And wouldn’t that be nice?

When my father died at fifty-one from the second of his two heart attacks, I was not prepared to cope with the crushing grief I would experience in the months that followed. It is true that I had had an extremely difficult home life and that certainly I had had more than just a taste of grief when I was small, but I simply was not equipped to face the finality of such an immense loss.

Although I had a few friends whose love I could count on during this time, for the most part I was left to sink alone in the heartbreak because, by and large, I was invisible to members of my family and only came into their line of sight when they believed I could be of use to them. Whether my mother, stepmother, brother, and sister-in-law understood how much trouble I was in remains an open question. In my chillier moments, though, when I am painting three of these four with a wide, dark brush, I think theirs was a self-centered indifference brought into even starker relief because of my largely successful attempt to make myself invisible to them.

But it is impossible for me to recall my brother Robert without seeing in him a rot that began to spread unchecked the day he touched down on the planet. Although it revealed itself in myriad ways until we stopped speaking to each other more than a decade ago, when I was a child it was his malignant, inexplicable contempt for me that drove his relentless physical and emotional abuse and that crippled me irreparably.

Still, I managed to grow up and to marry twice: The first time, in my late twenties, it was a secret elopement to Carson City, Nevada, with a man I would divorce not long after giving birth to our daughter. When my brother later learned of the nuptials, he decided, oddly, to throw me a lavish party in Los Angeles, which I remember thus: a feverish Fellini film starring Rita, my mentally ill mother, in the role of a dying starlet lamenting.

At some point during the evening I approached my brother and thanked him for his efforts. To this day, I do not know what he meant when he replied, “I didn’t do it for you. I did it for Dad.” I never asked for an explanation, though, certain as I was, and am, that his response would have been even more cruel than the original remark. Yet that is how it was with the lot of us. Such terrible, gouging things would be said, things that no one could take back. Then eventually, maybe years later, someone, almost always me, would do a belly crawl to the other with an apology, whether or not it was deserved. And after a while the other one, satisfied and smug, would open the front door and pretend to forget — or would stand there and actually forget. While the words themselves surely went off to live in us somewhere.

It should not be hard, then, to understand why I did not know how I would live after my father died. He had been my only hope, the only one in a family of impostors and scoundrels to have loved me, however imperfectly. I have very few happy memories of my childhood but for the delight I felt when he was nearby. And, on the day of his funeral, as I watched him being lowered into the ground, I would have thrown myself onto the coffin if there had been assurance I could have followed him into the afterlife.

To survive, I gradually walled off the part of me that loved him so and instead distanced myself from any memories that summoned my terrible grief. This year, though, in the week leading up to Father’s Day, I found myself looking with much tenderness at a photo taken of him shortly before he left his parents’ home in Brooklyn and enlisted in the Army. One evening I heard myself say to him, “Maybe when I die, Daddy, I will see you again.” Then added, “And wouldn’t that be nice?” 

Blue Noise

signal and noise

When I tune into my incessant brain noise that, during this period of the Atila virus, has been even more virulent than usual, I find that some bits are of interest as they buzz by. I have come to see, though, that, if I spend too much time alone and if I have no outlet for this constant racket in my head, I will eventually become, in a word, nuts.

I have decided, then, to present you with a snapshot of how some of these jagged thought fragments, often unremembered just seconds after I notice them, can spill into the material world where I am living out my days. I do this in the hope that, by recording a little of what I notice, I will be spared from acting upon at least one or two of my less noble impulses. This desire to protect myself from myself first emerged when I was very young and had no way of expressing bewildering emotion other than by crying for hours on end. When I was a little older, though, I found that writing helped me to escape my darker sides, at least somewhat. At that time, finding myself isolated inside a home with two raging lunatics who were much stronger, louder, and larger than I was, I began to express my feelings and thoughts by writing them into poems and short stories of grief, fortitude, and escape.

So, fearful thoughts, of which there have been an awful lot: Although I have been terribly afraid of this virus, I only am just becoming aware of how debilitating the fear can be by seeing how it manifests in the mundanity of my daily life. For one, I have become increasingly absent-minded. Yesterday, for instance, I put my eyeglasses in the refrigerator and then spent an inordinate amount of time searching for them. This included a trip down the elevator to my car in the garage, for which I had suited up with personal protective equipment, such as it is (consisting as it does of one overstretched paper mask, which I have used for five weeks now, and a pair of gapingly porous exfoliating gloves for the shower, which were the only gloves I could find at the store). Eventually I found my glasses — but only when I next went to the fridge for some food.

Then today, as I was removing clothes from the dryer, I saw that I had added an individual packet of liquid detergent (instead of a dryer sheet) to the clean, sopping load. Fortunately, the liquid remained inside the tidy packet while the clothes went through their 45-minute, hot-air tumble, though it had become quite sudsy and appeared to have morphed into another chemical mixture altogether.

Afraid of going out to buy food, I have had to become more efficient at shopping for a pandemic. The first week I ate most of the food I bought within a day or so (and was especially focused on inhaling, pretty much right away, the special treats I brought home) — after which I berated myself for being weak and without will. Since I was slow to learn my lesson, the second week was a repeat of week one, and almost immediately I had to venture out shopping again. The third week I thought that, to stretch meals, I would cook up batches of things at the urging of some cruel inner voice that told me I was lazy and entitled for buying expensive, pre-packaged meals, soups, and salads at Whole Foods. Around mid-week that week, I made a rice, chard, and ground turkey dish that was truly inedible, and I literally threw the entire revolting thing into the garbage. Within a few days, I had to venture out shopping again. You can imagine the self-judgment that followed me.

During week four, I saw that I had been learning from my missteps. I bought enough pre-made meals, soups, and salads to last quite a few days because, honestly, I realized from my previous fiasco that I was not going to be motivated to cook healthful, time-consuming meals for just one excessively frightened soul, not when thousands upon thousands, near and far, were deathly sick and dying. No. It would be enough for me simply to nourish my body, I thought. Putting things away in the refrigerator, I mentally decided what I would eat on a given day, and I told myself that, for my health and for the health of those around me, I would try to stick to that plan so I would not need to go to the market again for a while. The first day of the shopping, I ate the peanut butter cookie I bought. It was delicious. I saved the chocolate chip cookie for the day after the shopping. Progress.

A few words about fear and toilet paper::I have been obsessed with toilet paper since the outbreak began in this country — not having enough, or any, of it and, when I have some, worried that I will run out of it all too quickly. Prior to the virus crisis, I had gotten very good at finding and stocking up on the softest and longest-lasting rolls I could find because, more often than not, manufacturers have been in the business of selling the least amount of toilet paper possible per roll for the most amount of money they could fetch. Now, grocery stores near me either have none on their shelves or receive piddling daily shipments that are sold by 8:00 am. Some days ago I managed to show up bright and early at the one market near me that gets and guards its supply by placing it at the front of the store, where hoarders and other cheaters can be closely watched. I bought one package, all that was allowed per customer, and was gleeful about the 16 rolls I was certain would last me for a good long time. Not to be too explicit, but to make a point about capitalistic greed, I have been going through about one roll a day. If I am especially careful and thrifty, I can probably make it last for about two days.

In desperation, I went on Amazon to buy in bulk. There wasn’t much available, although businesses that sell toilet tissue to large-scale, industrial operations are now selling giant-sized toilet paper rolls to individual consumers because many of their customers currently have few, if any, employees in need of bathroom breaks. I could have bought a package of four rolls, which, when placed side by side, would likely have taken up the width of a double bed. I opted, instead, for a package of 10 rolls, which, judging by the marketing photo, seemed normal-sized. As you probably know, during the pandemic Amazon is no longer shipping things out at the speed of light, but my order was shipped fairly quickly because it is an essential item. Hopefully, it will arrive tomorrow, at which point I will have to make a mad dash to wherever DHL has deposited it.

Every day since placing my order, I have worried about whether it would be delivered to the secure, locked location in the apartment community in which I live, where it stands less of a chance of being stolen than if the delivery person decides to drop it, alone and unprotected, outside my large building or outside the shuttered leasing office. (I have imagined that the words “TOILET PAPER” would be stamped neonically across the entire surface of the package.)

In any event, the order is likely to be stolen quickly by others even more fearful than I am — that is, if I don’t get to it first. So I waste time wandering around in my brain, trying to plot the best strategy I can think up to ensure I get my hands on what has become in these times one- or two-ply gold.

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