Wednesday, April 1, 2020

New Normal

This evening, after the rain and the clouds and after I chased the chickens around the slick muddy run because one was pecking at the bare-bottomed other, eating her feathers (the little bare-bottomed one lays greeny eggs, when she lays. Now, she's too traumatized to lay, using all her energy to grow more feathers, run from her sister); after I sat through Zoom meetings and tried to allay my faculty and staff's fears; after I walked the dog with Jonah through a cold and empty spring neighborhood,

i went running, the college's board meeting leaking through my earbuds. Usually, this week I've listened to "The Gambler" and Dolly Parton's America and a long stretch of Jonah's music. I ran east, up the slow north slope of Mt. Tabor, and came upon a group of crows in an empty parking lot, circled around what looked like a wounded Cooper's hawk. The hawk was peeping; I ran toward the crows, who startled and the hawk rose carrying a dead squirrel.

Jonah and D. are out of school for the rest of the year. I likely won't return to work until summer at the earliest, though perhaps not until fall. Maybe then. I haven't sung a note since early March. Trees are shedding their blooms, growing chartreuse with new leaves. I found a pile of old photographs in my desk: my old dogs, Charlie and Luther, chained to our campsite at my honeymoon in 2001 (if you can call a camping trip where we brought both our dogs, my ex's best friend came to fish with him and get stoned as fuck, and I spent the week reading poetry and writing annotations for grad school a honeymoon), my first attempt at headshots, taken by my ex in our backyard on Miami Avenue, in front of what I called the "tetanus shack", a dilapidated, locked rusted metal shed in our of me and my college roommate and once best-friend, H. and a woman whose name I don't remember. Photos of Jonah as an infant in a terrible knitted outfit gifted to me by my old college President. When I used to be a teacher. In that old life. A photo of me at 32, signing the papers for my first house, the only house I bought on my own.

The hawk rose above the empty parking lot and the crows followed, angry. I saw few people on my run, and everyone crossed the street when they saw someone else. A young homeless man curled up in the vestibule of the little brick tax company on Glisan.

I have been practicing Debussy (god, so far above my piano skills) on our out-of-tune baby grand (my divorce gift to myself, once I bought that suburban ranch). I have been listening to choral spirituals, the music that moves me the most. And I heard this. This woman broke me completely. And I haven't stopped crying.

Me at 22(?) in front of the tetanus shack

Me at 32, signing for my house for me and my small boy

Jonah, outfit thanks to Dr. Marilyn Schlack, President Emeritus of Kalamazoo Valley Community College

Girl I can't remember, H., me, circa 1998

Monday, March 23, 2020

Little Crimes

It is officially spring break here in Portland, the first I have spent with Jonah in six years. The first Jonah has ever spent at home, where his friends are.

Of course, it doesn't matter. Of course, the most he's seen of his friends is on a walk with the dog we passed M., one of his best friends who lives down the street, drawing on her sidewalk with chalk. We said hello, M. giggled as she always does, and then we had to keep walking. Six feet distance.

We had groceries delivered for the first time, though the photos the Instacart shopper sent were of bare shelves and we got ab odd medley of what was on our list. I still have about 5 pounds of flour left, but it does appear the rumors are true: Oregon and Washington seem to be out of flour. All that was left on the shelves was gluten free almond flour and coconut flour. I'm not there yet.

It feels weird, terribly bourgeois, to have someone shop for me, deliver my groceries to my house. As if I have servants. I don't like that. I don't like that the Instacart shopper was putting herself at risk and I was here at my house, able to pay for someone to do my shopping for me so I can reduce our family's ability to transmit the virus to as small a percentage as any of us can. She said the stores aren't full of people--lots of Amazon Fresh and Instacart shoppers.

I don't know what the ethics are here. Is it more ethical to pay someone to shop for me, tip her as much as I can; or is it more ethical to go myself? I spent a lot of time as a service worker, as someone barely eking by. When I was in college, working as a catering waitress, I experienced first hand how the college President spoke to me by name when he was speaking to me as a student, but when I was a server in his house, he called me "girl" if he called me anything at all.

Our essential workers sure as fuck aren't billionaires or bankers or CEOs but low-wage workers (and in this case, a gig-economy worker who I can only assume doesn't get health insurance or other benefits from being an Instacart shopper).  If you aren't radicalized now, you're selfish. If you aren't radicalized by the end of this pandemic, you're a sociopath.

We were also told today by our HR, via a Zoom meeting, that we need to lay off all of our PT hourly employees and student workers effective March 31st if they cannot do their work remotely. It is too expensive, with the mandated sick pay laws, to keep them on the books.

Cool. Other colleges and universities have committed to paying these workers (many of whom are truly among our most vulnerable). I don't know where this leaves students who have federal work study. Fucked, I'm going to guess. Sure, I know my college is broke. But.

At least we'll have money when everyone is dead?

I haven't driven in almost two weeks,  I have run twice--once my lungs felt okay to breathe heavily, though yesterday it was rough. I don't think I had/have COVID-19, but I don't know. I had a low fever, a cough, a tight weight on my chest two weeks ago. But was it COVID or anxiety about having to potentially fly Jonah across the country? I don't know. There aren't enough tests. R. and the boys seem fine, so it was probably anxiety. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.

We usually grocery shop twice a week (by we I mean R. because grocery shopping generally causes panic attacks in me) but I am adamant we can live with once a week. Maybe I can stretch it more.

Today I went for a walk and stole plants, after researching how to start plants from cuttings. I have a sourdough starter in the kitchen. I live adjacent to Laurelhurst, a very posh neighborhood in NE Portland. I walked in hail and rain and surreptitiously stole lilac, butterfly bush, roses, other things I don't know the names of. Jonah and I walked the dog. I did yoga when I woke up, didn't run so my lungs could recover. Did a lot of pushups, which I'll regret later. I have not homeschooled Jonah yet, but after this week of supposed vacation, I will start something. Just so we have something to do.

At least, at least, Jonah is home. His father has called thrice since he saw him in January. Maybe, just maybe, we'll never go back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

We Can Do This

For the past week, I have only left the house to walk the dog. Sometimes with Jonah, sometimes alone. I tried running last week and felt shaky, feverish. I don't feel short of breath, can hold my breath for 30 seconds, breathe out rhythmically for 48 counts (thank you, lifetime as a singer). I have not had a fever over 99.5, but then again, my regular temperature (like most of ours, actually) is at least a degree below 98.6. But, I cough and I'm exhausted and my head feels detached from my body, clogged. My throat vaguely swollen. I wake up every night terrified, worry about my family here and all over the country, worried about my faculty, my former students, the chickens (who have, as far as I can tell, vent gleet). How we will get toilet paper, how we will get food.

But Jonah is here, likely for the foreseeable future. I won't send him to his father until this pandemic is over, which, according to a WaPo or NYT article I read this morning before I got out of bed, could be 18 months.

A year and a half.

And I spilled a glass of water on my laptop two days ago and broke down, t he first time in a long time. My book, every last draft I've written or worked on for the past six months since my dropbox stopped automatically downloading. Gone. I screamed and smashed a coffee mug on the kitchen floor.

It's in the basement, upside down, over a fan. Maybe, when this is all over I can salvage the hard drive. I have an old desktop of R.'s and then Jonah's that I'm using for now. I have copies of every poem I've sent out, or published. It'll be okay.

The boys are home, as are most of our children. I spent 15 years teaching a variety of homeschooled kids, and now our boys join those ranks, though there is no Jesus or creationism involved here. I'm not sure what will be involved, except school has been such a salve for Jonah, my boy who loves people and fashion and  goofing around. They are both almost 15, our boys. Their freshman year essentially over half-way through, and who knows when we will be able to resume normal life, if normal life will exist anymore.

There are dolphins and fish in the canals in Venice. Today, Portland was still full of people walking; I could hear teenagers playing in Laurelhurst park, and couples held hands and joggers jogged. I suspect in a few weeks, maybe even a few days, they will be gone too. It seems likely that Portland will be required to "shelter-in-place" soon. I don't know what this will mean for D., who moves between our house and his mother's. Or what the restrictions on non-emergency, non-essential medical procedures will mean for D.'s diabetes and Graves' disease. Let alone monitoring of R.'s prostate numbers and my Pap smear results.

One thing at a time. One thing at a time.

I know we are all here, in this strange new world. For someone who has often debilitating anxiety, there is part of me that feels like I've been preparing for this my whole life.

I am deeply grateful I have this little family, to be stuck with people I love beyond reason.

Friday, March 13, 2020


Yesterday, I spent the day downing Advil and working in the yard. I planted peas and lettuce, cleaned the front garden, swept the steps, washed the wood steps. It was sunny and warm. I walked the dog, took more Advil, slept on the chaise in my home office. I was home with a fever--urgent care identified my symptoms (low-grade fever, minor cough, sore throat) as potentially COVID-19, ordered me to stay home 7 days or 72 hours after my fever broke and my symptoms abated.

Today it is snowing; two of the chickens are bullying the third (feathers are missing out of everyone's butts, still the greeny-egged chicken hasn't laid since January unless her eggs have miraculously turned colors (is this possible? I don't know), still I treat them for mites, etc). Today, my fever broke, though my headache persists. I have answered hour after hour of emails from my panicked faculty.

I don't know, i don't know, do whatever you need to do to keep yourself and your students and all of our families safe. Stay home. Cancel your finals. Telecommute.  The college has encouraged telecommuting; my boss less so. I pulled Jonah from school this last day before a now-extended break. R. seems less worried about the severity of this; my boss seems to think it's business as usual.

Anyway. We don't have to travel. My ex  huffily agreed that it wasn't in JOnah's best interest to travel, but, still, his response to me: Even though I view this as another shameless attempt to cheat me out of time with Jonah, it is probably better for him not to fly. When things settle down and the hysteria subsides we can talk about making up time. Sarah probably has rabies she should be tested for that.
I will call Jonah tonight and talk with him.
Thanks again"

My attorney advised me, in my communication, to note that I was feverish. Also, he knows how to spell my name. Even so, just knowing Jonah and I don't have to fly a billion times relieved my anxiety a million-fold. Still, I'm scared. As we all are. As we should be. Our POSPOTUS continues to lie and lie and lie and lie, and I'm afraid we are too late in our attempts to flatten the curve. This feels akin to 9/11: a thing there is a Before and After. A thing that changes us. 

May it change us for the better.

There is never a time that being compassionate to those with less power & privilege than us is the wrong answer. Never. Period. Even if it means suspending the rules. Even if it means (gasp!) losing money. Even if it means that business as usual will forever be changed. Maybe especially.

I am thinking of how I can do something beyond mother my divisions, my family. Maybe a poetry writing group online--free, for anyone. I'm going to spend the weekend working out the details, see what I can do. A lot of us are going to be trapped inside; a lot of us are going to be without work and income (I think I'm safe from that, at least for now); a lot of us are going to feel lonely and hopeless.

But I am deeply grateful for this time of silence, to be with my little family, to get to redefine what is important to me. This is what I tell myself, anyway, when I'm not flattened with panic.

How are you all doing? How can we help each other?

I am so glad you all are out there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Pandemic Panic

My lawyer says I don't have a choice but to travel unless Jonah's dad agrees or we get a court order. But there's no time for a court order. And unless the Deranged Orange Intestine's administration actually mandates a domestic travel ban, and even if I'm sick, we have to travel.

The NBA has suspended its season. The Shithead in Chief tells us not to worry, it'll just go away, and after all, it's Europe's fault. He lies and lies and lies and

you guys, I'm freaking out.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Spring and All

Spring is slow to unfurl in Portland. Hellebore are blooming, everywhere on my late afternoon walks with the dog it smells of daphne. When we moved here six years ago, it was late January. We left a polar vortex, feet of snow. Here, there were flowers blooming and the iron-fenced yard of our Ladd's Addition rental house was packed with daphne bushes. Our landlord, whose grandparents had owned the house after moving here from the Croatia/Italy border, told me he always assocated the smell of daphne with his grandparents. On the fridge was a homemade magnet of the Virgin; a concrete statue of St. Francis held his arms out to the sky in the garden; another Virgin stood in a birdbath. Across the street was a Catholic church

It felt like home.

At this house where the chickens talk quietly in their roost, where Jonah puts his feet in my lap, his head on my shoulder, a small rain begins to drum on the skylights--

Everywhere it smells of daphne and the spicy yellow bloom of witchhazel, the sweet pink of cherry blossoms.

Something happened at work this week that was so terrifying, so bad I still can't breathe.

The Corona virus is in the Portland area. In a few weeks, Jonah and I are supposed to fly to Michigan. I suspect, as the patient is a school employee, the virus has already spread. A colleague came to work meeting so sick with a cold she looked like she was crying. I expect my ex husband to care little, to force us to travel.

I am always at the worst-case scenario.

My son has joined the track team. I won my age division in a 5K a few weeks ago. I am having a hard time writing, my little book is disappearing mostly unread into the ether.

Yesterday the moon and Venus hung over the neighborhood. A father biking with his daughter rode past us, the air full of false spring. Look, the father said, the moon is following us home. It'll be over our house to meet us.

All night?  his daughter asked from the seat behind him.
All night, he said.


Monday, January 27, 2020

Off Season in a Northern Paradise

In some ways, this feels far more North than Portland does, though in Portland we are above the 45th parallel, and that's 170 miles north of here. But here, there is ragged snow on the ground, here the vacation homes of the Dutch Reformed Rich are shuttered, empty. The Lake is hammered steel, the river is full of wintering waterfowl: loon, redhead, bufflehead, merganser. A bald eagle has circled Lake Macatawa all day, then floated above Lake Michigan. Even the oaks have lost their leaves, the scrabbly dune trees bare, the water level high. I am a mile or so from Betsy DeVos' monstrosity of a summer home; her brother's summer house is almost next door. Both are hideous, gargantuan displays of opulence.


I struggle being here, particularly now. I can't explain why at the moment; some things, I suppose, are un-bloggable. I love and hate this place--once I left, I feel like I ceded it to my ex, who has never left, who grew up here and will live here forever and will die here. But this is also the place I assembled my own life, my own self. Found a family of singers, students. Had my boy.

When I'm here, I have dreams we're still married--though in the dreams, like last night's, I desperately want to get away. I climb through passageways in houses, through windows and storm cellars, use my fingernails to claw through the earth. Last night I shouted won't you fucking leave me alone? 

Sometimes, dreams explain themselves.

This is the second time I've rented this house, a little 50's brick ranch in a gated community near the Lake, single-lane roads curling up the dunes, opulent yet severe beach houses clinging to the hillsides. Opulent because they are huge, because real estate here isn't cheap; severe because there isn't much in the way of decoration. It is the Midwest, after all. Everything is practical. Winters are hard and summers are hot.

American flags, tattered, faded, hang limply from thin poles. Don't get me started on flag protocol.

So I have floated through these days here, in this emtpy resort community of severe houses and shuttered windows, seawalls breached by high lake levels, trash everywhere on the beach. I have walked and run and walked and walked and walked. Tried to avoid despair, though it is difficult (I'll never write anything again/everything i write is shit/i am empty i am a bare ruined choir where late the sweet birds sang, etc). 

And tomorrow I'll wake at 3 AM and by 6 Jonah and I will be on an airplane home. And I will do my best to still my panic, my overwhelming sense of dread, my fear all of this will be taken away from me.