Bonnie and Heather. In Rehab.

Since the last post, my vacation in Milwaukee ended and I went home. A week later my sister flew to Austria to accompany me for the first half of my three weeks in an oncological rehabilitation center – a place we affectionately refer to as “the Gulag” and where we have continued to have profound conversations that set off eruptions of giggles for two hours afterwards. (I say two hours, but I just had another one while writing this and it has been two days.) Anyway, here’s the latest one.

So, we are sitting on a bench in front of the center looking up at it, when Bonnie asks:

“What do you suppose the meaning of that logo is?”

“Pff. I don’t know. Maybe ‘Make a wish’?”

“Or maybe ‘He loves me’.

“Or . . . ‘You’ve got a one in eight chance.’

On Bodies

robinson

While surfing around for something to watch, I checked out Ted Talks. I clicked on “25 Most Popular” and was surprised to see the 15-year-old talk by Sir Ken Robinson still at the top of the list. I loved that talk from the first time (of many, many times) I listened to it. There was one part – and not a really central one – that has stuck with me for some reason. Robinson asserts that “the purpose of the education system is to produce university professors” and then goes off a bit sideways on that group . . . one that I belonged to more than any other at that time.

And I like university professors, but, you know, we shouldn’t hold them up as the high-water mark of all human achievement. They’re just a form of life. Another form of life. But they’re rather curious. And I say this out of affection for them: there’s something curious about professors. In my experience — not all of them, but typically — they live in their heads. They live up there and slightly to one side. They’re disembodied, you know, in a kind of literal way. They look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads. (Laughter) Don’t they? It’s a way of getting their head to meetings. (Laughter) If you want real evidence of out-of-body experiences, by the way, get yourself along to a residential conference of senior academics and pop into the discotheque on the final night. (Laughter) And there, you will see it. Grown men and women writhing uncontrollably, off the beat. (Laughter) Waiting until it ends, so they can go home and write a paper about it.

This section of the talk struck me so deeply because – except for the bad dancing part – I completely recognized my own relationship to my body. I lived mostly in my head, taking my body for granted and ignoring it as much as possible. It was basically just my head’s means of transport. I needed it to get my mind back and forth to work, to get my dog walked around the cornfield every day and to take my mind and heart on travels to different places. If my body ever needed my attention for some reason, it had to yell pretty loudly before I would listen.

And yell loudly it did last December.

One major change that has come from dealing with serious illness is that it has forced a realignment in the relationship between my body and mind. I have had to focus on my health and learn about every organ and system inside me. At the same time, I unavoidably and unfortunately discovered something else:

The human body is revolting.

Seriously, the body seems to have a hundred ways to shed and spread little pieces of itself all day long and every day. To continually eject its detritus out into the world in various forms.

Put aside the Big Five (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Number One and Number Two) and it turns out there are all these other ways for the body to get rid of stuff – from dandruff, to ear wax, to eye gunk. There are boogers and snot – sometimes aerosolized by sneezes. There is spit and drool and phlegm coughed up from the lungs. There are scabs and puss. There is burping and farting. There are secretions, menstruation, ejaculation, regurgitation. Hundreds of hairs and thousands (millions?) of skin particles departing every day. There are fingernail cuttings and callous scrapings. There is toe jam.

It is uncharacteristic of me to even talk about such gross things, much less write about them. In fact, words like “booger” in the paragraph above are probably making their debuts on this blog. I’m quite sure that “ejaculation” is.  But almost all of these bodily expulsions have become issues at one point or the other in the past three months. And with dignity being one of the first casualties of a cancer diagnosis, they have become topics of open conversation in my household. (It reminds me of our first days with Mitzi when we could spend hours discussing with fascination the changing color, volume, form, and consistency of her poop.) I haven’t been able to just ignore it all. And I sooooo want to. I want to get back to my more professorially distanced relationship to my body. But I am not sure that is possible.

In a therapy session I heard the theory that cancer patients see their lives as split into two – the Before and After Times, so to speak, separated by the day of the original discovery and preliminary diagnosis. I have been chewing on that nugget ever since. I have met cancer survivors who have called their tumors “a gift” because they were propelled into a whole new set of priorities and attitudes that changed their lives for the better somehow. My problem is that my Before Times Life was a pretty great one and not particularly in need of big changes. I don’t want to let it go – or to let go of the hope that I can get back to it someday.

And then there is my Trek* blog – a weird eclectic mix of memoir, reflection, musings, travel experiences, moments in parenting and teaching, silly daily life stuff, and the occasional rant about politics or religion. And chickens, of course. Goats sometimes too. The thing is – I like it the way it is. I don’t want it to turn into Cancer Blog. I don’t want to keep polluting it (like I have done here) with talk of disease and detritus, littering and splattering it with all the little undignified turds of the cancer experience.

So even though I have been writing and writing and writing, I haven’t been doing much posting. And I miss it! I need a solution. One where I can keep this Trek* the way it is and still share my cancer story with those who may be interested in that.

kraken01

So here is my little announcement . . .

I just set up a separate page where I will post all of the health-related stuff and where I will tell my whole cancer story from the beginning, one chapter at a time. You can get to that by clicking on “Let Loose the Kraken” up in the menu line. (I’m still working out the technical side, so expect some hiccups.) You can also get to it by clicking on this link:

https://circumstance227.wordpress.com/let-loose-the-kraken/

You can also ignore the page altogether, which, believe me, I will understand. Especially after this post, which gives you a little taste of what to expect there. It’s not all pretty.

Happy Times

It is a Halloween tradition of this blog to post something ghoulish. This year’s contribution comes to you thanks to the pwesident, coronavirus, my mother, and the latest book on my reading list.

While looking around for the next book to start, I first landed on “Factfulness” in which a cheery Swedish sociologist tries to convince the world that it really isn’t in a handbasket heading towards hell. In fact, all sorts of statistics show that in many issues  – infant mortality, overpopulation, girl’s education, extreme poverty, etc etc. – things have been improving for decades. After four or five chapters of this optimism, I found myself getting increasingly irritated. It all just didn’t jibe with my dark sense of the current world.

In an act of uncharacteristic perversity, I put “Factfulness” down and picked up this one instead:

I say perversity, because the other half of my brain has been feebly attempting to tune out all the sources of my constant low-grade anxiety. I no longer obsessively track the number of coronavirus cases in my home state. Now that my vote has been sent off (and officially received!), I try to tune out the daily political outrages from Twump & Co. I purposefully attempt to put myself into “travel mode” – that wonderful, peaceful state of mind I have whenever I am on the road with its blissful acceptance that “whatever happens now happens” and all will be good.

So, it is a strange time to pick up a book that “travels” back to a time and place of particular misery, desperation, death, insanity, tragedy, etc. in Wisconsin history. It is as if this choice is the ultimate anti-antidote to my current efforts to tune out. And yet, it has been strangely cathartic.

The actual physical book has a history of its own. It first spent about a decade on my mother’s coffee table. Over the years she asked me a multitude of times if I had read it, but I had never done more that pick it up, flip randomly through it and scan some of the pictures. She never stopped recommending it and so I eventually “borrowed” it. That was about 15 years ago. In the time since, it has switched from collecting my mother’s Wisconsin living room dust to collecting my Austrian library dust.

A few days ago, I dusted it off and cracked it open.

It’s the strangest thing I have ever read. There are no page numbers or chapter titles. It has three sections, but I see no real thematic reason for having them. Other than a loosely followed year-by-year chronology, there is no apparent organization in the selection and placement of the pictures. In between the years, there is a section of photographs that seem to bear no relation to the texts that precede or follow it. Here is a small sampling of ones that caught my attention:

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The text sections consist of snippets of newspaper articles, records from the state insane asylum, and short book excerpts by contemporaneous Wisconsinite authors. It is just a relentless piling on – like a mountain of carcasses outside a slaughterhouse – of suicides, murders, arson, epidemics, deadly snake oil cures, bank failures and economic ruin, commitments to insane asylums, looting vagabonds, religious delusions, and infant-sized coffins. Apparently, this period of economic depression in Wisconsin history (1890 – 1910) was a particularly bad one.

The high level of early voting has led Michael McDonald, the University of Florida professor who administers the U.S. Elections Project, to predict a record U.S. voter turnout of about 150 million, representing 65% of those eligible to vote, the highest rate since 1908.

By the time I finished the book, the year 2020 suddenly didn’t seem quite as bad. Now I know that there was at least one era in which life was nastier, more brutish and generally shorter. Coronavirus is awful but imagine how much worse it would be if it afflicted children first and foremost – the way many diseases of that period did. The Time of Twump has often made me feel something like despair, but lately it also seems to have set off the largest voter participation since  . . . well, since 1908 – as I just read yesterday.

It’s Halloween, which means there are just three more days until the election. I think I will be able to get through them, too, without throwing myself into a cistern or setting someone’s barn on fire.

Ten Ten Twenty Twenty

 

I like today’s date. I like the sound and the numerical symmetry of it. Seems like a day to do something with. Something memorable. Maybe start something new or end something that has gotten old. Or both.

To get some inspiration, I turned to the Google and quickly arrived at the NationalDayCalendar.com website. Here’s what I found:

Apparently, angel food cake, handbags and costume-swapping all have their own holidays. I wasn’t aware of that, maybe because none of these things particularly interest me. I also don’t decorate cakes, play chess or ride motorcycles. All that leaves is yarn and mental health, but, fortunately, there is currently no crisis in my life for me to crochet my way through.

I would like to know, though, why there is a coffee stain on the calendar. And why is it circling the 11th instead of the 10th? And why do the week rows on this calendar start on Tuesdays and end on Mondays? These are mysteries I would like to get to the bottom of.

Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

 

Call Me Franz

 

(Kur Report – Part 10 + “The End”)

 

My third week at the health resort went by so fast that I couldn’t really keep up with these reports. I left yesterday with quite different feelings than after my first two weeks. But let’s start with what was similar.

In my free time, I repeated some of the activities from my earlier visit – except this time it was summer, so the views were quite altered. First, I walked along the river to the Soldiers’ Cemetery again. With the gravestones no longer nearly buried in snow, the feeling was less poignant. On the other hand, I was struck by the dates on so many of them which I could now read – April or May 1945 – in other words, the very bitter end of the war here in Austria. I might do some research on that mystery . . .

 

My second re-visit was to the waterfall that runs straight through the town, basically slicing it into two halves. This time there was a lot more of it. I also discovered a little secret door into the rockface next to the rushing water. Another mystery to solve:

My other re-visits were to the various therapy stations. I found myself back in the Radon bath rooms and the mud pack rooms, but, alas, there were no reunions with Ötzi, Spandex Butt, or Lederhosen Butt. There was one Goretex Upper Thigh, but that was about it. While revisiting the swimming pool, there were no meetings at all – I had the whole place to myself.

 

The biggest change came in the fitness center room. As I inserted my chip card into the first machine, I was surprised at the weight level it instructed me to set – it was about three stages higher than what I had been doing the first time around. I strained and huffed and puffed through the first few machines, not really considering that something might be off. The computer told me what to do and I just assumed it had its reasons. By Machine 6, I started to feel some guilt about being in such bad condition. At Machine 9, when I almost pulled my shoulder out of the socket (twice!), I finally realized something couldn’t be right. I called the trainer over and told her I thought the settings were all too high. She took my card and put it in the central computer. She then came back and asked if I might have switched with another patient, because this card was registered to Mr. Franz Habenmuskel (or something like that). Of course, by then it was too late to undo the damage.

On my second trip to fitness room, my card had stopped working all together and couldn’t be reprogrammed. So, I just did the machines on their default program – settings suitable for the average 30-year-old man. I cheated a lot when it came to setting the weights.

Of course, I paid for these mistakes in stiffness and aching muscles which are still around now two days after my departure. Last time I came home feeling stronger, pain-free, motivated and almost like a different person. That’s sort of true again, except for the “stronger, pain-free, and motivated” parts. This time, I came home feeling like Franz.

 

 

Mansplainers

(Kur Report – Part 9)

 

Except for sporadic traveling sisterhoods (i.e. small groups of housewives who use the health care system to arrange biannual free vacations together), we cure guests all come here alone. That means part of the experience includes finding new temporary friends. Last time I was lucky to meet a lovely woman to take walks with as well as the boisterous, multi-cultural, and interesting crowd who gathered in the smoking hut on the terrace. This time the pickings were slimmer and more homogeneous.

I remember learning in a high school Psychology class (at that time, to my amazement) that the number one determining factor in the formation of friendships is proximity. The girl who lives across the street or sits next to you in homeroom is more likely to become your friend than a less accessible girl who shares all your opinions and interests. It’s the same thing here.

On arrival, I gravitated toward the terrace and immediately met two perfectly pleasant Austrian women. The next few times I came they were in the company of three or four middle-aged+ men who all talked loudly, a mile a minute, and often at the same time. The few times the women said anything, the men took up the topic and shared their vast knowledge, often repeating what the woman had just said as if it were their own original idea. My visits to their table were mostly brief and taciturn.

Last night, I actually sat down and stayed for a while. For an hour I was instructed on a whole variety of subjects – from the secrets of growing balcony flowers to Austrian property rights, from corona virus to bartending, from various Austrian B-celebrities to the “refugee problem”, from the probable causes of to the cures for my bursitis attacks . . . With my irritation factor rising steadily, one of them began informing me about the best way to learn English. I briefly considered mentioning that he was now entering my area of expertise.

Clearly, however, my voice was too thin to be audible to them. I needed some assistance from a more powerful one.

I waited for an opening. It came along fairly quickly when someone mentioned music. They were trying to remember the name of the man who sang “What a Wonderful World” and I just happened to a have a video of my daughter singing that very song on my cell phone. I pushed “Play” and handed the cell to one of them saying “That’s my daughter.” They slowly passed it around.

The mansplaining ended abruptly. For the next half hour, we talked about music and international adoption and racism. They looked me in the eyes and asked me a  lot of questions. They listened to the answers. Two of them shared stories about non-white members of their own extended families.  They became people and the conversation became a nice one.

Thanks, Mitzi.

The Masque of the Orange Death

(Kur Report – Part 8)

 

My brother’s nickname for Austria is “Clean World”. It’s his way of contrasting what he hears from me about the Covid and political situations here to what he is experiencing in the States. Well, if my home is in Clean World, where I am right now is . . . I don’t know . . . Prospero’s Castle?

As announced in my last posts, I left for my third cure week at the health resort on Wednesday at the crack of dawn. After about 4 hours of travel, I arrived, got my room key and was instructed to isolate there. Twenty minutes later, someone from the Red Cross came to my room and stuck a Q-Tip up my nose. An hour after that, someone bought me a plate of food. Five hours after that, my phone rang. My test was negative. I could leave my room. My cure week had begun.

This place is almost hermetically sealed. Everyone here has been tested, some of them more than once (if they are employees or patients who come from hotspot areas). No one else is allowed in and we have strict rules to follow if we go out. We get our temperatures checked daily before lunch. We have to wear masks outside of our rooms and sanitize our hands when entering and leaving any of the seven therapy areas. Everything imaginable is being done to keep the plague out of this place.

So, I guess it is no wonder that Edgar Allen Poe and his “Masque of the Red Death” keeps infiltrating my thoughts. What are we, if not a bunch of oblivious and merry guests concentrating only on having a pleasant time while a sickness rages outside our doors? Like the rest of the guests here, I considered tuning out the world for a week. But, unfortunately, the CNN breaking news on my TV and my list of political podcasts keep me informed about events outside, and I can’t seem to let them go. Twump’s clearly deteriorating mental state and increasingly demented actions have enabled him to sneak into this Castle of Clean World like an uninvited guest to wreak the same mental havoc here. But, of course, only for me. The rest of the people around me seem to be quite happy and fully enjoying the temporary good life.

I had free time yesterday and spent it in my room watching part of John Lewis’s funeral, including Obama’s powerful eulogy which really moved me. Afterwards, on the way down to the café terrace, I was deeply into thoughts about all the things he had said. Slowly, they got drowned out by the conversation of a group at a nearby table. It was the shallow talk of virtual strangers socializing out of necessity – complaints about the Covid restrictions and tips on how to get around them, a lengthy discussion about whether or not Hansi Hinterseer (an Austrian skier-turned-B-Grade-folk-singer) was gay, a mock feud between an Upper and a Lower Austrian, a debate about which receptionist is the rudest . . . It all struck me as so banal and meaningless. John Lewis is dead! Americans are dying and our democracy is on life support!! The “leader” is insane!

Which brings me back to Poe and another one of his stories. I remember some college professor telling us how Sigmund Freud was a Poe fan and that especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” was inspirational to him. It helped him to develop the theory of the subconscious. The upper floors house conscious, rational minds dealing – however feebly – with the world as it is. The crazy is buried in the basement – a place full of fear, obsession, and the irrationality of animalistic drives. Depending on how you see it, the protagonist either descends into madness or the crazy he tries to keep down resurfaces to destroy him. The whole house collapses in on itself.

Twump dwells in the basement of his mind. Years ago, I decided that he wakes up each morning with one thought in his head: “What dickish thing can I do today?” That has remained true up to and including today. It will be true tomorrow. It will be true on November 4th and on January 20th.

But! she says, with a budding, ever-so-slight sense of hope and change, Americans do seem to be waking up. Where locked doors fail to keep the orange menace from crashing the party and bringing the house down, the locked hands of various resisters just might: young BLM protesters shielded by a wall of moms, protected by leaf-blower dads, guarded by vets. Backing them up are the whistle-blowers, the Bulwark and Lincoln Project, the Squad, the leakers, the media monitors, the experts, the front-line doctors and nurses, the podcasters, the artists, the postal workers, the vote protectors, the voters . . .

Together they may finally pull off the orange one’s masque, revealing for once and for all that underneath, there is absolutely nothing.

 

Things Change

 

There have been some developments in the things I related in previous posts, so I want to update them in a somewhat rambling and random way, starting with:

Remasking

After a lot of speculation and delays, the government here has gone ahead and reinstated the national mask wearing order for stores, banks and post offices. Despite the starting date being set for today (Friday), many people began earlier – as in right away after the announcement, including us. Two days ago, we spent almost 3 hours in IKEA getting our daughters furnishings for their apartment. It was the longest time I have ever spent in a mask. I found it surprisingly suffocating. Then it occurred to me that long before Covid, just being in an IKEA with its massive crowds always made me feel that way, mask or no mask. Anyway, we don’t know the true reason behind or the end date of the current policy, but the general opinion among friends is that the government decided it was necessary to remind the population about how we should be behaving. With things opening up, we had gotten too relaxed about social distancing, etc.

 

Cure Continuation – With Conditions!

Speaking of opening up, the health center I went to for my cure can now start taking patients again. I just got the dates for my third cure week which was cancelled during the lockdown – it begins next Wednesday already. When the confirmation came, there were three extra forms attached about all the Covid restrictions and regulations. I had to sign them (i.e. basically swear to follow the rules) and send them back. I have to arrive there by 10:00 am on the first day in a mask, get a Covid test, and then self-isolate in my room for the rest of the day till the results come in (usually early evening the same day, they say). Masks are to be worn indoors at all times. I am not allowed to go to any other restaurants or cafes in the town. I can’t socialize with anyone who does not live in my household – so that means everyone – and I can’t have visitors. The list of rules goes on and on . . .

It is hard to imagine that this week will be as therapeutic as the first two were. On the other hand, I have been saying that I don’t know a single person who has been tested and now, in just five more days, I will know one person. (I hope they aren’t still sticking swabs way up noses.) I imagine y’all will be hearing my thoughts as I sit in my room alone waiting for the results. It’s a good thing, too, that this will not be the only travels of the summer.

 

Staycation

The onset of summer vacation was delayed this year as the first week included three somewhat obligatory social gatherings with my coworkers during which all the tensions and melodrama and plot twists of the school year were rehashed ad nauseum. So, instead of the usual end-of-the-year, 1-day system crash (traditionally spent on the couch in the company of a box of aspirin, a pukey bowl and the remote control), I went through a prolonged sort of joyless malaise with no travel plans and no energy to come up with ideas about how to fill the seven weeks stretching out ahead of me. I finally booted myself out of it a few days ago, starting with a call to the health center to schedule my cure week. That quickly led to plans to follow it with a visit to my aunt and uncle in Tyrol. After that, there will only be a week at home before taking off for our annual hiking trip in Carinthia. Then there will be just one more week at home before . . . no . . . it can’t be . . . don’t want to even think about it . . . Something seems wrong about the math here. Within a day, the summer went from being a long empty expanse to being all filled up with plans. I’m confused.

 

Clutter Box

I guess it is a good thing I didn’t plan any major projects for the summer. Instead, I dove into one of those little things that has been on the back of my mind for months. Everywhere you look in my house – on every shelf or piece of furniture or windowsill or counter space – there is . . . stuff. A small proportion of the . . . stuff . . . is actually put there for decoration. The vast majority, however, is supposed to be somewhere else, but just got left there by someone in this household. Every so often, I go on a decluttering rampage and begin sweeping all these surfaces clean, sorting all the stuff, returning some of it to where it belongs, throwing some of it away and finding new places to store the rest.

When I am done, there is always about a handful of undefinable things left over. I can’t throw them away. They look like they could be part of something, but who knows what? I imagine some future time when the husband asks me “Have you seen the gizmo for my gadget? It’s a small curvy piece of black plastic with some holes in it and a doohickey on it?” And I, having tossed it out, would have to avoid eye contact while saying, “I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about! Never in my life have a seen anything remotely like what you are describing!”

So, instead, I throw these thingamajigs in the “Clutter Box”, just in case. I tell myself that one day I will make a piece of modern sculpture out of it all. I will title the finished product “Bob” (and then keep it in a plastic box in the basement storage room).

 

While doing the above, I also managed to somehow declutter my mind. I got rid of or stored away all the little pieces left there by other people during this crazy year. I cleared a path out of malaise and into the enjoyment of summer.

 

Hope for the Future

Not only is the future looking brighter now, it is looking brighter orange! On a whim, I checked my junk food website and was delighted to see my favorite thing in the world is back in stock and ready to be delivered. I pounced. With any luck, they will arrive before I leave for my cure. In the case that all the Covid regulations ruin the week, it would be nice to have a back-up therapy at hand.

 

 

Empty Nests

My four-week stint (or eight, depending on how you look at it) of experiencing unemployment has come to an end. I just had my first day back at work. The Hummingbird School has survived its own initial incompetence in crisis management, and starting Monday, (most of) the kids will be coming back. To comply with all the requirements set by the government and school board, we had to prepare a whole new physical environment in the classrooms – new nests, so to speak. Gone are the couches for lounging and the big carpets where we sat for circle discussions. Gone are the balls to play sports with during the recess. Gone are all the chairs in the small kitchen. Gone are the Montessori materials that get passed from hand to hand or are not conducive to being disinfected. Gone are the glasses and pitchers of water in the classrooms. Gone are the computer stations for common use. Gone are the musical instruments and board games. Instead, the room is filled with socially distanced, individual desks where the students will sit for most of the morning. In the front of the class there is a space for me to stay put and – for the first time in my career – teach lecture-style to a captive audience.

We’ve divided the students into 4 groups of roughly 10 kids apiece. Two of the four will come each day on an alternating schedule and each group will have it`s own entrance into the school. The ones who will be filling this empty classroom will disembark from their school buses in masks, enter the building, and immediately wash their hands before going to the classroom. They will take a seat and only then remove the mask.

I confess that I feel uneasy in more ways than one about these first steps into the new normal. While planning with my team members, we talked about whether it was a good idea to assign yet another text about their experiences in the lockdown and distance learning. I suggested that the kids reread the reports they handed in near the start and then write about what changed over time. In my case, I worried about feeling confined at first. Now at the end, I find I don’t really like the idea of leaving the house if I don’t absolutely have to.

I wonder if this feeling is normal. Clearly, I have had it easy. Between my spacious house and big garden, my family situation and hermit genes, it’s not like it has been hell. I’ve honestly enjoyed having my whole family around me, not to mention so much time that I stopped monitoring its passing. (“What day is it today?”) I could have continued on like this indefinitely.

But this is not where we are at here in Austria, so I guess it is time for me to come out of my hiding place. The rest of my household is doing so too (if somewhat more eagerly than me).

Whereas the school nest shown above is about to be filled up, my home one is emptying out. Last week, our refugee son moved to another village to be near his brother. The plan is for him to transfer to a school in Graz for his last year. (There is a long story behind these decisions that I won’t get into here. I will only say that I hope he will be happier and more productive with this new living situation.) Yesterday, my elder daughter moved back to her apartment in Graz after two months with us. She took my daily concerts with her. That leaves just one – my youngest daughter – who will be taking her graduation exams starting a week from now. Her original plan for a work/travel gap year got nixed by Corona, so she will be starting university in the fall and, of course, moving into the apartment with her sister.

It was while listening to a conversation between the daughters about decorating the place and the timing of Lily’s move, that the realization finally washed over me. They were talking July – or August at the latest. “Wait!” I thought, “It’s almost June already!” Too months from now, it will be just me and the husband and a whole lot of silence.

Somehow I thought “reopening” would feel different.

 

Remotely Reconnected

After marrying a foreigner 30 years ago, I stayed in a state of denial about my emigration for another six or seven years. Eventually I had to face the fact that I had settled 4,635 miles away from my family. This was made somewhat harder by the fact that we all seem to share a hermit gene and are pretty pathetic in the pen pal department. Years could go by without a peep from any of us. But then, every so often, some excuse for a reunion would arise, flights were booked and free days were arranged. We would all congregate on my sister’s porch and simply pick up from the point where we left off – be that three or five or ten years earlier. No recriminations for previous periods of silence. No “So you ARE still alive!” remarks. Just great conversation and laughter and enjoying the precious moments together.

I’m betting most people have some remorse over neglected relationships in this time of forced distancing. I’ve found myself calling up this or that old friend almost daily – just to check in or catch up. And people have been doing the same to me. I’ve had messages from high school friends back home, calls from students and in-law family members, emails from former colleagues, and yesterday, this text message from my bff:

Well, Ly, I have to confess that a certain evil penguin is not the only culprit to blame for my blog silence. I’ve also been preoccupied with this motley crew:

At some point in the late evening, one of these guys plants a meme bomblet in a sibling(+) WhatsApp group and we are off to the races. Some subset of us begins to chatter engage in witty repartee sprinkled with slightly painful punning and obscure movie quotes. Time zones are a recurring theme. Childhood nicknames are debated. Moments of trek-iness pop up leaving at least one of the sisters in the dark. Sometimes one brother writes in what he thinks is German. The other brother finally discovers John Oliver and gets immediately hooked. One hilarious thread creates a sketch about Twump captaining the Titanic. (“Only I can avoid hitting the iceberg. I am not responsible for hitting the iceberg. Now where’s that presidential lifeboat, Marine 1?”) We talk Wisconsin politics, the pros and cons of Biden, and the cons of brown sugar lima beans. Just last night, one brother and I philosophized till 3:00 o’clock in the morning about the triple-whammy of current catastrophes (corona virus, economic collapse, and the twump pwesidency) and compared them to “that old chestnut of nuclear annihilation”. Aaaahh! The good old days when calamities were simpler!

The exhausted Essentials among us worry about the state of the world. The Retirees among us worry about the Essentials. The Recently Unemployed among us just worries in general. But for an hour or two each day all of that ebbs while the messages flow. 4,635 miles shrink down to about a foot and a half – the distance between my eyes and the screen, my ears and the “Ding!”’s, my heart and the messengers.