Nothing Arrived: day 64 of lockdown

 

Nothing Arrived: the Villagers (heard in season 2 of Big Little Lies

This blog post uses black humor and talks explicitly about death from covid-19. It may trigger some people, so give it a miss if you think you are one.

What day are you on?

Saying I’m on day 65 is actually inaccurate. I was stuck in all of February with persistent vertigo. I solved it at the beginning of March by taking the advice on my medication bottle. I stopped drinking. They weren’t fooling around about that. I stopped being dizzy and nauseated almost immediately. So this is actually day 93 of being house-bound and day 73 of my sobriety.

For a period of two weeks, I actually did as the leader of my province told us 70-year-old pluses and did not leave the house. That fell through when grocery delivery became impossible. And please! I failed to have enough children to get my groceries. The two I had either got out of town or might as well have. My sister had lured me to her neighborhood with the promise that she would look after me as I grew demented. In the meanwhile, she has aged. But thanks to the magic pill that must never be mixed with alcohol, I have got stronger. Once a week, I gird my loins, cover my nose and mouth and sally forth, bare-handed at the early senior hour to buy the necessaries of life.

I remember that the brave are not fearless. They just move through their terror.

I learned to be afraid of covid-19 by listening to reports from Italy where the octogenarian old dears were dropping like flies. If flies can experience drowning. The lucky ones got shot full of morphine, intubated, and hooked up to a ventilator. Every day the percentage of them dying grew until I stopped paying attention around 25%. What a way to go, you were rendered unconscious and in that state, you passed over, puzzled no doubt and in urgent need of the familiar soul on the other side.

No point, revisiting your mortal coil. You’d have to sort which of the many coffins in the church was you, or where exactly you were in the repurposed ice arena, or which refrigerated truck your body had been stacked in. If you were lucky. If not, you might have found your shell in an unrefrigerated back room or moving van.

This is not my idea of a good death. And yes, I understand it’s not like a good landing – any landing you can walk away from.

A good death involves a degree of consciousness at least initially. The protagonist has to have a clear idea of direction. Window dressing helps, a person or two bedside, holding a hand, smoothing a brow, reminiscing and laughing, reading a poem or even praying. Saying at just the right moment, “You can go now.”

And you’d have to make do with those on the other side who had come to greet you. Those you left behind had been ordered to leave you behind. And they wouldn’t even be gathered in a healing group to urge you lovingly on. Except virtually.

So I didn’t want that death. I wanted even less the DIY, at-home version drowning with fluid in my newly leathered lungs. And such a waste. My death probably wouldn’t even get counted.

Eventually, it came to me that most people my age who died were in long-term care. I am outraged and grief-stricken that society has not chosen to value these lives enough to save them.

I suppose I realized that about day 50 when I wondered just how that sneaky virus was going to get me. All I had to do was carry on like this, totally alone except for scuttling at a social distance into a grocery store, washing my hands 6 or 7 times a day, cleaning the door knobs and my cell phone.

It began to seem that I was likelier to die of anxiety or pop a stroke watching the leader of the free world or just fade away, not with a bang but a whimper out of sheer, utter boredom.

And so I started hearing “Nothing Arrived” in my head.

This is a catastrophe such as I never thought I’d see. Thought I’d seen mine in fact – the Nazi camps, the big bomb, terrorism, genocide. Moreover, this is a slow moving disaster. The morons who gather shoulder to shoulder in their state legislature or in Wisconsin bars or on beaches won’t get the disease for 3 days or even 2 weeks. Every day that number of deaths on the CNN screen goes up.

It’s not even my country. My country has had only 5000 deaths at this writing. But it is my daughter’s and my grandsons’ and my great grand daughters. We are an anxious family, so we are careful people. We may have to be driven out of our homes in late 2021. Talk about ‘Stand your ground’.

So I’m waiting for something, and something died. So I waited for nothing and nothing arrived. “My dear sweet nothing, let’s start anew. From here on in, it’s just me and you.”

“I guess it’s over. I guess it’s begun. It’s a loser’s table, but we’ve already won. It’s a funny battle. It’s a constant game. I guess I was busy when nothing came.”

 

I Dream of Etherica: life changing dream #2

People who say that life is short are generally not old. Although I have not yet achieved old old age, that apparently starts at  85, I sometimes feel like Virginia Woolfe’s Orlando who started out as one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers and ended up as a Victorian mother. I seem to have had that many lives since I was born, although they have all been uni-sex.

One of my lives was esoteric. I meditated twice a day and joined in group meditation at the full and new moon. Every day, I visualized three lighted triangles in partnership with two others (per triangle) in far reaching places -Texas, England, France, South Africa, Australia- to bring light and peace into the world. I read the works of Alice Bailey, submitted essays to the Arcane School and attended conferences in New York City at the full moon in Taurus . We were concerned about world events and considered them in the light of the truth that Alice Bailey had channeled from the being we called the Tibetan.

Now it is true as time went on that I wondered why I never got published in the school’s monthly magazine, whereas my friend, who could afford to donate much more than I, often did. Clearly, I was a poor judge of my own worth. And as I observed the thin, harried, quarrelsome people running the conferences, I wondered if that was what enlightenment looked like.

This was the me that arrived in Los Angeles one August morning about 20 years ago. In the rose-patterened journal, # 23, in my backpack, I had just been making notes: “Tension of heart energy expressed in terms of giving to others- expenditure of spiritual energy can overcome fatigue…”

But not in this case.

My brother, Rob, was supposed to be there to meet me. I hadn’t seen him for seven years. He was flying in from his home in Paris. My daughter met me instead and told me he had been delayed. I was disappointed, I was hot and I was exhausted.

“Take a nap,” Julia said and her husband seconded the motion.

I had my 5 year-old grandson’s room while he was with his father. I lay down on his little futon. I listened. Good. The Buddhist woman next door, who assaulted our ears with her loud, angry chanting, was silent. I breathed deeply and fell asleep.

I dreamed I was on a plane on the way back to Toronto, but something was wrong. We made an emergency landing in a high desert airfield. I was looking out the window at something like snow that was blowing up into dirty little drifts.

I turned to the man next to me and said, to my surprise, “Do you think we are dead?’

“Yes,” he said.

We were herded into the airport waiting room, the walls of which were alternately plum, fuchsia and orange, each one edged with the colour of the wall next to it. We were at loose ends, milling about in vague expectancy. I was frankly appalled at the sheer tastelessness of what was, by all accounts, heaven.

Above us, an LED sign fired up, telling us that our first class would be at 10 p.m. Great! Just what I longed for! Heaven is an evening class!

It was 10:10 already. All I wanted was a shower and some rest. Resentfully, I followed the crowd up a curving, adobe staircase. (Don’t ask me. The journal says “adobe”.) Resentfully. The others were chattering merrily as if they were on a cruise. I was thinking how summer-camp, how awful. I didn’t fit in here either.

At the top, I heard joyful greetings. Each person was greeting an assigned teacher, whom they instantly recognized because they looked alike. A swarthy Mediterranean man had met his Spanish-looking teacher. A bull of a man with a short neck had met a broad-shouldered teacher who could be his twin. Each pair withdrew to a plum-colored banquette to begin orientation. They were all talking animatedly.

Except me. I was standing all alone. Bereft again.

What karmic debt was this? What failure of positivity? I had clearly not tried hard enough. I wanted to cry. And I was very angry. I wanted to clean myself up. I wanted to lie down. Lay my burden down. Oh damn.

Then someone clattered down the stairs that curved up to the third floor. She was running. She was smiling ear to ear – thin, pale, intense woman dressed in flowing, flapping, filmy prints of plum and fuchsia and orange.

“Hello, hello,” she cried, “So sorry I’m late. I’m Etherica. I’ll be your instructor. You can call me Dea, that is “of God”.

Her draped arms were held out, ready for an embrace. She was beaming, smiling broadly but more than that. Her eyes were wide and bright and intensely focused on my face, as if she were beaming light and love as she bore down on me. LIke one of those TV preachers or self-help gurus.  But she was also tripping on her gown and, unforgivably for me as a teacher, she was late.

My stomach revolted. I thought I would vomit. This was my  angel! This was how I seemed to others! Flighty, incompetent, ungrounded, and showering a blaze of brightness that made them want to wipe it off. She was not genuine. She was not …what…. She was not real. She could not, please God, be what I was meant to be.

GAAA!

I struggled awake, tangled in the wet sheet. I gasped for air in the stifling room. I stood straight up. Oh bad idea. Low blood pressure. I sat back down. Put my head between my knees. I could hear Julia treating a patient in the next room. I was in Los Angeles.  I was still alive. Etherica might be waiting for me, but she’d have to wait a while yet.

When I was able to get to the kitchen and had blurted out the whole sorry story to my son-in-law, he found it vastly amusing. “Sambo’s”, he chortled. “You died and went to a Sambo’s.”

He had to do a footnote for this uninformed Canadian. Sambo’s, he said, was a franchised restaurant that specializes in pancakes. Ah, as in the story of Little Bl….., how non pc.

“You’re really spooked. Don’t want to die?”

“It’s not the dying. That’s bad enough, but is that what I am – desiccated, flakey, ineffective, nervous…”

An unwise question to ask a son-in-law but at that moment the phone rang. He picked it up. I could hear the person at the other end, saying, “This is North West Airlines. Mr Hood’s bags have arrived and will be delivered before five.”

“And Mr Hood?” my son-in-law asked.

“Yes?”

“Mr Hood has arrived as well?”

“Good” said the man and hung up.

Where, I wondered is Rob. How could his bags be here and he not? I cursed Air Canada for showing that movie about Judgement City on my flight down.

My son-in-law took his shaken mother-in-law out, down to the beach apartment to make up a bed for Rob. My urgent need to prevent myself from ending up in Sambo heaven with Etherica had to be put on hold.

When we arrived back home on Washington Way, a van labelled  AirServ stood in front of the house and a delivery man with his phone to his ear was pounding on the door, yelling, “Pick it up. Pick it up. I know you’re in there. Well finally… I’ve got your bags here. Where am I? Right at your door. Your single storey brown house..” He turned to look at us as we came up the walk and Julia threw open the door.

“I think you have our bags there,” my son-in-law said pleasantly.

In the evening, the front room changed from a consulting room back into a living room and we were there watching television when I suddenly got to my feet and opened the door. Rob was getting out of a car across the street.

“Hi there, Sis,” he yelled. “I lost somebody. I’ll be right back”.

Back in the car. he made a U-turn and vanished up Abbot Kinney. We stood shivering in the cool desert air until he came roaring back followed by another car. He stood in the middle of the street speaking rapid French at the people in it. We must meet his friends, hear the story of the lost bags, of being questioned in Amsterdam as suspected terrorists because they were bagless and much, much more.

He had blown back into my life, this force of nature, he who had been stabbed on a train platform in Bombay, spent a week in jail in Turkey and as a camera man had had compartments that no one could ever find.

While Julia and her husband were working we walked on the beach and Rob talked, “And so I said to him, ‘Monsieur Godard, films are not made with trucks. Films are made with people – directors and actors.’ quel triumph…”

We drove north up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, where there was no room at the inn but he conned the hostess into letting us have a table. I had been a vegetarian for ten years but I ordered chicken.

“I remember you, Sis,” he said. You used to laugh. You could laugh at anything. You had a root canal that went wrong. You were in agony for weeks and you had people splitting their sides. You’re the one who taught me how to laugh.” He put down his fork. “What happened to you?”

Probably only Rob could have said that to me. Even so, a list of what had happened unfurled  in my mind and I started to cry.

“It’s okay to cry,” he said, taking my hand, “but, when you get around to it, it’s better to laugh.”

And so it was that what Etherica started, Rob finished, and I gave it all up. I gave up esoteric study and triangles of light and group meditation and terrible earnestness. I gave up flowing prints. I gave up a whole bunch of friends who didn’t laugh either. I ate meat.

That night after he had registered us at the Carmel Motor Lodge, he came out and said, “I told her you were my sister. I think she believed me,” and he fell over the steering wheel in gales of laughter.