It is Sunday, right? Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, though this one is of the fallen variety….). Long and rambly alert: this is long and rambly.
This morning was the first morning in 96 days that I woke up and thought, “wow. It’s quite possible that the only thing keeping me from heading down to the liquor store today for a bottle or two of wine today is fear of exposing myself to a fucking virus, and today that might be the only thing holding me together, and it feels pretty flimsy, at best.”
Until today, being AFAF has felt like a real-live superpower, and I’ve been singing my anthem loud and proud, “I recognize know, too well, what alcohol does to me, especially in crisis, and I don’t ever want to do that to myself again—” and blah, blah, blah… Today, I am quietly humming the same lyrics to a new/old melody—”I recognize, too well, what alcohol does to me, especially in a crisis,” and today, I’d love nothing more than to numb this fucking nightmare shitshow that’s burning down around us, to dam up the never-ending current of terror, isolation, fear of the unknown that now dictates our lives in various, infinite verses. Mine is: I have no job, no income, I’m alone, I haven’t physically touched anyone—not even a goddamned elbow bump—in over three weeks, my dog wondering when I’ll leave so he can finally get some sleep again, my modest savings is fast shriveling up before my eyes, and no one knows when this nightmare is going to end…”—that’s been coursing on repeat through my veins for the past few days.
I want to get in my trusty ol’ Jeep and drive to where most of my loved ones live, about an hour and a half from me—and perform a one-car parade past everyone’s house, to see them in-person (not on a goddamned screen), wave and honk the horn from afar, then turn around and come back home. But then, I start thinking, will seeing them in person but not be able to touch them break my heart even more than simply being alone? And what about the logistics and wisdom of that seemingly innocent act? where will I go to the bathroom? what if my car breaks down or I get into an accident (this would be the day for either or both to happen, the way the gods have been acting like moody, unpredictable sons-of-bitches lately)? what if I put a tow truck driver or first responders in jeopardy (I feel fine, but…)? what if I breathe in the virus through my Jeep vents? what if I breathe out the virus through the vents? What if, what if, what if…
I’m a fellow in the Loft Literary Center’s Mentor Series writing program here in Mpls, and like the rest of the world, we’ve resorted to online meetings; for yesterday’s session, our visiting author-mentor is a magical woman,Junauda Petrus, “a writer, pleasure activist, filmmaker and performance artist, born on Dakota land of Black-Caribbean descent. Her work centers around wildness, queerness, Black-diasporic-futurism, ancestral healing, sweetness, shimmer and liberation.” She is absolutely all that, and a sweet bag of stockpiled chips to boot. Yesterday, we were given a writing prompt where we were to riff off a few ideas she’d tossed out and string them into a poem, a short essay, story or just some loose, strung-out thoughts, whatever. I started writing a fairy-tale like story, as though I were talking to a child about things I was missing: “and there was a time in the world where children went into an actual school building with their friends to learn, and we went into restaurants and sat right next to each other as we ate, and went over to friends’ homes for parties, we hugged and held hands with our loved ones, and sat at their bedside as they lay dying, and walked right past strangers without darting across the street and our faces were not covered in makeshift masks—sometimes, our shoulders even brushed against one another…”
I started crying and couldn’t stop—this isn’t a fairy tale, it’s goddamned reality—and I couldn’t participate in the rest of the meeting. I kept my laptop camera and mic off and just cried and wrote. After the online class, I continued to write, and the hopeless story began turning into one of, I don’t know, not hope, really, but something else kind of like it, but different, because there was something very familiar about it.
Junauda, and everyone around me, is helping me lean into the magic and mystery and opportunity for profound metamorphosis in our fucked up “new normal” (a phrase which I’ve loathed since about 2011), which continually reminds me of another fucked up reality I lived through, which incidentally happened around 2011 (give and take a few years) and survived. Not in the way I’d hoped I would survive, and you bet, if given another chance, I’d change everything I did back then, but still, I survived, in spite of a whole bunch of what I’d call monumental fuck-ups. Last night, before bed, I wrote a message to Junauda, to tell her how much her generous, magical presence in my life means to me, and she wrote back immediately, offering me a welcomed lifeline when I felt I was drowning. And I was once again reminded, it’s that simple, how it works—you reach out for help, someone tosses you a line from their stash. Someone else reaches out, you toss them what you have, and together, in this way, we weave a net to continually catch and release each other, and we get through this shit show, one line at a time.
I recognize the familiarity of these overwhelming feelings: when my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, our lives were upended for nearly two years, without reprieve. While more myopic than pandemic, there are so many eerie similarities—his oncologist was the medical equivalent to certain “world leaders” (sorry, not sorry for making this political, but truth is, every. damn. thing. is political) who spoke arrogantly, definitively of a cure, yet everything he did to my husband resulted in something more horrible than what had just happened, every day living in crawling-out-of-our-skin fear of the unknown—what godawful thing would happen next? When will this end? And then he died. My husband, not the oncologist, unfortunately (yes, I still harbor some unmetabolized resentment about that particular shit show that will probably stain me till I die—I’m 100% certain it’s impossible to scrub ourselves 100% pure again, but I’m finally okay with the stains—I earned ’em). Suffice to say, I numbed, big-time, during those months, and continued to numb, to varying degrees, for years after his death…as I sat and wrote yesterday, I shook loose other memories, reshaped a few thoughts, and was reminded that in the heart of that particular shit show, I did some really hard, astonishing, dare I say brave and wonderful things, fueled by pure love, in spite of things we’ve never done before, that we miscategorize mistakes, that have an uncanny ability to rise to the surface and obliterate the love and other good stuff we’ve done.
I’m reading story after story of others’ “fall from grace” in light of this godforsaken shitshow, and want you all to know I am humbled and reverenced by your brave admissions, by your openness and willingness to reach out, with honesty and vulnerability. And by so many others’ generosity and wisdom, who reach back, to help hold you when you are faltering, and it’s a miraculous thing to witness and be part of…sometimes we gotta do what we gotta do, to get through the hard things, and right now, this pandemic thing? It’s 100% fucking hard, and we will all need help, at some time or other. Desperately.
Today, I am going to do all I can right now to ride this tidal wave of emotion and physical discomfort, and honor it as a necessary part of this whatever we’re calling it. I’ll be honest, I sometimes, dramatically roll my eyes when I say journey or process, or whatever precious euphemism we’re calling this FUCKING PANDEMIC. Whatever we are doing to get through this nightmare are stunning acts of courage; we are all doing badass things that we never, ever, ever thought in a million years we would be doing, and we all really suck at doing it, let’s be honest. BECAUSE NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN IN A CRIPPLING PANDEMIC BEFORE, OKAY? And it really, really sucks that we have to reach out in bizarre, foreign ways, but that’s just the way it’s gotta be for a while.
I had same-but-different kind of support when my husband was sick, and while I didn’t do things in a picture-perfect way (what the fuck even is “picture perfect?” anyhow, I ask/demand now), I did it in the best way I knew how to do at the time, and for that experience and the support I received then, often from the most unexpected sources, I’m beyond grateful, grace-filled and honored for that phase of my life, because it’s helping guide me now, and to say I’m shocked as hell about it isn’t an overstatement.
I’ll be honest—I get sad and frankly, more than a little pissed at whatever construct/system has led us to believe that being fully human is somehow failing—really?? I call bullshit on that line of thinking. How can a human possibly fail at being human? You simply cannot, that’s how. And why do you have to start over and begin counting from Day 1 again?? You don’t, that’s the truth. Jesus, let’s change the narrative, shall we? that is where our superpower lies. Let’s stop keeping score and stop using words like failing, or losing, or falling—as though being AF is some kind of competitive sporting event—and just keep on taking care of one another, one line at a time. Keep on being human. I don’t think of anyone here as failing or letting us down, or falling off anything—we are all doing the very best we can in a really fucked up situation in which no one has ever been before. in spite of all the rules being scrambled on us at warp speed, I’m still of the belief that whatever gets you through the night, is all right, is all right…We have no official shit-show blueprint or guidebook to follow, but we do have each other. We’re learning from and teaching each other, reaching out and holding up (sometimes both at the same time, while on a zoom meeting and homeschooling, or fetching a damn hotdog for the demanding dog, or whatever. Which is all a pretty damned big deal, when you stop to think about it. xo!