Real Life

I know these daffodils are real life. I planted the bulbs from which they emerge in a particular garden spot – they were supposed to bloom in late March and here they are. There are already more where those came from. Soon flowering shrubs and tulips will be appearing as they have for the many years I’ve lived in my home.

Right now my house is a quiet place as it has been for the almost three years since Michael died. For periods of time, my traveling biologist son has stayed here and at those times, the house fills with the noise of life. But right now he’s self-quarantined, out of town after hastily returning from work abroad, forced out of Panama before his work was done, because the borders were going to close due to the pandemic.

The truth is, even under normal circumstances, his stays are temporary. I’ve gotten accustomed to living on my own. And yet, most of what had become usual no longer feels like real life. I’m supposed to stay home. That necessity makes perfect sense to me. But the imposed isolation is very unreal as is my strong effort to comply with the “flatten the curve” plan. I’m usually a rule breaker, but I’m much less so because of these health considerations, not just for me but for others. However, I also have to admit, that after 25 years of having a mother who depended on me for so many of her needs, I don’t much like the idea of becoming an extra chore for anyone. I have to find ways to be myself, try not to hurt anyone else along the way. Another factor affecting my behavior is the fact that I was really sick earlier this year, in February. I felt worse than I can ever remember feeling, so sick that for the first time in my life, I felt really vulnerable. I thought a lot about age then, and wondered if this was just the way of things, as a person begins the inexorable slide to the end of life, absent an acute health crisis. Because I write a lot, I thought I’d go back to that sickness and read both my journal and my notes to Michael, which will one day, apparently fill volumes. What I found made me wonder if I might have had Covid19.

February 1, 2020

Hi baby,
Wanna hear about my PTSD? While I sat in the car today at a stoplight, I watched a guy in his car next to me touch his mouth, his nose, his eyes and his hair in under 30 seconds. There’s this coronavirus going around that apparently started in Wuhan, China. With people like him, a lot of folks could contract it in no time. Is this a weird form of population control? I haven’t been able to stop watching what people do to spread contagion since you got sick. 

February 4th, 2020

Hi baby,
Ugh. What first? I’m really sick. I have a fever of almost 101. For me, whose normal temp is usually 97.6, that’s really high. Deep, painful dry cough. My body aches everywhere.

February 6th, 2020

Dear Michael,
I am so fucking sick with this flu. I’m just finishing my third day with fever and an incredibly painful cough. It’s been a long time since I felt this terrible, if ever. When I looked around the house for medicine to help with symptoms, everything had expired in 2017. Elisabeth had to drop some off.  All I’ve done is sit on my ass and stare at television. 

February 8th, 2020

Dear Michael,
I’m feeling a teeny bit better. I still am a gelatinous mass going between our bed and my chair, but still, a little better. Today I remembered that time we were in line at the Auditorium, waiting to see Little Feat, and my ticket blew out of my hand. I wish I was shivering with you in the cold right now. 

February 10th, 2020

Dear Michael,
I was able to go to class today. I’m still out of it, but better…My senses of taste and smell are virtually gone right now. I hope they come back.

February 12th, 2020

Hi baby,
I feel like a veg. Even though I’m better, I feel a heaviness in my bronchial tubes and I’m still coughing. For some reason, that makes me feel remarkably vulnerable. I haven’t been swimming in over a week…I’ve run out of energy. Maybe life or age or both have caught up with me. I don’t know…I miss you. Restoring myself is getting harder. I wish I could see you reflecting me back at myself. If you know what I mean…

February 24th, 2020

Dear Michael

I have no idea what’s going on with me. I haven’t felt great since I got the flu a few weeks ago. It feels like all the fatigue of the past eight years has caught up with me. Is it just age? Is it my emotional frame of mind? Am I getting a chronic disease? Who knows? 

So. Could I have had this thing? Maybe. I live in a university community which has a lot of people movement between here and abroad. The virus was below the radar until late December. There was plenty of time for it to show up anywhere in the world by early February. I never went to a doctor. My symptoms sound very much like the ones that appear classic for the coronavirus. I’m in the old people group but I don’t have any severe co-morbidities. Everyone doesn’t die. Maybe I had it and just finally got better. I wish I could take a serum antibody test to see if anything would show up in my bloodstream. But given the glacial pace of testing and all the poor people who are in acute distress, that’s a long way off. Maybe I just had a hideous case of flu, despite my having been vaccinated. Nothing’s perfect, a good thing to remember as the hunt for a vaccine for this bug proceeds. One thing is certain: whether I may have had it or not, I certainly want to do what I can to never feel that dreadful again. Which brings me back to real life, or at least the facsimile of it which many of us (I hope) are leading right now.

For the five years that Michael had cancer, I was determined that if he had to die, he needed to die of his disease and not some opportunistic germ. So I stocked up on supplies like masks, hand sanitizers, sterile gloves and cleaning wipes that kill almost everything. When the pandemic hit, I was well-supplied. I took the photo above to send my son who doesn’t want me leaving the house. Showing him I was being careful made me laugh. Up until this point in time, when I’d be zealously cleaning, he’d remind me that I wasn’t immunocompromised. Not so much right now. So yes, I’ve gone out.

My friend Debbie and I met in an out of the way field and chatted about life and self-reflections and this time’s interesting demands on our thought processes and behaviors. I joined my daughter and grandson for a walk around our neighborhood, picking up trash and effecting positive change.

I went for a drive to see how the world looked when most people were following our state’s order to stay away from people. Lots of empty parking lots except for the urban geese, who seem perfectly fine and who are definitely safer now than perhaps ever. And I marveled at the drop in gas prices which haven’t been this low in a long time.

I found out that the big home improvement stores allow you to make purchases online for garden projects which you can then pick up in their back lots while never being near another person. Someone simply scans your email receipt with no physical contact, from 6 feet away. I’d used my last paver that I decorate with rocks and shells. It’s also mulch time for the garden. I was able to get my supplies in a safe way and simultaneously give myself healthy activities to while away the days and nights. Technology is definitely my friend right now.

I’m reading a lot. I’m kind of all over the place because there’s my news obsession which takes up a certain portion of my day. I also play Words with Friends, which is just really Scrabble, to keep my brain agile.

Then there’s my fan girl stuff. One of my favorite musicians, Pete Yorn, has been performing mini-gigs on Instagram. He’s been warm, thoughtful, and funny in addition to playing great sets. Watching alone but seeing hundreds of other viewers online is surprisingly homey.

I was also really happy to see Roger Federer pop up today. He’s been recovering from knee surgery which would have kept him out of tournaments until mid-June. Now no one else can play either. He posted a little video of himself playing in the cold of Switzerland. That, in addition, to his donating a million dollars for virus relief, makes me adore him even more. Hence, the life-sized cutout that my son got for me as a home companion. That really works for me right now.

I remain grateful for the beautiful clouds in the big midwestern sky. Having a car where I can be distancing away while out in the country is comforting and soothing. One day, this pandemic will come to an end. But some of the good parts of being alone will still be here.

And there’s always me and my ghost which is still the greatest comfort of all. I’m thinking since we appear to be in for the long haul, I’m going to go back to writing my memories of my life and to finish the story of Michael’s and his orphan cancer. I hope all of you are well. And mostly, as sane as you can be, considering our circumstances.

3 thoughts on “Real Life”

  1. Renee: Your writing is so impressive and your nature photographs are all stunning images. In case you haven’t already seen it, there is an article that might be of interest to you in the “Off Duty” section of last weekend’s Saturday/Sunday issue – April 25 – 26, 2020 – of the Wall Street Journal titled: “An A-To-Z Flower Guide – Bang Out A Novel Garden” that lists this year’s best new flowers with accompanying photographs of each of these best new 26 flowers. Thank you for sharing your immense writing and photographic/imaging skill set with our southside group.

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