We’re into the third calendar month of the Stay Home order — I know this only by the date and time in the upper corner of my laptop — pretty much my compass to the exterior world these days. That — and an ongoing scrawl in a notebook that lists chores I cross off one by one to keep my paycheck coming. The paycheck I’m immensely grateful for.
These days, the old demons arise — what am doing with my life? How have I failed my children? Is it normal my youngest wants to go anywhere else (yes, resoundingly, I know that is).
At the end of a rainy afternoon, as the weather parts, my daughters insist I trek through the raspberry and blackberry brambles behind our house. On the other side of the brambles, they show me an apple tree surrounded by emerald grass, and tiny blue squill sprinkled everywhere. They caution me not to step on the flowers.
This is Vermont spring — wet and muddy, largely brown, studded with small radiant flowers. Everyday, the green insistently pushes forward, brighter and stronger. That’s where we are.
To combat my lousy mood, my daughter suggests I go for a run. It would be better for everyone if you did, she says.
In week whatever, on day whatever, I run through town, seeing only two older women with masks, walking the standard 6 feet apart, and a few teenagers on bikes. There’s no one else I’ve seen for weeks, it seems. Eerily, I wonder if this is what the end of the world feels like.
In the woods behind the high school, I run up through the sugarbush, where moss greens up the forest floor in places. Then, around a bend, I suddenly see spring beauties — a whole forest field of these tiny, perfect white and pink blossoms.
Later, returning home to play a few more rounds of Uno, I know the run has done its magic. To that field of enchantment, where no one else perhaps has walked that day, I think — thank you, little wildflowers and daughter.
To save some cash, I switch cell phone companies, and I realize, while I’m on the phone with the representative, that she’s working at home when she talks to her dog.
Knowing this opens up our conversation, and I learn her husband likes to turn down the heat, they’ve been living in Phoenix for two years, and she sought out this job because she likes the company so much. I’m amazed, because I never considered working for a phone company an interesting career option. She insists the people are all just so darn nice. It’s a great job.
While she types in my info, she hums faintly. I hear a screen door squeak open, and her husband’s voice. We chat about the coronavirus, and what it’s like to work only from home, for week after week.
When she’s finished setting up my phones, she wishes me good luck and welcomes me to the company family. I feel weirdly delighted. I don’t even know this woman’s name.
Somewhere along the way, I’ve more or less resigned myself to a kind of lone wolf existence — raising kids and gleaning work hours — and much of the work I do requires solitude. But this coronavirus existence has made me realize how valuable are our slenderest connections.
When I hang up, I step over my daughters who are sprawled on the rug doing a workout in preparation for bikini season. The cat wanders between them, clearly confused, likely wondering, What now? I step out on the back porch. Snowflakes are twirling down. Summer? Hello? I wonder.
Many people nowadays live in a series of interiors… disconnected from each other. On foot everything stays connected… One lives in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.
Day by day, the weather warms in Vermont, gradually brights in the tiniest drops of green from last year’s brown. On my walk, I pass by a house with a whole garden bed of purple crocuses. Brilliant gardening, I think.
The kids have reappeared in yards and on porches. I pass two small brothers digging in the mud, enthusiastically leaning into the work, talking. Walking, I pass a few groups, but they’re all families — siblings, sometimes parents I hardly ever see, out walking, too. One small band of teenage boys roams on bicycles, and I sense my daughter’s resentment. Social distancing seems weird — I know this. We’re hardly in a war effort of knitting stockings for overseas soldiers, and yet its success relies on collective action.
It’s a strange lesson to learn at age 14, that as a kid you’re equally part of society, too. Frustrated with virtual high school, my daughter complains she’s not learning anything. But these lessons are deep and hard here, I think — lessons that will rut into her adult life.
After a less-than-harmonious game of croquet, I lie back on the grass. Overhead, a rainbow. All this day, toiling away at things that may or may not matter…. and in this pause, a rainbow? Makes me wonder what else I missed.
To get to my daughter’s preschool, years ago, I had to drive up the Center Road from Hardwick to Greensboro, along enormous farm fields. In May, the fields were nearly covered with blooming dandelions — or dandies as she called them.
‘Tis the season now for blooming dandelions — their first and brightest bloom of the season, against blue mountains and iridescent green fields.
When I was very young, with my years still countable on one hand, my family traveled to Ames, Iowa, from the New Mexican desert where I had always lived. In Iowa, I discovered green: sunlight through leaves and running barefoot on grass beneath a sprinkler. In that early-childhood magical way, this upthrusting spring season always reminds me of the implicit goodness of being four again.
It would be good to give much thought, before
you try to find words for something so lost,
for those long childhood afternoons you knew…