I would like to make it outside today. Even if it is to drive my car to the wash or to check my mail. A window sits in front of me–right behind the very screen upon which these words appear. I see a sunny day. I see colors. I see people.
When I think of leaving my heart quickens with fear. What is this fear? It is not the virus that worries me at this moment. I am afraid of…feeling. Of feeling the things that are pleasurable for fear of feeling everything that hurts. I do not wish to acknowledge what is there because then I must acknowledge what is not.
I am afraid that my heart will not be able to hold the immensity of all that is there and all that is not.
My Dearest Flower,
You needed a gentle and steady love. You were never one for grand gestures. You loved to be loved but hated to be doted upon. Once a week I carried you to the sink in the palm of my left hand and fed you lightly. When once I returned you to your home, I gave you the space you for which you longed. We enjoyed a quiet and simple life. And in that sprang the belief that constancy and fragility were not mutually exclusive.
I believed that we shared a common bond; one that ensured our mutual survival: the possession of a strength great enough to support our delicacy. But it was not enough. The temperatures rose and the conditions become inhospitable. Our home became a desert where only the hardiest thrive and where the fragile were doomed to wilt away and die.
With every flower that fell from you, my heart broke further. Torn between love and hate and guilt I did not know what to do with them. They were not yet wilted or yellow–they looked as healthy and beautiful as when they were still a part of you. I spread them around our home. I formed them into patterns and placed them on the floor and on the table. But without your roots, they too began to yellow and die.
Your roots…It is your roots! Your life is in your roots! Your soul resides in the earth, beyond my gaze! It was me who was wilting. You are still there! I frantically look over to you as I write this. There you are: beautiful as ever! Still alive and annoyed that I have made such an embarrassing fuss over you.
“Wait til Thursday to make a fuss!”, you say.
“Forgive me,” I reply. “I lost sight of what matters. I’m still here.”
My life has been reduced to an ongoing journey of finding a flower in the crack of the sidewalk and hoping it sustains me until I spot another. The flower can be a stunningly beautiful sentence in a book; a message from a friend that they miss me; a child’s lovely sidewalk drawing: exceptions to a life that largely revolves around physical and emotional survival.
Two more years, say the microbiologists. Does that mean two more years without a visitor? Two more years without touch? Survival for the purposes of…what?
I wish there were an island for those of us who have nothing to lose. People without children or spouses or dependents of any sort. We could frolic and laugh and touch and fight and talk and fuck, and if we get sick we won’t have to feel guilty about hurting anyone else because we all chose to be there. This fantasy is interrupted by the sobering reality that I would probably be accompanied on that island by gun toting, right-wing freaks that have different reasons for being there. Real “freedom” fighting ‘Mericans.
Four clients today. One tomorrow. Then “vacation”. I can’t afford a vacation. It’s a dangerous choice economically without any new business. But I need to trade hells for a while. I can go from the exhausting hell of taking care of so many people to the meaningless hell of doing nothing that has any real meaning in the scheme of things. Yes, the latter is probably preferable but sometimes you just need a change of scenery no matter how dissatisfying the new scenery.
Without anyone around I worry my resourcefulness won’t be enough. Hell, I was already resourceful. I’ve been resourceful all of my life. I’ve found beauty in the mundane, and in my imagination. I have filled my need for love by cultivating friendships and finding a meaningful career. I have learned to be okay with being alone. All of this was out of necessity and I’m proud of it. But when so many of the payoffs are gone…well full circle to the first sentence…life is just about hoping you find enough flowers to get you through another day.
I worry that my reader will deem me a negative person. I imagine them showing off to me that they are enjoying their life; that they have taken up the piano and that I should just pick up a new hobby. Or perhaps that is just my inner-critic. To them I say, “shut up–I’m doing the best I can!”. I will continue to try to connect. I will continue to try and help other people. I will continue to try and find the beauty in the sparse landscape of my existence. I will fall to my knees. I will collapse. I will stand back up and walk. Crawl. Drag myself along. Up and down I will go. And all along the way there will be moments where I question why I bother getting up at all. And then I will spot the flower. And then I will only see the sparseness. And this is my life for now. And these are the tears that are already so very familiar. And the anger I feel toward my imaginary critic feels good because it means I still have some life and some pride.
But for now I have to clean my face up. Wipe the tears away. Quickly brush my fingers through my hair to make myself presentable to my four clients. Here I go….
I can’t walk out of my apartment today. Not even to my mailbox. It feels…terrifying. I feel imprisoned. And yet the walls are the only things holding me together.
I think of Hester, forever on the outside; doomed to permanent isolation for something that–were it not for the cruel hearts of men (inventors of sin)–would not be deemed evil. She, with her proud and indefatigable spirit, embroiders beauty out of her isolation and shame.
But Hester is not broken. She lives in a broken world. She is a heroine. I, on the other hand, am simply fragile. Blown over by the slightest breeze. I am my own judge, jury and jailer.
It is not for lack of effort. I carry my heavy heart and limbs into the kitchen. I carry them into the shower and into the bathroom. I show up to every appointment I have on my schedule. I remind myself to breath. I tend to the plants and the flowers. Even to the ones that are dying. I listen to everyone even if I have little to say in return. I am right here, doing my best. But today my best does not include a walk. Or a soul enriching piece of writing. Today my best is simply to…continue living.
This morning I awoke to
A fallen flower bulb on a shelf
The last one
A photograph on the bedroom floor
A collapsed mug laying on its side
Beneath a poorly washed salad bowl
I take the bulb, the photo, the mug and the dirty bowl
And place them for a short while
On the kitchen counter
I look at them through bleary eyes
As I mechanically sip my bitter coffee
Trying to decide
Whether I am going mad
Or whether the things around me
Have become mirrors
Unexpected love at the grocery store. Waiting for the checker. Big beautiful brown eyes above a mask appear. They are lit up. I recognize them. I tap my heart twice. She taps her heart twice. She misses our sessions. She announces her pregnancy. A boy, she says. I smile big and then lower my mask for a second to show her. That’s the best appreciation anyone can show me she says. Is my hair different she asks. Yes, I wear sunscreen and sweat in it these days. Laughter. Well, stop dying your hair, I like it gray. I’ve never dyed it I say. Goodbye. Stay safe. The checker and bagger relax perhaps because they see I am familiar with one of theirs. Are Buzzcocks a clothing brand? An “alternative” grandfather to these “alternative” kids. No, they are a first wave British punk band. Lots of melody and heartache and frustration. Unique. Try them out. They look at one another. Yes, I’m a weird old man. I will, one of them says. Leaving the store another familiar set of eyes behind fogged up glasses. This one I love as well. She is tough. Guarded. Afraid of love. But I miss her anyway. Very contained. Talk of how difficult it is to wear glasses with masks. She says she’ll walk with me to my car to bring my cart back. I can tell she wants warm presence. She doesn’t have that at home. I do too. But she’ll never know. Or perhaps she knows in the way people know things without knowing things. It’s almost more sweet than direct expressions of love. She maintains a respectful distance. I do as well. Wow, you filled up two cardboard boxes. Yes, the boxes are so helpful. Only two trips from my car. It takes a lot to keep this (pointing to fat belly) fed. Laughter. Goodbye. Tears on drive home. Will lounge for a bit. Will drop groceries at dad’s. Will pack a book and a drink maybe. Meeting N. on our fallen tree trunk at 2pm. Who ever would have thought that a friend date would consist of meeting on a giant tree trunk? I think we will continue to meet there in the years to come. I think we will always remember the horror and loveliness of this time in history on that trunk.
A perpetually broken heart, when it is not burdened by exhaustion, is always on the lookout for love and beauty. It is raw and defenseless. It is unable to create strategies. It is…young.
I was about to stop writing when I remembered my first interaction with the person I first spoke of above. She walked into my office with a big smile. She sat down and said, “This is a very Hitchcockian office.” “I’m a very Hitchcockian therapist” I replied. And that tiny joke created more initial rapport and gave more information than any formal evaluation.