What Else Is There?
A Sunday Story that is not mine alone, but fused together by the hearts of many.
I get into the car and immediately take off my mask. I tear if off really. I cannot remove it quickly or forcefully enough, like going from work pants to sweats after a long day, yanking and twisting and sighing with such heaviness at the perceived ability to breathe again, to expand and not just contract.
I wad it up and toss it onto the passenger’s seat. I hate it. It was lovingly made for me by a dear friend and I cherish its sweet pattern and the soft cloth, but I hate that I had to get it from her mailbox as I waved to her and her boys where they stood on the porch, yelled my thanks across their lawn.
Once more it has ruined my makeup too, though why I keep wearing makeup I don’t even know. I go nowhere other than this grocery store and when I’m here my face is mostly covered anyway. Nobody can see the smooth foundation or the lipgloss, the bronzer that makes me look like I’ve been somewhere other than Google meets in my pajama bottoms. They can see my eyes with the mascara and smokey shadow, but then again they can’t.
Nobody is looking at me anymore. Nobody seems to be looking at anyone.
Were we ever?
But I continue to wear the makeup. I wear it to feel more like myself I guess. Wearing it is one of the few things I can still do that I used to do, before all of the things that never happened.
I put the car in reverse and realize I’ve forgotten to use the hand sanitizer and now Corona Virus could be all over my car and I don’t care. I don’t give one shit, but really I do. I care. I’m just tired of this and then again I feel like an asshole for being tired of a mask and hand sanitizer when people endure so much more. So much. This is really almost nothing to endure. This is the smallest thing next to all of the big things in the world, but still I pull into a parking spot at the edge of the crowded store and put the car in park and cry.
I cry, just like I do all the time now it seems, and I hate myself for it. It’s weak. Or is it? Maybe instead of being weak it is the strength to feel and hold so much that at least a little bit of water has to come out, has to free up room to feel and hold more.
I cry because I have not been to work in eight weeks and I cry because at the same time I don’t want to go back. How much longer can I be without my paycheck though? How much longer will unemployment money even exist?
How much longer can I listen to people demonize me too, demonize me for getting six hundred dollars more than they think I should in this emergency? We never want to help anyone. We always think everyone should have to do it themselves, even though none of us ever do. Not really.
I cry because my daughter went to live with her dad where the rules are not so heavy and because I want her to come back to me and because I don’t want her to at all. I don’t want to worry about easing her fear and grief when my own is so large. I’m not equipped for mothering right now. I am just not equipped.
I cry because I’ve always believed everything will be okay in the end, but this time I don’t even know what the end could possibly look like and I’m starting to think it won’t be okay and I’m scared. There was a line outside the store when I got here today. People in masks waiting to get in because there can’t be too many at one time or we’ll be too close to each other.
Too close in a world where we are so far apart.
I cry because that line looks and feels so much more horrifying than it is. It hurts like something else, but I tell myself it’s just a line. Don’t give it so much meaning, all that power. Stay in the moment, I tell myself. Stay here. There is plenty of food now. We aren’t in line because there isn’t enough food, and I cry with relief and gratitude for that, side by side with fear about a time when maybe there won’t be.
I cry for the smallest most privileged things like hot stone massages and cups of coffee handed to me across counters, the same way I cry for the largeness of how we are destroying our chances here on earth and for all the people without access to water, even before this. I cry about hair color and pedicures in the same moment that I cry about vaccines and ventilators and funerals that can’t be held.
This is life. We expect it to be all joy. We expect so much less struggle and so much more comfort and we think that if it is too much hard and not enough easy then there is a fight to be had. But sometimes there’s no fight.
Sometimes there is no fight.
Sometimes there is just understanding that things are hard, but that we can do things that are hard and they grow us. Sometimes there is just the next right thing. Just do the next right thing and the next right thing after that and hold the understanding that living a human experience is not at all easy and we make it harder by being so stupidly human.
I sit in my car at the edge of the parking lot and I cry and I want us to be something else. I think that the time for humanity has passed. We need to be more than human, better and deeper and more vast. We need to know things in our hearts and in the pits of our stomachs and these things have to be about love and connectedness and justice and when they’re not then we have to know that they are not the next right thing and change course right away and not debate about it. There’s no debate. This is the way.
The only one.
Leaning my head back against he seat, I cry about that. I cry because so many have created other truths, truths about time and money and possessions and health and rights and status and their own larger part when really they are playing so small and so dangerous, and these truths are lies.
These truth are lies just like the ones about the earth and our place on it. I cry because even most of the supposed good guys won’t look at the way we are destroying nature. They won’t look. So how will it ever stop? How?
The helplessness overwhelms me now, even as I know with certainty the power we have to create something else, and I cry with a wadded up mask on the seat beside me because I should never have to explain the cancer of the soul and intellect that is falsely leading our country, and the enablers who prove that the time for humanity has so definitely passed. It has passed. And if we don’t become something other than human we won’t survive.
I start to think more about this. Our country. All the countries. Constructs created to enforce borders and differences and superiority, walls meant to deny and to give as men see fit, so many men in all their falsehoods about about themselves. I start to think about this and to feel the strength it takes to hold so much, that water actually pours out of you, but then the phone rings.
It’s my brother and I remember that I was supposed to pick up our mother’s prescription. It’s for her heart, a heart that pumped with fierce strength before this, but that is failing now.
Before this she didn’t need a prescription. She didn’t need groceries delivered either, or her lawn tended to or face coverings left on her patio because we don’t want to get too close to the woman who loves us more than anyone ever will.
And it’s damaged her heart.
So I have to grab the clean mask that’s in my glove compartment because that’s a thing now, clean masks in the glove compartment, and I can hardly remember a time when it wasn’t like this. It seems as if it’s always been this way and it always will be and it’s fascinating how the brain will do that, adjust for new reality even as we beg it no to be so.
I slip the elastic straps over my ears and instantly dislike the pressure and the scratching as I pull the fabric up over my mouth and nose and it feels like I pull all the oxygen out of the car too. It feels as though I am suffocating. Buried alive.
But I'm not. I'm not buried alive. I'm just resisting too much, and the resistance makes it feel as though I can’t see as well either. I can’t see as well, but the mask falls only across the top of my nose, not very near my eyes, yet still seeming to obstruct my vision, and my thoughts too. It obstructs my thoughts. It feels all at once like not just a shield against a virus, but a damming up of all of my senses, a barricade for information coming in and going out. I’m disoriented, and that will only get worse as I try to navigate a parking lot and a crowd and shelves and aisles and transactions and language, as I try to speak and listen through woven cloth.
As I try to speak and listen through woven cloth, I feel clumsy and unsure, straining to make sense without smiles and other movements of the face that I think we need. I think we need this. How come I never knew how much another person’s face provides me? The face of a stranger in a parking lot or down an aisle or at a cash register. How come I never knew that a modest layer of textile separating me from people I’ve never even met can create such uncertainty, cause me to hesitate and doubt and search so much?
I get out of the car and the world doesn’t seem like the world I know, but what world do I know anyway? What world? It’s a world in which I cry all the time and I still wear makeup because wearing makeup is one of the few things I can do that I used to do, before all of the things that never happened, but if they never happened then they were never going to and you can’t mourn things that never were and you can’t even mourn things that once were because all that exists is now.
And also, fuck that.
Now is not all that exists, not in the mind anyway. In the mind that feels partly diminished by a mask and elastic over our ears, now is not all that exists. Before is a place that still resides and what was supposed to be resides too and wondering what will come next is taking up residence as well and I want all the answers. I want to firmly plant my feet in certainty as I walk this lonely parking lot full of people to get back in a line meant to make sure too many don’t enter at one time.
Too many. Too close.
In a world where we are so far apart.
I smile at a man I’m passing and I try to stay six feet away from him, but not so unnerved by the woven cloth that covers our smiles, and not so unnerved by the vibrations of love and connectedness and justice that I can feel in my bones, that I can feel the world longing for. I try to just do the next right thing. I try to just do the next right thing, grounded in the truth that the time for humanity has passed, that we have to become something more spacious than human so that we can thrive on this spinning earth body.
I try to stay grounded in the truth that this is why it is so hard.
It’s so hard because we are becoming.
The masks fall only across the tops of our noses, yet still obstruct our vision and our thoughts, dam up our senses, because they are changing us into something else, something more whole and less unsure. We feel disoriented and clumsy because that is how it feels to become, when you have not yet arrived.
This world doesn’t seem like the one we know, because it is unbecoming that world.
It is unbecoming.
It seems harder to breath because we are transforming into a new earth and a new way and we are mourning the old as it leaves us, even though it has to go and we want it to. We know it’s not working, but still we grasp. We grasp because loss is like that. It creates grief even when what we are losing is better off gone. Still it hurts. It crawls right up and tries to make a home in us. Loss does. It make us unsteady and fearful and so we grasp for what we know even though it’s destroying everything and we can admit it, but still it is familiar and familiar feels warm and so our moving away is slow. It is so slow. It is too slow.
And that makes it hurt more.
I approach the sidewalk and the line is gone now and this offers me some rootedness, but it’s only because I give so much power to things, so much meaning. I have to be careful not to let a line outside the store undo me and not to let a mask undo me either. They are not the truth.
But then again they are. They are so much truth.
I want to firmly plant my feet in certainty but maybe nothing is certain except for uncertainty.
But then again maybe some things are certain.
Maybe love. Love and connectedness and justice and doing the next right thing.
Maybe those are certain truths. I think they are. In that place way down deep that feels like a knowing without knowing I think they are and I feel that place all the time now too. I feel it all the time and I try to explain it, but it doesn't have language. So I have to leave many conversations. I have to leave the talking that no language has been created for. Only knowing is there. And not everyone knows.
In the entryway of the store again now, our masks are obstructing our vision and thoughts, damming up our senses as they change us into something more whole and less unsure, making us disoriented and clumsy as the world becomes something else. But as it becomes, it is unbecoming too. And it’s unbecoming creates grief and loss and more uncertainty than maybe we are built for and this is why the tears fall so easily now. They fall so easily, but I don’t turn away. I take it in. I hold the discomfort, even as I push at it. I push it away and I take it in and it goes on and on like this day after day because we are becoming.
So I am sorry and frustrated as I reach for the hand sanitizer, but I do it. I do the next right thing. Out of love and connectedness and justice I do the next right thing and I try not to think so much about when this will end but just that it will. This will end.
But what is it that’s even ending? What is it? And what will become?
These are the closest words to a language that has no words and that not everyone knows.
I’m rubbing sanitizer into my hands now and trying to breathe through woven cloth and too much anxiety as something that feels divine and heart-like wants to make itself known in this world where so many are still pushing it away.
I’m rubbing sanitizer into my hands now when one of the store’s staff members is unpacking boxes of patio furniture and a piece of a table leg goes flying and lands at my feet and I reach out and bend down and take it into my hands and step toward her. I get close. More than six feet. I don’t mean to, and also I do.
She puts out her own hand and I place the furniture piece in her palm and my fingertips brush against her and we notice but we don’t wince and we don’t look away. Over the rim of our next-right-thing-masks we hold each other and I think she is smiling as she says thank you and I say you’re welcome and what else is there anyway?
What else is there?