worse every day on the playground, at the store, etc.

An article in the HuffPost, “People Who Swear May Be Happier, Healthier And More Honest,”* points out that many studies find that swearing has pluses.   These benefits include that swearing seems to improve exercise performance and pain tolerance and also helps people communicate their emotions.  (Especially if that emotion is “Shit, those burpees hurt like all fuck!”)   People who swear frequently may have higher IQs.  They may lie less.  As someone who swears at near-sailor levels,  I’d damn well like to believe that there’s at least a bit of truth in these studies.

When Samuel L. Jackson roars “Enough is enough!  I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” the three of us break into cheers and applause.  The living room warms and brightens.  HuffPost mentions that swearing can calm you down, as well.   So. dammit, fuck that shitty motherfuckin’ snow.

health-benefits-of-swearing_n_5a5e44a8e4b0106b7f65b3a6

Flappy shoe

The new normal.  The phrase of the week, it seems, and an idea that makes people anxious.  Me, too, but as someone on the autistic spectrum, “normal” has always been more of an aspiration than an achievement.

Will social distancing have to last for months, maybe years?  A new normal of lines measured in six-foot-spaced strips of tape, no more handshakes or air kisses, faces made harder to read by masks or patchy internet connections?   It feels intimidating, but familiar…

[cranking up way-back machine: 3-2-1: go]

Growing up, at any one time I had a maximum of three pairs of shoes: church shoes, to be worn Sundays and with dresses and skirts, tennis shoes for gym class and playing outside, and school shoes (usually brown with glued-on rubber soles) for everything else.   Most years the school shoes lasted from September through June, by which time they were a little thin over the big toe and generally banged up.    August meant new school shoes every year, even after my feet stopped growing at age 13, until financial strains associated with my mother leaving home led to the need to stretch a pair of school shoes over my junior and senior years.

By mid September of senior year, the right shoe’s outsole began peeling away from the insole.  Just a bit, right at the toe-tips, like a smile just barely showing teeth.   My father cried most mornings; the trees turned from green into fire colors; my footwear deteriorated.    By the time leaves covered the sidewalks, my shoe was catching great crackly mouthfuls of them on every trudge to the bus stop.  When I sat with my legs crossed, I could wave my toe in the air and the outsole would flap, flap, flap against the ball of my foot.   

Walking became tricky and sometimes perilous.  I tried gluing the flap down, using clothespins to hold things together as it dried.  That typically worked for a day or two, but the insole and outsole seemed to get along as well as my parents did.  The separation could not be mended.

Papers from my mother’s lawyers got nailed to our front door; I made dinners; my sister and I kept the house cleaner than ever.  The left shoe followed the right shoe’s example, about a month behind it.    

I flapped and flopped through the halls of my high school for all of senior year.  My father got a new job in a new town; I got ready to move there and then go to college.  I was socially oblivious enough that I didn’t realize how weird my janky shoes must have seemed until years later when I started thinking about what normal meant and trying to figure out if normal was even a possibility for somebody like me.   Sometimes I would remember the shoes and feel embarrassed.

Later–all of these thoughts have come in stages–I realized that the shoes, despite their damaged state, still functioned okay.  My feet stayed warm, dry.   Protected.  There were more important things to adjust to in my life at that point than janky shoes.  When the new normal comes, you have to let bits of the old normal flap away.  

Pandemic diaries: The Walking Worried

It’s Friday morning, and I have that thing that’s going around.  Maybe you have it, too?  In our house it’s endemic, if not quite pandemic:  I’m terrified that my morning headache is the first symptom of COVID19.   I’ve contracted hypochondria.

I take last night’s wineglass downstairs and start the coffee.  Dave comes into the kitchen to fill Capone’s food bowl  before the meows get too menacing.   I notice that he’s maintaining a Capone-sized distance from me–that’s about three feet from whiskers to tail–which is all the social distancing our kitchen affords.   Trying to be casual, Dave touches the back of his wrist to his forehead.  Guess we both have the hypos today.

A cough after a workout.  A morning headache.  A room that seems chillier than usual.  A sore throat.   A bit of fatigue on carrying laundry upstairs.  More than two morning sneezes.  What, me worry?  Yup.

The news and our social feeds overflow with cautionary tales that start with mild symptoms and progress to ICU.  Anything less than tip-top creates a generalized uneasiness.  Actual physical discomfort has me wandering the house like Frodo before his big journey, muttering “Shall I ever look into that cabinet again, and who the heck stuck the juice glasses in there?”

Sonny is practicing bassoon, as he does most mornings.  He stops in the middle of an etude to cough.  Just a little cough.  Maybe he’s just clearing his throat.  I tiptoe to his door, glad that it’s closed so our germs can’t pass through.  “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

I deserve the italics; I ask Sonny this question almost every day.

Distraction is one way to deal with the worry, and it kind of works, but the best cure for the hypos is sleep.  Sadly, going straight back to bed doesn’t cut it, even on days when I have nothing on the schedule.   I start calculating how many hours it will be before a nap becomes possible.

Logistics are important.  In the wrong place or time, I’ll be too uncomfortable to get to sleep, or I’ll almost nod off but can’t get past the moment when the worries erupt.   There’s a recliner in the living room that would work, if nobody’s around eating lunch or watching TV or taking a class.

The coast being clear, I settle onto the napping chair.  Capone, the champion napper of the house, always knows when someone’s on the recliner and will casually walk through the living room to check out which lap is available.  Dave’s or Sonny’s?  Capone’s up in that chair lightning fast.  On seeing me, Capone flicks an ear and strolls away.

I don’t give up.  I arrange the cat’s favorite throw (red, plush) over my legs, set my book and water glass in easy reach, recline, and wait.  About ten minutes pass.   Fourteen pounds of feline whumps onto the the armrest.  One leg at a time, Capone settles himself into a comfortable position and demonstrates to me once again that all you need to do is close your eyes and purr.  I pass through the twilight floating state and into a real sleep.  When I wake, Capone is gone, but so are my headache and the panic.

Close your eyes and purr, my friends.

Pandemic Diaries: Paranoia

What troubled times do to a restless mind:

Thursday: I’m taking Dave to the Mobil station on Main Street to pick up his car, which had conked out on a grocery run to Shaw’s (something amiss in the gear shift).

Our first turn is Smith Road, which is set at an angle to our street, so that its houses’ backyards border our backyards.  The fourth house on Smith is our back-neighbor.  Split-level, white, probably three bedrooms.  A couple of years back, new owners (we don’t know them, or most of our neighbors…the new suburban normal) put up one of those eight-foot, blinding white, plastic stockyard fences, just beyond our garden.   While ugly, at least this fence has withstood the New England weather.   Plenty of its cousins around town have segments flat on the ground or swaying at an angle after a bar brawl with a Nor’easter, but our back neighbors’ fence remains upright.   Once it’s summer, there will be  party lights strung along its top, and music, and people.  All the fun things.

Today four cars, side by side, noses out, crowd the driveway.   Five cars have parked on the street, with another car pulling to the curb as we pass.

“What’s going on there?”

“Where?” says Dave.

“All the cars.”

We speculate all the way to Main Street.  Is it remarkable, or just a little unusual?   Right now, in Massachusetts, everybody is supposed to stay home if possible, going out only to shop for essentials and to exercise, in which case we are to stay six feet away from each other.   Even if just one person per car was in that house, that’s something like 10 people.   Maybe three or four of them live at the house, but that’s still five or six visitors, in a smallish house.   Why would so many people would be gathered there?   It’s hard to imagine them staying the recommended safe distance, crammed inside inside.

Maybe it’s some kind of committee meeting, town or school or charity.  Or an emergency that needs a lot of contractors.   None of the cars had a business logo, though; they were cars and SUVs, not pickup trucks or vans.  Maybe it’s a church meeting, people trying to figure out how to broadcast their next service.   Maybe it’s people making sandwiches for the food pantry.  Or family members planning a funeral.  Maybe it’s a drug den (Dave says the cars are too nice), or people gathering for a party, but who would have a party these days?  Maybe everybody’s out in the backyard, meeting safely, muses Dave. We wouldn’t be able to see them because of the fence.  We could if we were home and looking from our bedroom window, I think.

I drop Dave at the repair shop and head back home, choosing the direct route down Main Street that makes me sad and sick, since it passes so many closed businesses, plus a few persevering, empty-parking-lotted restaurants with giant “WE DELIVER!” signs out front.

A question slips into my mind: are the cars a see-something, say-something situation?  Maybe I should be a snoopy spybaby and report my neighbors to the police.   Yes, this is paranoia, a shameful impulse.  The phone stays in my pocket.

Around 11 that evening, mind on other things, I’m wearing PJs, brushing my teeth, when lights flash across the bedroom window.  Our garden is pulsing red.   On Smith Road a couple of fire engines, lights flashing, no sirens…and an ambulance…are parked in front of our back-neighbor’s house.

Dave and I watch for a little bit, then pull the shades and go to bed.

In my dream I’m in the kitchen.  Outside there comes an enormous boom, followed by heat, smoke, and an orange glow that illuminates nothing.   I call and no one answers; I look but can’t find family or pets.  I know that I must get outside and yet, if I choose the wrong way out, I will die.

My racing heart jolts me out of the nightmare.   Too full of adrenaline even to think of sleep, I grab a glass of water and go to the window.  The garden is dark and silent.