A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 5

Laocoon and his sons destroyed by sea serpents

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.
********

“We are not here to be happy,” he said. He was a Catholic priest. I was a child. It wasn’t part of a sermon. I seem to be with a small group of children, standing around him. This is odd, since I grew up in Quebec, which was like Northern Ireland in those days, and I was Protestant. I was appalled to hear him say that. Of course, we were here to be happy. Jesus had pretty much confirmed that. The priest didn’t elaborate, leaving me to puzzle it out for the next 7 decades.

Which brings us to 2020 and Covid-19 among other things.

We thought we were living in end times when Donald J. Trump got hold of the most powerful office on the planet. Then we couldn’t breathe.

Because of my advanced age, I have been shut in for 140 days, except for essential shopping and visits to my sister and niece, part of my bubble since Day 78. Even then we wore masks and distanced. Lately, we have taken off the masks to eat together. We expect to live like this for a long while. I am 24% likely to die of Covid. Here in Canada, we have had about 9,000 deaths, but 2,000 have been elders in care homes. Note to self: stay out of care homes.

Tough on people who are praying to a merciful God. Had that experience as a child. We were 4 children, born over an 11 year period. I was oldest. Our childhoods taught us to be nimble, heart-broken, witty and kind. It was a mercy we all survived and a mercy that we have done as much good as we have. And we are all still here. Perhaps mercy is just a long term project.

Is this calamity destiny or the will of God? Is this pandemic and uprising for social justice part of a plan? Is that what is in operation now? There are 8 billion of us on the planet Earth. Is that just too many? Is nature just weeding the garden? Or is this a struggle between good and evil? In the midst of darkness has a greater darkness descended?

Some of us have had the leisure to consider such questions. Not the parents who have had to juggle home-schooling, home-office work and housekeeping, nor the essential workers who have risked their lives, but people like me, who have spent nearly 5 months in solitude.

CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) devised a secret plan to counteract riots here once the shut-down for the pandemic was announced. They took it upstairs. The higher-ups more or less laughed as I would have and canned the plan. Old joke: how do you get 50 frolicking Canadians out of a pool? You stand on the deck and say, ‘Please get out of the pool.” Of course we stayed home, as did Washington and California and other states, one by one. Lately, it has become clear that we have to wear masks if we want to shop. We wear masks. We don’t argue. Mostly. They are hot and not comfy. Ventilators are way worse.

That was my first glimpse of universal responsibility and open-heartedness. It was something like I saw as a child in World War II. Then there were the healthcare workers in New York City, working without PPE and in overcrowded conditions. They were getting sick and dying, but so were people, particularly immigrants, in less elevated jobs. I thanked the delivery people and the shop workers sincerely. They were out in the midst of it, while I was safe at home.

Their devotion and self-sacrifice cast light right across the globe. On dark days as the number of infected grew and bodies were stacked in refrigerator trucks and ice rinks and in mass graves, that love for each other, for absolute strangers, lit the darkness.

I had managed to figure out that the priest meant that we are here not to enjoy ourselves but to evolve, to become better people. I had had losses which felt unbearable, but eventually, made me a less self-centered person, more capable of empathy, of fellow feeling.

I wonder if he was a Jesuit. It seems Jesuitical.

The 13th century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi takes a different tack and says that the soul is here for its own joy, that we are here to make God a reality. An acquaintance of mine says that in me, for example, God is experiencing godhood as an 84-year-old woman. But Rumi also says, “The rule is, Suffer the pain.
Your desire must be disciplined,
and what you want to happen
in time sacrificed.   (Coleman Barks: Rumi, the Book of Love, p.98)
He compares the soul to a newly skinned hide, “bloody and gross”, that has to be worked manually and with the “bitter tanning acid of grief” to become beautiful and strong. Rumi tells of “‘the Friend’ who knows more than you do,” who “will bring difficulties and grief and sickness,/ as medicine, as happiness, as the moment /when you’re beaten, when you hear Checkmate/ and can finally say with Hallaj’s voice,/ I trust you to kill me.”
(Barks: p. 127) (Al-Hallaj Mansour was martyred in Bagdad in 922,)

I suppose you have to believe in soul or the higher self to begin to make sense of these ideas, although the past five months may have moved even atheists closer to that belief. It seems as though Rumi is talking about something like the will of God. It might feel imposed but, in fact, the suffering is what a best friend sees is needed. This ‘will of God’ is rooted in love.

It is easier to see that in operation in the Black Lives Matter movement. It is not surprising that the urge for a fairer, more just society arose when it did. Most of us were paying attention. We felt helpless against the coronavirus but not so helpless against the injustice of George Floyd’s murder.

I am surprised and glad to find my close friends agree with my refinement of the will of God idea. You may find it a step too far. It seems to me that before we came into incarnation we helped to formulate these plans and volunteered for our own role. We have forgotten that for the most part and so we are not necessarily prepared for a sudden and early departure. We may be more ready to spend our lives in the service of others even though we think we made that decision for practical reasons toward the end of our education.

The corollary of that is, of course, that some of us have volunteered to play bad guy. Hitler, for example or my father. Imagine this pre-incarnated being madly waving its arm: I’ll be a  psychotic sociopath and cause millions to suffer and die. (My father’s score didn’t measure up to Hitler’s by the way.) Somebody had to do it. Does it go all the way down to invisible viruses? “I’ll be that one! I’ll do that.”

I have periodic collapses. My nerves give out around the dinner hour news. When I seek encouragement, one or other of these friends responds, “Stop worrying. We all signed up for this.” or “It’s all already happened.” It’s hard to be a witness. Even if we see what’s coming, we can’t change it. To try to do so would make things worse.

Laocoon, priest of Poseidon, tried to change the history of Troy by exposing the ruse of the wooden horse, in which were hidden Ulysses and his Greek cohorts. Poseidon sent sea serpents to destroy him and his sons. It was fated that the Greeks would prevail and Troy would fall.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture

Sinche, Sinche (too much) celaidermontblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going To Church

celiadermontblog

Going To Church


(inspired by our president's 
walk of shame from the
White House to the church)

Like a BOSS
I know where to pray
on the mountain
with the Babylon of
rocks and boulders
on vertiginous peaks

Twisted Limber pines
much older than me
Flowers that no one else may see
succulent white liquid
petals, wet desert daisy
tiny... pink... stamens
(sparkling eyes) drowning
in the vast crown
Rooted in dry gravelly ground
Short-stemmed like me
Cutting every corner to
conserve energy
for the grand, miniature display
My heart is rejoicing automatically

Holy people praying on TV
The virus is culling our weak
Be a humanist and
take care of the herd because
we all have our turn to die

The Bishop is in a hurry The Rabbi is pedantic and brief The…

View original post 172 more words

The Two Percent

celiadermontblog

Photo by ksh2000 on Pexels.com

Sadistic sociopath
Streets and alleys bleed
across my adopted country
The Black man can't breathe

Centuries of slavery
make the blood run
bouncing over jagged rocks
I feel its legacy
in every Black pulse
people now assumed free
The rough run of fluid in veins
traumatized for generations

My Appalachian heart
distilled in the North country,
running from the violence
nurtured on Assassin's Hill
A successful white immigrant
brought down by comorbidities
of profound injury

My pulse is choppy too,
the imprint of torture and murder
resonating in the flow

One American son moving
corporate mountains
to heal the heritage of
Satanists and Nazis

The other hand in hand
with his love,
where I could not be,
wearing a gas mask,
shot by rubber bullets,
no lost eyes
Left his gun at home
and walked peacefully through
the hemorrhaging streets because he is a…

View original post 83 more words

100 Days of Solitude: chpt 4

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Upsplash

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

Day 74: Black Lives Matter:

Bona Fides: my mother’s people came over on the Hopewell, 3 ships or so after the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth. A cousin would brag we came over on the Mayflower and then add sardonically that we were well-bred and dirt poor.

I live in a building where the brown and black and other non-white complexions outnumber us whities. When I get off the elevator the only thing I remember about their appearance is whether they wore a mask. N.B. the children are incredibly beautiful. I once tried to describe a handyman to my sister – I had forgotten his name. She couldn’t figure out who I meant. “He put up my curtain hold-backs,” I said. “Oh, you mean G. Why didn’t you say he was black?” I stared at her. “He’s black?” I said.

We watch George Floyd dying as a policeman kneels on his neck for over 8 minutes. The next day we see the other angle – two other cops kneeling on his body. The cop on his neck had worked with  Floyd as a bouncer at a club. Police were called because Floyd had tried to pass a phony $20 bill, a capital punishment crime apparently. And how do you actually know you have a phony bill?

Demonstrations in support of  Black Lives Matter start across the United States and spread to Canada and around the world and they don’t stop, day after day, night after night. By day 78, Minneapolis is in flames.Then Atlanta and all across the country, cities are burning..

In December 2017, I had been talking to my ex-husband, Blake. We both loathed Donald Trump who gave us new reasons every day. Absentmindedly, I said, “I can see the cities burning.” It was a truly nasty vision and I put it well away. Blake didn’t. He kept repeating it as if it was his idea. He had had stage 4 cancer for 10 years and was only then beginning to weaken. In January 2019, it was clear he needed me and our son to take a hand in his care. He kept talking about cities burning and only Bernie Sanders could stop it. He thought it was a class revolution. He died before Bernie lost and well before the vision that I couldn’t remember came true.

Day 79: Watching the L.A. demonstration on TV at midnight, I was moved to call my grandson there. He had just got back from marching. He had been hit by rubber bullets three times, one glanced off his gas mask (!!), one hit his backpack, which he was wearing on his front (no score) and one made his foot bleed. At least eight people in the U.S. lost an eye to rubber bullets.

The Floyd family appeals to demonstrators to stop the carnage and they do. My grandson decides before that it is too dangerous and stops going.

Demonstrations continue. Trump retreats to his bunker. For inspection purposes. Then he calls some sort of military force out to clear Lafayette Square in front of the White House, so he can walk to the church across the square without permission from said church and hold up a Bible. One of the clergy of that church has just been tear gassed and another driven back from her first-aid post.

(Day 75: My Super Power

By the power of my negotiating skills, I save a marriage. It has to be saved again a few weeks later, but the couple can, by then, do it themselves.)

I have marched in many demonstrations, sometimes with my husband and small children, always for social justice causes. I was union rep when I taught. I hear Canadians sanctimoniously declare there is no systemic racism in Canada. While it is true since we didn’t have slavery, our racism may be harder to see, white people don’t get to decide that. Native people do and black and brown and yellow people, immigrants, do. Only they can see it.

Seers only
witness
to avoid
forfeiture
Sinche, Sinche 
celiadermontblog.com

Day 92: As a child, I was shut in boxes. Not for punishment. Far from it. I was a ‘special’ child. For one thing I had webbed toes. I was shut in boxes for increasingly longer periods of time so that I would develop my psychic skills. I was not keen on being special or shut in boxes or being psychic. But my cult was. The cult is shut down now, but I still know what’s in the mail before I open the box or when a loved one is in trouble and I see cinema-scope productions in my head – just flashes – momentary glimpses. Of the future.

Trump decided to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I fight off these flashes for days, but then a week before it happens, in an unguarded moment, I have a horrific vision. It is at night. It has no color. But then colors can’t be seen at night. I try to focus on my TV program, but finally, I have to phone my sister. I find I can’t actually talk. But she knows me. She waits until I begin blurting it out. By now I can’t get my breath, I am shaking uncontrollably, I feel as if my head is going to explode and I want to vomit. Little by little she drags it out of me – the noise of explosions and falling fire, airplanes, rushing fire, machine gun shots, screams and  running feet. “It’s destroyed,” I say. “The whole town is destroyed. There’s nothing left but black ruins. The people are gone. They’re going to destroy Tulsa.” Trump’s followers fighting the BLM people. “It already happened,” she says. “Don’t get metaphysical on me,” I all but yell. “No, no, stop,” she says. “It happened in 1921. You’re seeing the past. It’s called the Greenwood Massacre. Look it up on your phone.”

While she tells me what she remembers from a recent report, I scan through the Wikepedia entry and race on to the next article. The prosperous black community of Greenwood leveled to the ground, looted, 300 people dead, 6,000 -black people of course – taken into custody for 8 days. Residents, impoverished, homeless, wandering.

“Why would I be seeing that?” I demand. Georgie sighs, “All time is one. You know the drill. You’ve seen it before probably.” I hate that idea. Al time is one. Everything that happened, happens or will happen is happening now. The panic threatens to restart. Some days of my life have been so awful that I want them sealed safely in the past.

Day 100: The day of the Tulsa rally arrives. the rally is ill-attended, partly because teenagers who do not intend to attend reserve seats on Tik Tok, partly because Trumpers are not that stupid. They prefer not to die of Covid. There are very few anti-rally demonstrators. A Republican senator subsequently gets Covid, along with a good many others no doubt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 3

The View -day after day- from my tower. (Taken after the Snowbirds, flew over to cheer us up, peutetre)

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

********

 HANK WILLIAM’S ADVICE

I asked Hank Williams, how lonely can it get?
Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet,
But I hear him coughing all night long
A hundred floors above me in the Tower of Song. (Leonard Cohen)

My tower is actually named after a British city and it doesn’t have that many stories. I don’t write songs, but I could perhaps answer the question.

In the beginning, I actually feel lonely, abandoned, bereft. Sometimes I cry. Once or twice I howl. By Easter that has pretty well stopped. I am like the baby who figures out crying is useless.

Day 31: Easter arrives while it is still hard lock-down. Although I’m not a church-going Christian, I am still a cultural one. Easter is the most important church festival. It has always been a family time. My sister’s family is large with children of all ages. We usually drive north to Barrie where the long table is loaded with every vegetable available and roast ham. There is wine and laughter.

This year my sister, my niece and I are in our separate dwellings a few blocks apart. My niece has a sore throat. She is isolating to protect her mother. Normally, they treat each other as a family cohabiting. I order dessert from Sweet Things. The Door Dash delivery guy even comes up to the 14th floor. I drive to my sister’s, call her, she comes down in her N95 mask and I hand two desserts to her.  I come home and eat my key lime pie.

At a certain point, I feel so unseen that I am disappearing.

Day 2 – Day infinity: What to do? What to do?

The eastern sages that live in caves advise us that even the contemplative life must have a routine. I can do that, I think. I go to sleep at midnight, after reading in bed for an hour or more. I get up at 8. I pull myself together. I exercise as much as my body and a 950 Sq. ft. apartment permits. I eat breakfast while I read the news on my phone.

The rest of the day? What was I doing before? I was actually writing two books, a second memoir following Never Tell and a second mystery following Hour of the Hawk. The original two need to be marketed on line. https://www.joycehowe.com/books Many people are reading e-books with libraries closed. So go for it! Are you kidding? The world is ending, at least the world as we knew it. Why does it need another memoir of my abusive birth family? And now that woman has been pushed off a cliff in Kern County in my second mystery, I have no idea who did it? It took two people to get rid of her car, but what two people?

I’ve furloughed my cleaner. She also works in an essential retail store. So I have to do my own cleaning. It takes her 2 hours. It takes me 2 hours times 4 days. But I celebrate that I can do it at all and thank Cymbalta. I also decide my sister is right – an ironed pillow case is divine. The next thing I know I am ironing sheets and shirts and masks. Stop now!

I watch television. At first CNN is on all day. At lunch and dinner I watch Netflix, a documentary called Pandemic, which shows in six parts how ” tireless doctors and scientists” have been working for many years to learn how to make a vaccine for novo viruses. Each episode is episodic featuring several teams and one home-schooling anti-vaxxer and her many children. I take a vow to have the flu shot this year. I stopped getting shots because they make me sick, possibly because they are egg based. But this year, I’ll put up with that AND I will get a Covid shot as soon as I can. The scientists in the show spend a lot of time in full gear in bat caves. In general, it builds confidence, especially in Bill Gates’ money. I also watch Tiger King. God help me! Then I turn from Netflix to Acorn, which streams British, Australian and New Zealand shows. I love a good mystery. Whereas Netflix has taught me German, Finnish, Swedish and Russian, I learn Welsh English, even Welsh, Cornish, Irish and heavy, heavy Scots. I already knew how to decipher Australian and Kiwi.

I read. On the serious side, I read Susan Cain’s Quiet: The power of introverts. Probably I’m an introvert at heart. I needed to rest up after a day in the classroom before I could get dinner and relate to my family; however, I was able to avail myself of the ‘free trait’ and act out of character on the stage or in front of a class or even at dinner. Being introverted is an excellent trait to have when you have to stay home for months.

I frog march myself through John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened, bending my brain around references to American foreign policy. I am testing a theory – is Donald Trump as incompetent as he seems. Then I read Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. Even without his suggestion that we ingest bleach to cure Covid, these two books confirm my opinion. I am terrified of coronavirus, and I am terrified of this man knowing the nuclear codes. As time goes on and the U.S. cases start to climb in Florida, Arizona, California again and Texas – oh my babies – the two anxieties come together.

I trade mystery titles with my California daughter and find them on my library’s website. I run through all of Mick Heron’s MI 5 books, which are satirical and funny and intriguing and sad. https://115journals.com/2020/04/19/slow-time-slow-horses-the-slough-house-spies/ I write a blog post about them. I read the SoHo mysteries, set in different countries: Thomas Perry, Dan Fesperson, Ken Bruen, Denise Mina, Mark Pryor, Colin Cotterill, Stuart Neville, and thus I travel to the British Isles, Germany, Russia, the U.S., Thailand, Laos. I read to rest during housework or cooking, but the last hour of the day is sacrosanct reading time and I end up lying my head down at midnight.

I don’t know Alice. What was the question?

As Alice lay dying, she seized Gertrude Stein’s hand and said, “Oh, Gertrude, what is the answer?” Gertrude replied, “I don’t know, Alice. What was the question?”

Then there is Leonard Cohen’s answer in The Tower of Song, “Dum de dum dum, de de dum dum.”

Alice wanted to know the meaning of life. Curiously, that becomes an urgent question as we contemplate death.  Part of what Aunt Mae taught my sister and me was that a person could have several possible exit dates. I have had a few close calls, which led me to read Robert Thurman and Sogyal Rinpoche and the Dalai Lama and Rumi. Now the shocking death tolls in our local long term care homes wake me up.

I had forgotten.

I know the way back – gratitude for the helpers, who are risking their lives and dying to help the sick, empathy for the dead and the dying and the ill – all isolated from their family’s support. I can leap on that train and ride it until I disappear into a universal cloud of love. In the morning, energy too low for that, I recite the Twenty Third Psalm by King David, for whom I named my son. Especially the last lines ground me:
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil. My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

A Hundred Days of Solitude still to come – those darned visions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: chpt 2

Pandemic Lock-down in Los Angeles

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

GOD BLESS THE CHILD THAT HAS HIS OWN

Momma has some/ papa has some/ But god bless the child/ that has his own.
Billie Holiday, Arthur Herzog Jr.

Day 5 – 7: Businesses close. People work at home unless they can’t. Many, many people find they are unemployed. Others find themselves on the front line even though they aren’t doctors, nurses or hospital workers. They are essential workers, stocking grocery shelves, sanitizing, doing checkout, driving buses and subway trains for the many who have to use public transport. At 7 p.m., people go outside and bang on pots to thank these warriors.  (8 p.m. in NYC. and in Brussels.) From time to time, my brother requires me to join him on his Bois Fort doorstep via Facetime to cheer on Belgium workers.

You noticed, didn’t you? There was steak on that list in my last post. If you are actually hungry at the moment, I apologize. For my sins, I’m a member of a dying breed. I have a pension, a teacher’s pension. It’s not extravagant, but I’ll be able to pay my rent this month. Management has taped a notice to the door of every apartment: here’s what to do, if you can’t pay your rent. Our building is owned by British Columbia’s teachers’ pension plan.

How I Got a Pension: As a graduate, I wanted to go into the theata, darling! On the other hand, I needed to have children. Somebody had to rectify my parents’ mistakes. And my Aunt Mae, who saw the future, told me I needed a steady income and a pension. It was the children waiting to be born that convinced me.

Every Day: Our young prime minister -whose wife has Covid and who is in quarantine with her and their children – briefs us on his doorstep about what funds are available to those suddenly unemployed, even gig workers. Small business owners have their own fund. By a miracle all of my ‘people’ will have an income. No scandals emerge about fat-cats getting this money.

WAITING FOR THE BULLET (c.f. David Downing’s Diary of a Dead Man on Leave)

News from Wuhan, China at first disgusts me. One child of my acquaintance says, “It happened because the Chinese eat too many bats.” Sorry bats. One of you flew too near my hair once. The unhygienic live market puts me off. I have studied t’ai chi and Taoism and worked in a Chinese herb pharmacy putting together formulas, I have tutored dozens of Hong Kong students, but I haven’t given China’s live-markets an A+ for hygiene. I do feel very bad for the people under lock-down, some apparently chained in by local authorities.

But then, instantly, it seems, Covid leaps to Italy. Thousands escaped Wuhan when the shut-down was announced. Two of them fly to Milan.

Day – 6: Italy closes down the north. We learn that the virus has tiny hooks (Corona/crown) that dig into tissue and layer over the lungs until they are like leather. One after another airline cancel flights to Italy.

Canada prohibits flights from China, then Italy and before long the flight path over my building is as silent and empty as the 4 lane Glen Erin Drive below my windows.

Gradually, the horror in Italy grows clearer. Old patients, especially from long-term care homes, are being rendered unconscious and placed on ventilators. If these patients recover they have no memory of the weeks that have passed. Mostly, they die. Alone except for a iPod or cell phone, unconscious or not, distraught loved ones saying farewell from an inconceivable distance. Hearses line up and haul the victims away to lie in storage in cathedrals or ice rinks to wait their turn for a solitary disposal. Italy begins to triage. Old patients are just sedated and left without life-saving treatment.

Certain that we are in for the same, I hand-write an addition to my will opting out of ventilator treatment. I want no time wasted on debate, no healthcare worker feeling bad about making the choice. I want someone younger to enjoy a long life. The front office  admits me – it is still 6 days before lock-down and I get my signature witnessed.

I am not certain this is an altruistic decision. I am sure that I am well and truly terrified.

I pay tax due for myself and my late, lamented ex-husband, even though we have a moratorium on payment. I write a list of final instructions for Blake’s estate and cue up his second choice executor to take over if necessary. I start secreting cash in a metal box to meet cremation costs and work diligently to pay down debt.

My Brother and I in front of his home in Brussels

Day 4: Catching a Bullet in Belgium

My younger brother lives in rue de l’hospice in Brussels, a reverse immigrant 50 years ago. Ambulances double hoot past all day, ferrying old folks from the long term care home for which the street is named. Most never return.

I can barely hear him on Facetime. He coughs so much. “Go to the doctor,” I shriek.

Not so easy. He gets a specific time. He waits on the pavement. The door is unlocked on the dot. He is handed a mask and swept into the exam room by his doctor, clad in full pandemic gear. Yes, his lungs are inflamed. Here are prescriptions for an inhaler, cough medicine and something else. Call if you get worse. And he is out on the street.

I monitor him closely. At first, he goes down hill. Then he begins to improve. Two weeks later, he calls his doctor for a checkup. “No, you can’t come in,” she cries. “Why not?” he asks. “Because you had it. And no, I can’t get you tested. Tests are not available.” “She’s usually so kind,” he tells me. He vows to continue living as if he could still catch it.

Okay, he survived.

But he’s only 73.

Day 14: What to Expect When You Catch the Bullet

You ride it out at home with the remedies you already have in your medicine cabinet. When you can’t breathe anymore, you call an ambulance. You get a bed in a hallway and wait for the DNR (do not resuscitate) order to kick in. Or you get better, like my brother, having eaten all your frozen soup.

On my first scuttling trip to the supermarket at 7 a.m., senior hour, I buy a whole chicken and make a huge batch of stock.

Days without number: Who is that Masked Man

I hasten to tell you that this started long before wearing a cloth covering over your mouth and nose was a political act or a moral act or a class divider or a sign you hate the poor Trump lad.

We are told not to use N95 masks because medical staff need them. My sister and my daughter are embarrassed to realize they have them already, but decide they might as well use them. You can’t buy any kind of mask anymore than you can buy toilet paper. I try to hand sew one out of a dish towel. It is beyond ugly and I trash it. I learn to make masks by folding a man’s handkerchief and cutting the tops off socks to act as ear loops.

I have over a dozen such handkerchiefs. Well, men don’t offer me immaculate hankies when I get the vapors and I am self-reliant.

Girls start sewing them up for friends. My sister gets a bunch. Slowly mask ads start popping up on Facebook. I order 3 from a veterinarian supply shop. It takes ages. The post office is down to 3 postal workers for our city. When the masks arrive, they are not as advertised – no way to shorten the ear loops. I knot them. The knots slip out. I sew  the knots. I see another ad in late June with devices to shorten the loops. I order 4. They come in a few days and they do actually shorten.

In case you are reading this in the future – and believe me I’m delighted there is a future even if I’m not in it – we didn’t take or send things back in these days. Going out once a week was enough. Being the only car on a usually busy road, one of three people in a very large store was freaky and once you got something, however unsatisfactory, you fell down on your knees in thanksgiving.

 

Day – Every Two Weeks for 17 Weeks So Far : Laundry

The laundry is on the first floor off the east corridor. It is open 24 hours a day. The first time I use it during lock-down, I find 3 other people and the cleaner going in and out. I very nearly jump on top of a front loader avoiding them. No distancing, no one but me masked and why would anybody stay to fold and smooth every item blocking passage to the machine that tops up your laundry card. Next time I wash at midnight. No problem, if you don’t call going to bed at 2 a.m. a problem. Finally, I settle for Tuesday at dinner time every two weeks. I find I no longer clench my entire body just as weekly trips to Whole Foods or Metro no longer traumatize me.

I know I’m a neurotic wuss, but you’re not 84. (If you are apologies and congratulations. You made it.)

Day 13: If You Can Make It There, You’ll Make It Anywhere

I used to love New York. Then the Twin Towers fell as I was having major cancer surgery. I went to Los Angeles to recover and saw a mural of the New York skyline in a bookstore. I was so stricken with grief I had to leave the store.

I pretend the city that came down with Covid is a different place. And It is. The streets are empty. The hospitals, crammed. The exhausted doctors and nurses are wearing large black plastic garbage bags as protection. This is the city where my grandson’s wife  interned at Mt. Sinai. Shamefully, I thank God they are living in Dallas now with their babies.

Refrigerated trucks parked outside hospitals hold the over-flow bodies, or just plain trucks until the neighbors identify the smell. I listen to Governor Cuomo at noon. Like Trudeau, he is rational and on the job, but folksier. And his brother Chris is broadcasting CNN’s Lets Get at It from his sick room in his home’s basement. Chris has Covid. The Cuomo boys feel like family. I need that. Day by day, I learn about the disease and how a city is handling it.

I follow Sandi Bachom on Twitter, a 75-yr-old photo journalist who lives in Manhattan. Like me, she initially expected to die, but found that if she does as Andrew Coumo advises she is relatively safe. She is devastated by the loss of friends to Covid. When the demonstrations start, she goes out in her mask with her camera. Eventually, she gets mistreated. Plus ce change, plus la meme chose.

 

 

 

A Hundred Days of Solitude: Chpt 1

Snow-covered Mountain before it all began

A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of seven generations of the Buendia family, which founded the riverside town on Macondo in the jungle of Columbia. In the first generation the isolated town has no outside contact except for an annual visit from a Gypsy band. It is a place where the inexplicable can happen and ghosts are commonplace. Many misfortunes befall the Buedias, all of which it turns out have been predicted. It is a long book, perfect if you are still, like me, a coronavirus shut-in.

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Day 100: The premier of Ontario announces that greater Metro Toronto can move to stage 2 of the Covid-19. We are weeks behind the rest of our province. We can now eat on patios, get a massage or have our hair cut.

My grey hair has not been cut for 4 months. It has gone its own way, flipping up or falling limp, whatever it feels like. Forty six percent of deaths world-wide have been of people over 80. Persons over 70 are 60 times more likely to die of Covid than younger people. I am 84. I will be able to sit on my hair before I get the courage to go back to First Choice for another $20 cut.

Day 2: Please submit all maintenance requests on the website or by phoning the main office. Staff is still available to help you, but the on-site office will be kept locked until further notice. (At least 1 slat a week thunders down from my vertical blinds, usually in the dead of night. I pile them flat on the window ledge and rely on curtains.)

Elevator Etiquette – Day 10: If there are 2 people on the elevator, please wait for the next one. Exception: families traveling together. (Day 110: I am on the elevator going down. It stops at 6. A woman with laundry gets on. Another woman with laundry asks if she can. I say no, but I offer to get off, so she can. She declines.)

Day 47: Follow arrows on floor. (I.e. Exit through the garbage corridor or the laundry corridor. (Guess which is more fragrant.) Enter through front door. (So out into the wind tunnel and around the building to pick up mail.)

Day 130: Kindly wear a face covering when you are in common areas.( Our municipality mandated masks in public places two weeks ago, but cannot order rental buildings to comply.)

Day 7 -Health and Wellness: Since my return from Christmas on a snowbound mountain in Southern California, I have not been well. My doctor has prescribed Cymbalta for fibromyalgia. I have been nauseated and dizzy for the month of February. On this day, I reread the label on the meds and stop drinking wine. I am immediately 70% better.

The Premier announces that people over 70 should not leave their homes.(I take this to heart. Pandemics have to be managed. I’ve read Ibsen’s Enemy of the People after all. The Premier is trying to avoid hospital over-load. I will do as he says.)

My equivalent of the flour barrel once I bravely started going to the store.

 

THE BOTTOM OF THE FLOUR BARREL

I am too short to look over the rim of the big barrel that holds the flour. My mother has removed the bread board on its top and she is weeping inconsolably. I hitch myself up on the barrel’s side and peer in. There is a thin drift of flour on one side. We don’t buy ready made bread here on the hill. We don’t buy anything much. We are country folks and the stores are a long buggy ride away, but there is no money to buy anything anyway.

Some solution must have been found. I get older.

“Go to the butcher’s and get 6 slices of bologna,”  my mother tells me at lunch time. We live in the city now. There are 4 of us children and her, but 1 slice will be for Daddy’s lunch tomorrow, so we kids will each get half a slice for our sandwich, but 2 slices of Wonder Bread and a little butter. My little sisters come with me and each steals a jaw breaker  from the candy display. The butcher looks at me to tell me that he saw that. He doesn’t yell. I want to cry as we walk home. Not for poverty. For kindness.

I get my first job in a bakery when I am 15. All my adult life, I have had to have a well-stocked pantry and a full freezer, but stocks have run low in March 2020. So I enter the grocery delivery sweepstakes.

I have a long list of groceries I need. I go through the website list for Longo’s. Some things are not available – toilet paper, paper towels, tissues and all Lysol products. Having completed my order, I move on to the page where I can choose a delivery date. The next possible date is 10 days away, but even as I ponder, one by one the time slots get snapped up until the dates run out in 14 days. I move on to the Metro website and hurriedly place the same order. Paper products are NA. I speed to the delivery page. By now, it is getting very late. All the time slots are gone. Then as midnight strikes, a new day of delivery times magically appears and I grab a 10 a.m. two weeks away.

Day 34: For the next two weeks, I work my way to the bottom of the barrel as I await delivery. The fridge shelves are all but empty. The freezer gets down to questionable beef patties and a partial bag of frozen kale. I scour the cupboard for tins of soup past their best buy date. My impromptu recipes get more and more inventive and I grow heartily sick of kale and rice. Finally, the big day arrives along with eight sturdy red bags. Excitedly, I begin unpacking. I have ordered 3 chicken breasts on the bone. I get 3 packages of 3 chicken breasts from the biggest chickens in captivity. Instead of 2 steaks, I get 2 packages of 2 steaks each. On it goes with minced beef, pork chops and stewing beef. I have enough food for a regiment at least. I am also the proud owner of 2018, unscented wet wipes. I set about cooking chicken for my sister, my niece, myself and the couple down the hall. After this cook-off, I can fit the meat into my fridge-top freezer.

I manage to get 1 more delivery by using the 12 a.m. strategy, but after that, although I try 4 nights in a row, I cannot snag a spot. Obviously, I have to go out to shop.

Coming soon 100 Days of Solitude: chpt 2