Friday, October 23, 2020

What Will We Do?

Candles are lit and dinner is ready: grilled eggplant and lemon, rice pilaf, and sautĂ©ed zucchini. Dave has set Pandora to the 70’s channel and The Band is singing “The Weight.” It is such a Stevie song, one I’ve heard him sing countless times, with Red and Phil at Trinity; with Dave in our basement; and with his sons, Christopher and Trevor, at Old Post Tavern and FTC. Although I’ve been fine all day, I'm weepy and snuffling into a tissue when Dave joins me at the table. 

That’s how it’s been since Steve passed. To our amazement, we’re mostly okay, and then something will strike a chord, triggering a prickle in my nose and a flow of tears. Mostly, I don’t think our hearts are letting us feel fully what we’ve lost. For, from the time Steve was diagnosed with prostate cancer 15 years ago, I’ve worried who will Dave be without his brother?


 

In the early years of our marriage, Dave would sometimes retreat, face closed, his response to my inquiries always an unsatisfying, “I’m fine.” Casey has recently defined that as “Feelings Inside, Not Expressed,” and when I was younger, it made me crazy trying to figure out what was wrong. Once, I called Steve and asked, “Can you come play guitars with your brother, or take him out or something?  I don’t know what’s up with him.”

 

“Is he pouting?” Steve said. “He always has.”

 

Wait. What? Dave has been declared a saint by many, and this was an insight I seized on with relief.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Steve said. “Just the way he gets sometimes.” 

 

It wasn’t my fault! Such a burden lifted! I still wanted Steve to divert him, but I felt better. So there’s that too: what will I do without Steve?    

 

As required of older brothers, when the boys were children, Steve tormented Dave, staking him out in the backyard, the unwilling cowboy captive to Steve’s victorious Indian. Unmoved by Dave’s wails of “Maaaaaa!” Steve would sit on his chest and say in a voice annoyingly calm, “Why are you crying? All you have to do is eat a spoonful of peanut butter, and I’ll let you go.” 

 

Needless to say, Dave hated peanut butter. 

 

But Steve was also his best friend and protector. “Do you have any idea how many fights I got into because of you?” he once said. Dave spoke with a stutter from the time he was four, a target for the mean kids who pounced on anyone with a frailty; Steve was three years older, and bound to defend him. As much as Steve-n’-Deb became one word, from the time Dave was born, so was Steve-n’-Dave.


 

When Steve and Deb started dating in their teens, they welcomed Dave as the third in their trio. Dave chuckles in recalling a beach picnic with the three of them and Steve Larrabee.  “Deb had to go to the bathroom, so we built a sand toilet for her.  ‘Don’t look!’ she said. So, nearby, we drew the outline of a door with a huge keyhole in the sand, and we boys stood, eyes peering down, hooting as if we were watching. Silly stuff.”

 

“I followed Steve everywhere,” Dave has said as we cuddle together with our memories, stories, and tears. “To the same high school, on dates with Deb, to Trinity, and to Eagle Hill.” 

 

What will Dave do without his brother?


    

 

When first I met Steve, it was a wintry night in 1972. My roommates and I had borrowed trays from the Trinity cafeteria to use as sleds, and headed to a snowy slope on campus where a group had already gathered.  Back then, Steve’s nickname was Sly, and with his confident air, piratical look, long hair, mustache, and high cheekbones, he was cool enough to carry it. As a recent graduate from 12 years of girls’ schools, I was giddy with my newfound freedom and easy proximity to boys, and euphoric that a fun, flirty senior like Sly would be nice to me. 


 

In the spring, he asked if I wanted to go with him to watch his little brother play baseball. I jumped at the plan, and when I met Dave after the game, I discovered he was quite nice too, nice enough to marry as it turned out.  Soon after Steve died, Deb told me, “You were his hand-picked sister.”

 

Around Fairfield, Steve and Deb were fixtures, renowned for their welcoming warmth, genuine interest in others, athletic prowess, and participation in community events. Both turned heads, Deb with her flowing blond hair, Steve with his mane of white, so recognizable as they zipped around town in the red Miata. And prized though it was, when our son Tucker graduated from high school having never driven a standard shift car, Steve tossed him the keys to the Miata and said, “Hey, congratulations!  Let’s go for a spin!” 

 


 

Since his diagnosis in 2005, there have been years of worry, treatments tried, tests taken, results awaited with agonizing fear, all trials bravely hidden by Steve and Deb.  In truth, none of us know how long we have, but it’s a fact we happily suppress. We didn’t have that luxury with Steve, and because we knew time was limited, we created opportunities, and nothing was taken for granted. 

 

We had years of work together at Eagle Hill-Southport, reunions on Block Island, travel, drinks, dinners and guitars at Old Post Tavern. Steve gained a cherished daughter in Trevor’s wife, Lisa, and more recently, we’ve had grandchildren to share: the blessing and balance for worry.  All along, Steve and Deb were stoic in facing together the indignities and hardship of the disease while maintaining those sunny public faces. What courage and energy that must have taken.  





 

It was Christmas, 2015, when my daughter Casey and her fiancĂ© PJ asked Steve to perform their wedding ceremony.  Oh the hugs, laughter, and happy tears… but Deb had just told Dave and me that a recent scan had revealed the spread of Steve’s cancer to his bones. I worried: should I tell Casey to have a Plan B? I said nothing, hoping my brother-in-law - athletic, competitive, handsome Steve –would beat the odds and pull it off.


 

In September of 2016, Steve and I stood arm-in-arm on the steps at the Inn at Longshore, waiting to be introduced as the mother-of-the-bride and wedding officiant. I gestured to all the beloved faces smiling in our direction and whispered to Steve, “None of this would be happening if it weren’t for us.”

 

He looked at me, puzzled, and I said, “If we hadn’t met on the hill, traying at Trinity!” We hugged each other tight and walked down the stairs.

 

My mother always said her one regret was not giving me a big brother, but the Universe had other plans, and gave me Steve.  




 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

When Richard Called

Richard, a volunteer for the Biden Victory Fund, called last night.  While sipping a hot cup of tea, I was busy at the time writing letters for Vote Forward, a get-out-the-vote effort. It had been a lovely fall day, but with enough nip in the air to warrant long pants and a sweatshirt plus that cup of tea. When Richard called, it was after dusk, and I’d added a woolen shawl around my shoulders, and snuck up the heat on the thermostat.

 

Dave and I never answer the phone for telemarketers, pollsters, or “unavailable” numbers, but our Caller ID had identified Richard’s cause, and desperate as I am for a Biden win, I picked up the phone. 

 

Richard had barely launched his spiel when I interrupted. I thanked him for the work he was doing, told him of my ardent support, but added that I was comfortable with the amount I’d already donated to the campaign.  

 

To my surprise, he didn’t argue. He coughed.  A hearty, the-man-is-sick, cough. “Can you hold on a minute while I get some water?” he asked. 

 

“Of course,” I replied. 

 

When he returned and said, “I’m back,” I noticed how congested he was. 

 

“Richard, you don’t sound well.  Do you have a cold?” 

 

“Yes. I’ve had some health issues for a while.  We don’t usually make calls on Sundays, and I’d hoped to rest a bit, but so much is at stake, and the election’s close, so they added this day to the schedule. I’ll keep it light though.  Only two or three hours more.” 

 

“Maybe you should get a cup of tea,” I suggested. “I’m having lemon echinacea myself.”  

 

“Sounds like an idea,” he replied, then set about completing his mission. “We’re grateful for what you’ve already given, but just so you know, if you decide to give tonight, it will be triple-matched.”

 

Triple-matched. Hm. I repeated the line about my comfort at my previous level of giving, but as Richard coughed and sipped his water, I thought about the many sleepless nights I’ve spent staring at the ceiling while holding fervent fictional conversations with Trump supporters. 

 

Under the cloak of darkness, I have all the right words and evidence. What answer can be given to the damage and cruelty of this administration’s policies? The separation of children and nursing infants from their mothers in detention camps.  Staunch advocacy of the unborn yet tolerance of white supremacists and defense of assault weapons that have enabled mass-shootings. Alienating allies while cultivating authoritarian leaders. Public dismissal of COVID as nothing to fear even as American deaths surpass 210, 000. The dismantling of agencies, programs, and laws set up over decades to protect the planet and its creatures.

 

I thought of the new word I learned in the Boston Globe this Sunday that described to perfection the habit I picked up in January of 2017: Doomscrolling. While I’d avoided the news since my bout with cancer because I thought it was unhealthy, since Trump’s inauguration, I tap the news feed on my phone every morning, and sometimes several times a day, with the sick need to know what has he done now?  Doomscrolling sets my heart pounding and feeds my fury and incredulity with each fix, yet it’s a compulsion I can’t seem to shake. 

 

Since I was little, I’ve been a worrier. As a child, I worried about grades and getting in trouble. At work, I worried about word choice, guest lists, seating, and palm fronds. As a mom and grandmother now, I worry about my loved ones’ happiness and safety… and that’s where politics and love intersect. It is relatively new territory to add world events to my worry portfolio, but shootings, COVID, climate change, and this world of endless wars are no longer distant: they threaten my kids and their children… as they do the children of those who support Trump. Hence my disbelief when Republicans say to me, “I hate the guy, but I like what he’s doing.” I’ve heard that too many times and to me, character matters. 

 

Shields and Brooks, the PBS Friday night commentators, observe that most people are tired of chaos and are looking for “safe hands.” Safe hands. Oh, how that spoke to me of refuge and peace. Unlike Trump who focuses on his needs and the present, Biden’s plans embrace all Americans, as well as future generations whose well-being depends on our actions now.  Biden is not perfect, but he’s honorable, and has given his life to public service. Trump has missed that piece of the job description entirely.  In the search for safe hands, the choice is clear.

 

“Richard, you salesman you,” I said. “It’s hard to pass on that triple match. You can count me in.”

    

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Do I Have It?

Eleanor raised her arms to be picked up.  “P, P, P,” she said, her version of “please.” What could be more precious than a little girl in a pink tie-dyed dress asking for a lift?  I did it, but it was an effort and I felt flushed. I put my hand to my forehead.  Do I have a fever?

 

“I’m going to change into a lighter shirt,” I told Dave.  I handed over the baby and went upstairs. 

 

Whew.  These stairs are steep, I thought. Deep breath. Slow release.  Repeat.  Repeat. My lungs were working, but am I getting enough oxygen? Is this what they mean by “short of breath"? My hips were sore; my lower back ached. It’s probably just from picking up the baby, from awkward positions. Right?  Or are these “achy joints” a Covid symptom? 

 

Mentally, I scanned my outings, hugs, and interactions over the past two weeks, minimal though they were. You never know who’s a carrier… shit. Do I have it?

 

Just yesterday I’d been satisfied and smug.  Due to my morning routine of Pilates exercises and stretches, my back had never felt better. And even in caring for Eleanor, Dave and I have marveled at our continued stamina in following her around the house, up the stairs, down the stairs, lifting and leaning as we obey our adorable tyrant and the imperative of her pointing finger to allow for closer inspection of flowers, bees, rug lint, and anthills. But every Covid patient has had a day-before-onset where they’ve felt as fine as I have. 

 

We live near Westport, Town Zero for Fairfield County, where a going away party triggered the first wave of cases in March.  Dave and I love eating out, and we’d socialized and shopped over the weeks prior as usual, not realizing the potential danger. When coronavirus alarms officially sounded, developing symptoms was an unnerving possibility. Every back-of-throat tickle was cause for concern, and whenever I coughed, I’d wonder, was that a plain old cough or a dry cough? 

 

Our daughter Casey, in a reversal of roles, was stern in demanding compliance. “You’re not taking this Coronavirus thing seriously,” she’d say. “You have to be more careful.” In one instance, when I hugged a friend after two particularly tasty cosmos, Casey’s dismay arrived in a series of disapproving all-cap texts:

 

MOM YOU’RE NOT BEING SMART.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

I’M SUPER UNHAPPY WITH YOU. IT’S NOT LIKE YOU TO MAKE SUCH A DUMB DECISION. 

 

Sigh. She was right. But it was so unnatural, such a departure, to eliminate hugs and time with friends. Those were also the early days of Covid-ignorance when Dave and I believed the precautions and remedies suggested on social media and forwarded by friends.  As advised, we held our breaths each morning for 17 seconds, and since we could, felt reassured that we were fine. I gargled with hot salt water regularly too, just to make sure.  

 

As the months passed, minimizing outings and contact became routine, although we’ve enjoyed socially distanced visits with some family and friends, and resumed contact with Casey, her husband, and little Eleanor since Casey returned to work and needed help with the baby. It seems like eons since we’ve seen our Boston gang, my son, daughter-in-law, and two beloved grandchildren. That is our greatest sadness, but given the tragedies occurring around the world, we are just grateful everyone is healthy. While the news continues to be sobering as Covid cases rise, here in Connecticut, it seems the worst is over. Most people are being careful, so all of us are safer.

 

A few days ago, however, I caught myself idly biting a hangnail as I drove home from some errands.  Oh no. I had touched counters and touch pads and well-handled-produce. Did I pick it up then? Do I have it?

 

When I got to the house, I started with hand sanitizer and washed my hands vigorously, for a long time, in very hot water.  But what about my mouth?  I smeared sanitizer on my lips, but that seemed inadequate. Then I thought, alcohol! Alcohol kills the virus. I took a hefty swig of Baumbu rum, swished out my mouth, gargled, and spit it out. A solution I hoped would be successful as well as tasty.  I felt a touch safer.

 

But now, two days later, in my flushed and fatigued state, I worried about that hangnail lapse.  The weather’s been crazy: wild rain then sunshine then thunder and lightning.  Could I blame the aches and lethargy on barometric pressure? For good measure, I downed two glasses of water, a vitamin D pill, and a B-12 gummy. Dave said, “Go relax for a bit and I’ll watch the baby.” 

 

I retreated to the back porch and tried to calm my Covid fears. A wren serenaded me with a song superlative in its composition and volume given the tiny size of the singer. Busy bees buzzed in our snowfield of clover. Foxglove spires bowed low under their weight of purple blossoms.  A mountainous cumulous cloud obscured the sun. A hawk swooped in low. Nature heals.  

 

I could hear Dave and Eleanor upstairs singing into the fan, “Wa wa wa wa…,” enjoying the tremolo produced by the swirling blades.  I was cool and grateful for deep breaths that seemed to hold plenty of oxygen. Testing... breathing in and out, in and out. I think I’m okay.  Thank you God.     

 

   

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Beyond Us

A faint smudge between the Big Dipper and the horizon looked promising. “Is that it?” I asked my husband Dave, hoping I had spotted the comet, Neowise.

“Yes. Yes, I think it is!” Dave said as he handed me the binoculars. Inwardly, I always sigh at this helpful offering as binoculars present their own challenge: the adjusting of the plastic flipper focus in the middle; the bending of the bulbous tubes that house the lenses; the scanning high, low, and sidewise to locate whatever tiny object I am trying to see. 

It was late, 11:30 PM, and Dave had read in the Boston Globe, our Sunday paper, that optimal Neowise-viewing was between 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM, so we thought we’d planned well. At home, we had tried to locate the comet’s position using our house’s relation to the Merritt Parkway North, the route of Black Rock Turnpike’s near-stretch to the coast, and the compass on Dave’s phone. The canopy of an ancient silver maple blocked the Northwestern sky, the comet’s reported path, so we’d driven up to Samuel Staples School to take advantage of the open skies above the playing fields. 

One other car was in the parking area, a mom and her children.  Given the darkness, I couldn’t see them well, but loved the thought of their memory of a summer night spent searching for a comet. As we gazed skyward, a youthful voice nearby observed, “Mom. I think it looks more like a cereal bowl and a spoon than a dipper.” I smiled. He had a point, although I would’ve called it a saucepan myself.  

Kids out at night after a hot day of camp, games, beach, or swimming! I can feel in my soul that remembered sense of freedom and adventure.  Catching fireflies. Sneaking out to meet my friend Edie and spying on neighbors’ parties. Playing Kick-the-Can until darkness obscured even our white shirts and bases. Watching, incredulous, with my sisters and parents as Sputnik, the Russian satellite, a speck of light, flew among the stars. It has been a long time since I felt that elation… but something similar was swelling within me as I stared upward.

“We’ve come every night this week,” the mom remarked, “and this is really too late. 9:45 is the best time.  When we saw the comet last night, you couldn’t miss it.  It was that clear.”

Could Boston time for viewing be that different?  Maybe so. “Okay!” we said.  “We’ll try earlier.” 

Two nights later, we arrived at Staples at 9:30 to join a cluster of cheerful comet hunters. Some had thought to bring folding chairs; others stretched out on the hoods of cars.  We climbed from our seats and scanned the sky. “There it is!” Neowise! No doubt this time. And I tried to imagine the light, the spray of gases, the rush of sound, close up as this phenomenon sped through space. 

Throughout written history, comets have been seen as omens.  Certainly, we are living through a time pivotal to human well-being and the future of the planet.  What might this comet portend? And when it returns in 6,800 years, as its orbital period projects, what will be the status of our planet and its creatures?  

On this night on Earth, in the elementary school’s parking lot, the mood was neighborly. Conversations ranged from the cosmos to Easton’s 175th anniversary, to children’s science projects at school. One heard occasional exclamations as Neowise shared the spotlight with other celestial wonders. “Look! A shooting star,” “a satellite!” “That’s Cassiopeia,” and, “the other night I saw the space station!”     
  
Binoculars were shared, and one gracious gentleman, his voice muffled through his mask, offered views of Saturn and Jupiter through his telescope. “Can you see them?” he said.

My God!  I could!  I saw Jupiter’s bands and Saturn’s rings! I saw tiny moons, which the man named, and I quickly forgot. But oh, what a thrill to turn my eyes and thoughts upward, far beyond man’s reach.  No one spoke of Covid.  No one mentioned politics. For the moment, I put down the personal sorrows of recent months. It was a summer’s night, and a warm breeze lifted my hair. Around me, as they have for eons, my fellow humans gathered to marvel, in awe, at the heavens.    

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Flag: for Country or Self?

As many did, after the 9/11 attacks, Dave and I hung an American flag on our front door. We were proud and emotional in this show of solidarity and love of country. It was particularly meaningful as the flag had belonged to Anthony Sylvestro, Dave’s father, a WW II veteran who’d been a radio operator on a B-24 Liberator.  All three Sylvestro brothers served during the war, in Italy, the Pacific, and North Africa, and it is extraordinary to imagine the sacrifice of their parents, recent Italian immigrants, as their boys put their lives at risk for their new homeland.  

Through our forefathers, Dave and I represent the melding of people who have sought and fought for America’s promise of equality, justice, freedom, and opportunity. My ancestors arrived centuries ago and my grandfather fought in WW I. Dave’s father and uncles fought to uphold American ideals and stop the spread of Nazism. While America has never lived up to the ideals professed in our Declaration of Independence and on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, in a mystical way, our flag has been a symbol of the country’s aspirations to those ideals.

Now the flag that liberated concentration camps and gave hope to refugees fleeing oppression is brandished by those decrying the trampling of their freedoms when asked to wear a mask to protect themselves, their loved ones, and those around them. 

If the veterans who saved us from Nazi rule were not dying of Covid, would they proclaim that yes, this particular freedom was what they fought for, given the resulting increased deaths of Americans? Given that this choice could lead to disease and a ventilator?  Given that exercising this right could consign unwitting passers-by to the same? What has become of those “who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life”(1.)? How can people who demonstrate so little care for others’ well-being wave the flag and claim personal liberty as justification? How can the president and those who support him take issue with so small a “sacrifice” as wearing a mask when it might save their countrymen a terrible death? 

The freedom represented by the flag is not so trivial as license to do whatever you want. Freedom is a privilege and comes with responsibility to the greater good.  November will prove our Declaration’s current status: Who are we now, America? 



*1. From “America the Beautiful” by Katharine Lee Bates

Monday, June 8, 2020

Inside the Skin

An unmasked man called me a sheep this morning as I waited in line at Trader Joe’s.  Believe me, I dished out some solid zingers later as I re-lived the conversation in my car on the way to my next errand. But, why would a short man with a mustache insult a masked gray-haired woman in a flannel shirt and flats for no reason?

I’d arrived at the parking lot at 7:50 AM to take advantage of senior shopping hours. Because of the store’s effort to reduce capacity to enable social distancing, a line had formed. It ended by a table occupied by two men drinking coffee outside Bagel Plus.  “Are you in line?” I asked. They shook their heads no, and I took my position 6’ beyond them.

One of the men said, “So.  What’s in Trader Joe’s that’s worth waiting for? You could cross the street to Shop Rite and walk right in.” He’d been pleasant, so I launched into my list of Trader Joe’s delicacies: shrimp burgers, dark chocolate covered peanut butter cups, frozen halibut, and mahi-mahi burgers, “heavenly when grilled!” I added. 

He nodded, satisfied, and said, “They have some specialty items then.” 

They were joined, at that point, by the short, rude man.  My shopping motives held apparent fascination for he, too, asked me the same question about waiting. His friend said, “She’s already explained. I’ll fill you in.”

“Sheep,” said the rude man, looking at me.

Startled, it took me a moment to process. “That’s an insult,” I said, though with question in my tone, for really, why would he bother?  The man shrugged and nodded. 

There are countless “I-should-have-saids” that would have been wise, calm, and cutting, and if anything similar happens again, my in-car rehearsal has now equipped me. But I am spoiled in being unaccustomed to fending off unkindness, and all I came up with on the spot was bland truth, “it’s not sheep-ish to stay healthy. “

After Trader Joe’s, I drove to Stop & Shop, still rankling, but not hurt.  Being called a sheep is the mildest of affronts, but the comment stayed with me.  Given the protests churning the country, I reflected, how would it feel to live with the routine threat of harsh words, racial slurs, injury, injustice, and death?  These based not on one’s actions but on something that was God’s decision alone.  When does that hurt, frustration, and anger erupt? 

- When, for eight minutes, Officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd, a black man who has done no harm. 

- When Ahmaud Arbery is hunted down and shot for jogging while black.           

- When plainclothes police burst into an apartment without knocking and fatally shoot Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT, eight times. 

- When cell phone technology permits video proof, and white people can no longer look away. 

Brute force. Intrusion with no knock. Rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters. Have the First and Fourth Amendments been scrapped? Is the Constitution still law or just a list of suggestions? And when we love color and diversity in all else, in flowers, fabric, and our fellow creatures, why is it cause for suspicion in our own kind?

As streets worldwide boiled with protesters willing to risk Covid so their voices might be heard, I shopped for groceries.  While passing in aisles, masked shoppers were cordial, saying, “hello” or “excuse me” or “stay safe.” Thoughts of the rude man subsided as I sought corn meal, potatoes, butter, and birthday cards. 

My rounds complete, I wheeled my cart to check out. The cashier, an African American woman with a tumble of magenta curls, greeted me. Her mask hid her mouth, but her eyes were smiling. No one waited behind me, so our conversation was leisurely as she registered my selections, and I packed them in paper bags. We talked about the anguish of past weeks, and our hope that good would come of it.  She told me about her daughter, who’d been successfully treated for bone cancer when she was eight years old, and how grateful they both were to her doctors. She drew herself taller as she told me her daughter had wished to give back, and now, at 34, is a radiologist. 

Oh, the cashier was proud of her girl! She pulled out her phone to show me a picture of the two of them, and in the photo, I was able to see my cashier’s smile. In that moment, we were two moms bending over the phone, teary-eyed together at the thought of the torment of her child’s long-ago cancer and beaming (behind our masks) at today’s pride in her daughter’s path. 

When we parted, we were earnest in our wishes that each other stay healthy, and curved our arms in an air hug. Surely that encounter is the one more true? May the horror of Floyd’s death and the furor released shock us into connection with the people inside the skin.




Friday, May 1, 2020

COVID Question: What Is Okay?


“Is it okay if I sit in a chair?” 

“Omigod Casey! Of Course! Please! Sit!”

Our daughter had come by with a card and a plant to wish me happy birthday. Dave and I had greeted her from the door, and as was true the other time she visited during quarantine, she’d stopped in the yard, well clear of us.  This day, however, was rainy and cold.  It felt wrong to have my girl right in front of me, on my birthday, standing outside in the rain. “Don’t you think it would be okay if you came in? We’ve been really careful and so have you…” I wanted her to feel welcome, but under no pressure. 

Usually, routines and schedules comfortably disguise the fact that uncertainty is part of life. Now our cruel teacher, COVID, has arrived, without warning, no end points, many questions, and inadequate testsIn the absence of clarity, almost everything requires caution, even a visit from a daughter.

Casey was wearing a form-fitted mask over her nose and mouth. And while eyes are often called windows to the soul, recently I have found, through numerous masked interactions, that the rest of the face plays an essential supporting role. Smiles communicate themselves to the eyes somewhat, but not in full; “I’m smiling at you!” I’ve felt compelled to say to cashiers and those I encounter at the store. 

Through her years of involvement in theater, Casey is practiced in exaggerating facial expressions; her eyebrows alone can tell a story. But as she stood on our threshold that rainy day, I missed seeing the smile hidden under her mask. 

“This is so weird,” she said, and Lord, it is. All so weird.  

“Do you think it’s okay if I put my arm around you?” I asked.  I was pretty sure she’d say yes, but she has baby Eleanor at home, so we’re acutely conscious of the risk of infection. Twice, when two weeks had passed since the last grocery run, we planned a visit… and backed off.  But why wouldn’t that be okay? With both households in quarantine and plenty of hand-washing? The thing is, six-foot distancing would be impossible with the baby, and masks would be an invitation for curious little fingers; we’d have to feel comfortable about hugs and kisses. Tucker and Lisa and their kids live in Boston, so for now, seeing them is out. But Eleanor’s close by, and it’s tempting. 

Casey agreed to the arm hold, and so in a bold, break-out move, I gave her a one-armed… hm.  What was it?  Not a hug, not a squeeze, just an awkward gesture that one might give an acquaintance for a posed photo. What a departure from our usual full-bodied, I-Love-You hugs. 


We moved to the den where an end-of-April fire was blazing in the fireplace, and that’s when she asked if it was okay to sit. Again, Dave and I spluttered with invitations and assurances, the anomaly of it all sparking our over-abundance of “Sit! Yes!  Sit!  OMG, of course!  Sit!” 

Casey had groceries in the car so we knew the visit would be brief. Obviously, we also knew she’d been to the store.  Hmm.  I'd touched her coat… I better wash my hands.

Not wanting to convey even a whisper of concern, I rose without announcement, leaving Casey and Dave to chat. In the kitchen, I turned on the faucet, but kept the force low, hoping they wouldn’t hear it. I didn’t want my daughter to know I was washing my hands because I touched her.  

I returned to my seat and maybe ten minutes later, Casey said, her voice slightly muffled because of her mask, “Mom.  I'm thinking... you should wash your hands because you put your arm around me.” 

“Done,” I said without Guilt or Apology, my frequent emotional companions, but I couldn’t escape the sadness of the situation. 

It is easy for me to be grateful, to count my innumerable blessings. I am keenly aware of the contrast between my enviable state and the horrors and heroics facing others. Mostly, surprisingly, and perhaps shamefully too, I feel cheerful. But the reality comes in waves, sometimes fanned by Guilt and Apology brandishing a heartbreaking article or unnerving news, and more often, simply from missing my people. 

I will never take hugs for granted again.