A few days before the shutdown my husband and I were out to dinner with friends, and when we were leaving, he asked me if I'd noticed the painting that was for sale hanging on the wall behind our friends' heads.
I hadn't, but this was not surprising. I've never been an observant person. For the most part I have always lived inside my head, one of the many coping mechanisms traced back to my childhood when my small world was intolerable and I was powerless to do anything about it. But this painting, my husband said, it was so weird and silly,
bright orange and kind of cartoon-ish-looking, a stick-like figure and the words Moderon Love written across the top. Why was the word modern spelled wrong? And what was the stick-like figure supposed to represent? Why was the whole thing orange? He was so animated just talking about it that we did something we'd never done before,
we went back to the restaurant and bought the painting. A few days later, we were "sheltering in place." My husband turned the dining room into command central of his office and worked his twelve-hour days in there. I finished the book I was writing and then I revised it and revised it again.
Writing, I could plainly see, was another perfect, straight-out-of-my-childhood coping mechanism. (It turns out there is a benefit to having PTSD after all, and that is: you know instinctively what to do when the world shrinks down, intolerably, and you are powerless.) We took a lot of walks with the dog and one day we saw a broken chair set out on someone's curb and my husband said, I like that chair, and we brought it home
and he spent multiple hours sanding it and painting it. I took apart the koi pond in the backyard and planted an herb garden in its place. I read too much news and swore off the news and then immediately broke my promise and read the news again, until I felt so sick with anxiety, I stopped. Until I started again. I refurbished an old dresser.
I followed epidemiologists on twitter and watched them, in real time, discuss studies of the virus being airborne, the efficacy of masks, and their worries that mask-wearing would become politicized. I watched daily news conferences with our governor and the state's health director until scared angry people protested on her front lawn with guns and she quit her job. I bought a set of colorful bowls.
I woke up in the middle night in a panic, freaking out about the people I loved getting sick, dying, my kids far away, and then one adult kid home and how could all of us make it through this Thing safely, one month, two months, six, twelve. I made zucchini bread with the absurd amount of zucchini from my garden.
I went back to work at the library after five months furloughed and worried that I'd catch the virus and bring it into my house and kill my family. I painted the front porch.
Friends got sick. I started writing another book.
Okay, maybe we are powerless in our own small worlds, but if I have learned anything this Pandemic Year, it's that we are lucky too, to have other worlds to escape into, pretty bowls to eat our cereal out of, fresh herbs and freshly painted rooms,
artwork on the wall that makes us scratch our heads and smile.