Last week, Tom tested positive for COVID. He quarantined in our bedroom and binge-watched Breaking Bad, which was mostly fine with me because I can’t handle representations of violence or drug addiction. But I missed him very much. Because we don’t have a guest bedroom, I was camped out in Little Blue for three days, though running back and forth to take care of the kids (who, like me, tested negative) and leaving dishes for Tom in front of his closed door, mostly chicken soup and tea with honey. I always fantasize about “getting away” and having time and space to myself, but whenever I am alone, the aloneness is never what it’s cracked up to be. All I wanted was to get back to my family, be with them with all the accompanying bickering and jockeying for the best seat on the couch. I got some of this, mind you, since I was Parent On Duty all week. And even though they are teenagers, they’re still willing to cuddle up to me on the couch.
Then I was kicked out of Little Blue by the AirBnB guests, and for one night, I slept on the couch in our music room, my favorite room in the house. But then I woke up with COVID, so Tom and I squished into his sickly small space, though it could be way worse. We have a bedroom, bathroom and an office which is sort of a fat hallway out of our bedroom, and a door separates it from the kids’ rooms. Now the kids–-still healthy and testing negative–– are fetching us dishes and leaving them at our door. Tom and I have been playing a lot of Scrabble and watching Motherland, the Great British Bake-Off, American Buffalo, and Flora and Son. We are taking Paxlovid, and I’m glad because after two days of it, I could breathe, which meant I could finally sleep. But it does leave an aftertaste not unlike what we used to call garbage juice––that liquid that accumulated at the bottom of our trash cans in the summer back in the days before we composted our food waste. At best, sort of the way grapefruit juice tastes right after you’ve brushed your teeth.
I FaceTime with Lila and Johnny. It’s not the same.
This Friday, we were heading to New York, first for a private house concert (a leftover Kickstarter premium) and then for our show at City Vineyard, a beautiful venue we’ve been trying to get into for years. I learned earlier this week from Patty our manager that Circle of Days is being considered for Best Folk by the Grammy Award people. The songs, written within the last four years, already seem integrated deeply within my guitar-playing lyric-remembering parts, as familiar now as much older songs like “Best Black Dress” and “Endless Day.” We were going to play these shows with Dave, trio acoustic. October in New York. I am heartbroken. When I wrote our promotor at City Winery to reschedule the show, they wrote back saying they too have COVID and would get back to me as soon as they recovered. It takes so much effort for me to call venues and book our little band, sometimes weeks or months, and then one stupid virus wipes out the calendar, revealing the fragility of our endeavor.
When we were first starting out, of course, we were in our twenties, with the bodies and immune systems of oxen. We thought nothing of spending nights on peoples’ couches and floors and subsisting on peanut butter and jelly, coffee and pizza. After shows, we drove well past midnight and then rose in the morning and drove another eight hours to the next gig. Back then, touring seemed inevitable. We were here, we had wheels, there were roads, and there were venues. There were radio stations and local papers who would play our music and announce our shows and people would show up to watch us play. It didn’t occur to me for a long time that everything rested on our human bodies, and that these bodies were not after all, the bodies of oxen.
American buffalos, technically bison, are the largest mammals in the hemisphere. A fully grown bull weighs a ton. When Europeans landed here, there were so many millions of bison that they appeared to humans as swarms, like gnats, like schools of minnows. Because of the demand in Europe for their thick skins and coats, they were slaughtered in the millions so that within the nineteenth century they went from being the dominant animal in the ecosystems of the Plains to facing extinction.
Though it’s hard for me to focus, there’s something to be said for completely surrendering to the experience of diffusion. I have no stamina, so after doing anything, after about five minutes I have to lie down and close my eyes. I threw some extra quilts onto my treadmill and sometimes I lie there when I want to get away from Tom and remind myself that I am too sick to exercise. Also just to mix things up.
Everything makes me cry. I listened to some Bach motets my friend Betsy recommended, but after five minutes, the voices made me too sad. So I found some Yo Yo Ma cello pieces I’ve always loved, and then I moved to violins, but that made me cry because my kids aren’t little violinists anymore, and then I started sobbing about how they are almost grown and out of the house and I’ve lost my little babies forever.
My friend Sara said to me today, “I am embracing decomposition. Maybe it’s as important as composition. Maybe God is in the decomposition; God is in the earth, the soil, and not the sky as we were told to believe. Maybe the aging process really is beautiful.”
I get this. My face looks shockingly old these days–I look like one of my aunts who has white hair. And because I look like my beloved aunt, I think I look quite beautiful, though, yes, old. There is a gift in the limits our bodies impose on us. They force us, when we’re sick like this, to slow down, pay attention, listen to all the painful voices of our younger selves hidden in the cracks of our vertebrae, the aches in our shoulders.
I lie on the floor––or the treadmill bed–– after the strenuous task of fetching my dinner, and I talk to these sickly, young parts with my Old Self, the one who looks like my beloved aunt. “We’ll get through this, kiddos,” I say. “No one has to do anything right now.” And in my altered, surrendered state, every one of my inner kids is beautiful, even the self-centered, selfish, narcissistic one, even the perpetually needy and whiney one, even the lazy one. Especially the lazy one. They’re all cuddled with me on the couch, and I realized today that even when my kids do leave the house, I’ll have these little ones with me always.