isolation & the in-between

“The world has been turned upside down.” Everyone keeps saying this, and I acknowledge the rattled sentiment — I feel it too — but something isn’t quite right about the statement’s rise and fall. Then again, I’ve always been too particular about words. What would I prefer? I have no exact answer, not yet. Perhaps: The world has been adjusted to some inferior angle. Tilted just so. While everything at first glance appears remarkably familiar and mundane, all of the books are slipping off of shelves. The plates and cups are tumbling, shattering upon the floor. A disturbance subtle but devastating. People must grope their way forward, clutching slanted walls and doorknobs, tripping, alone, in slow motion.

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Nature is winning our staring contest. I awoke the other morning, startled to see a stink bug atop one of my grey pillows, its antennae bobbing up and down. Its gaze was level with my own, and we remained in a cocoon of silence — until I rolled out of bed, unnerved. I did not see it again. This happened with a bird also. Perhaps it was the mockingbird that lives in the magnolia tree outside and sings at all hours. It was there, in the rain, when I arose, looking in from its perch outside my window. When it saw its gaze was now returned, it departed in a wingbeat. Is it an intimacy to be so surveyed?

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I miss my roommate and I’s shared silence. She would awake early to an alarm that sounded like birdsong and slip into the kitchen to eat the oatmeal she set out in preparation the night before. She would sip her tea in the living room’s quietude. I would awake later to a song from Moonrise Kingdom, the instruments entering one by one, softly and then in crescendo. I’d grab a protein bar from the kitchen, then shower — with music if especially tired, maybe Tennis or the Pride & Prejudice soundtrack. Then, we would swap. She would use the bathroom to get ready while I had my tea and put on my makeup. Such simple, seamless formulas. I did not realize until the end how gorgeous the morning light was, filtering through our sheer white curtains. I remember how we both giggled, eyes wide, when we looked around the bare room at first, tallying what we would need, and spoke in unison. Curtains? Yes. Added to the list. “Sheer.” We both said. A pause. “White?” She asked. I nodded, amazed, “Yes, you read my mind.”

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There is a cardinal that keeps flying into our downstairs windows. When I arrived home for quarantine, I was mystified by our house’s new haphazard decorations. My parents had crumpled up scrap paper into butterfly shapes, tying them to strings to hang outside. This effort, however, proved to be no deterrent for the persistent bird. I believe she is protecting her nest, though we have seen no sign of it. Perhaps she sees the glint of red in the window and rushes forward, in vain, towards herself, thinking she will defend her young. When I hear her slam against the glass, my heart sinks. At first, I was determined to charge forward each time she approached, distracting her and sending her flying away to safety. Now, I have grown tired. She will go away but always returns — thump, thump, thump. Maybe she has a death wish, but surely there are easier ways to die.

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What is a group of ladybugs called? I Google. A loveliness. A group of ladybugs is called a loveliness. I really cannot believe I didn’t come across this knowledge earlier. Well, the loveliness of ladybugs will not leave my bedroom. They fly into my hair with a low hum and fall into my tea whenever I leave a mug unattended. They gather on my windowpane as if in gossip and circle each other like bumper cars, buzzing when they happen to meet. I desperately want to like them, but I can only think of the odd pink ladybug that bit me on the arm as a child.

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I read a thread on Twitter from a historian in Boston encouraging people to document these tumultuous times, especially women. “You are living through a major historical event.” To do so digitally is acceptable, but writing with paper and pen is preferred. You can donate the diaries to archives when you die. “Personal stories don’t make it into the history books unless people are writing them down in the first place.” So, I suppose I am writing for me and for her and her and her. “Throughout history, women’s letters and journals often provided the only real information of their lives in different eras.”

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Just in case. We go just in case, driving to the small building on the outskirts of town, guided by the orange traffic cones. The cough has lingered for a week. No fever. It is raining hard, and the nurse approaches with a black umbrella. She asks a few basic questions and writes my name down incorrectly. Matteo. Another nurse approaches, the one who will perform the deed, and asks me to tilt my car seat back. We have had the car for years, but still I fumble along the side of the seat, confused. A single lever. Nothing works. The nurse sighs behind her mask. “That’s okay. I just wanted to make it easier.” The panic begins to flutter, vacillating just below the surface. So, now it will not be easy. “Can you take your glasses off, sweetie?” I do, folding them up slowly and feeling more naked and defenseless by the moment. She wants to start with the left nostril first, and this, for some reason, throws me off guard. Why the left? I’m left-handed. I want to blurt out, as if that makes any difference. Does that mean it should be the opposite order? I am so used to things being opposite what they are. I clutch the notch in the car door and brace myself, but I am not prepared. The entire process burns, and I can feel myself pulling away, giving in to some inner instinctual part of me born to protect from pain. The seconds stretch on. It feels as if she is reaching upwards towards my brain, like a stubborn parasite. Once she is done with the left, she says the right nostril must follow, with the same oozing swab. This side is somehow worse, and, later, I spot blood on my tissue when I sneeze. A constant metallic smell. I thank the nurse, several times, though I am not sure how I form the words to do so. As we pull away, some strange tide within me surges upwards, and I collapse into sobs. I do not know why I am crying, and this alarm only makes me cry more. I think there is something about the process of taking that demolishes me inside. Blood samples. My wisdom teeth. It is all the same. Each time, my body fights. My body loses. It mourns in waves.

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Dodie sings softly live, strumming her ukulele on my phone screen. A friend leads an impromptu worship session with her husband. I realize more than ever that there are bridges spanning all these isolated in-betweens. “Find comfort in that we are all in the house of God.” The pastor says on Sunday, “One house with many rooms.”

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