What is it like for you to walk by the sea now, my friend?
The sea is roped off by yellow caution tape and orange barricades, the colors reminding me of jellyfish that sometimes wash up to the shore, that I sometimes mistake for toys. Police cars patrol the bike lane, no sirens but red lights flashing atop. We can no longer walk on the sand or step to the water to test its temperature–it was so cold in early March, last time I checked. I’m hoping the sea is getting her rest without our sunblock, our water bottles and other trash, without so many flights dumping fuel, without so many cruise ships. When my grandnephews were here in February, they made a game of picking up not only shells, but popsicle sticks, beer can pull tops, a flipflop, and straws. They were proud of each find, the garbage going into the trash, the shells going back to the shore.
And, my friend, what is it like for you to walk with your all-terrain walker in the park?
Yesterday I took my ATV (AKA, walker) to the Sawhill Ponds trailhead in the shadow of the Rockies (our parks have trails here, in and out of foothills, around lakes and along creeks that crash over waterfalls). I took a deep breath and headed down the trail. The mountains are still open here. They rise over Boulder, snow-laden and staunch. But to the North, Rocky Mountain National Park closed down a few days ago and you could hear the geese in Sawhill Pond loudly discussing the closure. Those geese–definitely not keeping a six-foot distance from each other or the ducks. Some people say closing the great park will give animals a chance to enjoy it for a change. I like that, although there I was, inching along on my ATV, grabbing up the open space for myself.
After Hurricane Wilma in 2005 there was a 10 PM curfew on Hollywood Beach. Have you got one now?
No curfews for us yet in Hollywood, but just south, Sunny Isles has one in place. Maybe I should go outside tonight and stand in the dark while I can? I’ve become a creature of a makeshift routine, taking my walk at 5 or so every day when the streets are the least crowded, buildings providing the most shade. Because of my skin’s tendency to burn rather than tan, I get a mole check every year. The doctor who examined me on March 12 told me I had to take the virus seriously, stay in place and not fly. She was not making a suggestion, but rather a mandate. Though much has changed, the sea turtles have come back as they do each March, starting to lay their eggs. Though much has changed, the city has dimmed the streetlights like they always do. No markers or cones around the nests. No beachgoers to accidentally step on them.
What’s it like being a home-schooling art teacher to Sebby?
It seems so strange that the sea turtles are coming and going without people getting in their way for once, sending them off-course, leading them to mini malls. Is it okay if I talk about turtles for a minute rather than my grandson, who is six and loves going to homeschool during shelter-in-place because he pretty much gets to do just what he wants? Especially in Art Class! I found a dead baby turtle once up in Jensen Beach where my parents had moved because they loved the loggerheads. It seemed like a toy to me, lying there on the sand, or at least a souvenir. I wanted to show it to someone, but the beach was empty and it was late, so I buried it before I headed home. Honestly, it was an amazing day for me. Something wild in the palm of my hand. It was too late to save it, but not too late to grieve.
Carl Jung might say our collective shadow has reared up before us. What do you think about the photo of the fox asleep on a tree stump that went viral this week?
The fox represents erratic, unpredictable behavior. The fox represents going it alone. The fox represents seclusion and reflection. The fox can be sneaky, maybe someone is telling you a lie. The fox is all these things, according to my dream dictionary. Jung believed in the archetype of the trickster, like the fox, who appears to disrupt the natural order. To quote Carl: The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. We are writing, playing with the things we love—turtles, geese, jellyfish, and ducks. Now the fox which makes me thing of trickster Fox News, a channel I refuse. Better to look to an orange sleeping fox if I want to make something up. Poor tree stump, a life cut short.
Can you believe, on the Italian island of Sardinia, dolphins have come back in the absence of ferries?
I will believe anything about dolphins. I remember them from my sixtieth birthday when I was already old enough to catch this virus, but not too old to swim with dolphins, and I wrote a poem about them and my friend Jeannette and how she swam with them once and they kept pushing her to the side of the pool and scaring her a little which is not like dolphins usually but it turns out they liked her a lot and she told me to be careful when I was swimming with them and I was. Whenever I see one, either in person or in recent videos about Sardinia or Venice, the cells in my body glow, I can actually feel my cells remembering they are alive and no matter how terrifying the world may be there are dolphins somewhere waiting to come back to us.
Do you find that food tastes different suddenly? I know everything is more precious now–a pound of meat has to last; bread’s gone missing from the grocery store shelves. But what about the way it all tastes?
I remember the first time I saw “dolphin” on the menu in Florida and I gasped in horror, not realizing it was another name for mahimahi. I haven’t had fish since March 10 when I had one of those long days at school–two thesis defenses and a class. I had a break in the middle and went to get sushi! I so seldom go to restaurants alone, but now, with shelter-in-place, for days on end I am eating alone. Food tastes technicolor, though I am eating the same things. Oatmeal, hummus, chicken strips all pop in my mouth! And I have added one treat. I sometime’s order takeout from Angelo’s, the restaurant at the condo, that only has one or two offerings a day. Twice I have ordered a Greek salad because it served with two warm garlic rolls, nestled like twins in foil. When I unwrap them I think of that old cliche–now I can die happy.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve found so far as you unpack your boxes from storage in Florida? Was there anything you forgot about? Was there anything you see now that you don’t remember at all?
Everything feels like a surprise! I stuck my hand in a manilla envelope yesterday, touched hair, and let out a little scream. Everyone looked up from what they were doing and I pulled out a great mass of auburn hair about a foot long. Mine. But I don’t know from when or where. I think the how is that I once asked a haircutter to cut it all off, starting at the rubber band at the base of my neck. It was LONG, Jack! And I do remember a time when I thought of donating my hair to an organization that makes wigs for women on chemo. Yesterday I was going to throw it away because there is not one person in my family who wants it! But I think I shall keep it just in case I need a wig myself. Right? (For a few minutes just now I forgot about the virus. It feels wrong, somehow, like I cheated on everyone. For a minute, it was just me, you, and my creepy/gorgeous red hair.)
The other night I went to a Zoom Meeting and all the women were really relaxed. One was lying down. One had her dog beside her. The interesting thing to me was that everyone’s hair was a lot messier than I remember (in our other life). How about your hair, Denise?
I love the image of your foot-long hair sample! I’m so glad you are saving it as it has been with you all this time. I remember when you had long straight hair—it was always (and still is!) so shiny. I asked you once what kind of shampoo you used and after you told me said, honestly, it’s probably just my genetics. These days my own hair is in tangles! And it feels such a relief just to say so. I had my last appointment to get my roots done on March 9—what luxury, that former life. I have a small halo (a corona, you could say) of gray now and I have thought about what I will do when it gets out of hand. (Talk about shallow!) I am wearing my hair now almost exclusively in two braids, which seems the best way to keep it somewhat in place when I take my walks. Stray hairs still sometimes tickle in the wind, and I know we aren’t supposed to touch our faces. When I feel the urge to scratch, I force up my sunglasses as a makeshift headband. When I Zoomed for work on Friday, I did comb my hair out and wore earrings and a nice shirt. From my waist down, which no one could see, were a ratty pair of yoga pants. When we cleaned out my mother’s drawers, my sister and I each found a curl of our little girl hair she’d saved. Mine was so blond it was almost white, the color I hope my hair will return to if I live long enough.
Is there anything you used to be worried about that has floated away now that we are living this different life?
Well, I used to worry that I would miss teaching too much if I retired. Then I worried that I would miss my house in Miami if I moved to Colorado. Then I worried that I will never be able to dance again because my L3 splintered into a million pieces and when I try to dance I fall down. I worried that a lot of people in this country are more stupid than I could ever imagine. Then I worried that I will die of the virus instead of cancer. At that point, I started laughing. I’m laughing all the way to your house by the sea. I’m six feet away from you right now.
Who do you miss the most while you’re hanging out with you, yourself, and you?
I miss the women in my strength training class and especially the teacher Dr. Cara. How hopeful I was bending and lifting, under her supervision as she gently corrected my posture. One of my favorite exercises involved lying down, foot sole to foot sole, with another class member, each of us holding different ends of the same resistance band and taking turns doing curl ups. It was like collaborating, Maureen! It really was. Back and forth, each of us respectful, asking, Are you ready? before using the other as an anchor. Dr. Cara is pregnant, due in June. Even before the virus she was concerned with germs. Often I’d stay after class and help her spray the mats with Seventh Generation disinfectant. Life is surprising me these days. I am surprised this is my answer.
Who has been your favorite doctor, nurse,
or medical professional?
Hands down, my Boulder PCP, Dr. Stephanie Hess
I love that she talks fast and can therefore keep up with me because when I go in to see her I talk really fast too, which maybe means we both think really fast…She can look at me and her computer at the same time and find things while she’s talking and listening. If it wasn’t for her I would still be in The Most Pain I’ve Ever Experienced in My Entire Life, including childbirth without any anesthesia, which was actually a piece of cake compared to the complete collapse of my L3. Anyway, in this new life, Dr. Hess is giving special attention to her “old” and also her oncological patients and I can call her whenever I need to. P.S. Her nurse, Amy, rocks too.
If you could fly safely to any place on earth right now, where would it be?
I would fly to Rhode Island then drive straight to Mount St. Rita where my mother has not had adult visitors since March 11thand little kid visitors since early February. If it was safe to fly then I’m assuming it would also be safe to see my mother in her remote control chair, to help her up and situate her on her walker. We’d walk halfway down the corridor—it would take a long time, but I wouldn’t be impatient—and we would look at a collection of teacups the nursing home has in an otherwise useless hutch. Maybe there’d be a post-Coronavirus celebratory lunch. I took my mom to such a meal on Valentine’s Day of this year, when the flowers you sent her bloomed on her window sill. She loved looking at the bouquet, looking at the teacups that day. And though I’d bought my own lunch, foodservice insisted I have dessert, vanilla ice cream in the shape of a heart, with loops of raspberry drizzle.
Do you find yourself projecting into the future or are you able to stay in the here and now?
I’m lucky. I don’t have a future to project into. I’m complete, cureless, finis. For those with futures, I can only imagine what they are going through, how life has lifted everyone up into a funnel cloud and we have absolutely no idea where it will lay us down. Or when. Or if. People are brave. When we walk our dog around the block someone’s building a workbench or taking out the trash or pushing a stroller. Everyone’s counting the feet between them, saying hi, be safe. It was 70 degrees here today and now one tiny hyacinth has popped out of the ground to say, guess what, there will still be Spring.
- Ten Days in March (This Different Life) - June 30, 2020