Tumbling in the Kaleidoscope

Periodically during these past couple of years, the relentless pace of the news cycle, encased in the omnipresent Covid cloud, requires a time-out. My body usually sends me a message in the form of peculiar, hard- to-decipher dreams which usually rouse me well before I’ve had restorative sleep. For the past two nights, my sleep has been choppy, filled with scenes that make no sense to me. I allow myself some time after being jolted awake by those mysterious subconscious messages, simply drifting into whatever thoughts or mental images show up next, preferably while my eyes are open. This morning I tried to pass out for a few more minutes. I found myself somewhere back in time, listening to the CTA song “Beginnings,” which was the first album I ever listened to with Michael, way back in 1971. I was able to snag another 40 minutes of rest, not much, but enough to take the rough edge off the day’s uncomfortable start. Next I started thinking about the Omicron variant, another twist in the almost two year saga of “the virus.” I think it’s still uncertain what may come next except that I know as long as worldwide vaccinations remain inequitable, this virus will mutate as they always do and the elusive return-to-normal will be impossible. I thought I had Covid in February, 2020, although at the time, I didn’t realize that was the case. This morning I dipped into my raft of notes and letters I started writing to Michael shortly after he died. I’ve never felt completely satisfied sharing my thoughts with anyone since his death. All the years of telling him everything have continued in this very different format which I feel compelled to write. Here are my reflections on that week in 2020.

February 1, 2020
Hi baby,
Wanna hear about my PTSD? While I sat in line at a stoplight today, 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 apparently started in China. With people like him around, a lot of folks could contract it in no time. Population control. We’re doomed. 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 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 sick, but this is as terrible as I’ve ever felt. Pushing my luck, I guess. Part of me cares. Part of me doesn’t. 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
Dear Michael
I am so fricking 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. E had to go to the pharmacy, buy a bunch of medicine and drop it off here. I wouldn’t let her come in the house – she left it on the porch. All I’ve done is sit on my ass and stare at television. I 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,
I was able to go to class today. I’m still out of it, but better. I wish you were here. I feel weak and fragile. I hate it. My patience is basically gone. Everything is getting to me. The contractors doing the house siding and their loud noises, messes and paths of destruction are so annoying. I’m going to have so much to do when they’re done. And today a fight about the estimate with the owner of the company. I’m going to see Betsy and Randy in Florida but I’ve shortened that trip because I feel so rotten. I’m supposed to be going to Alaska in May. Trip of a lifetime but it doesn’t seem exciting. (Of course that trip was canceled.) Time is going fast. I feel aimless and constantly annoyed. It’s because nothing is right without you. Yeah, I can do it all. But so what? Without you things are just pointless. Yup. 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. Please come to my dreams. I love you. Being without you is impossible. I wonder how you’d be doing without me.

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 only went to one class this week, skipping the other two. A lost semester since I’m going to Florida soon. Even that seems overwhelming. I don’t know if it’s missing you, or politics, or having been sick, or the siding job, or all of it that’s made me so blech. I’ve spent too much time sitting on my butt and I’m overeating. Watching too much tv. Not being decisive. I’ve run out of energy. Maybe life or age or both have caught up with me. I don’t know. I just feel wretched. I’m still attempting to fight back. I had an issue with the contractors about the gutter replacement on the north side of the house. I remember how it was and can see the bricks you put down for the concrete downspout. Now that downspout is about 5’ west of the end of the house. I can’t understand how that could be right. Why is everything a fight? A hassle? I’m tired of being all there is, baby. 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…

I did get to Florida that March but the Covid news was worsening daily. By the time I headed home, I was terrified that I’d get sick in the airports, planes and buses that were part of my return. When I arrived I made a quick trip to the grocery store and then quarantined for 12 days. I also contacted my doctor to see if I could be tested for Covid antibodies because my symptoms sounded exactly like what was by this time, being described on the news every day. I was told that the only people being tested were those in active illness. Less than a year later I was vaccinated. Seven months after that when those vaccines were to have lost some of their potency, I was finally tested for antibodies and told that my levels were still robust. I’ll never know if I was infected, not that it matters much any more. I’m still trying to be careful, avoiding large indoor gatherings and staying masked. Maybe that will last forever.

The Knickerbocker Hotel, Chicago

I can’t say exactly how I got from the Covid revery to The Knickerbocker Hotel this morning. Maybe it was the casual glance at my bookshelf and my noticing an ancient blue box from Brooks Brothers, which holds mementos from my high school life, programs from events, corsages and party favors. I was thinking about how I should take a few photos of those little memories and then get rid of them. Instead I drifted back in my mind to my senior prom which took place at that historic hotel with the glass dance floor, built in 1927. I felt so glamorous that night, even though I never took the price tag off my dress, worried that my parents might need to return it because it was a frivolous expense.

After the prom, my date and I, along with a few other couples, headed to Mr. Kelly’s, a nightclub on Rush Street which boasted headliners as significant as Barbara Streisand. We saw Spanky and Our Gang, a pop group most memorable to me for their song, “Like to Get to Know You.” Fifty-three years after the fact, I still remember the sensation of crossing the invisible line from childhood to young adulthood because of grownup experiences like that night.

Image – Classic Chicago Magazine

When I got out of bed this morning, I went from that stream of consciousness state to dealing with the chores of the day. I went to the grocery store, came home, put my purchases away, and played with my new puppy. After ten months without a pet, I finally found one that I thought was a good match for where I am at this moment in my life. I haven’t had a puppy in twenty years. My last two pets were elderly rescues. A puppy is a challenge but she’s smaller, bright and sweet. I’m glad I remember training basics.

I swim almost every day at noon. On Fridays, I have a standing lunch date with a dear old friend. We meet at a mom and pop Mexican restaurant which serves good food in an intimate venue. Today when we entered, I saw another old friend already seated. Her husband died a few months ago. He worked for Michael for many years. Over time they developed a warm, mutually respectful relationship. They shared common interests and even when Michael changed careers and became a teacher, they had meals together and exchanged music CD’s and movie DVD’s. Periodically all four of us had dinners together. I attended his memorial but have given his widow time and space for grieving since his death. I stopped at her table for a few minutes to say hello and to see how she was feeling. She looked up at me and told me that she hadn’t understood how open I’ve been about Michael’s continued space in my life without him. At least until now. As she experiences her husband’s absence, and yet simultaneously, his continued presence, she says she gets me. I paused to consider how tragic it is that death and its impact on the survivors is still so conceptually elusive to those who haven’t experienced a significant loss. Ever since Michael died, I’ve felt resistance to how I’ve expressed my feelings about him. I haven’t let that resistance affect how I feel, but it’s made what is an inherently difficult situation even harder.

Without doing anything particularly unusual on any given day, life can feel like spinning in the cylinder of a kaleidoscope. I can cover a lot of interior turf, as the dial turns slowly, changing my field of vision from one focus to another, seemingly at random. I’m the common thread. On these days, I feel like I’ve separated from the pressing issues that currently are overwhelming and disturbing and have been these past four years. When I came home, I was compelled to tack down the flow of this random Friday, accepting the tumbling of my dial and recognizing that its amoeba-like nature is my mind’s way of taking a break, odd as it may seem. By tomorrow, I’ll moving on to the next event, the next topic. And the varying thoughts will have been a relief, making up for some sorely needed sleep.

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