Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Denial Ain't Just a River in Egypt


Max spends 90% of his time in his bedroom, in the dark, on some kind of media: Nintendo Switch, Google Pixel 3, a giant monitor. F. and I have been panicking over this, in general, but also because now he is truly depressed—lethargic, sad, angry—and we’ve never seen him like this before.

I’ve started making him lunch again; otherwise he just doesn’t eat until dinner time, except for unhealthy snacks like granola bars and pizza. I’m helping him study for the permit test, apply for a store clerk job at our food co-op, register for classes in the fall. My counselor tells me to stop helping, let him fail on his own. But that doesn’t seem right. He’s facing staggering losses. Plus, he recognizes that he is depressed and in need of help.

I had hoped Max would bypass the teenage angst, that he would sail from high school into college, his happy self, eager to do well, excited to try something new, full of dreams. But we humans aren’t built to endure severe and chronic uncertainty and threat. These things wear us down, physically and emotionally.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Reassurance: A Meditation for the Dying

I’ve been reading a book by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh: No Death, No Fear.  Here's one example of a meditation for the dying:

This eye is not me. I am not caught in this eye. I am life without limit, I have never been born, 
will never die.

This fear is not me. I am not caught in this fear. I am life without limit, I have never been born, 
I will never die.

This thought is not me. I am not caught in this thought. I am life without limit, I have never been born, I will never die.

 This body is not me. I am not caught in this body. I am life without limit, I have never been born,
I will never die.

I get a glimmer of what the meditation is trying to teach: Each part of what I think of as my “self”—body, perceptions, thoughts, emotions—is not the totality of “me.” Even my mind and heart, my personal consciousness, is not “me.” When the senses fold and the body dies, I do not die; I’m a single wave releasing into the ocean, water merging with water.

Just for Today, Too Tired to Care

I’m walking home, just a few blocks away from the Blue Garden. I hear shouting from several blocks away—it sounds rhythmic, like a girl’s jump rope ditty. But there’s also a thumping bass. Then honking—multiple cars—beep beep beep--one after the other. I peer down the street. There’s a hubbub at the intersection of Snelling and Minnehaha, more cars than usual stopped at the traffic light with their headlights on, though it’s four in the afternoon.

I cross Minnehaha and walk a block or so on Albert but now the chants and horns and thumping are growing louder. I turn around and see a stream of cars heading east on Minnehaha. Police on bikes, in fluorescent orange vests, stop to block the adjoining streets and motion the parade of cars forward. A woman with a bullhorn emerges from the open roof of a car. She is white and tattooed all down her arms and shouting. A black teenager hangs out a passenger window with a cardboard sign: Defund Police—so now I know what it’s all about. White women come out of their homes and clap and cheer and the people in the cars raise their fists and I just don’t care about any of it.

I’m no longer young. I don’t believe that raising my fist and shouting a slogan will help. I don’t believe we can simply do away with policing without descending into chaos. I’m not fired up or outraged or upset—just exhausted.

Friday, June 19, 2020

The Blue Garden

I come to the garden and sit on the bench in the shade. It’s quiet here. The lawn is deeply green. The garden froths with blossoms, magenta and blue and purple. The small tree behind me is blooming, and the air smells sweet. No rabbits visit today, just the occasional call of a jay, the liquid notes of a robin.

I hear a faint scraping of gravel and glance up. An older woman emerges from the other side of the wall that runs parallel to the bench. She wears sagging pants, a loose men's cotton shirt, a baseball cap over thin white hair that falls to her shoulders. She strikes me as unsteady, slightly bewildered--when she sees me, she glances away, then drops her eyes. 

I decide to head back home. But I’ve been wondering about the wall and what it means. Something to do with war? Lost soldiers? I notice a plaque facing away from me and go over to read it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Letting Go of the Person I've Been

I have a photo: I’m sitting on the floor in a circle of moms and toddlers, with Max sitting on my lap. We’re singing a song about flowers. Max is wearing a headband sprouting 6-inch yellow petals. He looks dubious, not at all happy with the thing on his head. In those days Max relied on me for everything.
Parting was “such sweet sorrow”—I could hardly bear it, knowing he would think I was leaving forever. I loved that vulnerable part of him. Once when he had a fever, I lay on a hammock for hours, with him on top, stomach to stomach. If I tried to get up, he would wail.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

One Son, One Story of Race in America


I was grating a raw beet, and Max was slicing mushrooms.  We were making veggie burgers, from a New York Times recipe—a long and complicated list of ingredients no one without his own personal chef would have on hand.  The recipe’s supposed to take three and a half hours to complete, including two hours for chilling, but at the rate Max is going, we won’t be eating dinner until 9 pm.  Talk, talk, talk— does he need a pill to make him focus on what he’s doing? 

“No, I don’t need it,” he says.  “I can focus without it … “
I return to my beet.  Suddenly he blurts out: “Did you notice that all of the judges on MasterChef are white?  I think there’s only been one Latino.”  He’s practically memorized all 10 seasons of the show.  “And almost all of the winners are white, too.“  

I stop peeling.  So far he’s avoided the issue of race.  “Really?  Wow.  I bet that’s true.”   Then I pause.  “I wonder how many of the contestants are people of color?  Or how many even apply?”  I want to believe the proportions make sense, the judges themselves aren’t biased.  That blacks and Latinos simply don’t apply.  But then I wonder, “Why not?”  Does racism operate even before a child's dreams make themselves known?

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Don't Even Think About It


Two of my sister’s three daughters, Grace and Maria, started jobs at a summer camp in Tennessee in mid-May.  Within a week, they were sent home sick when they, along with 35 of the 70 campers and staff, tested positive for Covid.  The girls drove 13 hours to get back to my sister’s home in Virginia.  The other 68 traveled to homes scattered across the country.   

“Pretend they’re dead,” one doctor said.  He meant: zero contact while the two girls quarantined at my sister’s home.  Ellie drops food at their bedroom doors and picks up their bags of trash.
The youngest daughter, Maria, texts my sister throughout the day: “I’m sick of fruit and vegetables. Can’t you give me something else?” Both girls seem to be over the worst, but Maria suffers from the isolation.  She and my sister video chat often. This is the only way Ellie can see her daughter’s faces. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Six Days Out from George Floyd's Murder

Six days out from George Floyd's murder, the police and national guard have the streets more under control--though not fully.  There are still black cars roaming around without license plates.  People are finding containers of gasoline stashed in their alleys and backyards. Someone is posting threatening letters to black families nearby.  People are hearing gunshots.  More copters, more sirens. 

I'm feeling some relief now that the violence seems to have moved away from the Midway area of University Avenue.  It makes me realize how much fear I was feeling.  Max and my husband have taken to locking the porch door as well as the front and back.  They're pulling the storm windows down over the screens.  Max has been staying up till 3 or 4 am to protect our home from thieves, no matter how much I try to reassure him.

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Forging the Second Self: A memoir in progress.

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