Friends During Quarantine

I had a hankering for egg salad. Who knows why. Maybe it’s because I thought it was the advent of spring, even though it was 50 degrees outside? Maybe because I was nostalgic for Sunday afternoons of my childhood?

I read the recipe carefully. “Boil a large pot of water and carefully lower the eggs into the water, making sure the shells don’t crack.” Well, goodness. the first two eggs into the pot of water cracked. Now what?

As I pulled the eggs out of the boiling water and doused them in ice water, I laughed at the two cracked eggs. One had a mustache and one had a toupee. And I couldn’t bring myself to crack them (more), because of the dynamic conversations that they were having. At some point, I’ll eat them. But for now, they’re great companions. Cracked Eggs.jpg

Thankful for a pandemic

I’m not quite sure how to process this.Today was one of the happiest days in memory.

I realize that the world is in a horrible state. We’re sheltering in place, worried about a disease that is spreading at unprecedented rates. I haven’t had in-person connection for almost two months. There are so many uncertainties.

And yet, I am so happy.

I woke up without setting an alarm, something that is a rare luxury. I meditated, knowing that I wasn’t racing against time, that I could stay in that state for as long, or for as little, as I wanted. I talked to Mom, the same incomprehensible conversation about a man planting a tree for her, six times today. I am so thankful that I’ve learned not to care about the truth, and learned instead to care about connection and laughter. I cooked a new fish curry recipe that turned out surprisingly delicious. I made a beautiful salad with nasturtiums. I joined my San Francisco Glide Zoom service, and clapped and danced and hallelujahed. I sat on the porch, sipping iced tea doing the NY Times crossword for an hour and a half. I completed it successfully; the first time this year! I laughed when I was shown a congratulations message for a 1 day streak. That’s not a streak; that’s a first. I discovered words in the NYT Spelling Bee app and reached the genius level. I closed my eyes and felt the warm winds meet my face as I swung in the swing that prompted me to buy this house. In July 2017, I climbed the 20 steps from the street to the porch, saw the porch swing, swang in it, and declared, “This is my house.” I sat swinging today, thinking that may have been the best decision I’ve made in my life. I came inside and precisely cut material for masks. I had forgotten how much I loved sewing. I love measuring the patten, cutting to the precise 1/8”. I love feeding the material through the machine, stitches even, cutting threads to the quick. I love assembling cloths I bargained for in Zambia markets, in Indonesian markets, in Indian markets. Thinking I would make dresses, and fabric sitting 20 years in a trunk. Pulling them out, knowing this was the best use of fabrics bought eons ago. Listening to jazz and Motown on Pandora. Singing along, imagining my life as a back-up singer, wearing a short fringed dress and shaking a tambourine. And then joining a book club by Zoom, recently reunited, of friends from the year 2000, when we were bright-eyed and new to San Francisco. Unlike in-person books clubs, where the book is rarely mentioned, we discussed the plot, character development, author choices. Another Zoom call, discussing a class we’ve taken online. Another FaceTime call with a long-time friend.

So thankful for connections. So thankful for time. So thankful for choices that have brought me here. And, strangely enough, thankful for this pandemic that has invited me to examine what is important. And what is not.

Pandemic Surprises

One of the things that I’ve loved about this pandemic is porch surprises – both given and received. It’s a delight to drop something off on someone’s porch and text them, “Surprise waiting for you on the bench outside your door next to your rain boots!” or “Enjoy what’s in the brown paper bag on your porch!” And equally delightful to receive a similar message. I received a message saying there was a piece of funfetti cake on my porch (and who doesn’t love brightly colored cake with sprinkles?!?) and was delighted to be able to talk to the givers from a distance, because I immediately ran out to fetch the said slice of cake.

I’m taking a class on the science of well being. One of the ways to increase happiness is to interrupt it, so that you don’t get used to it (hedonistic adaptation), and then you can have multiple instances of happiness. I thought about this when I took a first bite of the cake. It was so good! I can’t remember when I last had cake. Gosh. The sweetness. The sugaryness. The crunch of the colorful sprinkles on the icing. I thought about the principles I had learned about happiness. I told myself I’d have just one more bite, then save the rest for later. And I had one more bite. And one more. And one more. And then I ate the whole thing. And I was pretty darn happy.

Funfetti Cake

I forget to take a picture until it was gone…

New Life, Gone

On Saturday morning, I went to the porch to sweep it off and to set out the basket of granola bars and packets of nuts for delivery folks. The little wren flew out of her nest when I opened the door, and I quickly did what I needed to do, then went inside and closed the door. I stood out of site and waited the two minutes that it normally takes her to return to the nest. Sure enough, she did, and I watched as she nestled into her home, hidden from site once again. I felt so lucky that she had chosen to build her nest there and that I was witness to it.

Around noon, I peeked out the door to see if the mail had come. I noticed something on the table below the nest. What was that?

I slowly opened the door, and moved closer. No. NO. NO!

Two cracked eggs were on the table below the nest, yolks spreading across the table laden with pollen. I stood on a chair and peeked inside the nest. All the eggs were gone. The little wren was nowhere to be seen or heard.

I held out a glimmer of hope that the chicks had hatched, and miraculously left the nest already. A quick Google search confirmed that was impossible and the most likely culprit was a predator – a blue jay, a snake, a raccoon, honestly, any critter.

The tears began streaming down my face as I cleaned up the mess. I went inside and continued crying. The tears were for the mother wren. But also for the loss of hope. And for the loss of what used to be normalcy. And for all the other times that I had felt like crying, but hadn’t.

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New Life

I opened the door and started walking across the porch to sit in the swing. I saw something coming at my face from the corner of my eye and ducked. It was a tiny wren, and it had come out of the nest in the Christmas wreath hanging on the outside wall. I moved closer (but not too close) and peered into the nest. There were eggs!!!! At least four, maybe more. I was delighted! And then regretted interrupting the little wren. I went back inside, closed the screen door, but left the front door open and waited. The wren came back to the nest, nestled inside, then poked her head out and looked all around. I stood perfectly still until she retreated into the nest, and then walked into the house. I can’t wait to hear baby chirps soon! eggs.jpg

A Very Good Day

I went to Mom’s to refill her pill boxes (her caretaker, Gloria, isn’t allowed to dispense medicine, only remind Mom to take it). Gloria brings all the medicine and pillboxes down to my car (which I’ve Cloroxed repeatedly) in a plastic bag, I refill the boxes, Clorox everything I’ve touched, and she takes them back up to Mom’s. Today I asked Gloria to have Mom come to her balcony.

Mom initially looked out into the distance, and I, three floors down shouted, “Here! Mom! I’m here!” She eventually saw me, we waved at each other, and we tried to talk, but Mom couldn’t hear me because she won’t wear her hearing aids. I yelled louder, then realized it was futile, so we blew kisses instead. And she smiled. And I attempted to take a selfie of us, because I realize we have so few pictures together, and got a portion of my forehead, and her smiling. And it was a good day.

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A Flood of Fears

I’ve reflected a lot on why yesterday’s conversation with Mom upset me so much. The most obvious; Mom was disappointed and I was the cause of that disappointment. That never feels great as a child, and that’s my Achilles Heel. It didn’t matter that I actually can’t do what she was expecting. In her Alzheimer’s mind, it was Saturday, and that’s the day that we go out (which has been the case for almost a year). I don’t know why she remembered this yesterday, and not any of the other Saturdays this month I haven’t been able to see her, and I’m grateful she’s only remembered once.

Yesterday was one year to the day of me getting ready to leave for Charleston, and Mom came and sat on my bed and quietly said, “I think Dad is hurting.” (Mom and Dad called each other that when speaking to any of the children). I rushed into their bedroom. It was the one-year anniversary of my only time ever calling 911. And silently begging the paramedics to hurry. And asking the ER doctors if the infection they discovered could be fatal. And breathing a sigh of relief when they said, “No, it’s a routine infection in dialysis patients; we just need to get him on the right antibiotics.” (They were incorrect; it was fatal.)

For the past 363 days, the words of someone (I’m not sure who – a social worker? the ICU nurse? An assisted living facility director? Her doctor?) have constantly sat at the back of my mind. “Statistically speaking, your Mom will likely die within the next year. When someone spends that long with a partner (60 years in their case), it’s common for them to die of heartbreak.”

I’ve been rooting for Mom to hang in there. We’re almost at the year mark. I realize it’s a silly wish; people die when they die. Her making it to Tuesday will not buy her any more time beyond that.

And when she asked me how long it would be like this, my own fears were suddenly exposed. I don’t know how long it will be like this and up until that point I had done pretty well of staying in the moment and focusing on what was true right now. With her question, all those questions I hadn’t allowed myself to ask came flooding over me: Will I ever see her again? Will she suddenly pass away and I won’t be there like I was with Dad? Will she die alone? Will she know that she is loved, even though she’s alone? Will she ever understand that I would be there if I could be, but I can’t?

And, that’s why I couldn’t stop crying.

 

A Very Bad Day

Her voice choked and I could tell she was crying. “I really thought you were going to come visit me today. I was waiting for you to come.”

My heart dropped. That was what I wanted, too.  And I know how emotions spread, so I tried to remain calm as I explained, “Mom, I’m not allowed to come there anymore.”

“Why?”

“Because of the virus. They’re trying to keep everyone safe. Visitors aren’t allowed; they don’t want anyone bringing in germs.”

“Well, I’ll just leave.”

“You can’t do that, either, Mom. Everyone has to stay at home. I miss you so much, Mom.”

“Well, how long will it be this way?”

And this is where I had to swallow the sobs that were rolling from my gut, through my chest, and stuck in my throat.

My  voice trembled as I said, “I don’t know, Mom. It’s already been several weeks, it might be several more. It just depends on how long the virus lasts. They’re trying to keep everyone safe.”

“This is a very bad day.”

 

A Year Later

Now isn’t so different from this time last year.

We had masks by the front door, which visitors had to wear if they wanted to come in, and Dad had to wear on the rare occasions he went out. I had gloves that I donned whenever I helped Dad with his dialysis. I washed my hands every day until they were chapped. The smell of antimicrobial liquid soap still makes me gag. Dad was going through chemotherapy and we were doing everything we could to protect him.

And now is so completely different from this time last year.

Now we’re not protecting one person; we’re protecting all people.

And I still grieve for Dad. Last year, I told myself that I was making decisions so that I wouldn’t have any regrets. I moved in with Mom and Dad. We talked. We did NY Times Minis together. We played Scrabble together. We solved jigsaws together. We planned renal diet friendly menus together. We talked some more.

Is it regrets I have? Or is it simply longing? Wishing I could have one more conversation with him. Wishing we could have one more hug before bedtime. Wishing we could reminisce about each of our childhoods.

It sounds so strange to say, but one of my favorite memories from last year is when we were waiting in the Emergency Department for his treatment. It was just the two of us. We talked about him trying out for the AAA baseball league. He had been a successful high school pitcher and was invited to tryouts. He confidently approached the day and said he left barely being able to move. We talked about his career as a sports writer. And how he built the cabin in the mountains. And the afterlife. And Cherie Berry (NC elevator queen) announcing that she wouldn’t run for re-election. I asked him why he changed his mind about letting my try out for Little League (in the first year girls were allowed to play, 1974). He said that when we approached the sign up table, he saw there were no other girls, and how the organizers sneered at me. He didn’t want to subject me to that at six years old. We talked as we waited for almost eight hours.

It was a small room. With fluorescent lights and the smell of disinfectant and a flimsy curtain masquerading as a wall. I pulled a chair close to his hospital bed and held his hand as we talked, and talked, and talked. I was sad when they shared he would be transferred to ICU. I didn’t want the night to end. They said I couldn’t see him until they got him settled. So I waited in the ICU waiting room, across from the Pepsi vending machine, wondering how there could be so many flavors of Mountain Dew.

I’m hoping now I’m living so that I won’t have regrets.