My subconscious is a weird place to visit these days. Like everyone else on the planet my interrupted nights are a whirling, swirling Dali-esque dreamscape.
My family has just landed at JFK, returning to the States from some unknown place, when Harlan vanishes. I race through the terminals in a rush of anxiety, but no luck. Eventually I remember my phone’s “Find My” app and track him down. He’s in a Yellow Cab heading west, leaving the rest of us to find our own way home.
It’s my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. My mom and I sit at a restaurant table, awaiting my dad. I spy him in the street below and run down to greet him. As I approach I see that his wooly white hair has been dyed mud brown and styled in a smooth bowl cut. He’s wearing a polyester leisure suit over a wide-collared, patterned shirt. When I express my dismay at his transformation he replies, “I wanted to look younger for your mother.”
I am at my high school boyfriend’s house getting ready for prom, but we are adults, and I have nothing to wear. His baby sister, now a med student, offers me one of her flowing peasant blouses. I am not sure what I’ll wear on the bottom.
I ride down the middle of a tree-line boulevard atop a woolly mammoth. His bristly fur is like a lambswool blanket beneath me. The sky overhead is clear, and the sun warms the top of my head. From my vantage point the cars parked along the street are Matchbox-sized. There is no one else around.
I wake, groggy and disoriented, to a reality that feels no different from my dreams. I check on the kids, who stare vacantly at screens while their overwhelmed teachers attempt to finish out the school year on Zoom or Google Classroom. Sometimes my children turn off their cameras and play games on their phones until the period is over. My daughter clears piles of clothes from the floor of her sister’s larger bedroom so she can dance, virtually, with the other members of her Contemporary class. Sometimes she dances in her pajamas. The class is making a video in place of a spring performance that will no longer take place. Her twin runs in circles around our backyard. Forty minutes later her shoes have carved a track of flattened grass at the perimeter of the lawn. She does 300 squats, then wonders why her quads are sore. The garage has become our son’s world. It’s his school, his clubhouse, and his chill-out zone. He moves back and forth between the scratched wooden desk in the corner and the ratty grey couch that faces the X-Box. Occasionally he ventures out to the driveway to shoot hoops with a slightly flat ball. Fully inflated, it could bounce too high and end up in the cul-de-sac below.
Our pets have all gone crazy. Riley’s obsession with his humans is at an 11. He is so used to having the five of us around at all times that when someone stops petting him for a split second he barks and places his paw on the offender’s arm. Chester has decided that the litter box is not an acceptable toilet. He prefers to defecate into the pile of dirt and wood chips outside the front door. The other day I collected 200 pieces of dried cat poop. I’ve tried spraying the pile with Lysol to discourage him. It hasn’t worked. When I fail to properly dispose of the poop Riley enjoys it as a mid-afternoon snack. Abby has been possessed by spirits. She hisses at the empty air, attacks her tail, and zooms around the house like a madwoman, skidding across the floor as she flees apparitions invisible to me. All of the animals follow me around like I’m the Pied Piper. It’s lost its charm. Harlan and I pass one another in the hallway and exchange half-hearted smiles. Sometimes just the sight of me irritates him. We’ve been cooped up together for eons.
Beyond the four walls of our house things are just as surreal. People out walking along the creek give everyone they pass a wide berth, afraid of catching cooties. I wait outside the grocery store, standing on a line of tape that keeps me 6 feet behind the person in front of me, waiting to be let in. The greeter asks whether I want a basket or a cart. And do I need a pair of gloves?
“Here you go,” he says, as he rolls a small cart my way. “I wiped it down for you.”
Under the fluorescent lights I follow arrows on the floor. They point in only one direction, but no one seems to be paying them any mind. I hold my breath as people cross my path, too close for comfort. Not breathing won’t protect me from the invisible droplets that might be floating around, but I do it anyway. Seven weeks ago I was the freak in the mask. Now we are all freaks. Some more fashionable than others. A young woman with a stylish Etsy number stands in the middle of an aisle, scrutinizing the boxes of gluten free flour. She picks up a box, then puts it back. She grabs another. This goes on for five minutes. Each time she touches something with her ungloved hands I imagine an army of germs scuttling over every inch. I can’t pass her safely. So I wait. She doesn’t glance my way. Someone enters the aisle behind me, assesses the situation, and backs out.
At check-out I attempt conversation with the cashier behind the plexiglass barrier. I think I recognize his eyes. A glance at his name tag confirms that I am correct.
“I hear that all of the employees have remained healthy.”
“So far,” he replies.
Apple Pay is tricky. My phone’s Touch ID doesn’t recognize my thumbprint through my glove.
I return home, bring my bags straight to the deck, and wipe down all of my items before putting them away. I recycle the bags and wash my hands for 20 seconds.
I FaceTime my parents, just 17 miles but a universe away, and blow them kisses through the screen. In a few weeks we were to depart for a once-in-a-lifetime extended family trip to the Galapagos for my dad’s 90th birthday. Instead, Harlan and the kids and I will drive across the Golden Gate with a cake and ring my parents’ bell. When my dad comes to the door we’ll stand at a distance, singing “Happy Birthday” while holding our arms out wide, enveloping him in a virtual hug.
UFO’s are real.
We are living in a funhouse world.