Day 19: Tuesday, March 31
I find myself sanitizing the sanitizer.
I’ve been limiting my media intake which I have found correlates directly to the amount of panic I feel. Often times I find myself weeping while reading articles about nurses in Madrid or Northern Italy or New York. I weep for the people forced to die alone. I weep for the migrants in India who proclaim they are more afraid of dying from hunger than they are of the virus. I weep for the immigrants, the children locked in cages, vulnerable to this disease. I weep for refugees. I weep for essential workers putting themselves in harms way. I weep for their families. My heart grows heavy. My words feel worthless. My personal documentation of this moment in time feels insignificant. This catalog of what I think, what I wash, what I fear, what I dream, what I overcome, feels like a tiny star whose shining is rightly eclipsed by that of vast galaxies and vivid constellations. Of dazzling Venus. Of the moon’s elegance. Of countless stars and planets and suns I can’t even see. And yet I’m still here. Glowing as best I can.
A person from Columbia leaves multiple comments on our music videos. They leave us notes in Spanish that our songs are helping them to feel calm and peaceful in this unsettling time. Their words, in turn, help me feel calm and peaceful.
When the sun’s gone down we take our usual walk around the neighborhood. It smells different today. Eric breathes it in.
“It smells like wet socks,” I say. “A stinky shoe.”
“Like the Village is socked in. Like no one’s gone anywhere. Or changed their clothes.”
“I think it smells like fried food.”
“Must be dinnertime.”
This time of year the Village usually smells like the cool breath of late winter. The exhale of early spring. Mud. The occasional waft of dryer sheets or a wood stove. Tonight we walk through drift after drift of family dinner. Mostly it smells like fried chicken or pizza. Sweet and oily.
“It smells like Valentine’s,” I evoke our favorite old dive bar/music venue that was torn down years ago to make way for the expanding hospital.
“It DOES smell like Valentine’s.” We keep walking. “It smells like every single way Valentine’s ever smelled,” he says. Every single way was bad.
We catch a waft of sweet burning firewood and breathe it in deeply, clearing our nostrils.
“Everyone’s eating at home,” I say.
I didn’t know I’d ever miss the way the outside smelled.
I didn’t realize how much it could change.
Day 20: Wednesday, April 1
“There are so many people out,” Eric says. It’s 3:30 and we’re walking to make a home delivery of soap and stopping at the Village wine store.
“It’s the middle of the day,” I say. “This is why I like walking at night. I’m a vampire.”
We’ve run out of red wine and we’re running low on bourbon. Eric pulls out all the dusty bottles from the liquor cabinet. He has resorted to drinking scotch. He finished the white wine that’s been in the fridge since last summer. The one that gave me headaches.
There’s a woman standing outside the wine shop looking at a board with a list of wines on it. “You have to call,” she says to Eric. She’s holding a cellphone to her ear. She has an accent I can’t place.
“I’m sorry?” he asks. Without thinking he moves toward her. He’s too close. She backs away gently.
Near the door is a sign with two buzzers. The woman points to the ramshackle intercom set up. He presses several different buttons. It doesn’t appear to be working.
“You have to call,” she repeats again.
A woman inside sees him and comes to the door.
“Do you know what you want?” she asks him through the glass.
“Red wine?” Eric is flustered.
“Anything in particular?” she prods.
“Uhhh…” he pauses. And then: “You have a Tempranillo with an orange and white label, but I forget the name of it.”
She walks back into the store.
“Eric,” I whisper. He turns. “Don’t get so close. And also, you cut in front of that woman.”
Eric is still flustered.
“I’m so sorry!” he says to the woman. “I cut you off!” He says it loudly. He does not get close, as is his compulsive, friendly, social tendency.
“It’s ok,” she smiles. Within the next few minutes he’s somehow pulled out of this woman that she’s a volunteer archaeologist who just returned from Greece studying ceramics from the Minoan age. And surprisingly (but why am I surprised) Eric recently read an article about how archaeologists found ceramic jugs still filled with wine from the Minoan age. They talk about Minoan ceramics and wine until the wine lady comes back and holds up a bottle through the window.
“That’s not it…but that’s fine!”
The woman walks away. She doesn’t tell him how much it costs. I ask Eric if he’s just getting one bottle.
“Are we going to do this every day?” I am genuinely curious.
It would be fun if it weren’t for the low-flying panic.
I forgot my hand sanitizer.
The wine lady comes back, she opens the door a crack. She’s wearing gloves but not a mask. “I had to do a print out because my computer decided to stop working. Do you mind if I take your card?”
“Not at all,” Eric says. I already made him take his card out of his wallet so he wouldn’t have to handle it, not knowing what else he’d be forced to touch beforehand.
Eric turns to the archaeologist “I’m so sorry for how long this is taking,” he apologizes again.
“It’s not a problem,” she says. “As long as we’re all trying to stay healthy, things are going to take longer. It’s only wine,” she smiles.
We make our belated introductions without shaking hands.
“Maybe we’ll see you here next time,” she says.
We wave good bye. We wish her luck.
We move from the sidewalk to the street whenever we see anyone walking toward us. A dog on a leash lurches excitedly in our direction.
“What’s up doggie?” Eric says, but he backs away just like the archaeologist did. “Can you catch it from dogs?” he asks me. “Dogs don’t understand social distancing. They’re always licking your face…”
Eric disinfects the bottle as soon as we get home and then opens it.
“This is good,” he says.
“It better be good for $18.”
“I would never buy an $18 bottle of wine.” He looks closer at the label. “It’s not even a Tempranillo!” he sounds surprised.
This all feels very bourgeois.
Anything to distract us.
Day 21: Thursday, April 2
I have a dream that Justin Timberlake is doing a live tele-concert fundraiser for coronavirus. He’s gained significant weight. He looks terrible. I am worried about his health.
This may be the strangest dream I have ever had.
Day 22: Friday, April 3
I get an alert on my phone telling me my flight from Lisbon to JFK leaves in a half an hour.
It feels like I never left.
Day 23: Saturday, April 4
I don’t look at the news when I wake up.
Our potatoes are starting to grow eyes in the cellar. We still have at least 40 lbs from last season. Eric makes his famous hand potatoes for breakfast. They’re called hand potatoes because they’re so good that you find yourself eating them with your hands before they ever make it onto the plate. We make eggs and toast. I open the “Some Pulp” orange juice. It was all we could find. It’s not so bad.
It’s the perfect day to clean out the shed. The annual spring chore usually fills me with dread. It always feels so overwhelming. But today working on anything feels like a gift. We pull out a jumble of cardboard boxes I’ve saved for the garden walkways, bushel baskets filled with dried lavender trimmings we use to start the hibachi. Random tools we’ve pulled out over the winter that never made their way back to permanent homes on shelves or boxes or tables. We pull out flower pots, bags of soil, precarious stacks of bottle and can deposits, coils of hose that I know I put away neatly in the fall but somehow unraveled throughout the winter and tangled like the knots in my hair do when I wear a scarf too many days in a row. We pull out random scraps of sheet rock and cement board, too big to throwaway. We pull out plywood and 2x4s and bits of molding.
We stand in the driveway for a long time, talking about nothing, 10 feet apart from our friends and their kids who are going for a hike through our backyard into the waterfalls. It feels good to see human faces not through a computer screen.
After our wine shop misadventure Eric decided to order a case of wine for pick-up.
“It’s ready today,” he says.
I give him some gloves and hand sanitizer and strict instructions.
“Don’t let them put it in the car. Make them put it on the ground. You pick it up and put it in the car, but make sure you have gloves on. Take your ID out of your wallet and leave it in your pocket. Take the gloves off after the box is in the car, then shut the trunk. Sanitize your hands.”
When he returns we discuss a plan to sanitize the bottles outside. I look at the box, which is still glued from the winery. Not retaped as it would be if they packed it from the store.
“This was shipped in December,” I say. “Were there any cases of COVID in December?”
“The virus would be dead by now even if there were.”
We decide the wine inside is safe to handle without disinfecting. We remove all the bottles from the box and Eric breaks it down and puts it into the recycling even though I could really use it for my walkways.
We have a Zoom cocktail four hours -first with my childhood friends, then with my family. It leaves me with a deep sense of gratitude that I have so many people in my life that bring me joy in these dark times.
Day 24: Sunday, April 5
Eric pulls out the chainsaw again. I drive the car back into the field to move another pile of wood. Pine this time. Limbs that fell down in a heavy snowfall two years ago. We fill the trunk of the car with it and I pretend again that we own a pickup truck.
We assess the willow that fell onto the Vanderheyden Pine. It looks dead from afar, but up close we see that its branches are turning golden green with leaf buds swelling. We decide to cut off the part that’s lying on top of the pine and hope the young shoots will start growing upright. We save the branches to plant in the creek.
I drive the car up to the fire pit. This pile is so organized, but it’s getting to be as big as a house. I nearly step on a garter snake, flicking his red tongue in the grass. We stare at each other for a little while.
Even though our work is only half done we shower. There’s poison ivy where we’ve been working and it’s harder now because we can’t see it.
We sit at the picnic table eating nachos, listening to a Ram Dass lecture about traveling around India, barefoot with Bhagavan Das.
I put on my wellies and grab a shovel so we can plant the willow branches in the creek.
Eric’s older brother calls. I feel the compulsive need to get things done, to have control over something in life, but I know that time needs to slow right now.
“I don’t need to know about the Walls of Jericho!” Eric shouts from the parlor. This is a loving and intense discussion.
We hike down into the creek with 10 willow branches. We pick spots where the walls are eroding. Eric digs into the silt and shale and I shove a branch in. After its buried we pile rocks around its base so the creek water doesn’t dislodge and pull the branch downstream.
Eric cleans the shovel off in the creek. We grab our blankets and hike up to the waterfalls. I pick up a leaf from the forest floor because I don’t know what it is among the oaks and maples. I intend to look it up in our tree book when we get home as my Dad always did on our hikes when we were little, and even now still, returning with pockets of leaves or nuts or cones. Eric pulls his phone out. Poplar. I should have known because of the flat stem. That’s what makes them quake in the wind.
When we get to the falls I decide I will imbue all of my pain into this poplar leaf and then let it go over the falls. This leaf that shakes. Quakes. This fearful leaf. I meditate on my heart, which has been feeling particularly jumpy. I contemplate the moss at the edge of the falls, saturated, inundated with water. Struggling to breathe. I know the waters soon will slow. The moss grew there for a reason. It’s soggy now, but it will thrive.
At the end of my meditation I drop the poplar leaf into the water at the top of the falls. The leaf stops at the ledge and refuses to go over. I laugh. Finally the momentum of the water behind the leaf builds. The leaf spins around and slides over the ledge, backwards. And it stays there at the first tier of the waterfall. It looks as though it’s standing with its back against the shale, looking down. Afraid to let go. Afraid to go any further.
I had hoped to let it go, but it won’t. And I realize that this is what I needed to learn.
Sometimes things just won’t go. And that’s ok too.
We hike out of the forest. I explain my meditation to Eric. He’s leading me to the other edge of the cliff. When I’m finished talking we’re at the ledge, staring face to face with a porcupine sitting up in a tree looking like a miniature bear with a tiny head.
I stare at the porcupine the way I stared at the snake.
We hike back down the mountain toward home.