april 28, 2020—your table awaits, madame

I live next door to my cousin, Erin, and her lovely family in Minneapolis. Last fall, I moved into the apartment where her mom, my beloved Auntie Pattycakes, lived, until her death almost exactly a year ago, just a few short months after her only sister, my own beloved mom, took leave of this earth. Little did I expect, when I moved, just how essential being close to family would come to be.

Every now and then, I’ll get a text from Erin, something to the effect of, “hey, we’re having tortellini soup tonight, want me to bring some over?” to which I’ll reply, “hey, yes, please!” because one less night of cooking for one is, well, one less night cooking for one, which is a welcomed reprieve when you’ve been cooking for one not only while quarantined, but for a good nine years now, which gets to be a drag when you have no one to blame when the cauliflower goes to mush or for the mess in the kitchen, so maybe you opt for cereal or popcorn more that you care to admit.

Erin’ll alert me via text when she’s dropped the goods off in my entryway; lately, when I open the door, I’m met with the comforting aroma of disinfectant before I smell the soup, because those conscientious neighbors of mine take the shelter at home protocols seriously, which is more than we can say about a certain arrogant, willfully ignorant VP who visited the Mayo today.

So, last night was one of those nights. Erin’s text comes in: “Hey, we’re making ribs on the grill tonight, want some?” My answer is the same as always” “yes please!” thinking she’ll wander over with a carefully sanitized container at some point. Then I get a phone call from her daughter, Elise, who tells me in that endearingly nonsensical way that only a 9-year-old can execute, something about tables and ten feet and food and such, and from our convo, I come to the conclusion that they’re setting up a ten foot buffet-style table and I’m to bring my own tupperware to pack my own food. Cool, I thought, works for me.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting and outdoorBandana across my face and tupperware in hand, I wander up the drive and turn the corner to their backyard, scanning the setting for the buffet. Instead, I see a small card table set up, draped in black, topped with a candle and plate of ribs. I’m confused—surely they’re not expecting company?
“Hey Jen!” the whole family—Erin, Kurt and their two kids, Quinn and Elise—already seated, joyfully greets me from their table, a good ten feet away, “Your table is ready, complete with your very own tub of Clorox wipes!” I stand, dumfounded, taking in the scene, with probably the biggest, dumbest smile on my face and maybe a hint of a tear at the corner of one eye. I gratefully take my place at the table set for one. In spite of feeling like the only kid at the kid’s table on Thanksgiving, I couldn’t have felt more connected in such a disconnected time, here at my neighbor-cousin’s impromptu backyard gathering. And that is how we stay sane, safe, and connected—by being Image may contain: one or more people and fireinventive, not dismissive.

And just wear the #$%# mask, okay? Whether or not you’re the VP of the US. Whether you’re in a hospital or any public place. Not just for yourself, or the love of God even, but for your fellow humans. xo

april 26, 2020—southern MN drive by

We’re all doing what we must these days (except huffing Lysol, right?), to help flatten a silent, deadly threat that’s creeping across the globe. Still, I hope we never get to the point where donning a mask before heading outside becomes as reflexive as grabbing for the keys. I hope we never get to a point where spacing ourselves six feet apart from loved ones becomes more intuitive than gravitating toward one another. I hope we never get to a point where flinching and darting across the street is a more acceptable social grace than smiling and saying hi as we pass on the sidewalk.

I am dangerously close to exhausting my sad supply of hand sanitizer, and if there’s any to be found in the Twin Cities, no one’s letting on (or maybe I was just longing for an reason to break out of the city limits for a day…). Recently, my sister, Gretchen, scored a gallon from Drummers Garden Center in Mankato and offered to split her bounty. Since Gov. Walz’s shelter-in-place order allows leaving one’s home for “necessary supplies” “pleasure driving,” “outdoor activities” and “essential intrastate travel,” a drive down to St. Peter to acquire the goods seems to fit for each of those edicts. My plan: cruise to St. Peter, get the goods, cruise back home.

But, typical me, I never stick to a plan—I tend to wander far and away and back again, and today, in spite of tight restrictions, was no different. First stop: Gretchen’s, where we stand too far apart in the parking lot; Rocco strains at his leash, I release my grip and he tears across the lot, nearly knocking Gretchen over with his over exuberant greeting. Out of the back of my ol’ Jeep, I fill spray bottles with 80% ethyl alcohol that smells like tequila gone bad (which is either redundant or an oxymoron depending on your thoughts about tequila), thinking this is another scenario that I hope to never repeat. I toss Gretch a few handmade masks to give to her apt. building handyman a kind, funny man, nearing, if not already in his 80s, who shovels snow from her patio and plucks litter from the parking lot, and fixes doorknobs that fall off and light switches that don’t switch, and doesn’t watch much news—he’d asked Gretchen the other day, with great concern, what’s the deal with this virus and should he be worried and what should he be doing, which broke my heart. The least I could do is offer a couple of masks to help ease his worry. I try calling Jill and Kurt, to pay them a quick visit while I’m in town, but neither answer.

Instead of turning back toward Mpls, I get a wild hair to swing into Mankato, where I am graced by the blessed sight of Joe and his dad, Jesse, who come out to the front step of Joe’s apartment building to say ‘hi.’ Joe’s dad, likely the sweetest man on the planet today, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor just as the pandemic shit hit the fan; by a divine grace of something that no one will ever be able to explain but we fully, reverently acknowledge, Joe was able to bring his dad, who lives near Madison, WI, to Mankato to be with Joe for home hospice care. Other than bare-bones hospice staff, and brief, scarce outdoor visits from much farther than 6 feet away, they are robbed of so much that should be part of Jesse’s care and Joe’s support right now…still, they’re managing hospice with a side of pandemic with grace and wisdom, quiet times and humor, lots and lots of movies and home cooked meals …I hand over another couple of homemade masks and a goodie bag of treats from the co-op; after a too-short visit and a reluctant good bye, I buzz over to my brother Mikey’s, on the other end of town, where I catch him coming out of the garage, about to tackle some lawn work.

It takes more than a few minutes to catch up with Mikey (he and Kim have a big blended family so there’s a lot to catch up on, and Mikey’s a talker and a joker, so much like our dad in that way, he always has a great story or three to tell), still, our time goes too fast. I finally let Mikey get back to his yard, then suddenly realize I’ve been so busy being elated at seeing everyone in person, I’d forgotten to take photos to document our visits. I snap a few of Mikey, then quickly back-track back to Joe’s, for a couple pics of him and his dad, before heading back toward home.

In the meantime, Jill learns of my appearance in southern MN and wants to take a social-distancing walk. She, Gretchen, Rocco and I converge on a corner in St. Peter, then meander the small city, taking note of green buds, tulips and crocus that have burst open, the aroma of magnolia laced with grilled brats and burgers fills the air. Everything about this scene—my sisters and me walking and talking and laughing and taking photos—feels normal, but everything feels more than slightly off-kilter, too, and I hope the off-kilter part is another thing that we never have to get used to. We keep our walk short, and at the end, perform a traditional Hildebrandt good-bye that’s as long as the spaces between us, before Jill takes off for her home. I walk Gretchen back to her place, and after more goodbyes, finally slide into the Jeep, to head back to Minneapolis.

As I leave St. Peter, I swing by my brother, Kurt’s house on the edge of town, hoping to catch them at home (where else would they be?). My niece, Katy, emerges from the house and breaks into a big smile when she sees me pull into the drive. Her brother, Shea, appears, another big smile, Kurt and Teresa, also smiling, appear soon after; they’re in the middle of a big landscaping project—why hire out help when the kids are around possibly forever, Teresa says. They fill me in on their vision for the gardens, that Noah’s back up in Mpls, that Teresa’s picked up a new pastime—quarantine hair cutting. One more too-quick visit, another quick photo op, another lump-in-my-throat farewell, before I finally climb back into my Jeep and point it toward Minneapolis, for real this time.

april 20, 2020—field notes: grocery shopping in the time of coronavirus

I pull into the quasi-empty parking lot mid-afternoon. Still too full for my comfort, at least it’s not log-jammed like every grocery store, uber-Target and co-op in the tri-county area was over the weekend, and unless I want tuna and dry raisin bran for dinner (“you’ve had worse…” my inner poor-kid survivalist tries to reason), suck it up, buttercup. Get in, get out, get yer ass home.

I’ve memorized my list and strategically mapped my route through the store. I double, triple, quadruple check my purse for the world’s tiniest bottle of hand sanitizer—the only one I own—along with a handful of Handi-Wipes, that I’m rationing like beans in the depression, thanks to the assholes who wiped out the world’s supply back in March, along with rubbing alcohol and Clorox wipes. I use my meager bottle and wipes for just such outings; the overwhelming urge to rub my eyes never seems to happen except when I’m in a grocery store these days. I slide a doubled-up, filterized bandana over the lower half of my face and check my purse one last time to make sure the hand sanitizer didn’t mysteriously leap out when I wasn’t looking. I take a deep breath, slip out of my ol’ Jeep, scurry across the lot and into the store.

I glance around for wipes to clean off a cart. A young man in a company-issue polo shirt stands guard with a spray bottle and paper towels, wiping down of every last inch of every last cart that’s returned. Nice touch. The sharpness of my breathing softens a bit. Tape covers the quarter slots, umbilical-cord keys that used to link the carts together dangle without purpose from cart handles. Another nice touch—one less thing to have to touch. I thank the young man from behind my mask, take a freshly-wiped cart and slip through the automatic doors.

Goddammit. They’ve rearranged the entire store since I was last in, maybe a couple months ago. Instead of beelining, I wander aimlessly, dodging other shoppers like they have a disease or something, haphazardly crossing back and forth through the store (shit-ton of boxed mac and cheese, I notice, no quinoa anywhere), haphazardly ticking items off my list. I hyper-tune in to shoppers committing various acts of social distancing violations. My breathing intensifies again. 

I stand in front of the refrigerator case, scanning the rows for eggs, when I feel an unsettling sensation of energy behind me. I turn to find an unmasked shopper practically breathing down my neck as he reaches around for a tub of yogurt. Over my bandana, I glare and hiss, “Excuse me—” He doesn’t notice. Or care. He snags his yogurt and meanders on. A young woman cavalierly weaves her maskless way through the aisles, pushing others’ shopping carts out of the way with her own filthy mitts to get at what she needs. Another’s arm and mine reach for the same bag of spinach. Hands recoil at lightning speed, bodies pull back as our eyes meet. I think we’re both smiling, but it’s hard to know for certain when half of our expression is covered in handmade masks. “Go ahead,” she gestures. I grab a bag, wave a quick thank-you at her, and continue.

An older gentleman sneezes, not into the crook of his arm, but aerosol-blasts his microbes right into the store’s atmosphere for God and everyone to breathe. I spin around and head down another aisle. My heart is flopping against my sternum, frantically trying to leap its way out of my mouth, breath comes in shallow gulps, a slight headache begins thudding at the base of my skull. If I despised grocery shopping before, now, it’s a literal exercise in agony. I read the news, I listen to my governor’s press conferences, I know what’s going on. 

I snag the last few items on my list—dog treats, coffee, cereal (I rediscovered the versatility of cereal—cheap, effortless, every-meal food—though a minor win that hardly offsets the growing list of transgressions flaring up around me). In spite of not working for over a month and not knowing when I’ll go back, I decide that this kind of stress calls for an unessential not on my list: emergency ice cream. Salted caramel to the rescue.

I didn’t see any six-foot spaced x’s on the floor at the checkouts as other grocery stores have done (that’s not to say they weren’t there, I was too distressed to notice), but the store has the stretch-limousine-version of grocery carts, which help keep shoppers appropriately spaced. Still, I stand another couple feet behind the shopper in front of me. The man behind me does not extend the same courtesy to me. Usually, I’m ridiculously Minnesota Nice! in the grocery store and at least smile at the person behind me should we meet eyes, sometimes even chit-chat a bit. I can’t help it, it’s my Dad in me. Today, I keep my back turned and seethe as his cart creeps closer and closer to the backs of my ankles. Swear to god, if that thing touches me…

The masked checkout clerk sits behind a shield of plexiglass that’s usually seen in casinos and sketchy convenience stores. Another new protocol in place. After ringing up my items, she slides my cart out of the way, I slide it to a long counter and quickly bag my things up, dropping apples on the floor in my frenzied packing, which sets loose a string of expletives that would have made even my father, King of the Foulmouthed, cringe. I loop all the bags all over my body like some kind of strange peddler, awkwardly steer the cart back out to the Keeper of Carts with one hand, and waddle out to the Jeep with my wares—god forbid would I make another trip back in to return the cart. 

My body practically implodes as I heave a sigh of relief once I’m safely ensconced in my car. I dig out the tiny bottle of sanitizer, splootch some on my hands and scrub them together furiously, taking several long, deep breaths as my blood pressure settles down, before heading back home, where I don’t think I’ll leave, ever. I can totally live off tuna and raisin bran, I think. I wonder how agreeable my landlords would be to a couple of chickens, a field of quinoa and spinach in my yard. 

A friend summed up my experience wisely—no one’s winning here. You’re an asshole if you don’t wear a mask, you’re an asshole for judging other’s maskless existence. If I hear the phrase “new normal” one more time, I swear…There’s not a goddamned thing normal about any of this. If and when this virus is ever chased out of town, mental health workers (and hairdressers) will be our new front line.

april 14, 2020—not a hugger

6A161F56-4058-44A6-A64F-3E54C93E761EFor someone who’s not a hugger by nature (who truthfully, kinda inwardly flinches when someone boldly announces “I’m a hugger!”), one of the things I miss most right now is hugging the people I love most…I’m remembering a time when I could hug those people with unabashed abandon, and in spite of the shitstorm swirling around us, I believe in a day where we will be able to hug again. I mean, if we want to.

I spent Sunday alone (was it a holiday or something?), which is how I spend every day in isolation, one day smearing (now, there’s a funny word, smear, that used to only be used behind the word “pap,” but here I am, getting all resourceful in a pandemic, finding a new use for it!) into the next. Not that it’s much different than PP (pre-pandemic—I’m also getting good at making up acronyms!), but there’s a big difference between being an introvert by nature and being forced into isolation, which is completely unnatural even for a non-hugging introvert; to say there will be significant fallout to this unnatural state is the understatement of the moment, given the way shit changes every second of every minute of every hour of every day.

I rearranged my living space (again), made a handful of t-shirt masks, scratched out 3ECA1E85-1206-4FA6-ACE4-CC6AAE8A058Asome strange, sloppy writing, about which Joe and I discussed the other night—he believes the most important art is happening now—the raw, clunky shit plunking out of keyboards or slapping onto a canvas, sometimes running uncontrollably like diarrhea, other times thick and sludgy, barely moving, if at all— who has time to edit when it’s old news by the second revision? I can agree; my writing (and drinking) career began in earnest, in the middle of a personal shit show, when every hour of every day brought new, more horrific news than the last…I’m observing so many strange parallels between that myopic experience and this pandemic one…still, I know that for many people, their creative process and a whole lotta other shit has come to a grinding halt, and I’m no expert, but I’d say that one is as common response to crisis as the other. Brené Brown talks a awful lot about this phenomenon of our reactions in crisis—some become hyper-mobilizing, others sort of implode, many of us do both on an unpredictable rotation…check her work out, if you aren’t already familiar.

The sooner we recognize that for all the funny memes going around about “The ‘Rona” and over-eating and bad hair and other trials and tribulations of self-isolating, this experience is fucking all of us up to some degree or another, the better off we’ll be in the long run. Thanks or no-thanks to social media, we can observe the multitude of responses (that change with the breeze), and I can’t help but feel some sort of strange, I don’t quite know what the word is—comfort? vindication? camaraderie? compassion and grace? fear? knowing now, that what I went through with Bob was completely fucked up, and the only, right response to witnessing something so fucked up, is to end up fucked up, for a while, maybe forever…dear John Prine was a masterstoryteller of this phenomenon…when the shitstorm finally passes, mental health workers and hairdressers will be the new front line.

I sit helpless and heartbroken because I can’t do anything for Joe and his dad, Jesse, during their sacred time in hospice; the divine way that things played out for them to be together is breathtaking, but the backdrop in which it’s happening is cruel and unusual punishment—no one can visit, hospice services have been whittled to bare essentials…one of endless secondary and tertiary effects of this virus. Thank god for Skype, FaceTime, Zoom and other video chat/meeting apps that are getting record use in this time. If we can’t hug, at least we can connect with each other in all our uninhibited, “I frankly don’t give a shit anymore—what you see is what you get” video chat glory. I’ve sent and received more real olde tyme mail these past few weeks than I’ve had in the past few decades, though I do wonder about my neighbor downstairs who gets at least 3 Amazon Prime deliveries a day. Not judging, just wondering, is all.

Spending Easter Sunday alone wasn’t all bad. I’ve got a good eight years under my belt—I think of it as a residency in grief— I’m an expert at entertaining myself, which is kind of the hilarious irony about this mess—just when I finally figured out that eight years of self-imposed exile wasn’t doing my mental health any favors and I decided to quit drinking and really get to work on some shit I’ve been neglecting for quite some time, a pandemic comes roaring across the country and shreds my newfound “I need to build community!” proclamation. Who was it that said life is what happens when you make other plans…

I was motivated to clean and rearrange by the brilliantly eclectic Spotify playlists created by genius Mix Mistress Nasty G-Spot (that’s Gretchen Hildebrandt, to the tragically unhip—I don’t think even she’s aware of her new crisis-inspired DJ handle). She created two lists—one of socially distant appropriate titles, the other of isolation no-no’s, like Exile’s Kiss you All Over and The Ramones’ You Sound Like You’re Sick. I laughed out loud as each song outdid the last: Georgia Satellites’ Keep Your Hands to Yourself, the Divinyls’ I Touch Myself, Motley Crue’s Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away), Tony Orlando and Dawn’s Knock Three Times, Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb—curiously, almost prophetically, the 80s has an abundance of pandemic-relevant material. Leave it to Generation X…one of our new pastimes is calling or texting each other with new songs to add to her lists. Find and follow Gretchen on Spotify for a big hug from her, in the form of pure music joy for these hard times.

IMG_2348Yesterday afternoon, Jill R. Hildebrandt and I met halfway-ish, in Jordan; she had some Easter treats she wanted to give me, I had some t-shirt masks for her and Gretchen. We parked in the lot of the Holiday station off 169, six spots away from each other. Like a strange deal going down in broad daylight, the exchange was made: I tossed two bags of sanitized face masks out my window at her, she crept out of her car, placed her goods, bound up in a plastic shopping bag, on the pavement between us, then scurried back; I hustled out to retrieve then retreat. She held up the Ziplocks and whipped out a bottle of spray disinfectant and hosed the suckers down. We waved and snapped pictures of each other, choking up and laughing at the same time. How fucked up is everything about this, I think (a thought that plays on repeat throughout my days). We exchanged a few more words, waved and blew kisses through windows, before taking off in different directions. If you’ve been a recipient of a spee-dee delivery from this sister of mine (or a dee-lux version—a personal tap dance performance), consider it a big hug from her.

My sibs and I were able to gather for a video call on Sunday, which basically consisted of two hours of nonstop Hildebrandt kids being kids again. Our parents would have been so proud…

Someone recently said to me that she’s ready for thing to return to normal again. I’m not a scientist or economist, psychologist or historian, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen, that we’ll go back to how things were, but it’s also kind of a sanctimonious, asshole thing for me to say. In spite of what I think or what I’ve gone through, who am I to say that things will never, ever return to the way things used to be? All I have is my own experience to go by. Still, there’s evidence all around us: people are returning to their natural hair color (I just read that in eight weeks, thanks to covid-19, 80% of the world’s blondes will be extinct…look it up if you don’t believe me…), we are being forced to let go of old habits and pastimes, and discovering that they no longer serve us, if they ever did…skies ovetr cities that were tinged sepia are clearing, wildlife is returning to their habitats, people are connecting with each other in wildly creative, unprecedented ways…that’s not to say that there’s not some scary awful shit going down—there is, there’s too much to say about that, that’s why I sometimes can’t stop these posts —still, if by “going back to normal” means going back to a broken system, that those other glorious things suddenly go back to not happening again, then I’d have to say I’m kind of a proponent for rewriting the script…

I believe that when all of this is said and done, the world will be divided into two camps—huggers-bordering-on-gropers and those who run screaming when someone gets within six feet…don’t be surprised when we’re finally released from house arrest if this anti-hugger comes up to you and hugs your livin’ guts out. Stranger things have happened.

april 7, 2020—catch you later, John Prine…

Pink SuperUltraAngelFromMontgomery moonTook Rocco out tonight for our last walk of the evening, kept scanning the skies for the mythical pink moon. We walked for blocks, but it was nowhere to be seen. Strange… eventually, we turned the last corner toward home, when a glowing orb shimmering through night branches snagged my attention. “There it is!” I thought, and held up my phone to take a picture. At the same time, a text from Joe flashed on the screen.

“Aw shit…John Prine gone.”

I snapped a blurry pic as my eyes blurred with tears. Aw, shit, indeed… Even if you don’t believe in such things, you can’t help but think, “Whew…the largest and brightest moon of the year and a millions of pair of eyes resting on it, is one helluva celestial exit, Mr. Prine…” Rest in peace. xo

april 3, 2020—food shelf shift

Driving to the food shelf to volunteer for a shift yesterday—wait, was it this morning?—last year?—maybe I’m making this story up, who knows anything any more? Anyway, on my way to the food shelf, I’m stopped at a red light, when the car behind me pauses a moment, then decides that red lights are complete bullshit and swerves into the next lane over that, pre-pandemic, served oncoming traffic, hooks a left against the red, speeding off merrily (I’m guessing, I know I would be), confirming what I already suspect: we now live in a lawless land. I gotta remember that slick maneuver at the next red light/left turn combo I encounter.

I show up at the food shelf looking more like an amateur bank robber than a volunteer; as I said, we’re living in a land where laws are so 2019, so they let me in anyhow. I would win the unofficial Socially-Distant-Overachiever Award of the Day, if there was one—boxes of disposable gloves and hand sanitizer by the gallons on hand, which I immediately begin using and continue to use liberally throughout my shift, noting the only one (out of four, maybe five total, volunteers and staff) with a bandana strapped across her face is me. I’m aware that my makeshift mask will likely not filter out any possible virus microbes, but I’m of the camp that something is better than nothing. I huddle in my corner, minding my own biz mostly, spending more time than I probably should creating enticing combinations for the fresh fruit and veggie bags I’m in charge of assembling, in hopes that the recipients can make a real meal with the goods, rather than open up the bag and wonder what the hell to do with 3 apples, 2 potatoes, a packet of basil, a papaya and some English cucumbers (though my mom, resilient survivor that she was, would have conjured a helluva goulashy-salady-thingy from those ingredients) and communicating with my eyes while simultaneously backing up in horror, should anyone burst into my Les Nessman invisible office unannounced (google it, kids) and strike up a conversation; maybe, I concede, they’re desperate for connecting, like me, but are having a hard time comprehending this fucked up “new normal” that is anything but. I get it; like when I start chit-chatting with people at the dog park before I remember it’s Pandemic2020, and abruptly cut myself mid-sentence and move along.

My shift goes fast as my produce bags grow in numbers. Very few people stop in to use the food shelf in spite of the abundance of generous donations (from individuals and organizations). I learn from the woman running the subdued show that their numbers are drastically down, though they know there is a drastic need expressed; a lot of people in need are elderly and multigenerational families living under one roof, who lack transportation and/or are fearful, understandably, of going out in public. The food shelves are going to great lengths to keep their doors open, sorely understaffed, while complying with the rules of this no-rules world: shoppers are now separate from the goods/volunteers, allowing only one person at a time to come in for pre-assembled food/personal care bags (people used to be allowed to come in and do their own “shopping” through the facility), constantly disinfecting surfaces, etc.

At the end of the shift, I take one last load of cardboard out to recycling, sweep the aisles, and bid my crew mates adieu with a smile that I hope shows up in my eyes, in spite of my outlaw bandana covering the rest of my face.

If you or someone you know is in need of emergency food service, please check out Keystone Community Services (or other emergency food shelves in your area).

march 31, 2020—a funny thing happened on the way to the new year


Apocalyptic bangs.

A funny thing happened on the way to the new year, which feels so long ago, doesn’t it? Like, longer than a lifetime ago, like someone else’s life on another planet ago. On the first of January, I decided to go all-out-NYE-resolution cliché on myself and take a break from alcohol for 30 days. No big deal, really, I’ve taken month-long breaks from alcohol countless times before—I’ll cruise through the 30 days, reset my body and mind, revel in how great I feel and on day 31, let out a sigh of relief, and celebrate with a bottle of wine. Cognitive dissonance is nothing if not persistent…but, this time, there was was a little variable: not only did I not drink for 30 days, I joined an online program called The Alcohol Experiment, that I discovered part fluke, part divine intervention—one in the same, some might argue— developed by a brilliant, compassion-filled woman named, not coincidentally I’m convinced, Annie Grace. It required a little more work than just quitting drinking (and by “a little,” I mean “a lot”), but to say it was worth the effort is the #2 understatement of the century.

Fast forward to today, March 31, 2020. My 91st day AFAF (Alcohol Free As F*ck, as I and many of my newfound AFAF friends like to say). Smack dab in the middle of a goddamned global pandemic (is “global pandemic” redundant? does the goddamned make it not?), no less. A wise person once said, “Life is what happens when you make other plans;” to say that no one saw this pandemic coming, much less prepared for it, is the #1 understatement of the century (well, except to brilliant people like my epidemiological crush, Michael Osterholm, who has only been warning us about killer viruses since practically when God was a kid). I sure as hell didn’t plan to be sober during a worldwide crisis, but I sure as hell plan to stay that way while riding this changing-by-the-minute-crawling-out-of-my-skin-waking-up-in-a-panic-attack-every-night-because-i-don’t-have-a-job-and-am-alone-and-oh-my-god-all-the-people-getting-sick-and-dying-when-will-the-shit-hit-full-force-here-and-god-the-discomfort-doesn’t-even waves of uncertainty and fear. Which sounds an awful lot like a hangover, except it’s not. Believe me when I say it’s a million and one times better to wake up feeling like that without an actual hangover slathered on top.

Right now, being AF feels like a super power that will help me navigate life on a planet that’s staging a mutiny-without-end against the collective transgression its inhabitants have inflicted upon it (I’m 100% convinced that’s what’s going on), and I’m going to protect this superpower like it’s the last roll of TP on earth. I know too well what alcohol does for me in crisis. Kicks my fears, anxiety and worst-case-scenarioitis into high gear and sends me into a downward spiral of depression, paralysis, brain fog, shame, self-loathing, guilt. Pour, swig, sweat, repeat.

There’s a huge difference, I’m learning, between “quitting drinking” and digging-deep-and-do-the-hard-ugly-absolutely-worth-it-work-to-figure-out-why-I-drink-in-the-first-place, and spoiler alert: it goes back to childhood. Always does, doesn’t it. God, who wants to go waaaaayyy back there? No one, that’s who, but another spoiler alert: it’s where real healing begins. I’m not gonna lie—I enjoy alcohol. I love a good, hoppy IPA, a robust red in the fall, a refreshing gin and tonic in the summer, it makes this introvert feel more at ease in an extrovert-intense world. But, I’m also not gonna lie—alcohol was becoming an insidious intruder in my life, seeping in and slowly stealing my joy, it’s the ultimate anesthetic—blurring sharp edges, dulling the sting of loss, cutting my creativity off at the knees, numbing all the feels. Not just the bad ones. All the good stuff, too. To the point where not much else exists in a body except dread and anxiety and looping thoughts of doom.

It’s a scary thing to reveal this to the internet world, it’s hard to resist slipping in a “Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t that bad!” disclaimer (the fine line between “not that bad” and “that bad” is often a crisis, like the loss of a loved one, or work stress, or a DUI, or a pandemic…), to blow my hairdresserturnedcaregiverbloggerwidowwritermartyr cover, thus revealing myself as someone who was losing her shit behind the keyboard while her husband was dying, who is now as freaked out as the rest of the world is (in a word, gasp!, human), who wants to know what it’s like to take on a crisis head on, with real, not liquid, courage. I wanna see with my own clear eyes and fog-free mind how this shit show’s gonna end. We’re living in a really scary time, and we could use all the help we can get. www.thisnakedmind.com www.thezeroprooflife.com

Besides, I can 100% guarantee that had I been drinking, my smokin’ new apocalyptic bangs would have definitely turned out less vintage 80s Juice Newton and more Dumb and Dumber. #worksinprogress