We were on my big bed – well not my bed, a bed in a home I rented on Cape Cod so I could be closer to my parents and Daniel. He and I were playing “Two Lies and a Truth” a card game I had given him for Chanukkah. We love this game, but we are terrible at it. It’s really hard to get the one truth – correct.
The anniversary of our departure from our other life is in 14 days. It was a Thursday. The days and years prior to March 12, 2020 are memorialized in the thousands of pictures I keep on my iPhone and computer. Scrolling through them makes me smile and makes me cry. There are people whose pictures are all I have left of them- like Joyce, my friend who died exactly a year ago. I lost 4 relatives within the first two months of 2020. There are pictures of my family, in its many chapters, before Jim, his daughters and brother, and after. There is me and my sister when we were little; she left a long time ago and there are family members who also passed a long time ago. There are beautiful pictures of distant places I have visited- my face lit up by romance, discovery and adventure and there are pictures of me and friends I haven’t seen in a year or more. Do our faces look the same or different now? Will we look well rested or older when we re-unite. There are pictures of sweet Daniel, angelic, joyful. There are pictures of my niece, Ashley whose texts connect us now. And there are my two weddings- which feels like someone else’s life, not mine.
The clothing that hangs in my closet in our New York City apartment might be the very thing I miss the most. I can’t explain why- why my clothes? Was it because shopping was the only real sport I ever had? Or because they represent a life of expressiveness and joy and gatherings. Maybe it is because I did not just buy those clothes and boots and shoes, I collected them, and they became part of me- my identity. It’s not the materialism I miss. It’s the me that wore that curated collection and just that kind of fun- that is no longer. In each dress or jacket or pair of boots or shoes, there are memories.
Most of my memories of this past year are of the long walks I have taken alone- in stretch leggings, gym clothes, and when the weather got colder, bulky sweaters and an ugly hat with a pom-pom I bought at “Dicks”, and my puffy jacket. I never wore that puffy jacket in New York City unless it was blizzarding. It is very practical. I don’t like the puffiness of it, but I am lucky to have it. When I walk I stop and gaze at the marshes that stretch out to the ocean and I walk in woods whose trails twist and turn until there is a pond bouncing the late afternoon sun off of her. I drive to beaches where the off-season parking lots are empty and other gazers sit in their cars – and I just stare at the waves. I awaken to skies that appear like golden and pink paintings, and giant orange and yellow moons rise from the horizon, and I can’t look away because that moon, suspended there doesn’t look real.
The last thing Jim and I did before my other life ended, was a concert we attended at Carnegie Hall- Yoyo Ma and Emanual Axe. I have since determined that was a very “privileged” thing to have done. Privilege is a word that we are using more now, for many reasons. I am privileged because this thief – Covid, that has robbed lives and freedoms, jobs and identities, cannot take my spirit – I am fighting- I am holding on. I am changing too. I cannot imagine sitting in a concert hall now, a restaurant, a bar, a stadium, a theater, my office, a café, a friend’s living room. There is so much I cannot imagine. Does that mean I have lost? And Covid has won? I feel as if I have lost sight of the shore I departed on that March day, the day I set sail for an unknown island. Storms have come and nearly wasted me. On some days, the sunrises have kept me alive. The moonrises have lit the darkest skies. What I wear, does not matter, how I look matters less. No one sees me. I bought a wig, that makes me look nothing like me- I wear it to do errands, I wonder if it looks like a wig to the total strangers in the supermarket- the only public place I have regularly gone for almost a year.
As I have journeyed, I have tried to keep track of what makes me happy. I thought I knew the answer to that- in my other life it seemed there were many things that made me happy. Silly things that I never equated with happiness, like my bi-monthly visit to my former nail salon or my monthly visit to my hair colorist or walking the streets of New York City- carefree, leisurely, hand in hand with Jim. We have not held hands in a long time, nor kissed. I miss the hugging of everyone I knew in my other life.
Now, in my big bed, in the rented house, with my son next to me - I am happiest. I am happy when I put my phone down. We convene at the end of the workday- and I make dinner and we eat together and watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. I do the dishes and set up the coffee and he takes baths in my big tub. We have not lived together in 6 years. The nights have become almost 4 months and we are having the longest sleepover - ever.
Since I left for New York city, 42 years ago, I have not seen my parents for more than a few days, a few times a year. Now, as I walk with Bernie on the trails I find on a map he gave me, he tells me stories about his near-death experiences, and his young life, and his concerns. We talk about politics and the markets, and real estate, and we talk about Barbara- my mother, his wife of 65 years whose mind has been compromised for a long time. I visit their home with Daniel and watch Hallmark Channel movies with her, and comment on the whiteness of the actors’ teeth and how perfectly pretty and handsome they all are. She nods. Sometimes I look over and she is sleeping. I bring dinner on the weekends. I bake them pies and cookies and other foods I never cook in New York like fresh cranberry sauce and muffins. I hug them goodbye and say, “I love you.” I’ll be back there in a couple of days. There is no reason to think I won’t be – but when we left on that March day a year ago- we all thought we’d be back at work in two weeks… Now, I have been gone almost a year.
My favorite season is fall and before the raw, grey winter , I watched as the residents began to leave, each weekend growing a little quieter. I would be left behind to begin a new chapter. And even as the rain and snow took hold, there was a certain peace in it. I pull my sweaters around me, and in the chilly mornings, coffee in hand, I look out the window to see the emptiness and the ocean. I sit for hours in the silence. I am happy. There is no one here – the tourists won’t be back now for another few months. There is only me and my son, and Bailey – our dog, and 15 minutes away, my parents. Sometimes someone is walking a dog.
We don’t have regular zoom meetings like some families. But I guess we are not like them. I have barely seen my husband or his two daughters- or my brother, they are on the other side of the barbed wire I imagine keeps me and my son safe. Too many unknowns. People have their stories about this. They tell themselves what they need to, so their lives can be some kind of “normal.” But I left normal when my “atypical” son was born, it’s not an option for me.
There are nights when I easily drift off to sleep and nights when I am restless and awaken at 2 and see a star filled sky I’d never see in the city. I have walked the beach here – even in the freezing winds and watched how what washes ashore changes by the month.
First, the molting horseshoe crabs, then the scallop shells, then the red seaweed, the conch’s and snails. I gather treasures and put them, sand and all, in my pockets. They adorn the bathtub now. I will cherish them when May comes, and I must leave here. I try not to think about it, or much past today- or tomorrow at the most.
I notice the ducks and geese disappear when it is very cold – and I wonder where they go? When they return, they magically walk on a paper-thin layer of ice on the pond where they live. It appears they are walking on the water.
The garbage pails go out by 10 am on Tuesdays. Daniel listens for the beeping of the truck and beckons to me. I go in my pajamas stuffed into my boots, my puffy jacket’s hood up over my head , and carefully roll them down the icy driveway, “ don’t slip” I whisper to myself – I wave and say “good morning” to the garbage men, the only people I regularly see around here.
It is hard to know what is gone forever and what remains. What will I want to reclaim and what will I leave behind? “Two Lies and a Truth…” What will be my story about this time when I look back on all of it?
Last night, the truth lay somewhere in these statements:
1.“ Pigs are vegetarians”
2.“ Adult pigs can run a seven-minute mile.”
3.“Pigs can’t swim.”
The answer was: Adult pigs can run a seven-minute mile.
“How was I supposed to know how fast a pig can run? I’m not a pig farmer.”
“Good question, darling.”
And I laughed like I hadn’t laughed for so long.