I can not say I’ve experienced the “Perfect Storm.” But I’m at the end of a “Perfect Squall.” It began four years ago with a questionable turn in worldly affairs (the flap of the butterfly wing). It escalated a year ago with the onset of Pandemic and the fear and stress that accompanied it. It intensified at the end of December with a month-long bout of “food poisoning/bacterial hurricane,” complicated by tooth ache. And culminated (so I thought) a few weeks ago with the removal of the affected tooth, leaving me traumatized in body, mind, and spirit.
Grim stories from friends and acquaintances accelerated the spiral. It’s not as if I made a concussive hit onto rock bottom, but I slipped into a muddy murk that sought to pull me further into the abyss. And yet, I am one of the lucky ones! How could this be?
When I thought I had overcome the Fates, I fell. Literally. In the street, splat! Injuring my hand and knee, but not breaking anything (except my dignity, such that it is). A week later my hand is still painful, my knee still seeps. I ache. Fates to Fool, “Gotcha!!”
I’m not so muddled as to believe I’m the only one in this situation, or that there aren’t a lot of folks much worse off. So I accept the challenge to persevere, and hopefully lend an (uninjured) hand when the situation allows. I enthusiastically reject the posture of “self-pity,” the lowest of low affectations when I say that when life pulls you into mud and muck, don’t be afraid to roll around, get dirty, and make some mud pies (with your good hand).
I woke in the middle of the night expecting darkness, and was surprised by the brightness of streetlights and dim windows reflected and magnified by impish snowflakes as they fell in infinite numbers. Hypnotized by the kinetic movement beyond my lodgings, I drifted into asleep.
In the morning I felt the brush of cold on my skin as a phantom flake landed and melted. Snow had begun to infringe on my inner domain. It manifest as mote and mist that not only gathered in the space around me, but clouded the mind, leaving a chill of existential anxiety. I scaled a shaky ladder to inspect the ceiling, the roof, but there was no breach. I combed through my hair, inspected my skin, but there was no entry point. I closed my eyes. The delicate assault continued, within and without. Minute ice crystals, carefully crafted by an omnipotent alchemist’s hand had invaded space, time and memory. I’ve become complacent in its grasp.
The storm outside may subside with the whim of nature, but inside there is no just season.
The sun comes up over Queens in a red haze. I might see the moon set on the other side of the apartment if it wasn’t for the clouds.
The darkness turns deep navy.
I stand and settle, ease into my tai chi moves, Grasping the Bird’s Tail, Pat the Horse, Cloud arms…My body takes over, leaving the mind to clear, or to wander if I’m not wary. But mind does what it does and drifts off without my knowing. The body calls it back, the moves demand it. Where was I? What was I thinking? Old friends, events, pass through awareness and I come back to foot and fingers. The tune of a reggae song arises and I stray to it’s rhythm, the pulse of a serene heart beat. It suits the form.
The world lightens, moves about me. I catch the light of a star beyond my window.
But it moves away. Airplane?
The acidic color of sky, the light from the window of another early riser, nothing is “natural” there…except the clouds, the sun, and the slow movement of the tai chi player…
Day “breaks” but is not broken. It is not seized, but earned. Buildings shine pink with sunrise. My movements end as delicately as daylight unfolding.
For the last few weeks there’s been someone living in a tent beneath my window. I am twenty-one floors above and overlook the park where the tent is pitched. I’ve never had a tent-neighbor before and I’m intrigued. I wonder if I should go down and introduce myself, make an offering of cake or homemade chocolate-chip cookies. That’s what good neighbors did when I was a kid.
It’s rained much of the last two weeks and I feel bad for my tent-neighbor as his tent may not be completely waterproof. It was put together with overlapping tarps and cardboard. It sits only partially under a tree that’s lost most of its leaves.
I dare not invite tent-neighbor into my home as we are in the midst of a pandemic and I don’t know if tent-neighbor might be infected or contagious. I could be infected and symptomless, contagious to others.
Yesterday when the rain paused for a while, tent-neighbor covered the ground with something I thought might be Art. When I took out my binoculars, I saw that clothes had been laid out on a tarp (?) to be dried. Had they been washed? Had one of my house-neighbors invited tent-neighbor in for a shower? I was ashamed I hadn’t done it first, but still frightened of infection. Perhaps I should go down and leave coins for the laundromat. But would tent-neighbor spend them on Cleanliness? Or drugs? Alcohol? I don’t want to profile. I don’t want to enable.
A gift of food is a better idea. A sandwich? How would I guess preference? Perhaps I have a meatless tent-neighbor. Soup? If tent-neighbor isn’t hungry right away, is the tent equipped to reheat? And what food allergies might tent-neighbor have?
Back to cake. Or homemade cookies. No nuts. But I don’t…bake. Bread would be good, but I have no yeast, no sourdough starter, no technique. When my kids were young, bread making was one of our favorite winter activities—braided bread babies with an egg for the face. But it’s been years…perhaps a loaf from a bakery, something fresh and crusty. I remember eating Portuguese bread when I worked summers in Provincetown, soft in the middle, crusty outside.
Bread is life, but is it tent life?
There are a lot of squirrels in the park, and rats in the neighborhood, who would love to have bread. And birds…it could end up like a Hitchcock movie—in a tent. For that matter, I’m sure the neighborhood wild life would enjoy unguarded food of any kind. How secure is a tent?
Maybe a blanket.
Perhaps I should send my family and all my friends blankets, to hide under until this pandemic/election/nightmare is over. Friends and family could use a little coziness too. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Blankets for everyone! Everywhere!
Actually, I think I’m the one that needs a blanket.