I’m 39 today.
Last year, my friends took me out for birthday dinner and we tried not talking about what we couldn’t help talking about. The virus was here, now. Schools were shutting down. Employees were being sent home to work. The world as we knew it was about to change forever. We slurped our Tom Yum Pho with bewildered eyes and questions none of us would ever be able to answer.
A year later, I’m standing over my kitchen stove boiling sap into maple syrup and still thinking about the innumerable, unanswerable questions. How long will this last? How many will we lose? Could life ever be normal again?
I have been extremely/overly cautious this last year, but even with all my THINKING and DECISIONS and PREVENTION and PRECAUTIONS, here I am, quarantined because of a recent exposure. A quick stop off at a friend’s house and a hug I didn’t say no to will turn into weeks of waiting and wondering.
When I think back to that dinner last year with my friends, I feel like I’m looking in on another life. We were girls around a table of Thai food, shoulder to shoulder, living among one another, breathing each other’s air. We were so sickeningly rich in the closeness and togetherness I ache for in these lean months. There was open-mouthed laughter and tasting each other’s dinners and lingering around. There were smiles and unmuffled words and hugs without hesitation, and dammit, I cannot stop crying about who we were before. We were grown women, but we were babies. We stopped by each other’s houses. We rode in cars together. We let our kids play with one another. Tell me, what didn’t we have?
A year later, we are old and tired. Tired of being responsible. Tired of saying no. Tired of feeling all that hangs between us and the people we used to hug and kiss and touch with unsanitized hands.
My goodness, I just texted my friend that my son cannot swim with her son on his birthday tomorrow because we have been EXPOSED. We have to QUARANTINE. We have to be TESTED.
These words. We are so tired of these words.
I don’t know how to do this anymore. My mind wants to make beginnings, middles, and endings out of things, but I don’t know the map for this story. Maybe there are no endings anymore. Maybe there are only more chapters and more unknowing. More questions. What else do we have to pay? Who else among us will live or die?
The sap bubbles in my pan, foaming and rolling higher up the sides. I turn the knob a hair to the left and it dies down. I turn it to the right and it churns and rises, threatening to spill over the edges of the pan. I dance with it for minutes. Hours. I don’t even know.
Outside my window, the snow is almost gone. The yard is a burlap of brown grass littered with debris. A frayed orange length of baling twine. A foam dart from a toy gun. The broken handle of an ice cream pail that was run over by the gas-powered snow blower.
My three sons play at the north end of the yard where field gives way to forest. One waves a large stick, a branch really. A year ago, I may have called out to him. I may have said something like, “Put that down.” Something like, “That isn’t safe.” The kitchen window is cracked open, but my voice is too tired to yell. Across the yard, a triangular piece of ice gives way and sails down the river hard and fast, away from here.
My phone beeps. Another happy birthday message from a friend.
I love you. I miss you. I hope we can hug again some day.