This May, in the Second Year of Our Pandemic, 2021, was especially long. Certainly, it was a lot longer than May of 2020, of which I have no memory whatsoever.
I do not have any tattoos, but if I were to get a Commemorative Coronavirus Pandemic tattoo, it might be this:
A friend who lives in Europe told me recently they are anxiously still awaiting their vaccine. (Between writing the first draft of this post and publishing, I am happy to report they’ve now had their first jab).
The day before, I saw a Facebook post from someone I know here in New York who complained that “the whole world is brainwashed” above a posted graphic saying, “the unvaxxed have to wear mask to protect the vaxxinated.”
I am disturbed and haunted by it.
I can unfollow this person on FB, but I will still see them in person and regularly in real life. Someone with pets! You know, beloved animal companions, vaccinated for rabies, distemper, and West Nile?
One of my brothers is taking a break from social media; he’s missing out on the vaccine selfies, the proud graduation photos, the puppies, the ads for washable rugs and knitted sneakers, the hot takes, the old memes, and the bad news.
My mother was the sort of old school reader of books about social courtesies who believed that good manners dictate that one not point out another’s bad manners. The 21st Century extension of this rule is that one might abstain from commenting on a bad take.
The bad take in question had some enthusiastic support from friends and family (insert cringing noises here), and some genuinely concerned replies from mutuals, who hate to see a seemingly nice person humiliate themself on a rude, science-denying, loud, public fart.
I scrolled on, closed Facebook, and tried for days not to think about it.
I have not stopped thinking about it.
The brainwashed believers in a coronavirus pandemic? Includes me, and every other intelligent person I know. Brainwashed people with advanced degrees. Vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. Helping people in their lives find appointments. Anxious to get 80% of America vaccinated. Brainwashing isn’t real, but science is.
The vaccinated people still wearing masks? Me, at times. My husband, too. Out of a desire not to expose people who haven’t gotten their shots yet. Out of habit. In deference to 27,504 hospitalized people in the U.S. Out of a desire not to make anyone else uncomfortable. Out of an abundance of caution. In memory of 594,051 dead Americans. As an example.
The meme they shared? From someone who is getting attention for their contrary takes (with an extra grammatical error to own the libs). From someone who could be themselves vaccinated. Definitely something that we could use a lot less of.
I wish I could stick with my instinct to ignore the post. I record it here for my future self. To remind me of the time when the vaccine was becoming more widely available, when still not everyone had it yet, when it wasn’t something you could just ask each other about, when it wasn’t clear if enough people were going to get on board, when we didn’t know if we were ever going to be getting past some people wearing masks and others disliking it.
My brother who has gone off Facebook is happier without it (for now).
Me? If no one in my life is going to graduate from something soon, maybe I’ll have to make some puppies.
The second worst thing about someone new finding out that my husband used to work at Microsoft is hearing from the person again, and, you know, they’ve been meaning to ask him about this problem they’re having with Excel (which he never worked on), or Word (ditto), or Outlook (ditto), or Windows (which he certainly did work on), or a printer driver. Device drivers don’t seem to be all that much better now than they were in the era of dial-up modems and dot-matrix printers, which is when I started using a PC, but that’s my opinion and there are probably a lot of men on the internet who would like to tell me how I’m wrong about that. As for Microsoft programs that my husband did or didn’t work on, I will say this: we use Apple products now. Furthermore, the Bacon Provider has spent his pandemic weekends writing Apple Watch and phone apps, mostly relating to the weather. What I say is, “Have you tried turning it on and off again?” because that’s what he always says to me. Ok, really, what he says is, “Have you tried soap and water?” because that’s shorthand for, “Have you tried the first thing you probably should have tried?”
The third worst thing about someone new finding out that my husband used to work at Microsoft is being asked if he knew that guy, the brother of your ex’s college roommate, who like, worked there in the 90s. Anyone who worked there for any length of time only reported to despicable creeps (except for maybe that one decent guy in Research), and so they’re all still suffering from the post-traumatic stress. Or they’ve blocked it all out. So, no, it was a big place, anyone you know who knows someone who worked there, that person they knew? We don’t know him.
This week is the tenth anniversary of my husband’s departure from Microsoft. He was the last of the four original Xbox founders to leave. He worked there 18 years, and if you look online you might be able to find a copy of his resume floating around out there, or piece one together from articles about him. He did a lot of things there. I wish he had kept a little album with one of each of his business cards. Things being how they are now, normal business travel and the customary exchange of business cards seem like rituals of a lost age. In the ten years since Microsoft, he’s had some very good work experiences. He continues to be focused on what he’s doing now, and what’s coming next.
When he resigned from Microsoft, it was cause for celebration, and since then it feels like several decades have elapsed, not one. The move from the west coast to the east coast was hard. It took years for us to figure out where to live. And, we are both still smarting from the sale of our beloved Seattle house; it was perfect, as was our neighborhood, and on my visits back to Seattle I have not managed to be able to get closer than a few blocks away. People ask if I would go back to live in Seattle if I could, and sometimes I say I’d like to go back to Seattle, 1999.
I miss that house. I miss having three wild, barefoot children storming out the front door, brandishing sticks. I miss our neighbors. I miss the spectacular summer sunshine. I miss the months of rain. I miss walking to restaurants. I miss the wide sidewalks, and the trees, and the grass that’s green ten months of the year. I miss my friends there—even some of the ones who forgot about us the minute we left, and haven’t so much as texted in the ten years since.
Our current house in Bedhead Hills, New York was a compromise, but all houses are compromises, be it on price or location or features. We’ve been in this house long enough that I no longer think of it as Mrs. Gardenwinkle’s 80s museum. It is our house. We fenced the yard. We replaced the gutters, and the furnace. We lived through remodeling the kitchen and all of the bathrooms. Soon enough we will need to do more things, because houses require constant attention or they fall down.
I am very much enjoying our current backyard and the small new patio. I now have a big umbrella for the old table that was once on our back deck in Seattle, and I can paint in the morning and drink coffee while the dogs run around the yard picking up ticks. Fellow likes to lie down on the stones underneath me, and was there, panting, when I wrote this, this morning. Eggi was there also, and certainly these two dogs are some of the things that are in my life now because I live here, and if I lived someplace else I would have different dogs or none at all.
I was interrupted and had to take the dogs in. They came to spray for ticks. They use cedar oil, and come twice a year, and I’m not sure it works. The ticks are terrible here. Every spring feels like, oh, man, the ticks are really bad this year. Any ticks is bad. I found one on the wall in the kitchen last weekend, just chillin. Fuck that guy. He was hard to kill.
I am distractedly deleting emails as they come in, hiding with the dogs in my bedroom, with the lights on low. The AC is on even though it’s only May. We didn’t even have AC in Seattle. Or ticks.
I still don’t miss overhearing certain names or the word “Microsoft” in restaurants. Ah, but I haven’t eaten in a restaurant in over fourteen months. Everything is supposed to be getting back to normal, but for that getting back to normal, we are all counting on you, and you, and you to get vaccinated. Also, you.
Captain is snoring. Eggi is on my left. Fellow leaves his corner at the foot of the bed to insert himself between Eggi and the pillows. I sneak another look at Eggi’s vagooter; we are expecting her to come into season again soon. My stomach growls. What are we doing about dinner? Last night we had sushi delivered. We cooked a lot less in Seattle, didn’t we. Yeah, well, this kitchen is better. Much better.
They say it’s Earth Day today. It’s chilly and a bit cloudy in the corner of Earth I call Bedhead Hills. The weather forecast called for a severe thunderstorm yesterday around 3 pm, and it arrived punctually at 2:45 pm, with a rumble of thunder, a blast of wind, and rain, ending the streak of unseasonably warm and mild spring weather. I like the weather in New York, because you get a bit of everything.
I do not recall observing Earth Day when I was a kid; we had Arbor Day, though, and I know this because there was a Charlie Brown animated special about it. I don’t think I ever got to plant any trees. I found plants frustrating when I was a kid because of their tendency to die in my care. For a while, I had a cactus that I kept outside my bedroom window on a tiny, hot, brick ledge. You could see it from the street. The cactus was green on the bottom and bright orange-pink on top. I watered it irregularly, which seemed to suit it fine. But it didn’t last.
My mother had a real way with plants, and kept a window full of African violets in the kitchen in the 70s. There was a bottle of Miracle-Gro under the kitchen sink that she put in the violets’ water. I watched these ministrations with awe, as if these were plant-growing skills I could never myself attain. When she remodeled the kitchen a second time in the 80s, she switched to a collection of cacti which also did well in her care. Once she knocked a grapefruit-sized barrel cactus off the counter when she was getting ready to water it, and used her lightning-fast baseball skills to swoop in with her left hand and catch it before thinking. Of course it landed needles down.
There were new sponges, and Comet (for scrubbing the sink), Fantastik, and dish soap, and a switch for the garbage disposal under the sink. The thing that took up the most room under there was the brown plastic garbage pail, which was just the right size for a paper grocery bag to stand up in it. Today, paper grocery bags in the U.S. have handles; when I was a kid, they did not have handles. The kitchen garbage can was for the stuff that did not go down the garbage disposal in the sink. My. mother had strict rules about the garbage disposal (you had to run the water; you had to check for spoons), and what could go down the garbage disposal (chicken bones?!), and what could not (corncobs).
When the trash was full, someone (rarely me) would carry the weeping paper bag to the galvanized steel garbage cans with banged-up, ill-fitting lids that sat in our driveway. We also saved things for recycling, and I knew of no other families who collected empty glass bottles or washed steel cans, removed the labels, opened both ends, and flattened them.
Every few months we would load the recycling into the car and drive up a road that took you to the big bins where recyclables were collected, and we got to sort and throw in the bottles and cans. As embarrassing and hard to explain as it was that we collected months’ worth of empty soup cans in our garage, it was thrilling to toss the empty bottles in the glorious anticipation and certain fulfillment of hearing them break. Just writing this makes me want to go do it.
My children grew up in Seattle, where we had three large, wheeled bins in the alley behind our house: one for garbage, one for recycling, and one for yard and food waste. All were collected by a municipal service, weekly for garbage and probably every-other weekly for the rest. Because our bins lived in the alley, there was little sense of ever missing garbage day. Sometimes we had to go gather our bins because of the chaos of the aftermath of collection.
We had a big recycling bin in the kitchen, which the kids raided for materials for making things. On a trip to Alaska, one of my kids discovered he couldn’t recycle his empty bottles, and wanted to carry our recyclables back home in his suitcase. He was probably 10 or 11 at the time, but I can still see him doing this.
When we lived in New York City, where every day is garbage day, and there are no alleys, we experienced both the weirdness of taking our garbage to the basement in the elevator of a small residential building and the magical commotion of sliding the bags into a labelled chute in the utility room of a high-rise. And the intense peculiarity of witnessing a screaming argument between an interloper and the regular person who picked through the recycling of our building looking for the bottles and cans that could be redeemed for 5¢ each.
I buy many different kinds of plastic garbage bags for my house, including special sizes for different cans, and small ones on a tidy roll for picking up dog poo, and it feels shameful to admit that I buy them to throw them out. But that’s what everyone buys garbage bags for. Anyway, Americans make a lot of garbage, sure (the EPA estimates that each American typically makes about 6 pounds of trash per day), and use a lot of water (100 gallons per day per person), but the 20 metric tons of CO2 per American per year might be the biggest of our problems. The catastrophic global climate change of human activity we usually call global warming isn’t stoppable or reversible at this point.
Even though we are now in the second year of our global pandemic, known mostly as coronavirus, or, familiarly, as the ‘rona, there are bigger threats to humanity because they threaten our planet’s ability to sustain life.
I spent part of the afternoon of this Earth Day in the yard with the dogs. They never know what day it is, and continue to love the fact that everyone is home all the time. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful to have them.
Today is the 15th of April, which in more normal years is the day that federal income taxes are due in the United States, but owing to the chaos of the pandemic the deadline has been pushed back a month. Last year, they pushed it back six months. This year, tax preparers were promised the deadline was firm. And it was, until it wasn’t.
And no matter who said it, taxes and death are still inevitable.
I’ve got nothing specific to say today, which creates an abstractly hairy problem for me, since I am more practiced in the Art of Not Writing than I am in the Art of Writing. Not Writing was something I started doing in earnest in the mid-1980s, and gave up for stretches of time, and resumed in 2013, 2014, 2019 and 2020, but am trying to avoid now.
Shall I list my pandemic accomplishments for you?
One is, I have at this point surrendered to household dust and muddy dog footprints. Another is, my cat is now a complete attention hog. Three: my hair is really, really long and I pretty much hate it, but maybe not enough to do anything about it. 4: We exacted a repair on a long broken vacuum cleaner brush head. Replacement parts cannot be found (by anyone, including you, no matter how good you think your monopoly-search-engine-that-is-now-a-verb search engine skills are) online unless I am willing to pay $30 to a Guy on Ebay for two small pieces of special plastic and just eat it if the parts don’t actually fit. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to be doing any more vacuuming than I was doing before. This repair is temporary, because there was a spinning part and some plastic involved, and the friction of the jammed thing that was supposed to spin but couldn’t actually melted the plastic. So when the melted piece fails, it goes back to being a vacuum cleaner without a sucky rotating brush head thingy. Five): I dropped my iron, the one that hadn’t been dropped yet, and a chunk of plastic broke out of it, as another reminder to me and you and everyone else that plastic is bad and we have entirely too much of it in our lives. Also, possibly that ironing is terrible. Unless it isn’t.
6- [redacted for boringness] SEVEN, I am keeping track of the days and/but learning little from it. Most years, as spring gets underway, I start feeling abstract dread around the middle of March, and count down the days until the 13th of April, which is the anniversary of my mother’s death. This year, being the second of our pandemic, I was so over-focused on what day it was I failed to remember what day it was, and I only remembered when my brother texted me about it late in the evening. I went on to have hospital nightmares. Or one, long, hospital nightmare. One in which I was there with a lot of dogs, all vizslas, and they got away from me (of course), into the hospital, and I had to try to find them and catch them. And in my search I came upon every hospital room I have in my memory, including some recent ones where I visited sick people, some old ones, like where I saw my father in the ICU, and the corridor where I spoke to my mother before her first brain surgery, and also a room where Home Alone 2 is on the TV, where we spent a late 1990s Xmas eve in the pediatric ER, the rooms where I recovered after foot surgery, and all with those curtains and the LED-paneled equipment, and the pale-colored, forgettable walls, and also dream vizslas under all the beds and drinking from the toilets and galloping the halls and getting tangled in the mops in the janitors’ closets.
I have a list of titles for future posts; if I were feeling accomplished, I might call these things essays. I mean, “blog” is really sort of –you know– kind of an unappealing, little made-up word, a cutesy clip of a portmanteau, and I’m not ready to like it. No, not even after a dozen years. Maybe I’ll stick with “post.” Anyway, good for me for dipping into the list of topics a couple of times so far, but this time everything on it is either not ready yet (looking at you, “Pandemic Quilt Number Two”), or rather mundane (ahem, look alive, “The Quest for Clear Ice”), or just not enough of an idea to get me going (yeah, get your shit together, “Pencils”).
Nine. In addition to watercolors, I have remembered how much I love to cut things out and glue them to paper. And, in a stroke of improbable luck, I found a stack of labelled boxes in my basement that contain the loosely organized papers I was using to make collages before I had kids. These boxes survived seven moves, some short and others across the country, over thirty years, their contents preserved where other more valuable boxes (thinking of some high end audio speakers and all my cookbooks) vanished. Yesterday, I spent two hours in the morning and perhaps eight more interrupted hours in the afternoon and evening cutting out letters and numbers and gluing them down and making a satisfying mess.
Last Friday, April 2nd, in the Second Year of Our Pandemic, 2021, was Good Friday, and also a good day.
The night before, of course, I had a stressful dream about how my friend Allison and I narrowly escaped the flood, freed the refugee children from her attic (but abandoned the elderly people), and tried to organize everyone into two large rowboats. I woke up when Allison climbed into the boat I was supposed to row, pushing her half of the crowd of children out into the floodwaters without an adult or a second oar.
I am very excited by painting with watercolors right now, and have nearly used up an old block of watercolor paper that I received as a gift when I was in junior high school. I am even using the backs.
Then it was time to do the pet feeding dance. Schwartz and Eggi are easy these days (although Eggi is on a bit of a diet because bitches have hormone cycles and boy, does she). Captain had a sour tummy in the morning so I was pressed to add something delicious. Fellow was away for the weekend at a dog show.
Then we had a riding lesson which was very amazing (I mean, riding horses is very amazing. Prehistoric people probably would have eaten all the horses if they hadn’t figured out how to use them as engines, and together we went on to invade almost the whole earth, and then about a hundred years ago we quit on the horses and switched to gas-powered internal combustion and heyo, I guess, sorry about the greenhouse gasses to the whole earth and all its inhabitants).
Then I came home and changed out of my riding clothes and printed out an appointment ticket I found lurking in my email and headed to The Bronx.
One thing about living in Bedhead Hills is that it is 1977 here, so in order to get to places like North Dreadful, where it is 1957, or New York City, where it is 2021, you must also time travel. I do not know precisely why, but going backwards in time is easier around here, and you can do it in your car, but going forwards in time usually requires taking a train. Otherwise, the length of your journey can vary from an hour, to many hours.
I took the precaution of listening to a fully dramatized Hamlet in the car, so there were ghosts and a mad scene and the clang of swords on the Hutch.
I should probably say that New York’s Governor for Life Andrew Cuomo announced that people over 50 without pre-existing conditions were eligible for the coronavirus vaccine in the state in mid-March, but at first I wasn’t able to find an appointment for a shot within two hundred miles. Eventually, I took an appointment that was about a hundred miles away, and then, checking and refreshing the Am I Eligible page on the website at odd hours of the day and night, was able to improve my arrangement, finding something both sooner and closer. And despite the fact that people I know all over Westchester County have been able to get appointments at local pharmacies or at the mass vaccine event being held in White Plains in the convention center, the best I could do was a senior center in The Bronx.
When I arrived in The Bronx, I found myself in the car dealerships/car repair/window tinting/tires neighborhood, where the streets are wide but crowded with rows of double-parked cars, so a driver must proceed like Alice, at the beginning of her adventures in Wonderland, where she follows the rabbit (who is late) down the hole and begins to fall, very slowly, and for a long time. I passed the best parking spot and had to tootle around the block looking for another.
It was then so easy to find a parking spot I walked away thinking that it might not be a legal space to park, but if my car was getting towed, so were several other even larger cars. And owing to the length of the trip, and the time travel, and the meander past the weaving cars requiring new tires and window tinting, I was on the verge of running late myself. It was easy to see where the entrance was, with Stand Here circles on the sidewalk, two ambulances, and a police officer. As I approached the entrance, a very man came from the other direction, striding and swaggering in such a way that even the molecules of air moved out of his way, and as he got closer, his legs got longer, his stride lengthened, and he got even taller, or maybe I got shorter, or maybe both, and, but, so that when we reached the policeman at the same time, I was practically invisible and the much larger man went first.
As the large man stepped to the doors, I was confronted by a surprised NYPD officer, who hadn’t seen me approach, and demanded my ID and appointment ticket. My Westchester friends have relayed tales of going early to their appointments, but in The Bronx there are large signs out front making clear that you cannot be early; you must be within 30 minutes of your appointment.
I followed the enormous man into the building and startled another screener, who let the man go but gave me a stern but muffled lecture about keeping my ticket handy. A man stopped me and took my temperature, and gestured that I was to proceed onwards. I followed the arrows on the floor. A woman with a clipboard said something I did not understand, so I wandered forward and sat in an empty folding chair. A woman at a desk with a computer asked me for something so I produced the ticket. She didn’t want it. She wanted my ID, and she kept it on the desk in front of her while she furiously typed.
Then a National Guard solider in a desert-camo uniform and cap, crisply creased pants tucked neatly into pristine tan boots appeared with a small plastic tray. A nurse in navy scrubs took two syringes, and two cards from the tray, one for me and one for the next person.
The nurse told me to take off my sweatshirt, which I did, and she reached for my right arm. I asked if we couldn’t use my left arm. She asked me which arm I wanted. I said left. She reached out and grabbed the deltoid on my left shoulder, pinching it hard, and told me to relax the muscle, which I attempted to do and no sooner had I made that attempt there was already a needle in my arm and it was done. It didn’t hurt at all.
She slapped a bandaid on me and was gone in a flash
The woman with my ID completed her furious typing and examination of the object of interest. She placed a sticker on me with the time I was free to leave written on it, and with my license gave me a sticker and the precious white card with the details of my Pfizer shot. A sticker. I got a sticker.
I rose with my winter coat bundled in my arms and went to find my way to the waiting chairs, following more arrows and stickers on the painted concrete floor. There, a woman in a traffic safety vest with a lanyard and ID badge wandered through the grid of chairs, singing volubly. She held a gigantic bottle of spray sanitizer, which she applied to chairs after people left.
“You can sit anywhere,” she said, with the same sing-song cadence to every person who emerged.
An older man circled the chair in front of me, and was encouraged by Safety Vest to have a seat anywhere. He sat. They must have exchanged other words, but I was a little lost in my own head. The ceiling was very high, with frosted glass panels set into a frame, so the enormous room was filled with natural light. I wondered what the enormous room of the senior center was normally used for; table tennis? Safety Vest told the man in from of me, “Jesus is my boss.”
He replied, but I couldn’t hear him, and she said, “I’ve been singing and dancing my way through my whole career in New York.”
When it was my time to leave, Safety Vest came to me, looked at the time on my sticker, and said, “If you feel ok, you can go.”
I looked her directly in the eye and burst into tears. I had to explain that I was fine, just emotional. A year ago, we didn’t know how long the pandemic would be, and vaccines were something people talked about as something hopeful, something possible, but a big if. I’ve felt so much worry about when the vaccine would be available to us, and so frustrated with trying to find an appointment, that here I was, crying tears of relief. “We’ve had a lot of that today,” she said, and went back to singing.
I exited just behind the every tall man I entered behind. His great strides slicing through the air had gotten him his vaccine only a moment before I got mine. On my way back to my car, I saw a big pile of poo in the grass, and I do not think it was from a dog.
On the drive home, Hamlet was captured by pirates.
March of 2021 was very, very long, but perhaps not as long as March of 2020, which has had, as of this writing, 395 days in it.
I did not miss a day of recording the date and the coronavirus data in March. March 1 is not pictured here because I am still working on it and when it’s done it will get its own blog post. I still regret not starting this activity sooner, but my current thought is that I should have started way before March of 2020. I should have started in March of 2011.
I thought it was the 16th two days in a row, which was weird, and avoidable, and a pretty good demonstration of why I do it at all. I had a lot of headaches in March. I had hot-dog puppet fingers one day and drew them and someone I know wants that drawing as a tattoo.
Isn’t it weird that the 31st of March is a day? Seems like it could give a day or two to February, in fairness.
When I get in my car and stick the charger cable into my phone, connecting the technologically outdated ten year old car with the state of the art Apple iPhone, the one thing I can count on is that if a connection is made, what will play is the song 1989, by the band Clem Snide. The opening line is, “Tonight we’re gonna party like it’s 1989.”
This is a song I can play all of, in my head, without hearing, just by encountering part of a phrase like “I guess it’s not that funny, but I’ll say it anyway,” or “the joke is that the stereo just ate the mixtape that you made.” And if I could figure out how to delete it from my state of the art iPhone I could remove it, and make some other song the one that gets picked first all the time.
Because of the pandemic, the Bacon Provider has gone from traveling regularly for work to traveling never for work, and so I see him in person, on weekdays, in the middle of the day, making coffee or tea in the kitchen, and this is the new normal. And you know what I found out? He gets Johnny Cash songs stuck in his head, as well as the Cure, and now, thanks to my shout-singing that one Clem Snide song, 1989.
How are you marking your pandemic anniversary?
We are making maple syrup.
I had my last meal in a restaurant March 9, 2020. It was lunch. In retrospect, I wish I had had a glass of wine. At least I had dessert.
I had my last acupuncture appointment December 13, 2019. I frickin love acupuncture and when twenty minutes of solitary deep breathing in that tiny, warm, dark, windowless room with twenty-one slender needles stuck in my limbs while I lie listening to new age whale-song music seems like less of bad idea, I’ll be back on that jam. Like butter on hot toast.
I had my last haircut in a salon November 18, 2019. The stylist ignored me and spoke to the other stylists while he worked, and dried my hair in the particular kind of long, smooth, loose waves that I would love to know how to do myself but cannot seem to master. Today my hair is so long it gets caught in jacket zippers and chair backs. It is so heavy it works its way out of ponytails. It is entirely too long, just like the pandemic itself. I might wake up tomorrow and cut it all off myself.
The thing about mixtapes, though, if you ever gave me a mixtape, I probably still have it. I even have a few mixtapes that you didn’t give me, but you left them in the Bacon Provider’s car when he took you to the Snow Bowl that time you went skiing with him, or you popped into my boombox while we drank Mooseheads out of my dorm fridge and I never gave it back.
Ten years ago this month I started to have an inkling that our time in Seattle might be ending, after 18 years, and I set about giving away piles of old toys and thirty-one cartons of books and a small mountain of obsolete technology garbage. I follow some people on Twitter who are really into old tech, and I regularly admire the their efforts to restore the crap that used to take up room on the shelves in my basement. But when it came to the cassettes, it was another story.
The handwriting from my friend K on the copy she made me of the then-rare Nilsson’s The Point or her annotations on Lou Reed’s New York, or my other friend K who made me a tape of several Elvis Costellos and a greatest hits of the summer of 1982, or the splendidly varied mixes created by my brother C stopped me. They weren’t especially large, or numerous, and they were made for me.
My favorite mixtape as I recall was one that lived in the Bacon Provider’s college wheels for as long as he had that car, and it had to be rescued when we traded in the Mazda. It was a Maxell, C90, the kind that played and played, and while it had two Bob Marley albums crammed onto it, it also had some Sugar Hill Gang and ended with a fragment of a song that I can’t quite remember. If we can find four working AA batteries we might be able to play this tape on one of the only pieces of obsolete technology the Bacon Provider saved.
This shit started when this friend I’ll call W was coming to visit with their new SO. The last time we saw W, they were at the end of a relationship, and it was rocky and bad;words were exchanged, disappointments voiced, phone calls avoided and emails unreturned. Breakups are ugly, I get it, but seriously, people, you know the rest of us can see you?
So ok W was coming and bringing the new SO and we were getting floors vacuumed and the sheets changed when W texted me to say the new SO was sick and they weren’t coming after all. Which meant we could stop vacuuming. Which was, despite the disappointment, sorta ok. We had agreed to take care of The Graduate’s GF’s fuzzy little dog for the weekend. He’d be our houseguest. Something else to do.
I was out in the yard with all the dogs when I got a text from my brother asking about an article that the Search Engine Monopoly suggested to him, written by J, one of my internet friends. My brother was like don’t you know this person and I was all sure that’s J. Is that a real friend my brother asked and I did not hesitate to say yes.
I never like set out to have internet friends. I had them before I realized, really. When I moved from Seattle I felt disconnected from most of the people I saw every day. It was like we were dead to them. Of course, no one warned me. I just set off on my adventure with all my family, pets, and possessions, and no one wondered whatever happened to us. And that first year, we lived in North Dreadful, which had its downs and downers. And then we lived in the city, and there was a hurricane. But somewhere in there I made a Twitter for my cat, and ended up with some pocket friends.
J was one of the first people I talked to regularly on Twitter. Back in 2012, he caught me at peak cussing-on-the-internet, and RTed me as @HamsterRelish “what kind of twat says “va-jay-jay?” it’s VAGINA.” We go way back.
I talk to J on three platforms, I told my brother. I’m looking forward to having lunch with him.(Not because we had plans to have lunch, but because I always imagined I would have a reason to go to J-ville and we would have lunch. Maybe get a mani-pedi. You know, friend things.)
But then standing in the yard watching three dogs run around I got to thinking about J and wondered why I hadn’t seen a post in about a week, which was unusual given that we were connected on three platforms.
And it was a Facebook post, to J’s wall, from J’s longtime SO, that said something about J being gone and that sure as shit didn’t make any sense.
So I looked up J’s mother. And she had a post saying that J’s last words were “Just love each other.”
J could tell me which peanut butter cookie recipe to use and follow it up with a hilarious 80s song reference. J wrote beautifully about being a therapist, and had a plush vagina pillow on the couch at work. J encouraged my revolting and fanciful ideas about cat-milk-cheese. J tried on all the funny hats at Target. J could take down a Twitter troll and make them cry uncle. J called bullshit on homophobia, on racism, on sexism. J knew what Bundt cakes to make. J had names and numbers for mental health specialists. J took selfies with a mud mask on his face. J knew more about suicide than anyone I know. J knew when people’s husband’s employers were in the news and that not all news that seemed good actually is good. J knew how to DM me on three platforms, and did.
Your internet friends are pocket friends. They live in your phone. They know your pet peeves and your enthusiasms. They are real friends you see all the time. They go everywhere with you.
So where the fuck was J.
I checked all three platforms.
It didn’t make any sense. He was just there the other day, when the truck full of axe body spray exploded in Texas. When he walked his dog.
I’ve had other friends disappear on social media. Sometimes they come back with another name. Sometimes they don’t. I’ve even had an acquaintance in Australia die. But this.
I hearted the posts from his SO and his mother.
And within minutesthe algorithm was showing the posts to our mutual friends. And by the end of the day I was juggling DMs from mutual friends on three platforms.
Are you ok.
I am ok. Are you ok. I am gutted. I don’t understand. No, me either.
Luckily, in my weird little privileged world, there are always dogs to walk and horses to ride, and I kept going. Horses demanded my attention. Dogs, dogs, dogs. I was a little out of it, and had to tell my horse trainer, but we got to work, because I had regionals to prepare for. My new horse and I qualified for the championships, ok sure only at training level but it was coming up. An important horse show seems stupid and strange when you’re upset about someone who died, but also good and simple and true. We worked to get there. We were ready.
But then right after I’d left the barn my mare spooked and got a big cut on her hip. The barn manager texted me right away. She called for the vet and sent me a photo. It looked like a clean slice. Not too deep.
We got home and headed out to walk the dogs. Eggi was too excited for words and kept licking my face and bumping into Captain. The Houseguest looked fuzzily nonplussed, but I fitted him with his little blue collar and leash. I handed the Houseguest’s leash to the Bacon Provider, and took our two dogs myself. We were doing the short loop, through the woods. We were about a half-mile from home when I heard the Bacon Provider make a sort of hiccuping noise. I turned around to see him holding a leash, attached to a little bluecollar, buckled into a neat round loop with no fuzzy dog in it. The Houseguest was booking it back down the trail towards our house. Now the Bacon Provider is not accustomed to fuck-ups, and takes things v seriously, and he took off running after the fuzzy little punk, despite my attempts to explain that he really should not chase the dog. DON’T I shouted CHASE HIM to the empty woods.
Then I was alone in the woods with my two dogs, and my phone rang and it was the vet. She had sewn up the hole in the horse. I asked about the upcoming show. “Well,” said the vet, “if it were on her leg, I’d say no. and if it were on her face I’d say no problem. You should stick to light work for the next few days and we’ll see.”
Sticking to light work.
Horses are stupid.
But what happened.
There was a guy, fixing a thing, with a power tool. It made a noise. The horse scooted.
Is she ok.
She’ll be ok.
Don’t you have a show coming up.
Back at the house, the Bacon Provider and the Houseguest looked like nothing had happened. I thought about posting something about how naughty the Houseguest was on one or three platforms but thought his owner might be sad to learn he was being a pain while she was away.
A couple days passed and the Bacon Provider left for a business trip. My horse and I stuck to light work. By Tuesday it was clear the stitches were holding nicely. But the stitches are right on her hip, and if she stood the wrong way on the trailer ride she might open it again. I made the decision to keep my horse home from the show. Even though it was the championships. Even though we worked so hard to get there. Even though.
I got a text from my husband sitting on his plane where he saw W’s ex who boarded after he did. Had W and the new SO made it for the weekend, they would have very likely all run into each other at the airport. JFC people the rest of us can see you. Be good to each other, even if you have to let someone go.
I walked all three dogs by myself.
I got in bed early and put a mud mask on my stupid sad face.
I got a text around 10 from my neighbor. She was away and the person who was supposed to do barn check hadn’t. Could I go over and throw the horses a flake of hay? Of course I could. I washed off the mud mask. Real life friends and neighbors are important. I went in my pajamas. Her horses were fine.