Truth is stranger than fiction, never more than right now with the whole world reeling from a pandemic. COVID-19 in the hilltowns? Last night I heard my upstairs neighbors (in their early thirties) having some type of get together. I was envious. I won’t see people, even my brother and his wife, for what looks like months it sounds from the last report. I am aware that life ends, but the sword of Damocles palpable imminence of it, the tortuous prejudice of the divide between young and old, the fact that I am seemingly disposable and have to live in subjugation until that moment in time does irk me. It really does. I know it affects all of us but if you’re old you’re screwed. The streets are deserted this morning, the plows making their way from driveway to driveway to carve out exit holes for those allowed to leave their homes.
There isn’t enough snow to require plowing of the entire parking area. It will not amount to anything. I have that view, looking out at the white, thinking that particular evaluation was made about the virus in the beginning. Now, with the fat in the fire spitting away and flaming up, now measures are being taken, caution turning to panic, rising up like a fire completely getting out of control. I look at the president and think, God, we’re in for it. He’s so cavalier about everything. We never get the truth. It’s always some varnished bit of truth that he’s been holding in his pocket, polishing. One imagines him as a schoolyard bully; torturing kids and buying and extorting favors. It’s not possible this man is the president. I’ve said that to myself a million times.
Today, I discovered my phone charger isn’t working properly so I’ll need to get a new one. A month ago this would have been a simple task. Today it’s an adventure. I step outside daily to walk down into the field near the river, but I am mainly here. I try not to leave the house to do errands more than once a week or two. I haven’t been in a store almost three weeks. I wore gloves on Friday when I went to the little Post Office. There was someone at the counter chatting with the clerk and she looked like she’d be there a while. In my former life I’d have looked at the cards and loitered inside. Today, I smelled the dusty, dirty smell of the cramped space, almost a metallic smell, and stepped outside grateful for the sunny day, the fact that I had that option since it had warmed up a bit. When the woman left I scurried in, hoping she wouldn’t take it personally that I couldn’t be in the same room with her. I wouldn’t even have gotten my mail except that I knew some books had come in. If one has to be in solitude one needs poetry, certainly Yeats and Eliot.
My neighbors Tom and Mary don’t have email and I’m assuming they don’t have any ties to social media. I’d like to reach out to them, but I don’t want to intrude on their privacy. It’s about 150 yards from my house to theirs. He and his wife have lived in this tiny town for decades, having raised their kids and settled in a cozy kind of way. I’m new. I’ve only been here a year and a half, coming here after illness and death, the two things that I had thought you could move away from. My daughters didn’t want me to move so far away. But the east seemed like such a refuge at the time, a place to reconnect to my distant past.
My tiny family; not counting my kids, it’s just me and my brother. Now, I spend days worrying about them and about my son who lives three states away. Both are about 6-7 hours away if you come right down to it. Not that hopping on a plane is in my future or anyone elses. It’s always after a plane ride you get the worst colds. We can’t afford that now. The germs out there live on plastic for three days. Is that right? And the droplets – we’re supposed to be vigilant about the droplets; social distancing and keeping at least 6-8 feet away from everyone. Tom and Mary live a quiet life and I wave to Tom when he’s out in the garden. They have a lovely garden. Tom’s out there digging and pulling weeds quite a bit of the time. It’s winter now, or March’s version of it, so they’re not outside. Mary was sick for a while and I heard she was much better. I hope so. They are good people. I should have sent them a Christmas card last year (I let Christmas come up too quickly and wound up not sending any cards at all, not even to my kids). I regret that. I regret so many things now that hindsight is a daily mode.
If I didn’t have my cat I’d be quite lonely. She’s a senior cat adopted last November. When I put out my hand to pat her she stands on her hind legs and rises precariously to meet my hand and bonk it with her head. My sister-in-law calls that tippy-toeing. I miss them. We used to get together once or twice a week for beers. Often they’d bring their own beer because they don’t like my IPA. Too bitter they say. Family, people I care about that I used to see, now just people I speak to on the phone. Are they okay? I used to be grateful for proximity. But that doesn’t do me good anymore. My brother is a year older than I and in fairly good health, but until recently he worked at a large corporation with lots of opportunity for contagion. Now, until they’ve been isolated for at least fourteen days, I can’t see them.
I can’t see anyone really. I had a lung infection a few years back and now I’m susceptible. I think about those who are more vulnerable than I. I wish there were a way to collectively communicate to them and say, hey—hang in there. We can do this. Daily, I say a little prayer and light a candle on the mantel for the people I know and for the people I don’t know; holding them in my heart intentionally. I take a moment to move into gratitude. It’s helpful for me to return to that mode. It’s taken me a lifetime to learn that anger and hate just piles up on your own door if you hold onto it. So let’s see…I’m grateful for the people I’ve met at the senior center and church, all lovely. They are shadows, sadly, in my life now. We can’t go out. We can’t see each other. For many of them, old school telephone is the best way, the only way, to communicate. I’ve thought about letters but I don’t know where they live, what their last names are. There’s a woman, Shirley, who comes to the center to meet-up but doesn’t stay for lunch. I wonder how to reach her. Lunch and meeting up is only once a week. Correction, was only once a week. This is a small town of not quite 1200 people after all. That’s the official number but it’s got to be less than that I’m thinking.
So what will the future bring? I have a granddaughter I haven’t seen in a year. I was supposed to go to the west coast to my younger daughter’s wedding in May but it’s been canceled. There’s no way to hold any kind of gathering. All the restaurants and bars are closed. All the stores are closing. I read today that Philadelphia was closing the liquor stores. That’s a mistake in my opinion. I need my beer and whisky and in the evening, when you’re by yourself, it’s a comfort. I suppose they’re worried about the number of people in the store.
The latest advisory said no more than ten people. But honestly, if you’re a senior with respiratory or immune issues you have to stay home all the time. You have to ask people for favors in picking things up for you. Asking for help is something I’ve always had trouble doing. But we need to stay put. They call it hunkering down. As an introvert I’m okay with that. But I miss my friends and family. I miss my so called freedom. Did it ever exist or was it simply a figment of my imagination the whole time? Now, who knows? Venturing out is like a dark kind of roulette. At some point the ball is going to drop into your slot.
C. D. Finley
Opinionated, wry, sometimes corny, observational humor mostly about writing, but you never know.