The days are getting longer, with less substance, a kind of stretching blank miasma. Or an expanse of cloudy water, with no visible edge or shore.
We work at our tasks in the morning, my son starting at 2:30am and my daughter at 5am with a midterm exam.
I wake at 4am with a nosebleed, which kind of sets the tone for the whole day.
The monotony is broken somewhat with a mid-morning delivery of caramel Tim Tams – the management? the caterers? At this point I’m almost beyond caring – and then lunch. It’s pho, something we’ve all been missing, rich and tangy.
After lunch my daughter starts a physics lab on Zoom – we’re under strict instructions to be quiet. So of course my son starts up some wall juggling in the bedroom: thwump, thwump, thwump.
Being a responsible parent, of course I go and join in. He’s throwing against the bathroom door, and I just can’t resist: I lurk on the other side, wait til he’s in a throwing rhythm, then pull the door swiftly open.
The look on his face as the ball flies past my head into the bathroom is priceless. We both giggle, and do it again, and again, cackling hysterically. I shut the toilet lid after a couple of near misses, then comes a sharp call from the living room: “Shut up!”
We exchange glances. Then we move into the bedroom and he teaches me to wall-juggle.
The afternoon passes in a bleary fog. I know I need to keep doing things to stop myself sinking into an abyss of depression, so I battle some more with work and the wifi, then strum some tunes on the ukulele. (The lab is over; we’re allowed to make noise now.)
I learn E major (it’s hard), delighted I can now play Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
The reaction from my son is immediate and fierce.
“No. Please don’t play that one.”
Undaunted, I launch into “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and –
“No, don’t play that one either. You learn all these chords and you only use, what, three of them in those stupid songs.”
“Well, what do you want me to play?”
My son grabs the ukulele, picks out A minor, G and C, and hums a tune. I have no idea what it is. He fiddles a bit on YouTube, then produces the familiar strains of “Riptide.”
It’s easy enough – just three chords. I start it up, humming the chorus until my daughter strides in with a menacing look.
“Don’t you dare play that song. Just don’t.”
I give up. I’ll wait until it’s cool enough on the balcony – maybe the birds will appreciate my music.
“I just want to be out of here,” says my daughter restlessly, and I couldn’t agree more.
We workout, three intense sets after our break day. I can’t help liking the instructor, who’s lean and boppy and super-positive in California-dancer-yogi way. As she shimmies and shakes she dispenses earnest advice that seems to apply both to her complex moves and life in general.
“Remember, you don’t always need to be in control,” she says, executing a perfect hip-circle with flamenco arms. “When you try to control everything, you don’t enjoy anything. Sometimes just have to let go and trust yourself.”
Incredible. She’s just summed up my entire life including the last 10 days of quarantine. Out of the mouths of YouTube babes, etc. I listen avidly for more, doing my best to squat, kick and flick my arms all at once without falling over.
“Come on!” she exhorts, flicking out her hands side to side with a beatific smile. “Just shake out all that negativity, you don’t need it anymore!”
I shake with enthusiasm, whacking my son’s face as he dives after the juggling balls and back-kicking him with a lunge as he weaves in and out in a silly parody of the moves.
It’s all kind of fun, but my body’s getting more and more achy from the hard bed, the inactivity, the bad dreams, the worry. After the workout I do some yoga, and start crying during a tough straddle stretch. It just hurts so much, and this situation is so stressful.
I think about Dad, who’s going through a spinal MRI today – it’s an extra scan to figure out what’s causing him all the severe leg pain that’s been getting worse for a year or so now. The oncologist wonders if it’s the cancer, not just sciatica.
I lean forward, my hips aching from a year of working from home, and think about pain, and worry, and swimming. When I first learned to swim it took me a long time to get the hang of it. I would work my arms like mad and still keep sinking. Floating took even longer, that subtle art of just being, of trusting, allowing yourself to merge with the unpredictable rocking surface of the water. Of trusting that you’ll live, not drown.
I love swimming now, being in the ocean or lakes or rivers, but there’s always that tension – you have to keep moving or you’ll sink. Unless you flip over, give up control, trust.
Dad calls to let me know he’s doing okay after the scan. I ask if he’s gone swimming lately – he’s a lifelong swimmer, competitive in school and still able, at 86, with terminal cancer, to get through a kilometer faster than I can at the local ocean baths.
He hasn’t been this week – too rainy and windy.
Dinner arrives. It’s delicious: Triple Mushroom Ravioli with Heirloom Carrots, Herb Velouté and Herbs, according to the little slip of paper inside the bag. I have a civilized glass of wine with my daughter, who’s thrilled that, being 18, she’s legally allowed to drink in this country. Then we wander out to the balcony to admire the giant fruit bats wheeling in jagged arcs around us in the dusk, before cuddling up for a movie.
Ten days down, four to go. I’m swimming as hard as I can, keeping busy, churning my arms – but I still feel like I’m sinking into this murky water, enveloped in fog, with no edge in sight.
I take a breath, trying to float. Then another. And another.