I didn’t want to talk about this because we can all finally see daylight–but somehow I have to.
As a country, we probably have to.
In January of last year, Mate went back east to see his father before his father passed. He came home and about a week later, I got sick. It felt like a normal bout of the flu, except for the coughing. Not productive, just incessant. I would wake up after coughing for two hours trying to get what felt like the last corner of phlegm from my lungs. I would finally go sleep sitting up in a chair, taking ibuprofen to soothe the ravages in my throat from trying to cough.
I was tired–tired enough that cancelling my trip to Florida in February felt like the right move. Our finances were healing and I was still barely waddling around the block.
And Mate started talking about the virus. He followed the news much more than I did a year ago–he was concerned. And I… I did what much of the rest of the country did.
I thought to myself, “Well, if it was really bad, someone would do something. I mean I know THAT asshole is too stupid or self-involved, but there’s safeguards, right?”
The Wednesday night before California went into lockdown, Mate and I were at a Fitz and the Tantrums concert. It was a smallish venue–Ace of Spades–and the concert was great. As we were there, in line (and thinking about being in line, without a mask, in a crowd, when our breath was puffing out in big clouds of white is horrifying right now) we got news that the King’s Arena had cleared out while it was being seated for a basketball game. Two players from the other team had tested positive, and Sacramento was not playing.
I was scheduled to go on a trip on March 17th–and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be canceled or not. To prep, I went and got my hair cut and my toes done, and then I went to eat at one of those sushi places where the sushi is carried around on conveyor belts. I was there, and Mate texted me, “Where are you?”
I told him, and he texted, “Shit–gotta make a U-ee.” He was passing where I was. He’d been sent home from work, and we both picked up the kids who’d been told that they wouldn’t be going to school for the next couple of weeks.
And that was it.
Our world stopped.
Suddenly it was us, on the internet, with the people in our lives, going, “What do we do now?”
And our Federal government was doing… nothing.
And it was starting to drive me insane.
I found a website that reported COVID statistics and I checked it compulsively. I’m down to hitting refresh twice a day, but for a while I was checking it on the hour. It wasn’t that I wanted people to be sick, or dying. It was that OUR WORLD HAD STOPPED, and nobody in power seemed to care. I wanted proof that I was not insane for wearing a mask to the store. Proof that we had pulled our children out of school for a reason. Proof that the thing the politicians (except for our governor and a couple of others) was real.
We’ve all seen the Twitter posts after that, the memes, the articles on mental health. Watching my teenagers spiral into depression is something I don’t… I can’t talk about. Not now. And part of that is that it took place in our bubble, our house, a place none of us could escape from. And part of it was that they pulled me with them, and while I was able to claw myself out for air now and then, I was so worried, for so long, I’m still not okay.
I will forever remember this last August and September as a time we wondered, everyday, if we would be able to breathe.
But I remember other moments, when my, “I’m Mom, I’ve got this,” slipped completely. Mate and I usually take turns losing our shit on each other, and we did this year in ways I’d forgotten we’d learned when the kids were in diapers. But these were times when I couldn’t pick myself up. Couldn’t function until I remembered to breathe, and he had to remind me of what was real.
* We drove to a park to walk the dogs and the parking lot was barred shut. This was early on in the pandemic, before it was widely known (and may Trump’s nose fall off from syphilis for this) that it was airborne.Walking the dogs was–is–my touchstone. It’s my meditation. In the past year it’s become my passage back to reading, because I’m listening to audiobooks and have RIPPED through some of my favorite authors. It’s my music time, when I need to let my mind wander. I’ve even listened to podcasts, and I never thought I’d be the type. But before that happened, we drove by the park and found it locked, and I pulled to the side of the road and sobbed.
And then we drove to another park that was tucked behind a neighborhood, so parking was on the street and you just walked right in, and we kept walking.
But first, I saw this simple thing taken away from me, and I just fucking couldn’t.
* Christmas, and we were ordering everybody’s presents and some people were saying fuck it and going out shopping anyway and I was looking at COVID statistics and we were DYING BY THE THOUSANDS. Three-thousand people a day. That was a 9/11 a day. Sometimes more. Rarely less. And I couldn’t find pajamas for my kids because EVERYBODY WAS WEARING PAJAMAS and…
Mate found me crocheting one of those fucking octopus hats for my children and sobbing because I couldn’t find pajamas on my phone and had to calm me down. I’m not proud of that–but I don’t see how I could have avoided it either. The kids were so depressed–ZoomBoy had lost so much weight, Squish was practically not speaking to us they were so catatonic with dread–and I was trying to hold it all together and NOTHING WAS HOLDING. Nothing was holding together. Nothing.
Not even Christmas, when Mate and I were supposed to be Santa Claus and we were barely his drunk nephew, Barry Claus.
Christmas came, and the hats were finished, and the kids were okay and everybody got pajamas–but that terrible, panicky realization that I couldn’t fix it–I hadn’t been able to fix it for much of a year–is going to natter at my peace for much of the rest of my life.
* February. February is such a shitty time for me anyway. I don’t remember it being bad when I was a kid but as an adult, I remember entire Februaries where between the kids being sick and Mate and I being sick and teacher’s meetings–I may as well have just bailed on teaching entirely. More recently it’s been the end of the lonely sad time when I haven’t spoken to my friends cross country in too long a period, and I am feeling adrift and lost in the world, because there’s maybe three people besides Mate who speak fluent Amy and they’re all busy until March.
This February the country was recovering–recovering from the fascist government, from the insurrection, from our rage-and-twitter addiction. And then Chicken’s cat died. And the cat started seizing when I was driving them to the vet so Chicken could have her put down.
And Chicken didn’t take it well, and I was Mom. I was the best Mom I could be. I was strong and compassionate, and I ran interference for her as she came unglued on pretty much everyone and I comforted her the best I could.
And then–AMA (Against Motherly Advice) she adopted a cat a week later and returned him two days after that because it was too goddamned soon.
And Mate said, “Yeah, I’ve got to take her to the SPCA to return this cat, dammit,” and I… went to bed and cried. He saw my eyes welling, and I was like, “I can’t. I…I can’t. I just can’t.”
To my shame, there were other times I said this–talks with shrinks, moments with the kids–but this was the time I felt my entire body shutting down. I fled, in tears.
I just couldn’t.
Which is the familiar thread in all these stories. The painful nugget I gleaned. I never deluded myself that I could do it all. I never even deluded myself that I was a great mother. But I always thought trying counted for something and my entire life, I’d never quit trying anything. I’d done it. Maybe not pretty and maybe not perfect, but by fuck, I’d gotten it done, right?
But this year I discovered that fighting sadness is insidious when the entire world is fighting it too. I discovered that there were times I was as vulnerable as my children and I really could be left without reserves to fix myself and fix them too.
I felt a stuttering in my try, and at my age, it was a terrifying thing to discover I could blow that gasket, and leak out all my fuel into the void.
Spring has returned–it’s rained, and I feel cold blue-sky hope right now. Hopefully we all do. We no longer feel abandoned by our government (although people still piss us off) and I’m mildly cheered to see that the people I loved and respected at the beginning of this are still the people I love and respect now.
And my HMO wants me to come get my shot (because apparently I’m a giant comorbidity, go figure) and I’m okay with that–hopeful even. My children might be able to see their friends before summer.
But I’m not going to forget. None of us should. There was a time when our government let us down and we were all alone, and sometimes all we had were the things that kept us going in our home.
And when those things broke, we were broken too.
We need to remember this because we need to forgive other people when it happens to them. We need to remember how fragile we all are. We need to remember our world relies on the human ties we use to prop it up, and when those are strained, our houses threaten to topple.
We need to help other people keep their houses strong so ours can be strong too.
We’re all going to remember this last year anyway. We need to remember the times our hearts failed us–so we know it can happen. More happiness fuel can help–but so can a quieter engine. Smaller expectations. Bigger celebrations of the small things.
My youngest child’s birthday is coming on the third of April. We celebrated their birthday in quarantine last year, and they still might not be in school this year.
We need to bake a cake and celebrate anyway.
I know I am thrilled I have this person in my life to celebrate. If that is the only reason for takeout and cake, then that is good enough for me.