I wake up at six to the sound of cars on the street outside our house, the early rush hour that is Madison. This feels like several miracles. That I slept all the way through the night, managing to slip off the weight of anxiety for a few hours. That some part of the world goes on, cars moving from one place to another. People inside them.
I brush my teeth and there’s toothpaste on the cap. I’d like to wipe it off. Reach for the toilet paper. Stop. I use my fingers instead and then wash them off.
What month is this anyway? Could my birthday have been two weeks ago? The small party we had. The faces. The drinking. Just another gathering then.
I have a Joan Shelley song in my head, The Fading. I saw her play last week in town. “This might be the last show we play…” She trailed off, uncertain how to end the sentence. None of us knew how to end the sentence.
I’m wearing a sweater that I bought at Target last winter. I love the color and its soft, but the sleeves are big in a way that felt too weird to wear in public. It doesn’t really matter now. It looks fine on a Zoom screen. No one can see the sleeves. Whole parts of me have disappeared in this new life.
Last night, I played euchre on an app with my parents and my brother. My brother and I Zoomed, but my parents couldn’t figure it out—how to get the app working. How to follow the link. We’d stopped playing euchre when we got together over the last few years. Why did we stop? Now I miss the heckling we used to do. “Think long, think wrong, Dad,” I say, but he can’t hear me.
I go downstairs and open the door to let the cat out. I can hear the sound of birds singing already, before the sun’s come up. The spring chorus is coming. Spring is coming. Trees are blooming. My eyes itch. My throat is scratchy and normally this would be a minor irritant. Allergies again. Now it makes my stomach into a tight knot. “You will be okay, you will be okay, you will be okay,” I whisper to myself. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Out the front window, I can see our neighbor’s big screen TV glowing in the dark. When they first put it up last fall, we joked about how we could look out our upstairs window and watch a movie with them. It was funny. Now it’s comfort.
Some other day in this new life, I sat in an office with my colleagues, talking about how we would go forward. About how we were coping. “It’s so quiet,” one of them said. He had been in Rwanda during the genocide. “I walk outside and it is so quiet and this is disturbing.” How much more terrifying this all must be to him. To all the other people who carry their own traumas.
If I were teaching today. If I were getting in my car to go to campus the way I normally would. If we were still in that world. If I were going to sit down at a table in a room with twenty other people and talk about life in all its complexities. If I were doing that act that even before this, I am glad to say, even before this I saw that it was sacred. Even in that world, sitting in a classroom together with my students was sacred and now we all know it. Now so many have felt that loss.
If it were that day, that day from our other lives, I would never be up this early and so I would have missed all these things. The song in my head. The quiet sound of the heat running in the house. The toothpaste. The birds. The neighbor’s TV. I would have missed it all and that is something, but not enough. Still not enough.