3/31/20 THE CORONA PAPERS

 I’ve been reflecting on so many things lately. How things used to be, how things should be, what I’d like things to be. All out the window. Nothing is the same, so much no longer matters. It’s all about being healthy and safe and strong. Crossing the street to be away from another person. Waving at that person. What used to be rude is no longer rude. Stay away!

Yesterday, on our walk around the neighborhood, John and I were almost home, almost to our street and talking, wondering where a certain property line was, a line where a homeowner, perhaps the husband of the girl who used to know our daughter, was working on something next to his house. Why not? The shut-down has a lot of people working on put-off tasks.

Speculating, wondering, not that it mattered much. Chatter as we marched along towards the steps that would take us to our street. Companionable.

Wet, wooden steps—we’ve had a lot of rain lately, and even on our walk, the sky had been spitting at us. So? What’s a little rain? We had to get out of the house, walk, feel the optimism of fresh air and bird calls. Inhale the scent of new leaves and flowers.

Chatter, chatter—

John fell.

I saw him tip over, and I knew he could do nothing but fall. There was nothing to grab, and he was going, going. He was too far ahead for me to catch, but he’s bigger than I am. I couldn’t have helped. Maybe I would have made it worse. He went down on those wooden steps, me shouting, John! John! And he’s down, scrunched between the steps and a utility pole, his hat and phone partway down the bank to the street. I’m kneeling next to him. John!

And then there’s this man. The homeowner from across the street.

“Are you all right?”

Can John get up? He has a trick knee. He’s not sure. I’m behind him. I can’t do anything except push. What would that do?

I ask the man if he can help. He’s there. Strong-looking. He’s there, but he hesitates.

Then he reaches forward, his maroon sleeve pulled over his hand, and we remember. The virus. How could we forget?

“No, no,” John and I are both saying. “We don’t want to make you sick.”

“I’m more worried about you than me,” he says.

And John figures out how to backtrack onto a step, how to get up. I retrieve his hat and phone which I drop again before he picks it up, himself. Takes his hat.

We thank the man. It occurs to me to ask if he is the husband of the girl we used to know, but I can’t think about extending this moment. Later!

John makes it the rest of the way to the street, I skirt the steps to the same level, and we again thank the Good Samaritan before heading on up the street.

“What happened?” I ask.

“I slipped. I put one foot down on the top step, and I slipped.”

“We aren’t using those steps again,” I proclaim. “I never liked them.”

We go up the hill. I’m crying. He’s passive.

He could have hit his head on that pole, broken his leg, his arm, his neck. He’s fine.

“How come,” I ask, “you’re the one who fell, and I’m the one crying?”

“I’m wondering that, myself.”

But we’re okay. Shaken but okay.

The man across the street—we gave him a good scare. He’ll know us when he sees again, that’s for sure. Maybe we’ll ask him if he’s the husband or that former acquaintance.

So—reflections on this and on that. The past and the future don’t change the now, the new, the just-experienced. I can reflect all I want, but when I see my husband go down like that and a stranger come forward, being there, just being there, that’s what matters.

I thank the hero in the maroon shirt.

By authorsusanshaw

THE CORONA PAPERS

3/28/20

This morning, the plan was to go to Wegman’s, buy a few things we needed and also to shop for the community cupboard where supplies were dwindling. It was the first time I’d been food-shopping since what’s basically a lock-down on the whole area, and I couldn’t wait to get out of that store once I walked in.

In normal times—do we remember normal times? And what was that?—I wouldn’t have thought anything of the crowd. In a normal time, on a damp Saturday morning, this place of business would not have felt crowded or strange or scary. I would have been in and out, indiscriminately putting my hands anywhere—do I like these grapes or those? Let me get the yogurt carton behind this one.

But today, too many people! Everyone else, entering and leaving, used the hand sanitizers at the front of the store, but I kept my winter gloves on the whole time while undercurrents of the threat growled at me.

Everyone was trying, you could see that, to keep the safe distances, but that virus, I couldn’t get away from its ugly threat. No matter where we went, someone had just been there, and I felt the fullness of tiny, invisible murderers in the air. How do you dodge invisible murderers?

“We should have groceries delivered from now on,” I said. “I don’t want to do this again.”

We persevered, got the groceries—milk and yogurt and grapes and cat litter and cat food for us. Then, for total strangers, or maybe not so total—how do you know?—rice and peanut butter (limit two) and pasta and and and for whoever needed what we chose. Granola bars, cans of pork and beans (limit two), crackers. We waited behind the red line, then the yellow line, before reaching the noble cashier.

I kept my winter gloves on the whole time and considered burning them when we got home. And my coat. And shoes. Over-reacting? But that grim bug out there, and me with no useful flyswatter. I hated this place.

We left, loaded our donations in boxes ready for them in the trunk of the car, pulled through the lot in time to see someone’s eight-pack of toilet paper just lying on the wet pavement. I opened my window.

“Sir! Sir! Your toilet paper!”

I don’t know. Could have been paper towels.

And the man, who’d been going blithely on his way, not registering my shout until he realized his cart was missing this particular piece of gold, turned around, gave us a sheepish look, and returned to his treasure.

Time was getting short. The food for the community pantry was being collected curbside for a mere hour, and only fifteen minutes of that time remained. We arrived at the site, saw a man standing beside a pick-up truck parked on the grass. He lit up when he saw us.

“Thank you so much!” he said.

We popped the trunk, and he took our donation.

“Seen much action this morning?” John asked.

“You’re only my second,” he answered. “I think it’s the rain,” and I thought, hunger doesn’t go away in the rain.

Wouldn’t that be great if it did?

“Thank you so much,” he said again. “Thank you so much.”

You could hear the gratitude in his heart, see it on his face.

We drove away.

“We did our good deed for the day,” said John.

We did. Our little drop in the bucket. I wish we had at least quadrupled it. Next time.

But next time, also, we may order the whole thing delivered before we make our donation.

Thank you so much!

By authorsusanshaw

THE CORONA PAPERS

3/26/20

This email exchange started the day:

Indie Bro:

Social Distancing: Coronavirus memory #1.

“Ponce, get out of the garden!”

Ottawa Sis:

I could hear it!

Me:

I remember that!

O. Sis:

We would all laughhhh!

This exchange went on for hours. Here and there. Back and forth.

  O. Sis:

  Relievo!

  Me:

  Allee alee in free!

  Indie Bro:

  I do that ten times!

  PA Bro, apparently just tuning in:

  Three step mickey!

  Me:

  Bombardment!

  Indie Bro:

  Heavens to Murgatroyd!

  Me:

  Dollars to doughnuts!

  PA Bro:

  Red light, green light!

  Indie Bro:

  Miss Nabors.

Five of us siblings from all over the place shooting little, pointed darts at each other, making each other laugh across the miles. What a lift to the day!

This stuff doesn’t make sense to you? Who is Ponce? Who is talking? Who is Miss Nabors?

Well, I’ll tell ya. Ponce was the neighbors’ dog. And Mr. P.—that’s who was shouting, not talking. How many times did we hear that? We couldn’t see the drama. This family lived on the other side of a tall hedge, but the hedge wasn’t soundproof. And apparently, Ponce was a slow learner. Or he liked the garden. Or the yelling. But we five would be on the other side of the green divide, doing normal, everyday, low-key kinds of things like playing catch or falling out of trees or climbing down the side of the house, and suddenly: Ponce! Get out of the garden! Pause. Stare. Laugh.

Miss Nabors? You don’t want to know. But her name evokes—hm! It evokes.

And we played Three Step Mickey. We played Relievo. We played Red Light, Green Light. Hours of those games with kids in the whole neighborhood. George and Shawn and Buddy and Tom and whoever else showed up. Didn’t you do that, too? Baseball in the yard, and the tree was first base. Hit the boxwood, and you’re out. We hit the boxwood. We were out. Did you have a rule like that?

But this exchange, from which we are so far missing our oldest sib, PA sis—where is she?— probably climbing a mountain, chopping wood, or feeding the hungry, but she’ll join in—is only good within the five of us. You hadda be there.

Mom’s in here, too, Mom, who didn’t know about it at all until I read the so-far exchange over the phone to her. Now she knows, and laughs, too, and maybe keeps checking. The five of us and her, we make this circle, we make this group hug across the miles. Exclusive and inclusive. How can we not love each other in the ways that only we can? Precious and exquisite and oh, my gosh!

Gentle humor, sly humor, secret humor—I haven’t included it all. You can’t get the meanings or the people. What does, Hi, I’m Andy M. mean to you? But do you have an Andy M. or a secret passcode or a phrase that’s all about your important duo, or, as in our case, quintet?

Without the lockdowns, without the virus, we wouldn’t have had this exchange. We’d still love each other, sure, but we wouldn’t have had this exchange, and this exchange is dear.  

Do this. Send out a telling phrase to those people who just get you the way no others can. Answer the reply with another silly thought. Silly, dynamic. Lift every one up. Time is precious, these people are precious. Retighten those ties that bind and have that group hug, that group laugh. Your exchange will be a keeper. It will lighten your day, your week, your life.

Do it!

Allee allee in free!

By authorsusanshaw

The Corona Papers

3/25/20

FaceTiming with Janet and Morgan starts another day. Morgan again offers us ice cream from her plastic parlor. No better kind across the miles. A pair of panda pajamas, including an eared hood, on the little girl. Big girl and little girl grin at us through the miles. We laugh.

Then there’s a fox.

That’s here. We’ve been seeing foxes lately, running across our patio and up the hill toward the plateau. Chasing away squirrels and birds who gather under our birdfeeders. I’m sure the fox doesn’t want to actually chase them. They should stand still for his pleasure, but they have other ideas. And they are fast.

So far, we haven’t seen any breakfasts get caught, but this morning, the fox hangs around long enough for us to show Janet and Morgan.

“See, Morgan, see? He’s by that tree. Turning his head.”

Looking around and looking around.  Beautiful creature with thick, orange fur. You almost want to pet him, but, after all, he is a fox. With teeth.

He poses for us for a few minutes, then treks back through the forsythia until we can’t see him. Healthy-looking guy. Glad our cat stays indoors. He would, now, regardless.

But the fox leaves, we finish talking to the big girl and the little girl so they can have breakfast. We move on to perusing the newspaper, at least as much as we can bear, check email.

“Your old boyfriend has a birthday today,” John tells me. FaceBook.

I never knew about that birthday. Didn’t know the guy long enough, but I find myself thinking of him, guessing his age, and wondering about the intervening years. Is he all right? At least he’s got a birthday.

“Walk?” I ask. “It’s going to rain later.”

First, give the cat his shot—he’s diabetic—and then depart to walk through the neighborhood.

Descending from our driveway, we encounter one of the plateau’s inhabitants with her children. Stroller, scooter, and the third child just joyfully running. All of them look joyful, in fact. Well, maybe the mom looks tired. The baby looks pensive. A lot to take in.

John and I take the opposite side of the street—germs!—but say hello. It’s no joke pushing that stroller up the hill, but that’s where they live.

“Happy children,” I comment.

“That’s why we’re outside,” says the mom—push-push! “They’re not happy inside.”

While she’s firming up her biceps and lung capacity. And will need a cup of tea when she gets up there. Later, they’ll have to go outside again to be happy, but that’s later.

They go up, we go down, round the corner and stop at the school parking lot where the informational sign tells us of an upcoming talent show. Or would be upcoming, that was the intention, except the date passed after the building was shut down, and nobody changed the sign. Who would do that? All that talent and no show! Later, gator!

Three cars grace the lot. No people, but they are probably already in the adjacent nature center.

“Not as many as in the last few days,” I comment.

“It’s earlier,” says John. “Plus it’s not so nice out.”

True.

Not that the weather kept us inside, or that family we passed, either, although we’re getting the walk in while we can. It’s supposed to rain a lot in the next few days, and it just seems a good idea to be out in the fresh air at least a little bit every day no matter what’s coming out of the sky. At least it’s not Dr. Seuss’s Oobleck, that green gunk.

I may go out in the rain, anyway, later in the week. We have umbrellas, and probably, we both could survive a drenching if we are too proud to carry them. We’ll see how we feel then.

John waits for my up-down-up-down on the concrete steps. I feel a little bad, making him wait in the cool air. Even he is wearing a winter hat today, so it isn’t just me feeling the cold, and standing still in it probably isn’t so great for him. Gloves and hats for both of us. But up-down-up-down. Gotta do my steps even if he can’t do his after a wrecked quadriceps tendon slowed him down years ago.

There.

Done that.

We walk on and pass over the culvert by the nature center. Fresh mud tells us that it rained hard enough in the last day for the creek to rise over the banks. Sometimes, the road floods, too, and barricades are erected against this. Sometimes, people just drive through the water. Sometimes, sometimes.

Sometimes, it’s so muddy on this overpass that I take my life in my hands and walk on the road instead. Time the interval between spurts of cars. Jog or walk fast for those few feet and then get right back onto that sidewalk. Phew!

So much traffic. It never ceases.

Well.

Lately, you can look in either direction and not see a single car. Still good to be careful, I guess. You could forget. Cars? What are cars?

But we don’t walk in the street this morning. Could have. Could have done handsprings and played hopscotch or just pretended to swim breaststroke over the blacktop. So quiet out here.

Then we cross to the other side, still looking both ways because that’s the habit, and cars do come. The habit hasn’t been rendered foolish. A car here, a car there. Where’s anyone going?

And back around Obsession Gulch. Not that I see obsessed people or yards that make me think that’s really who lives here. We go on.

“We haven’t seen the goose lawn ornaments for a while.”

“I don’t remember if they were here or not the last time.”

Big creatures. And they weren’t always in the same places. Somebody had fun changing things up. We had fun observing the movement. Close your eyes, and the geese run until you open them—freeze!

“You’d notice.”

When we get to that yard, the geese aren’t there. Of course, we don’t know if the same people are even living here. All we ever knew about them were their geese. No geese.

Going on and on.

“Look at the daffodils.”

“Look at the flowering bush.”

We pass houses where people we used to know lived. Do they still?

Birds sing, squirrels run as if there is nothing different in the world. Normalcy among the wildlife. Or is it? Do the birds wonder why so many people wander through their terrain lately?

We talk. We muse.

“That money we might be getting from the senate bill,” I say, “we should help someone with it. If we get it. If they pass that.”

And we talk about the waitresses we know at a local place. But how will we find them? Maybe there’s a way.

First, let’s see if there is that money. We could help, anyway, of course . . .

“You know,” I say, gesturing to the sky, “the worst part isn’t the lock-down or that we can’t see our kids or Mom or anybody. That’s bad. And it’s bad that we don’t know how long this is going to be. But the worst part is the threat. I feel like someone’s thrown a huge, gigantic snowball right at us. And the aim is good.”

Yeah.

What can we do?

Focusing on the hour we’re in, the half-day. Working at my desk, reading, practicing music, calling people. John finds things to do in the yard or with his music, practicing or timing scores, cooking—yay! A man who cooks! And he calls friends and family, too.

There’s plenty to do, and we’re not bored. And sometimes, I don’t remember, am not thinking about that snowball.

Not as many people out as the last few days, but there are a couple of joggers, a dog-walker. Us. The lady in the mail truck. All say hello. Wave.

As we make the last leg, we see an old friend of our daughter’s. We don’t know her any more, but we know who she is, coming back, maybe from her jog. We don’t know her, and we aren’t near enough to say hello, but I’m glad we can see her moving around, looking healthy. Next time, maybe we’ll get close enough to shout, to wave. How are things? Fine, just fine.

Up the hill we go, wishing for things and wishing for things.

At least there was that fox.

By authorsusanshaw

THE CORONA PAPERS

3/24/20

                So today, first thing in the morning, John and I were FaceTiming with Janet, and John told her we weren’t allowed to leave our homes. News to me. So starting today, we will be in trouble if we leave our cozy abode to do anything beyond food-shopping, drug-buying, or doctor-visiting. Our Pennsylvania county is one of those our governor has deemed particularly poor in the coronavirus situation. It’s for our own good.  

                “No walks?” I asked. “Nothing past the mailbox? Will we be fined if we go down the street?”

                Plus I’d been planning to use the outdoor steps at Roberts School just to use steps—those from ranch houses have to find steps where they may—but I guessed those plans were in the same cocked hat as everything else. Why should I get to use steps?

                Well, walks are okay with the governor, it turns out. Something called outdoor activity is fine. Not sure exactly why, but there are a lot of dogs that need walking. Not that we have a dog. But maybe that’s why. Otherwise, maybe we’d all have ropes twined around our houses and stare out like abandoned pets from our baleful windows. So there is freedom here. We can still at least walk. Don’t get in the car, though! You’ll get eaten!

                There’s no going to Justin’s, though to get that box full of music stuff that belonged to Marion before she died. I will call him later and say, hold that box for me. I’m coming, just not today. Always eager to see someone else’s flute music and paraphernalia. Like reading someone else’s diary. See what’s out there I have overlooked. Did she have the Bozza? How did she mark the Mozart? Did she have a decent stand or metronome? What he gives me will make me think of him and her. Just her wide smile!

                Not going there today. Not tomorrow. At least two weeks. Three? Do I hear four?

                Because, who knows, I could grab that box from his front porch—already the plan in these coronavirus times—get it home, and some microbe from his house could live long enough to get me. Or I could leave some trace on his porch that will get him when he wants to get his mail. And then we could pass them on to—you know. Like a long line of crocheted stitches.

                So that’s on hold. It’s a niggling little thing and why should I mind about that when also on hold is seeing my mother in New Jersey or Janet or her brothers. Well, they’re all we got, and we still want them. Always what is precious is being in the same room with one of them, getting hugs. Virtual hugs are better than nothing, and little Morgan, during FaceTime this morning, served us ice cream from her little plastic ice cream parlor. Yum yum! we said, all enthusiastic, and pretended to eat. But really? This is how life is now.

                It just is.

                Hey. If Anne Frank’s family could live in the Secret Annex for all that time, we can do this. This is nothing.

                Under the new confinement, we went about our business, me doing yoga and John reorganizing that corner beyond the china cabinet. Cleaning bathroom floors and doing laundry, both of us.

Lunch and a call from niece Heather to tell us that she would be taking care of whatever Mom needs—she’d just taken her some rye bread and had been in the house with her, so Mom actually saw someone in person. Smiles exchanged. Yeah, Heather!

                Because I can’t go to New Jersey now, and that just stinks. Mom’s okay, but yeah. Suck it up, girl!

                After lunch, John went outside to talk with our neighbor who was working in his yard. The two men talked at a safe distance. They’re doing all right, we’re doing all right. The wife just had a birthday, and today they’re working in the yard. Getting rid of the scraggly hedge between our two properties.  So okay. I guess they like us all right. They’ll see us more clearly, at any rate. No secrets here!

                John and I took that walk. I ran up and down those outside stairs at the school. So I got to do that. We took note of all the cars in the parking lot, enabling all kind of folks to hike in the nature center on the other side. Wait. Those people drove there. Isn’t that one of the new taboos? Well, maybe they hadn’t heard yet. Or maybe they thought, they can’t mean this.

John and I went on, me with my stair-exercised legs, and took the route of Obsession Gulch, named years ago by Justin for the fanaticism of the neighborhood for their weed-free lawns. That’s why those people live there, and we live here. As John has said to lawnsprayers who have approached us, “We like our moss.” And leaves. And huge trees. As long as they don’t fall down on us. When trees fall, or even just branches, I can want to trade it all for concrete in a New York minute.

                John and I walked and talked—a beautiful afternoon—said hello to people we’d never seen before. Joggers, walkers, people just out. Half-way through our walk, the reality of it all, as it will do here and there, hit me, and one of the biggies surfaced.

                “I can’t protect them,” I said. “I can’t get in the way of harm.”

                “They’re grown-ups,” John said.

                “I know. But it’s part of me. I always protected them. They stayed in the yard until they were eighteen. They never rode a bike past the green mailbox so I could always see them. I can’t do anything now.”

                “They’re fine,” he says. “They’re fine. Because you protected them.”

                “And you.”

                Yeah, yeah, yeah. Kids grow up, but maybe their parents don’t. How much I want to hold them!

                Aaaaah!

                This isolation can get to you, knowing you can’t see people, can’t hug people, you already don’t see enough. But we’re doing the best we can.

                Back at home, I called Mom. I call her every day. My older sister calls her twice a day, and our other three siblings call when they can. Now, probably every day, too.

                “Dale, the plumber who has fixed my toilets,” she tells me, “called me this morning. He told me he was going out and did I need anything? Wine, I said. I’m running low,” because Mom is allowed one glass a day.

Cabernet, she prefers. One glass of wine with dinner. Not that she has to, she tells me. Water can be just as fine.

“Your plumber called to check on you and is getting you wine?”

“Yes.”

“I love your town,” I say to her, not for the first time.

Then she shouted, “Come in!”

And it was Dale with her wine.

I love Dale.

By authorsusanshaw