Black & White
It’s still dark when my fiancé’s father and I head to Safeway for a 6am opening in which those over 60 are allowed in first. I’m his “helper” and we have an actual chance for eggs and toilet paper, now luxuries. Classic rock is on the radio as we drive, tunes that he and I have enjoyed over Coronas with limes in the summer. I’m too anxious to pay much attention to music though; the last time I was in the store it had been a zoo. I force a smile and ask him, “How’s this for a future son and father-in-law bonding activity?” He laughs warmly and we end up talking about the heat in Dubai, a place we both know well, and how he had to wear chemical masks there in 120-degree heat during his time as a pilot in Desert Storm. And, oddly enough, it really is a bonding activity. We often grow close to those who are with us through tough times.
After arriving and gearing up like hazmat workers, we walk inside the store. It’s not intense. It’s eerie. Older folks slowly push loaded carts around, nearly everyone in masks, gloves, and even a few with coveralls. I roll by a young female employee and, when I’m five feet past, turn around and say, “I was smiling at you by the way; I just forgot I was wearing a mask.” She laughs and tells me she doesn’t know how to read customers now—that “a lot of people have gotten really mean.” We chat for a minute and it’s nice. Humanity amidst an alien environment.
Close to two hours later and after we’ve wiped down the groceries, we bring in the food. I feel a sense of gratitude for the fact we have supplies. I am aware that many in the nation do not have the means for large shopping trips. Or, for that matter, even small ones. And, I am aware that a lot of people do not have the choice whether or not they work in high risk zones and the death tolls for these populations reflect this reality. My quarantining, despite its difficulties and long-term implications, is a privileged version. Yet, when the kids come running outside to give me a hug, and I have to tell them no because I haven’t changed clothes yet, grief and anger suddenly threaten to overwhelm my system. A coo. Is this overly cautious? Perhaps. But I have a family in my life who are high risk of being in that fatality zone and I have to be cautious.
Cheri, my fiancé, takes a break from her online work and peppers the kids with “squeezies” in my stead. I love this woman. And, I love that she loves the kids—though, now she gets to be terrified for them. An incredible burden. We have been coming up with contingency plans for our life—where we might live and earn money in the event of another great depression, a realistic sequel as even the massive company for whom she works is on the edge of collapse.
I go into the house to lie down, but my mind is spinning. What does this all mean? I think about an accusation a woman made on social media to my father claiming that the virus is a political hoax invented to attack the president and that people are eager for him to fail. This fills me with incredulity and frustration. Are global death tolls not enough to establish the severity of this situation? Anyone who thinks it is a hoax should go volunteer at a hospital in a high infection zone. Or, perhaps, go to a hoax funeral for one of the nearly 200,000 people who have died. Just because numbers are low and it’s currently an abstraction in many small communities, doesn’t make it unreal or a global conspiracy. And the truth is, I want the president to succeed. Hugely. I want there to be adequate supplies, medical treatment, and a unifying empathetic leader. I want to feel like the American people are of one mind and purpose. I want the experts to be listened to, including our president’s own scientists, who posit that this is likely only the first of such viral outbreaks and a resurgence of this particular strand in the fall would follow biological patterns. Let’s get prepared and quick making this a political issue. It’s a human life issue that should be supported by political structures.
And still my mind spins. I think about the similarities of this situation with my experience care-taking my late wife through cancer. I used to wake up daily with the peace of sleep dissolving as I remembered what was happening and wondering if there was hope or if indefinite trauma was all we had left. I remember hanging on to every bit of news, praying for something positive. Anything. And, just as soon as we would get good news, some new horror like blindness and seizures would rear up and our hope would fry. I remember trying to go about life with this surreal haze of disconnect. Grey. Thinning atmosphere. Chest tight. Hard to breath. Longing for life to go back to the way it was. Realizing that we had squandered time in petty conflicts and worries.
And still my mind spins. I remember finding my way out of darkness at times, learning to see the trauma as a test, a journey through the underworld, an opportunity to bear witness to human condition and stay strong for my struggling family. I remember learning to adapt, to attempt to live one day at a time (as cliché as that is), to recognize the importance of relationship with those around me. I remember learning to forgive myself for getting scared and angry and impatient and despairing. I remember practicing acceptance of the fact that I could not always keep my children safe while working on faith that they would be okay one way or another. All these things were, of course, practices and not achievements. My peace of mind was in constant battle with anger, grief, and fear. But I learned to recognize this conflict and to accept that it was okay to scream sometimes, to kick my fucked-up printer, and lie on the floor crying. I learned that even my anger could be an asset at times. This is being human. Especially when ducking enemy fire.
The meaning of all these spinning thoughts and memories, however, is not clear to me. I want a clean narrative. An understanding of what needs to be done. A vision of the other side to this heaviness. But I don’t have these at the moment. Outside the bedroom I hear the kids chasing each other down the hallway and laughing. Maybe that’s the point, I think. My soon to be mother-in-law, calls them in to the kitchen to paint Easter eggs and help her make cookies. Maybe that’s the point, I think. My phone vibrates with some notification. I turn it off, take another deep breath, and finally start to sink into rest. Maybe that’s the point.