Written on New Year's Eve 2020
Fuck You, 2020
Fuck you for turning hardships into armed missiles.
Fuck you and the people who find this pandemic neither comprehensible nor fixable.
Fuck you for obliterating linear time.
Fuck you, 2020, since you actually started this year with Covid inside of our borders, but all the airwaves were carrying was the impeachment. You were here, you bastard. There were articles in foreign and domestic papers.
Fuck the deniers.
Fuck the people in 2020 who expected others to ascribe to the idea that everything happens for reasons that are not ours to know, but especially fuck those of you who won’t mask or vaccinate.
Fuck discourse rooted in platitude.
Fuck the little holiday get-togethers.
Fuck the tension between primal reaction and public health decorum.
And fuck that guy who sneezed on me in April in Heinens. Turns out 2020 showed us how many of you there are. Fuck all of you.
Fuck you, 2020, for being a dead thing that so many are trying to keep alive while our federal government is burning up with misinformation and malevolence.
Fuck that dude who was too scared to stick the swab all of the way up into my sinus cavity for my Covid test. Geezus, sir. Get it together.
Fuck you, 2020, and all the people who stayed around a bad man too long. Seriously, fuck all the way off forever.
Fuck you, 2020, for so harshly pointing out that there are few catastrophes, in our own lives or in those of nations, that do not ultimately have their origins in emotional ignorance.
Fuck you, 2020, for being so full of crucial information, the kind that is frequently lodged in our minds without being active in them, and fuck anyone who both understands what we should do and then resolutely refuses to do it.
However, a big fucking thank you, 2020, for showing me what happens when words fail. And thank you for pointing out to me everyone who couldn’t be bothered and for showing me who’s willing to be cavalier with my life.
Now, fuck off forever into the next universe.
Written May 22, 2020
We were out on Lake Erie all day yesterday fishing and playing and breathing in the air, which even a 1000 meters from shore was thick with the sweet scent of blossoms.
The Passing of Ghosts
I can’t remember the last time
the savage thaw fell out of my mouth
and little white hot balls of Sol
bled from my freezing fingertips
the cold muttering of Winter undone,
always much more than the carving
left behind by the dirty melt,
sleety runoff and exacting ghosts
with more stamina than I.
Spring needs immense energy having
suffered from such cold neglect,
having forgotten it’s sturdiness
that Winter often lacks
scentless and remote, it strides
heedlessly past my hibernating
specters begging for release.
In Winter dying is the only way out
and every departure is layered
in self knowledge and will
reducing me to essential elements.
I hold these spirits, gaze into their eyes,
abandon perspective, intoxicated and
heady from blossom scent
1000 meters off shore
an unseen thing bounding
across my lake. My arms held high
eyes closed to the murmuring
of Winter borne, in this way I am
able to feel the passing of ghosts.
Spring is a supremely jealous thing.
Pic is Starve Island, Lake Erie. It’s locally known as Death Reef since it will kill your boat dead if you happen upon it during a moment of inattention or if you forget to inquire about local charts
Protect Your Circle
The attached picture is of a painting, Protect Your Circle, done by the artist (and my cousin), Deborah Hance Wage. She painted it during the Spring of 2020 when Covid was raging, no one knew much of anything, authorities were saying stupid and contagious things, and my husband was quarantined behind closed doors while his lungs crackled and his blood oxygen hovered around 88% for 14 days. When Protect Your Circle went up for sale on Deb’s website, I knew I had to have it.
I am especially sensitive to our circles being undervalued or being compromised from within or from without. So many hazardous uncertainties swirl around us on a daily basis, but especially during these last two years we all have been tested. There’s the constant negotiation with other souls, the fear of failure, the obliteration of future plans, the distrust of others, the pain of physical struggle and emotional loss, the loneliness we have learned to live with or blamed on other people.
I come home to my circle that secures me halfway between here and there, a stopping place where I do not perform to earn love, a holding place where weakness is a matter of context until it gets to be about logistics and then I am lifted up and away from my weakness.
I come home to the place where I extended my arms around my children until their breaths synched with mine, until they were calmed and settled with their bodies surrounded by the protective circle of my own body.
I come home to the place where we felt our children’s need to be simultaneously challenged and protected, where they tested all of their gorgeous strengths and serious weaknesses without questioning whether we could contain them, without fear that our boundaries were not secure, without questioning that we could be the two people in this world to whom they could give a glimpse of the intensity of their needs.
I come home to the place where our kids found method upon method to test the boundaries of our circle, to see how far it extended, to discover how well it would hold, to see where we began and they ended.
There’s a myth that this kind of connection, this kind of circle is DNA based or biological. While it is rooted in the body, it’s not DNA. It’s physiological. Circles of protection are physiological emerging from the delicate dance that we have performed even on days when our circle was open and gaping and we were raw and selfish and unseeing. The circle folds itself around the continuous mental adjustments of our actions and our intentions the same way that my son learned to use a really sharp knife with me holding a hand in his, directing the blade safely, surrounded by the protective circle of our bodies pressed together providing moment to moment feedback; the same way he is learning that the best way to overcome challenging circumstances, distrust, and deep pain is by taking small tangible steps bolstered by connection.
We make our own circles because the world operates without any rules and in the telling of the stories of the world there can’t be any rules. Stories have got to go where they need to go. This isn’t always where I’d want them to go, but this is us in the circles we make. We step outside of our circles, we come, we go, and we come back again, but this is only because our circles secure us halfway between here and there.
We are surrounded by a barrage of words and events that don’t seem to have any meaning on their own, but anything shaped by human hands and inspired by the human heart has a purpose and in a very real way this purpose is the meaning. We make our own circles of protection.
Protect your circle. And visit Deb's website for other inspired works of art. www.deborahwage.com
The Black Bag originally appeared in The Blue Nib in April of 2020.
Written in March of 2020 during the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic. My husband was Covid positive and quarantined at home for 14 days with an unrelenting fever of 103, a blood oxygen level hovering around 88%, and lungs that crackled like they were turning to something hard and crispy.
The Black Bag
During the big Northeast blackout of 2003, I held my BlackBerry in my hand staring at it like it held all of the answers to everything. This was just post 9/11 and my mind was reeling. My calls to Dennis weren’t going through. No one’s calls were going anywhere. His law office was in downtown Cleveland at the time, 40 minutes from the suburb of Hudson, Ohio where we lived. Much larger than the Northeast Blackout of 1965, in America alone, this blackout affected 45 million people in 8 states. Everyone was instantly cut off. No one knew what was happening.
A software bug at FirstEnergy Corporation in Ohio caused this power outage. When overloaded transmission lines hit untrimmed trees, the alarm didn’t sound to warn maintenance workers. It was a manageable issue that spiraled into a massive problem for the electric grid. Phone services were strained due to the overload in calls. Detroit lost water pressure and was under a water boiling advisory for 4 days after power was restored. Cleveland and New York saw sewage water spill into waterways, forcing many beach closures. Our grand systems built to sustain us are fragile because we are imperfect.
That was the age of dial up. Reader Rabbit CDs. Netflix delivered DVDs to my mailbox that either offered blissfully instant entertainment and unbridled joy for my kids or scratched DVDs that wouldn’t play and my fervent wish that DVDs had never been invented. I didn’t even know I needed to back up my Blackberry back then because I didn’t know what back up even meant. I didn’t get what I Tunes was and I didn’t care. I was wholly unimpressed with our plasma TV. If it broadcasted some content, I was fine with it no matter what I watched the content on. I wasn’t even entirely sure what a browser was. Browsers had nothing to do with autism or cyclic vomiting syndrome or dyslexia or executive functioning skills or Stage 4 Endometriosis. I was deeply involved in homeschooling and caring for my kids and for myself. Those were the issues central to my life. Technology was mostly just white noise to me in 2003. I didn’t even own a portable radio. Only people who lived through the depression had radios and re-used foil. Only old people thought general preparedness for emergencies or for lean times was prudent.
It was only months after the birth of Eamon in 2001 that I committed my first act of preparedness. He was born with severe reflux that morphed into GERD. Eventually a diagnosis of Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome was added soon after his fifth birthday. His health was fragile.
I kept a Black Bag parked next to the kitchen door in case one of us needed to go to the ER. It held everything I needed to care for myself and Eamon if he needed to go to the ER or be admitted. It was the only thing I had control over in situations that were mostly out of my control. That it rested eternally by the garage door in our kitchen was a constant source of comfort to me and helped me to not feel irreparably vulnerable.
Even after several years of deeply present living, I was a slow learner regarding what to prepare for though. One day about 7 days into a viral illness, Eamon’s status changed rapidly. I had failed to persuade an on-call doctor that Eamon needed to be admitted immediately and instead let myself be convinced of a 6-hour waiting period at home before going to admission. He had been vomiting for far too long. By the time I left for the hospital with Eamon strapped in his car seat he was vomiting blood into a bowl. I had to stop for gas because my car was nearly empty. There was nothing in my Black Bag to help me through that. My car doesn’t go lower than half a tank now. Even that makes me anxious.
The time Dennis was gone in Florida for 9 weeks for a trial I experienced for the first time what it was to be incapable of caring for myself and my kids who were 11 years old and 6 years old at the time. Brogan had twisted his ankle after slipping on some crayons that were on the floor and he damaged the growth plate in his ankle. It was purple and swollen and he couldn’t even stand. On top of that both Brogan and Eamon both had a virus with a high temperatures and fever for 8 days. Everyone was so sick. The only way to care of them since Brogan couldn’t even get to the bathroom by himself was to pull mattresses downstairs to the family room for sleeping together. When the power went out for two days it was a good thing the mattresses were already on the family room floor in front of the fireplace. It was a bad thing that I was nearly out of any food that was usable without power. When a migraine settled in with me like it was my new best friend and oral medications wouldn’t stay down and I couldn’t stand up, I sent Brogan crawling up the stairs with the one functioning flashlight we had to the medicine closet for Tylenol suppositories. We had two left. Luckily, they were on a lower shelf so he could reach them.
That was the moment I vowed never to be wholly unprepared again. I promised myself I’d make sure my kids always understood that preparedness was a way of life. That was back before I knew that kids come with their own agendas but I persisted nonetheless. We have one kid who plans for nearly every contingency and takes the safely conservative route ahead of time by wherever possible being informed and armed with information on all possible scenarios. If I put him in charge of anything, I’ll get a bulleted report of ranked choices for all possible actions to be considered with commentary and footnotes. And then there’s my other kid who surveys most situations for about two seconds, says, fuck it, I’m going in, then quickly mounts an excavation into the middle of whatever situation is unfolding. A planner and a pouncer.
Now, on this day, while we wait for Dennis’s Covid test results, I’m uprooted. Floating. Ready. And yet unready. For more than a decade I lived permanently planted in the present. One day at a time. One family incident or struggle or joyful pursuit or fight for improvement or crisis or transition or surgery at a time. There were dozens and dozens of times I was isolated at home for weeks on end only leaving when hired help came to take over so I could go to the doctor or the pharmacy or take one kid to OT or PT or for medical follow ups. Occasionally I went to get my hair cut and afterwards I would sit by myself in the car alone with my thoughts. That was enough for a re-charge. It’s not the isolation that consumes me. It’s not the slog. It’s not that we’re in a distance race with no ending in sight. It’s that the path is not marked at all.
I couldn’t get ahead of myself in an autism diagnosis. The present held too much to attend to. Autism paths have been well traveled by folks who willingly guided me. I couldn’t end a cycle of nausea and vomiting by projecting onto it anxiety and concern. Only calm planning, empathy, a treatment plan, and endless patience will end an episode. I couldn’t expect Dennis to understand where I was in the care of myself and our family if I didn’t even know what kind of crisis I was in at any given moment. These were the hardest times. Now we finally fit together. The two of us. Dennis and I. We can snap together at a moment’s notice and during the times when we don’t, we know it. I am not one anymore. We are two.
Today I stare at my phone fully aware that people who should have known missed the warning signs that my family saw in January regarding this virus. The alarm sounded for us here in this house. We prepared. There are huge gaps in precious supply lines. People in charge who should not be. Lies and temper tantrums on live TV every day. We’ve been flashing red for a while now here in the United States.
I stare at my phone knowing that it doesn’t hold the answers to everything. I know that if he has to go, if Dennis needs care from a hospital, my Black Bag placed carefully in my closet will do exactly nothing to help him and I tell myself that we are used to things that don’t have an end in sight. I tell myself we are not instantly cut off from another. We are connected. We are connected through this.
I text my husband to see if he’s ready for more Tylenol. I want to know what his temperature is. He’s had a high fever for 11 days. It’s been unrelenting. The false negatives on coronavirus tests abound here. No one is sure what they are doing. People have started to believe only in things that will help them. Everything else is superfluous and unreal. I place the meds and a snack outside of the door of his bedroom and retreat downstairs.
“I love you all the words,” I text. “I know. Me too,” he responds. Then I stare at my phone some more looking for answers.
Snowstorm or Blizzard
Everyone in the blinding whiteness has to convince themselves they are safer than they actually are.
Our youngest son was a skier. When he was 11, he went with a teammate to Marquette, Michigan to complete mandatory training before three days of downhill ski racing. I was late in joining him because I was taking care of our oldest son who was ill with a bad virus. Eventually I set out for the upper peninsula (UP) at three in the afternoon just a day before his ski competition was to begin.
Just past Gitche Gume RV park in the upper peninsula, Route 28 runs very close to and right alongside the waters of Lake Superior. The lake is god there. In late January of 2011 at three in the morning, somewhere along this stretch of Route 28, there was a twelve-foot plowed and compacted wall of snow towering over the left side of the road and on the right side of the road was the fury of Lake Superior roaring herself absolutely hoarse. I couldn’t see the lake in the darkness and snow, but I knew it was just a hundred yards to my right because I could see it in my GPS.
Visibility had decreased to zero.
I had stopped 45 minutes earlier at a gas station for caffeine. There was a whole chart hanging next to the computer screen detailing the wind speeds and duration of conditions for determining snowstorm conditions versus blizzard conditions. Route 28 had been listed as ‘open and in intermittent snowstorm conditions’ on the upper peninsula weather screen in the gas station.
In the real world however, everything was ice and wind and loneliness along Route 28. My Toyota Sienna minivan was trapped in a vortex of violence pounding my car so hard it was rocking back and forth.
After the storm consumed my minivan and there was no going forward anymore, my headlights created a desperate little cocoon where I existed in a hurricane of brightness with no way out. Snowplows threatened to crush me from behind or from ahead. I had no idea where I was on the road in relation to the lake on my right or in relation to the giant plowed snow bank on my left. I hadn’t passed another car for hours so I assumed I would for sure be dying by snowplow.
There was danger everywhere, but mostly inside of me. The whiteness had consumed me.
Everything seemed binary on Route 28.
Death by snowplow or death by frostbite and hypothermia.
Fight or surrender.
Survival or erasure.
Maybe everything is a little of all of that.
I can’t say how much time passed as I came to an understanding with myself in my mini-van on Route 28 in the upper peninsula. I was there an indeterminate length of time, with no control and with no purpose. Fear distorts time.
In the end, though, I was furious. Fury is always the last emotion for me before true understanding sets in.
I opened my car door, hung my body out of the minivan as far as I could, leaned my head down as far as possible between my door and the car, and by the light of my headlights, which was reflected everywhere, I found tire tracks to follow. I barely looked up at the road knowing the tire tracks were my lifeline. There was nothing to see anyway. Even if a snowplow were headed straight for me, I would never see it.
I inched my minivan forward this way, constantly searching for tire tracks, for evidence that someone had been here before me and had known the way.
Forty minutes later I was free of the worst of the storm.
I’ve told this story a lot over the years and the reactions are interesting. They range from irrational to bluntly accusatory to supportive.
Every so often someone hits on the meat of the real issue: “You could have died.”
After so many tellings of this tale, I’ve realized that the reactions of other people are not about them impugning my driving or my decision making skills. It’s about them being unable to accept that just driving could put them seconds away from death.
In every Covid conversation, in every Covid post, every single one, there are people who comment that the Covid disabled person or a person dead from Covid or a person hospitalized with Covid must have had a pre-existing condition.
“Well. They musta had some condition or disability. Right? Right?”
"They didn't take care of their immune system."
"They shoulda been more careful."
What they really mean is, “I so very badly need to justify why I’ll be safe, even though others have not been safe.”
There’s no real distinction between a snowstorm and a blizzard when you’re driving in one. All of our charts, maps, graphs, and apps can’t change this. Control is a savory illusion. I was nearly taken from the world by nothing more than water. That’s the way it is.
Everyone in the blinding whiteness has to convince themselves they are safer than they actually are.