Earlier this fall I spent several weeks living in a state of blissful denial. What pandemic? What systemic racism? What economic crisis? What democracy in shambles? What wildfires? What hurricanes? Friends would ask how I was doing, and I would reply, “Surprisingly well, thanks!” I took care of the kids, the husband, the house. I read and I wrote. I woke each morning with a feeling of well-being and optimism. I knew that I wasn’t facing certain things, but I was okay with that. It felt healthy. But a few weeks ago reality reared its ugly head when one of my children got a concussion, and then, two weeks later broke an arm. Oh, right. I can’t keep my teenagers safe. And also…the world is falling apart.
Without the protection of my rose-colored glasses I am, once again, having trouble sleeping. At night I slip into bed and Harlan spoons me, placing one hand over my heart. Normally this soothes, but lately it’s not woking very well. My mind remains alert, and my body buzzes with electricity. Harlan’s breath, like a wisp of wind on my earlobe, agitates me. The white noise machine seems louder than usual, and I am startled to hear seagulls outside my window. The cat on the bed and the dog on the floor annoy make rustling noises. I breathe deeply, trying to slow my heartbeat. And night after night, once I finally fall asleep, I have different versions of the same dream.
I’m walking through a small, quintessentially American town, with a gazebo in the center of the town square and flags waving from storefronts along the main street…and no one is wearing a mask. Everyone is going about their business, and I can’t quite put my finger on what’s wrong. I enter a building that is both a bookstore and a library. I pick up a book from a table display, and a woman approaches, maskless, and compliments me on my choice. As I exit the store grasping a brown paper book bag in my hand, I debate whether to put on my mask. I don’t want to stand out, so I ignore my discomfort.
I’m at a large conference, where everyone is, once again, sans masks. Hundreds of people mill about the split level space, chatting casually as if it’s not the worst year in anyone’s memory. I bump into two of my college classmates, with whom I was once very close but to whom I have barely spoken in years. The one with the long blond hair gesticulates as she speaks to the one with the long brunette hair. I want to stop and talk with them, but I’m swept along by the crowd, and they slowly fade from view. I ride an escalator up to the next level and enter a banquet hall in which a large group of my former teaching colleagues is celebrating the end of the school year. For some reason my parents are there, sitting at the end of a bench on the far side of the room, ostensibly trying to keep their distance from the others, but there are ten other people on the bench, and everyone is squished together. I want to admonish Mom and Dad for not wearing their masks, but I’d rather not cause a scene, so, again, I stay silent.
I wake at 3:00 am feeling out of control. In an effort to retrieve, at the very least, the illusion of control (and hopefully improve my sleep), I sit on the blue couch in the dimly lit family room and write voter registration letters to senior citizens in Texas.