by Phyllis Brotherton & Armen Bacon
Excerpted from “The Words Between Us, A Pandemic Abecedarius,”
a collaborative writing project
Today, it is unclear to me precisely how and why the unearthly Murder Hornet has unceremoniously inserted its ugly, unpleasant self onto the American scene. I mean, unbelievable. How much more can fragile humans take in the unreal year of 2020? I am as unsanguine about it as Covid-19, maybe even more so, since, at an unlikely two inches long, the Murder Hornet has an unquenchable appetite for honeybees. We unequivocally need the ailing and also fragile, honeybee populations, to pollinate the orchards and groves. So, just when the deadly and also unwelcome virus begins to subside for a few months, hornets will become their most unhelpfully destructive in late summer and early fall. Plagues unending. Very uncool!
This is a picture I did not take of grocery aisles whose floors are taped with directional signs, whose shelves are mostly barren, and whose customers wear masks and gloves. Acrylic walls now guard checkout clerks from customers. Shoppers attempt social distancing but repeatedly slam carts into each other as if playing bumper cars at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk – some perhaps out of frustration, others because it’s awkward and unnatural and hot wearing masks and gloves while picking out fruit, vegetables, salami, cheese, bread and water. The wine aisle is especially congested this morning – like a traffic jam of corona-holics.
I remember a moment in time when, as a newly-divorced woman, I stopped utilizing my house, the first I had ever purchased all on my own, as a way station. In 1989, I can’t tell you the exact day or month, but it was a time when I ceased running out the door to this restaurant or that concert or that bar and decided to “stop” and “stay.” M. Scott Peck called this “cathecting,” to focus one’s emotional energies on someone or something (Wiktionary), in this case, my home life. I bought my first stereo, a bookcase to fill with books, and flowers in pots for the patio. I read books, cooked for myself and built a fire in the fireplace (when we could have real wood fires, a seemingly ancient luxury). There were other cathecting experiments that didn’t work out so well, like a biting cat that wouldn’t stay off the kitchen counters and a sweet Lab that never stopped jumping or peeing. I was never cut out for pets. Fast forward to 2020 in Covid-19 lockdown. I’m feeling the cathecting moment again, starting an herb garden, potting begonias, unearthing forgotten recipes, even mopping the floors. I’m quite comfortable with the forced “stop,” and I feel pretty certain things will never be the same again.
Sitting in my car, removing gloves and mask, dousing hands with hand sanitizer, the reality of now settles in. This is the new not-so-normal. We are at 47 days of social isolation. Schools closed since March 14; teachers teaching remotely, students and parents pulling out their hair, throwing up their hands, and doing homework in their jammies. When feeling guilty for all these unsettling emotions, parents and teachers plan elaborate drive by parades to remind each other they are missed and still loved. Restaurants are only open for pick up and home delivery. Sports competitions have been cancelled. Weddings, family celebrations, birthdays and graduations are also cancelled. Hand sanitizer, Kleenex, toilet paper and Clorox wipes – all in short supply. Reports of hoarding. Hugs and kisses not allowed. Quarantine fatigue sets in.
…[E]ven after thousands of years, we have had no luck conquering Tomorrow. Over and over again, we have set sail in pursuit of tomorrow only to discover Tomorrow’s antecedents.
Amy Leach, “Things That Are”
Tomorrow’s antecedent is Today and Yesterday.
Today, Gov. Newsom announced California would move into phase two of reopening the economy.
Today, I am contemplating the demise of the Chinese Pistache tree soon, with a new housing development going in behind us. The heavy equipment sounds grow closer every day. It houses birds that play along the back wall and drink and swim in the fountain and one pesky squirrel that skips along doing its work and chews on our patio furniture. This tree is a metaphor for everything right now. For it, there is no tomorrow.
Today, we are in uncharted territory with unknown outcomes.
Today, I will write these paragraphs, water the tomatoes, check the herbs for green babies sprouting, and watch out for the Murder Hornets.
The first time I used this word was back in 2004 to describe despair and the unimaginable fate falling upon my family when my son died. Now, I sit outside staring at the moon trying to remember when and how and why this pandemic happened. Were there signs I missed? Was it written in the stars? And then unthinkable questions arrive without answers, bleeding into the margins of my journals: Will I ever fly in an airplane again? Stay in a hotel? Cross the Bay Bridge? See the Rolling Stones in a Farewell Concert? Go to a Broadway musical? Gaze up at the Eiffel Tower?
Phyllis Brotherton, a memoirist and essayist, received her MA and MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Fresno State University. Her work has been published in Under the Gum Tree, Entropy, Anomaly, Brevity Blog and elsewhere. She recently completed “The Words Between Us, A Pandemic Abecedarius,” a collaborative writing project with fellow writer, Armen D. Bacon, from which the above essay is excerpted. She is sheltering-in-place with her wife, Denise, eating too much and binge-watching “The Restaurant.” Follow her on Twitter @phyllisbwrites, Instagram @phyllis_brotherton and Facebook.
Armen Bacon is an op ed columnist and the author of three books: “Griefland – An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship,” and “My Name is Armen”(Volumes I & II). Her essays have appeared in Maria Shriver’s Architects of Change, Entropy, Brevity Blog, Hybred Magazine, and The Fresno Bee. Determined to escape pandemic despair, she and co-author, Phyllis Brotherton, are busy submitting a new collaborative effort, “The Words Between Us – A Pandemic Abecedarius” to publishers. Follow her journey on Twitter @ArmenBacon, Instagram @ArmenBacon and Facebook: Armen D. Bacon.