January was just another year. A year closer to the election. A year farther from the end of graduation and all the promise that entailed. A year closer to midlife.
In February I turned forty. All that I could think about were the wheels of time escaping with my life as I struggled to make sense of where I had come from, what I'd accomplished, and where, if anywhere, I was going.
I was tending the mens' dressing room of an elite wine-country resort, waiting to be paged over the radio, when I glanced surreptitiously at my mobile phone, an unauthorized item on my person, and saw the interfamily exchange: "I hope Kiz is okay." My cat, Kizmet. Scrolling back into mounting fear I discovered an unseen series of anxious appeals: "Kizmet has collapsed." "I'm worried." "Please call."
I drifted past my coworker, dazed as though cranially bludgeoned, verbally stumbled through something about a family emergency to the management and found my way to the employee shuttle stop: a carport canopy lined with retired office chairs. I stood choking on my urgency like a race horse at the bit until at last the shuttle arrived. The driver scowled and announced himself on break as I declared my emergency. He radioed a curt request to headquarters before stranding me on a sea of tarmac with no key to my carriage home.
It was forty minutes before I arrived at my own car in the college parking lot where I was required to park, with still an hour's winding mountain road barricading me from my companion of more than a decade. An eternity removed from the warm body that had daily melted against mine, motoring gently. The tiny toes that clutched my shirt or tapped my face to bring it closer, the plaintive mewling and sandpaper kisses would be swept forever out of reach while I prayed tensely over the steering wheel.
Our community play was set to premiere in March. For three months I finished my full-time shift and drove more than an hour to spend a second shift in rehearsal before traveling the long commute home in the night. For no compensation but the love of the craft, we sacrificed weekends, family gatherings, and even missed income to memorize Shakespearean prose and practice the performing arts. It was my return to the stage after a two-decade hiatus.
Three days before opening weekend, we were cancelled. The diverse cast of college youth and veteran performers were learning about the Corona virus; some for the first time. As we sat in the auditorium where the show would not go on, there were protests of time wasted, and more than a few tears shed. We had passed our days collaborating to create something that brought meaning to our lives and joy to audiences; audiences that would never receive the gift of our efforts. Hesitantly, we exchanged hugs; knowing that the unique family we had formed in the womb of that theater would not again converge.
Covid took our art away, and then our income. By April I was neither elite nor essential. I dusted off the drawing board, rekindled my writing. I bought and washed groceries and wrestled with unemployment. I watched the death toll rise, wondering about the lives lost. Would I have encountered them, had they lived? What were their plans? Might we have exchanged a kind word in the checkout line? Would we have been friends? The face and the fate of the world changed dramatically, too quickly to comprehend.
Amidst this tide of death, our disgrace duplicated. In parallel to one of the greatest global pandemics in a century, we suddenly found ourselves thrust back to the sixties. Voices of the past spoke to present ills and unmet reparations. My part in the march for progress doubled back on itself against the revelation that my mother's work remained undone. Horrors of history revealed themselves broadly unknown and, worse, untaught. George, Ahmaud, Breonna. No mindless microbe had stolen those lives. No lawless miscreant but the law, itself. And we said their names, but it did not bring them back. And they were not alone, and they were not the last. Against the instincts of my nature, I donned my mask, prepared my poster board, claimed my corner and raised my fist. It was only May.
On June first, the disgraced authorities targeted members of media and citizens gathered in lawful protest with tear gas and less-lethal ammunition. The blood of those seeking peace was spilled so that the president could declare himself the arbiter of law-and-order, with bible in hand, before a church.
As tensions escalated into July, the media reported Portland and Seattle were disintegrating into tyranny. Conservative media portrayed a war perpetrated by anarchists and insurgents. Liberal media described federal agents attacking everyone and their mother with weaponry disavowed in international conflict, unidentified agents grabbing protesters from unmarked vans to terrorize citizens into submission. The chaos reigned nightly within the space of a city block as my brother, a Portland native, slept sound and the greater municipal area carried on, unimposed.
It is August now, as I sit gazing from the window of my California home. The green ponderosa pine tower sharply above the dry earth, a trail of quail scuttling nervously over the woodpile as a chopper drones in the distance. A deceptively blue sky belies the fact that we are surrounded by wildfires, waiting to be evacuated. As I pack my bag, I am thinking about something my brother once said to me from the heart of another tempest: "Let's take this one crisis at a time."