On this afternoon of the last day of December, I’ve tried to find an appropriate way to assess this most challenging year. I began January with hope and determination. The photo above is the little city lake where I would go to cry in the early morning in the last months of Michael’s life. I could be there now without crying. I continued to be inspired by his valiant struggle for life, planning two trips to keep myself moving forward, experiencing new places, being brave.
I had a trip planned to Florida late February to early March. My sister and I were supposed to go to Alaska in May, the trip of a lifetime. I was counting down what I hoped would be the last months of the heinous Trump presidency, which for years caused me incessant rage and fury that wasn’t getting any better. Fire was decimating Australia. I stayed up late at night so I could watch my beloved Roger Federer play in the Australian Open which didn’t go very well. I lost my mother’s wedding ring when I used a gift certificate for a massage in a place which had no lockers. I couldn’t stand the idea that it was gone and finally, after two miserable days, it was found in a corner and returned to me by the therapist who was so kind and concerned. Then there was this letter which I wrote to Michael as I’d been doing since his death.
February 1, 2020
Wanna hear about my PTSD? While I sat in line today at a stoplight, I watched a guy in his car touch his mouth, his nose, his eyes and his hair in under 30 seconds. There’s this coronavirus going around that started in China. With people like him, a lot of folks could contract it in no time. Population control. I haven’t been able to stop watching what people do to spread contagion since you got sick.
I guess I was being prescient. A few days later….February 4th, 2020
Ugh. What first? I’m really sick. I have almost 101 degrees fever. Deep, painful cough. Too much Australian Open, not enough sleep, exposure to germy kids. It’s been over a year since I’ve been this sick. Pushing my luck. Part of me cares. Part of me doesn’t. It’s your sister’s birthday. I wish she was dead instead of you. You weren’t mean like me. Whatever. Tonight Trump gave his State of the Union address. It wasn’t surprising but it was hideous nonetheless. He wound up giving Rush Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because he’s got stage IV lung cancer. It was announced hours before the speech. But he faked surprise. Hideous.Trump trotted out token black people, a token hispanic. What a charade. In my whole life I’ve never experienced such a schism. Living among the brownshirts.God I miss you. This is really hard. And lonely.
February 6th, 2020
I am so 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. When I looked around the house for medicine to help with symptoms, everything had expired and Elisabeth had to drop some off. All I’ve done is sit on my ass and stare at television. I’ve missed two classes, a historic preservation committee and all my swimming. I did it to myself. Too much Australian Open and no sleep for two weeks. Wore myself down. I guess I could die from this. But I don’t feel as terrible as that. Not yet.
I hope you’ll be around if I do.
February 10th, 2020 – Dear Michael, Tonight I watched Trump feeding red meat to his base. Did I tell you he was impeached? Still in power but furious. He told the crowd that Obama should have been impeached and still should be. The crowd applauded loudly and chanted “lock her up” about Nancy Pelosi who tore up his lying state of the union speech. The political world is mad and dystopian. My senses of taste and smell are virtually gone right now. I hope they come back.
So did I have Covid back then? I’ll never know if it was that virus or a different flu which got past my vaccination. I felt awful for a few weeks. I delayed and shortened my trip to Florida, leaving for Naples on March 1st. The first day there, I stayed in my nightgown and rested, fearful that I’d blow my recovery. But I was lucky to be there.
With each passing day, my friends and I were getting more alarmed by the news of the virus. They decided they were going home to Wisconsin. I had no clue that I, who normally swam five days a week, wouldn’t see a pool for the rest of the year. When it was time to go home on March 11th, I was terrified. Two airports and a bus ride packed with university students returning to my hometown. My sister picked me up at the bus station and we didn’t hug each other. I had a house full of masks, sanitizing wipes and hand sanitizer left over from Michael’s last days. I put on a mask, went grocery shopping and then into quarantine for two weeks. Next, I canceled the trip to Alaska. Although we’d bought great insurance, there was one bit of fine print – everything was covered but a pandemic. We got some money back but lost a chunk. I guess rich people absorb those losses better than us peons. When I came through all that, lockdown had arrived. My grandsons were in Zoom school. My son, a biologist working in Panama, made it back to the states the night before the border closed. New routines began. Groceries delivered and sanitized before coming in the house. If I saw a friend, it would be from a distance. My kids were my bubble. And wasn’t I the lucky one to be living right across the street from my family? My daughter had the most people exposure due to her job, an employee of the federal government which was having a terrible national response to the virus. I watched Cuomo of New York and Dr. Fauci rather than the president. Trump using the spread of disease and deaths as a campaign platform which drove me crazy. Narcissism, stupidity and no empathy. What a combination. An election year. Mad weather events. Anxiety about the world and so many suffering people. I went outside and photographed my small life, worked in my garden, helped my family and tried to help friends. Life was still happening, albeit strangely. I gave what I could afford financially and tried to support people struggling with depression. There were suicides. I wept at too much tragedy. Miraculously, I could carry on. I remembered that my daughter called me a cockroach when Michael was dying, able to survive anything. I was dubious and careful.
Spring arrived, allowing for outside, socially distant get-togethers. The welcoming dirt of my garden and outside labors. The political news was still awful as was the virus raging away while huge numbers of people ignored it and did as they pleased. Maddening. Infuriating. I wanted to move to New Zealand.
I got through another wedding anniversary without Michael. Then Mother’s Day, my old friend Fern’s birthday, gone now for many years, and then finally my birthday. The next day, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. People poured into the streets to protest the continuing racism and inequities in our judicial system. I worried about the virus because of my age but in the end, I went to the streets too. I’d spent a lifetime protesting and if I got sick, I knew that principles had to come first. So be it. Masked up and went with my family.
Summer. The presidential campaigns, more virus, more outside, more solace in nature. I read, watched television series, wrote blogposts and letters to Michael. I watched Pete Yorn play free livestream concerts on Instagram. I was constantly looped into the news cycle, afraid to look away.
I set up a kiddie pool and umbrella to help manage the heat and to pretend I was swimming.
We celebrated the Fourth of July, fervently hoping for a return to democratic norms in the fall election. Birthdays were celebrated too. My son and I took a one day trip to the place in Michigan where our family had shared so many happy times. I felt revived from the privilege of immersing myself in Lake Michigan, where I’d learned to swim,even though it was only for a few hours.
The next thing you know we are barreling into fall. Life feels so the same every day even though disruption is everywhere. The death toll keeps rising. People are hungry and broke. I write letters for political candidates and donate what I can to help the campaign for a return to sanity. I’m teaching my oldest grandson state capitals, cursive and homonyms. My son and I babysit for the boys to give my daughter and son-in-law a break from the work/home school grind. I drive into the countryside frequently, and also to a beautifully landscaped basin which attracts waterfowl.
Finally the election arrives. On my son’s birthday. Although watching the returns is anxiety-ridden and the ultimate results take too long, at last there’s hope for a return to some kind of normalcy. That is, if we can survive the mad king, the conspiracists, the crazed acolytes and the virus which is the plague. We have a low key Thanksgiving without our extended family for the first time in decades. But it’s the right thing to do.
And now winter is here along with more waiting. Waiting for January 20th when a sane man becomes president. Waiting our turns for vaccinations. Still wearing our masks and being careful. Grieving for so many dead and their surviving families. Trying to stay patient and hopeful for a chance at a wider life, while grateful for being fortunate so far unlike many others. Glad to turn the calendar page to 2021. Tonight there is the most beautiful moon. I’ll keep looking at the beauty around me. Find it while you can, where you can. That’s about as far as I go with resolutions. Happy New Year. And thank you for journeying with me.