When I say that while I was meditating today, the best thing happened, I mean it.
I was seated on the anti-fatigue mat that occupies the floorspace just in front of the kitchen sink, my back tall against the lower kitchen cabinets, facing the dresser we use as a butcher block. My attention was tuned to to Andy’s voice reminding that meditation is a benefit for all sentient beings. That’s when M crept up to tape her homemade question box to the Julia-Child style pegboard that holds all of our pots and pans.
A question box is, in our case, a small box (one formerly holding sticks of butter), turned inside out and taped back together, with a small slit cut into the top. From what I understand, you’re supposed to write a question on a piece of paper, then put it inside the box, and await the answer.
She Scotch-taped the box to the wall with a single piece of tape, using the purple handle she’d fashioned, and then ran off, skipping. I settled back in for a moment. She came back within the same minute, bringing with her another small piece of tape to reinforce the first, and didn’t stop there. Trotting off to grab one more piece for the tape triptych, I peeked with one eye and watched her smooth it all down to make sure it was secure. She reached over to tap my shoulder and framed the question box with both hands, smiling. Then, she placed her head near the front of the small box where she’d glued a small piece of pink felt, and brushed her cheek along it’s softness, sharing this with me as one of the features of this new creation. I nodded in silence, smiling as I closed my eyes again.
This was my dream. I always wanted a house covered in treasures. Stickers on bunkbeds, jewels in doorjambs, masking tape in places that one wouldn’t expect. Little reminders someone was here. Secret messages not meant for me. This is everywhere and it is present now more than ever as we inhabit our home in this new way. There’s wear and heavy tread on every surface. The kitchen becomes a yoga studio, the girls’ bedroom a gym. Our limbs touch the walls when we reach out to stretch, we lift backpacks zipped tight around giant dictionaries. Tonight, the other three turned the bedroom into a wrestling ring. Mania ensued.
Before the question box moment, which was the second best of today, I was lost. I was inside my phone, looking for my feelings. I put my phone down, looking for different feelings. I went to the big kitchen window, looked outside for my feelings. I saw the pair of mourning doves, looking from side to side, seated atop the things that used to hold up the other sides of clotheslines. Partners. I looked at them, looking out maybe at me, maybe just looking.
Later, I got outside and looked closely at leaves, at rain being cradled in big fat drops on the top of them, total miracles. I took the side street that passes the garden that’s open on Saturday and Sunday mornings and I saw a hummingbird. I watched her zip, inky black with a yellow throat. How did I see this detail from 30 feet away? She hovered from flower to purple flower and then off again. I stood in stillness, waiting. I watched for her to return; I was that woman, standing in front of the locked gated garden, unable to wipe her tears because don’t touch your face, etc. She came around again, because a hummingbird gets hungry. She sipped and sipped and then she was gone.
Once, while breezing through the hospital halls in the Bronx, I pointed to a framed photo of a hummingbird. That’s me, I told Sarah. She agreed.
I am not always a hummingbird, but I am pollinating. I am trying to bring the stickiness of the flowers to you, deliver it to you quietly and without fanfare. I want to keep bringing you sugar, making more flowers, figure-eight wings beating fast, heart racing. Sometimes, I am flying.
Last last summer. This shirt ended up shrinking so much that my daughters can wear it now. These pants are now part of my home uniform. Brendan’s hair is short now, but getting longer. The girls are much taller now.
We will ride this ferry again.
But what happens when you’re daughters are at the dinner table, singing along with Woody who is singing This Land Is Your Land and it’s not, it’s none of ours and later, I get the Times alert that casually informs me that autocrats are taking more and more power and definitely won’t give it over later, no way no how, and how, how in the world are we supposed to eventually reframe this tragedy as a seismic cultural/societal shift when we’re squirreled away in our homes in fear, quiet and waiting to be told?!
I didn’t feel the acute panic today. Brendan took the girls outside at 6pm to run around the block and came back having put an order in for Thai food at our favorite spot around the corner. Is that ok? he asked. Me, out of breath and in between reps of squat jumps, sure, I gasped. The restaurant worker assured him they were taking all the necessary precautions and when B went to pick it up, he brought the food to the door, bagged and ready-to-go, passed off at arms-length.
We wiped down the containers, crossed our fingers. The girls ate quickly and without complaint. I spaced out a bit, zapped from my home workout and spaced-out by superstition. Would this be my slip-up? When will the mistake happen? The Thai food left me feeling unsettlingly…normal. Before, Thai food would’ve been a night when neither one of us wanted to cook, or the girls would’ve had after-school and we’d all want to eat quickly and not have to clean up the kitchen. To me, it felt like I’d let my guard down, left the door open a crack. For a moment, I forgot where we were.
But I know where I am. I know what’s happening beyond this crumbly apartment building, past this sweet neighborhood, across the bridge, over the BQE, just…there. I know what it looks like from the pictures, but have no idea what it feels like, the texture of panic, the metallic taste of bone-deep worry, of quick decisions, of not enough protection, of a hospital ship called Comfort sailing into our harbor, of hospital beds in the middle of Central Park. I bow down to the people showing up for this work every day. My hands are over my heart for you all. And if these folks can do it, so can I. I can wash my hands until they crumble. I can breathe deep and take comfort in the fact that today, I am well. I will stay home for as long as it takes for this awful storm to pass, and we’ll do just what the chalkboard sign at my neighborhood wine shop reminds us to do.
Stay safe. Be patient.
I write now from the inside of someplace.
Today felt like some kind of beginning.
We’ve been staying inside our one-bedroom apartment, my twin six-year-old girls alternately cackling and screaming at each other. This evening, I compulsively took my temperature.
Each time I go to the bathroom, I count the squares of toilet paper I’m using.
Every time I look in the pantry, I tally the tins of fish we have stocked. One, two, three. That’s it. We have beans. We also have good friends.
I think of Monday when the girls will not go to the school that we all love. I think of myself, trying to teach a workshop that day maybe, after therapy if it’s actually happening, riding the train all the way out to Queens…?
I don’t want to do it this way.
I have no job. Last week, I had lots of jobs. As of Thursday evening, I have no job. Last week, many of us had lots of jobs. Now, I have no jobs. Not one.
I burn a little cedar branch. Thank you.
Today the sun was shining as my daughters and I walked outside (no touching anything, no touching face, no picking up anything off the street). We walked on the sunny side of the street and felt the sun. I felt my body adjust us all around other people as we walked. We walk around each other, for each other. The girls and I brought a book to a friend. After we pushed the buzzer to her apartment, she buzzed and, without touching the door, I pushed it open with my foot and set the book inside. The book is called “Recollections of My Non-Existence” and I’m still in the middle of reading another book by the same author called “The Faraway Nearby.” Her name is Rebecca Solnit. You may know her and, if not, you should. If I were diving into words in the way she often likes to do, I’d share that upon a very casual internet search, it seems the name Rebecca is said to mean “to tie” or “to bind.” Last Tuesday evening, I made the choice to go to hear and see her at a theater in Brooklyn, in a crowd of a few hundred people. The women moved around one another carefully, giving way, allowing distance between one another. On the third floor of the theater in an enormous and empty old ballroom was the bar. One bartender stood, wearing latex gloves, picking up the already-poured wine and passing it to me, both of us hand sanitizing afterwards.
In the theater, which used to be a temple, I had two empty seats beside me. I listened to Rebecca speak, I recorded her words using my phone so that my friend, who conscientiously was beginning her practice of social distancing, could later listen to her wisdom. Near to the end of the conversation, during the questions-from-the-audience part of the night, there was a woman who I’d watched furiously taking notes throughout the talk. She was first in line at the mic and began by stating, with tremor and rawness in her voice —
“I come from a zealously, neo-liberal family, whose matriarch is named Patricia and her daughter is also named Patricia, as is her daughter’s daughter and I would ask for your advice on how to navigate that, but I suddenly feel that you both possess all the wisdom and the fuck you energy that I need. So my question is — –[her voice breaks here and now she’s crying hard]
RS: Oh, that’s ok. We are not in a rush here.
My question is whether you might be able to hashtagbelieveme in this moment and believe that I need all the wisdom and fuck you energy that this world has to offer.
RS: Would you like us all to shout fuck you to your chosen target? — — We can do a fuck you, patriarchy I think, as a collective. 1, 2, 3, Fuck you, patriarchy!”
On my lock screen of my phone I keep an image of a collage — two hands use a rope to tie a loose knot around a bright star, among a sky of smaller stars. I chose it because I like the idea of the cosmos being tied together. I like the idea of the cosmos being tied together.
I like the idea of together. I don’t want to do it this way, but I will.