No Depression

IMG_7913Heading out of town. Leaving the four walls we’ve shared this last month. Crossing into another state entirely. Feels like we’re getting the hell out of dodge and maybe even leaving Covid behind too when all we’re doing is driving to Highlands, NC for the day so my husband can check out a jobsite for a potential project. The pets remain to nap the day away. Gave the dog two Benadryl to help with her skin itches, so she’s definitely in for a good nap. Wonder if they have weird Covid dreams too?

I had another strange dream last night. It was my birthday and I went to the mailbox and it was packed with little gifts wrapped in brown kraft paper, a delightful surprise I’ve never seen. I filled my arms with as many as I could carry and went to the front door. The street was somehow smaller and the driveway shorter to this house, the one in the dream, yet it was still the house I live in now. The front stoop by the door was filled with more birthday packages, these boxes beautifully wrapped. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was exciting. As I approached the door, several people I didn’t recognize left, and none of them were wearing masks. I went in and the house had either just had a real estate tour or a closing had already happened in the eight hours I’d been at work. A woman with ‘50s sprayed brown hair with a “That Girl” flip greeted me. She moved about as if she was the lady of this house and carried a refined contentment amid its new décor. All I could utter is, “Where are the pets?”, imagining the coming and going must have led to their escape. In an I’m holding them hostage tone, she told me they were secure upstairs. I scanned the place full of berber carpets and monochromatic décor, straight out of a Ballard catalog. There was nothing personal, not a family photo of mine or hers, a stack of bills, or umbrella stand. Knowing my pets were safe I quickly tried to figure out how I was going to handle this situation. Forget my birthday, which normally was a day I’d savor, my entire life had been hijacked. And still it seems by some miracle Covid hadn’t seeped into this antiseptic environment. I wanted to go see my pets and rescue them, but where was I going to go? My family wasn’t around – maybe they were at work and school? – but this lady was clearly planted here. Then I woke up.

IMG_7813Our third cat, a gorgeous black outside older kitten, is no longer with us. Early in the morning a few weeks ago as I was upstairs in the bathroom looking out the window, a large coyote confidently and ceremoniously ambled across our back yard, our sweet black cat dangling from its jaws, its mate following behind. I’ve never seen anything like this, as if somewhere in the depths of the woods surrounding our house, the earth just opened up and swallowed up this sweet creature I’ll never see or hold again.

A dad in my town named Matt died recently of Covid. He leaves behind four kids and an ex-wife and friends and family all who were pulling for him. He used to teach yoga at the Y, and I loved his classes. He was so calm, and I always felt that way during and after his classes. I hate that he had to fight so – which went against his chill Zen nature, but Covid is horribly unpredictable and relenting. Emory University Hospital said he was their sickest patient, and while I didn’t hold out much hope after hearing that, now that he’s gone, I feel sad for all he left behind. And for him too. So much more life to live.

IMG_7920Driving up I-985 with Uncle Tupelo coming through the speakers and half eaten deli sandwiches rewrapped for later, we were quiet anticipating whatever was coming next. I hope we’ll find ourselves on curvy roads so Evan can strike the riding the fast car on the curvy mountain roads off his bucket list. I hope I see cows or colorful mountain ranges, or both. Joe brought along a Bass Ale for me and a Hopsecutioner for himself, just in case I decided to take off the brakes and have a beer. With my hyperfocus on my health of late, I still feel guilty drinking anything and average only a glass of wine every week/ten days. Surely, that’s allowed?

It felt mischievous slinking out of town

We all seem glad to be going somewhere after standing still for weeks. It felt mischievous slinking out of town, as if we had needed a permission slip to leave the city and had decided to hell with it and just up and left. We certainly weren’t slinking and made our usual production — kids scurrying about looking for stuff, headphones and jackets and snacks, and grownups grabbing coolers and ice and drinks. The dog understands this commotion all too well and got that pitiful look on her face, as if saying, really? again? You said you wouldn’t leave me anymore! The Benadryl had kicked in and she started to nap, realizing even her most convincing looks were futile and we would keep right on packing.

Maybe nobody will be wearing a mask in NC. Maybe Covid would magically go away while we were on the road and we’ll return to something that feels normal. I need this escape. We all do. It offers another day behind us. Something different.

I’m going where there’s no depression to a land that’s free from care   – Uncle Tupelo

I tried adjusting my warped sunglasses to hide my exposed right “eyebrow” both of which have disappeared without notice in the last few weeks. Eight weeks post chemo, I’ve got more hair loss still, a little more from my scalp and now this void where brows should be. Maybe I’ll draw them in and give myself an astonished expression with high arches above my eyes, like our dog’s vet’s assistant used to do. The line was so sharp and looked wide awake, and I’m assuming she drew it on fresh each morning. On my face there is a faint dirty blond space where my brows were and a few scattered hairs remaining. Summer is going to be strange as it is, so the brows’ return will be something to look forward to.

We’re in Rabun County now passing signs for Lakemont, the turn off for Lake Rabun, which takes me back to fun weekends with my childhood friend, Margaret, at their lake house there. For these weekends, my mom would crank out one of her famous pound cakes to bring with me, and we’d have it for dessert after the beef fondue with consommé rice dinner her mom made. Afterward, on Saturday night, Margaret, her brother and I would boat over to Hall’s Boat House to hear the Blue Grass music and watch the cloggers. There were kids our age from area and Atlanta schools, and it was fun to check out who was there.

IMG_6732Heading back toward home, we stopped along the road in South Carolina and walked along a path leading to expansive views from Bald Rock. Walking as people approached, Joe reminded me, “Don’t forget to hold your breath.” I thought there must be some dog poop ahead or something, but he was referring to the coronavirus. (We’ve discovered we both hold our breath sometimes when passing people if we don’t have on a mask.) I had forgotten about the virus for much of this day trip since we saw so few people. There was that one man we saw in downtown Highlands wearing a mask, but otherwise no signs of any pandemic. How nice to forget and just focus on the path in front of us.

A little taste of our music, and the song Uncle Tupelo’s No Depression, along the way:


So Rad

Walking changes your brain. It shifts it into neutral, turning revolutions and jostling about freely like a pinball that can’t settle on a direction. It puts information on hold – mask-making techniques, shows to stream, the latest Covid-19 numbers, stores stocking hand sanitizer – and propels you forward out of a shelter-in-place and into a new normal.

IMG_7570-1As my husband works from our living room couch and my boys learn remotely sprawled on their beds, I have my own project this month, and as odd as that might seem, I’m actually glad. Every weekday at 8am, I leave my driveway, backpack on my back, coffee in one hand, water in the other, and head out solo or with a friend ( 6 feet apart) or family walking to Emory’s Winship Cancer Center for my 9:15am radiation therapy appointment.

It’s still crisp and cool outside, and I’ve got a good time slot vs. a midday the-air-is-now-thick-and-it’s-hot-outside experience on my hands. The regimen is 21 treatments, and after today’s, just 17 remain, until the final one on April 29. There is a freedom about leaving my house on foot as the day is waking up. I get first dibs on it all, dialed up bright green and fresh.

The treatments are simple, all of ten minutes. There’s no pain and it’s surprisingly relaxing to lie on a table, topless, left arm overhead, carefree, languishing on my sterile stainless-steel spell couch. A machine hovers over my left breast, lining up with the sharpie lines covered in tape, which the techs initially drew on me to guide the beams to the exact place. As the equipment moves to treat from different angles, I must hold my breath five or so times, the longest lasting maybe 30 seconds, and a little box placed on my belly monitors my breathing. If I can’t hold my breath, the machine automatically stops, so I avoid any damage to my heart. So far, I’m a good breath holder.

Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something. -Fred Rogers

When I’m all done, the automatic door opens and the techs return, and I get up and dressed so the next patient can come in. It’s a well-oiled machine here, with minimal waits and prompt treatments, yet we all feel the pandemic, with masks covering our faces, tape marking where we must wait, and the substantial distance between us. Still, it’s quiet here and respectful, and we each go about our business, getting our treatment done, and then getting on with things outside.

IMG_7573The way home is different. Usually it’s the same route, but now the sun is higher in the sky, so my sweater is balled up in my backpack and my water bottle nearly empty. The houses and flowers and ivy beds and mailboxes I pass are each full of detail, and I notice every bit. Walking along, I think about plans for my own yard and house and future as I soak up these present moments. It’s so different from being at home inside the usual walls and with a predictable routine. I suspect each of these 21 walks and treatments will be distinctly different, with varying paces and conversations and traffic and weather.

IMG_7567When I look back, I will treasure these walks as much as the healing treatments I know I’m extremely lucky to get during this frightening time for our world, our hospitals in particular. I will remember the chatty conversations with girlfriends, and the sounds of my boys’ voices as they talk to one another along the walk, breaking up little twigs they find into small pieces and throwing them or dropping them like breadcrumbs along their path, as boys do. I will savor the houses we voted the prettiest, the waves across the street to occasional passersby, and these spring mornings it seems we alone got to taste.

This apocalyptic landscape, no longer dotted with many cars or people and with closed storefronts, is still full of squirrels and dogwoods and blue skies and pollen. So much is the same, yet it’s all changed. We’re still here, though, putting one leg in front of the other. These times, these talks, every breath is a gift.

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.