Notes from the Darkside; where there are Oreos, but no TP

This pandemic, y’all.

Laugh all you want at the inexplicable prospect of finding a roll of tp to purchase in your town. I know I did, last Friday, when I saw nearly bare shelves. “Do all of these people think the virus comes out of their asses?” I mused. People cling to those comforting things that they buy when there’s a snowstorm coming, or hurricane. They buy the things that have been drummed into their heads: milk, bread, toilet paper. The herd mentality is always present in times of natural disasters looming on the horizon. Is this a natural disaster, though? None of us has ever lived through an actual pandemic in this country. The last worldwide killer that affected the US in large numbers was in 1918; my long-deceased Gram was 6.

The shuttering of nonessential businesses in my state does not really affect my day-to-day life. I don’t frequent bars or go out to eat a whole lot. We do take-out or delivery, if anything. When I joke that I’m a hermit in a hobbit hole, you laugh. Don’t, because I’m actually telling the truth.

The closure of nonessential, community-based centers DOES affect me in that now, The Male Sibling Unit has nowhere to go to 1) express himself socially, and 2) get out of my hair during the week.

He cannot close himself up in his man cave like his hermitish Elder Female Sibling Unit; as much as I might crave solitude, I also recognize his need to be around someone. That someone’s going to be me.

He also does not understand the words “social distance,” “quarantine,” or “flattening the curve.” In his world, these things do not exist.  You get a cold? You (very reluctantly) take some medication and sniff, sneeze, and cough your way through the day. The Male Sibling Unit has an extremely high tolerance for pain and discomfort; I have mentioned this before. He has had

a fractured ankle

a fractured wrist

Shingles all over his torso

Pneumonia ×2

Two testicular surgeries

along with a host of childhood viruses and disease; when he got chickenpox, he was so covered in pox, my mother bound his hands with mittens and tape. He was a walking model for full-body Calamine lotion – a pink nightmare.

Every time, he has taken, at best, Tylenol. Throughout all of these maladies, the only time I have ever known he was definitely sick, it has always been 5 seconds before he’s vomited all over the toilet. My cue to shout, “GET TO THE BATHROOM!!!” is when he stands, motionless, in the hallway, whimpering forlornly/urgently.

“Uh…uh…uh…no…I-don’t-want-to”

At this utterance, I feel my blood going cold in my veins.

The Male Sibling Unit finds it inexplicable that I am insisting that he tell me if he isn’t feeling well; even just a bit warm, and tired, or a runnier nose than normal, given his seasonal allergy situation. He finds it laughable that I am urging caution, and that something “like a cold” could be dangerous. I have to describe COVID-19 this way because he cannot comprehend the intricacies of the virus. He was young when he had pneumonia; he doesn’t remember what that felt like. He fails to understand contagion, and that this new coronavirus is much more contagious than the flu.

All he understands is that he doesn’t get to see his friends. He can’t go to work. We can’t lolligag at stores, looking at things. Going out to dinner anytime soon isn’t going to happen. That it could get exponentially worse is not even something his brain can make room for. The whole world may be grinding gears and halting, and we all might be experiencing varying levels of unease, fear, uncertainty, and stress, but for him, this means fuck-all. His WORLD has changed drastically. And he is not going peacefully.

I’ve spent the evening, once again – for what seems like the thousandth time – trying to explain things to him. The call from his rehabilitation center, where he works, was expected after the Governor announced stricter measures to flatten the curve. It didn’t lessen the blow; when I told him, his face just fell. He asked, in a little boy voice, “Why?”

He has asked at least a dozen times since. He has raged, talking to himself and saying, “FUCK the virus.” He’s made pointedly miffed Facebook posts, his displeasure on full display. He waited until the husband left for work to begin needling me; he knows that if he blows my cool and I erupt, his brother-in-law will be all up in his bidness.

“When will I go back?”

“Why did that Governor do this?”

‘When will I see my friends?”

“Why can’t I go out?”

“What do you mean, no Mexican next week?”

“But I’m not sick.”

“Fuck this.”

“I’m pissed off.”

“When will I go back?”

If this continues as long as experts are warning, I may not make it. I won’t be a COVID-19 victim; I will have a stroke.

I wonder when I should sit him down and explain exactly what it was like to watch our mother die, swiftly (for us) but agonizingly slowly (for her) of pneumonia. I wonder if I could then apply that scenario to his girlfriend, who is 63 and has advancing COPD. Would that be too traumatic?

Sometimes, shock and awe is all that works. It may be all that stands between my sanity and simply acquiescing to his maddening questions and incessant prodding.

By the way, watching someone die of pneumonia sucks. Being told their brain has died, along with their kidneys, their digestive system, and their respiratory system, is horrifying. Knowing that their heart is choking, gasping, and wheezing as it attempts to pump blood to organs that lay, deceased, on the open plain of their body’s hemispheres is actually heartbreaking to ponder. Having to make the decision to shut off the respirator and other machines is surreal.

Now, imagine having to do that all because someone decided this social distancing was hyped, people are overreacting, it’s “not as bad as it sounds”, it’s “just a cold,” or the worst: “a hoax.” They thought one, some, or all of these things and then in turn infected your loved one, who is elderly or immunodeficient. They did this because COVID-19 inconvenienced them.

I get that the future seems uncertain. I know that people are frightened. Will we be able to work? To pay our bills? Will someone we know get sick? Will we get sick? I know that we all cling to the things we know: familiarity and routine; routine being probably the most important thing. Right now, a virus has forced us to reconsider those routines, and nothing looks familiar. We’re watching our own lives unfold like an apolcalyptic thriller. This month was written by Stephen King.

If you’re refusing to see the danger of a virus that is, at the moment, defying assumptions, I think maybe I should sit down with you and describe what my mother’s death looked like, and how it broke me in small increments until I was in pieces. I’m still gluing them back together.

In the meantime, wash your fucking hands, order a pizza from a small business, and cue up Netflix. It’s going to be a looooong, hot summer.

Oh, and….Happy St. Paddy’s Day! Drink a pint or twelve. It won’t stop the virus from marching on, but at least you’ll be shitfaced for a day. My people have elevated suffering to an artform. ☘

We don’t need another hero. We need a woman.

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t raised with the idea that I could be anything I wanted to be. One might be shocked at that, really; my family was stocked with really strong, opinionated women who were quite comfortable telling men to fuck right the fuck off. My great-grandmother ruled with a benevolent, iron fist that would pull you into her arms for a loving embrace even as she was ordering you to go outside and cut yourself a switch. She was truly the head of the family, and her children – 4 sons and 6 daughters – idolized and followed her every word and deed.

My grandmother was a much freer-minded spirit than her mother, but she proved, again and again, that men were a luxury to her – not a necessity. When my grandfather established the pattern of an Irish drunk who had numerous talents, but who could not hold a job long enough to provide a stable life for his wife and children, she took matters into her own hands. I mean this literally. She knocked the crap out of him, beating him about the head and shoulders with a stilleto heel while he lay, passed out. He awoke the next morning, hung over and bruised, thinking he’d had a fall.

She took jobs housekeeping, and when the final straw came – he went to the bars on a Friday after work and spent an entire paycheck on booze, staggering up the hill on Sunday afternoon with naught but lint in his pockets – she sent him away, chasing him down Hillside Avenue, a butcher knife in her hand. Had she caught him, who knows if I’d even be here today. She then moved in temporarily with that mother who gave her that strong countenance, and took a fulltime job. She divorced my grandfather. This led to a much higher-paying job, and when she took a chance and married another man who proved to not be up to the task of providing, and who committed the cardinal sin of disrespecting her children, all bets were off. She lived, happily single, for the rest of her life. Oh, she dated, a lot, and a couple of guys were fortunate enough to meet her exacting standards and were permitted to stick around for long periods of time. One, I even knew as “Grandpa Mick.” The point was, she never needed a man to fulfill her; they were simply an option.

My mother – her daughter – was as tough as her, but I think she craved a different kind of happy ending in the beginning. She had a father she adored, and visited, and I think she thought that having the husband, the kids, the house, and the picket fence was the ultimate win. She saw her friends doing it and dreamed of such a life, too. She also dreamed of travel, and independence. She wanted to be an airline stewardess, but lacked the willpower to lose weight. She was never quite able to disentangle herself from my grandmother’s apron strings, though, and so they were kind of a package deal.

My uncle noped it the fuck out of town as soon as he was 18, joining the military and going to college, but my mom never seemed to be able to envision a life without her mom in the picture. She also possessed a nasty temper, as fiery as Grandma’s, and a vicious, rapier-tongued attitude. She lost a lot of jobs because, when some man would tell her what to do, she’d be just as likely to tell him to shove it up his ass as she would be to follow directions. She liked to drink, too, and this led to bars, and an eventual meeting with a smooth-tongued asshole who she thought she could tame. That he was already married wasn’t important. She wanted what she wanted, and when she got the kids, but no husband, house, or picket fence, she was sufficiently put off men as necessities – for good.

No, I was not taught that I could be whatever the hell I wanted. I was taught that I didn’t need no man. Men were, at best, luxuries. At worst, they were a nuisance. A man would try to control you. A man would hold you back from the things you loved. A man would lie. A man thought only of himself. Men were optional in one’s life, and the minute they overstayed their welcome, there’d be the trouble of getting them to go, and who the hell needed that headache? It was better to just forget they existed.

I weighed this advice carefully, but with suspicion. My aunts – my mother’s closest friends who were not related by blood but who I referred to as aunts – had husbands. Their husbands, my uncles, were nice guys who provided well for their families. They were great daddies, as far as I knew. They were funny and kind and honorable. My great-uncles were, too, even if they were old guys. They had all made really wonderful, successful lives. All of my great-aunts had careers, too – in independent, small business; in farming; in office administration. These couples seemed to complement each other inasmuch as being partners in marriage.

While I never said it out loud, privately, I held onto the thought that my grandmother and my mother tried to instill the belief that all men were shit into my psyche because they hadn’t met the right men. I wasn’t going to be like that. I’d be smarter, meet a good guy, like my uncles, and he would respect me.

Uh, yeah.

Okay, it took a while, and my first choice was made hastily, out of a desire to escape being stuck, like my mother had been. It was made because no one had ever said they loved me with the fervent conviction that he did, and I needed that. (Girls, if he says he loves you 5 days in, please take it with a grain of salt until a lot of time has passed and you’ve fully vetted him. I sure as hell wouldn’t have believed him today.) That choice was certainly a Big Fucking Mistake, but I scored five huge prizes, so it wasn’t for nothing. I’ve made massive corrections in that thinking, and chose more wisely the second time. No, I don’t need no man, but the one I have, I truly want.

That was as far as my female predecessors got in teaching me women’s rights. I grew up knowing I wanted to “do” something; something that included writing. I did not believe that I wanted to shatter glass ceilings and charge at the head of a pack and to lead. I’ve learned, along the way, that I am a natural-born leader who prefers to go it alone if given the choice. I’ve broken a couple of plexiglass panels, I suppose; but I definitely have no desire to aim for the sky above.

I did not -for instance – dream of being President of the United States. I admire those who did, and who do. That kind of single-minded ascension does not appeal to me. I am good – great, actually- in a crisis. You want me there if you need triage or a quick assessment. I’m as apt to do as I am to issue quick orders, because I’m impatient and convinced that, while I think you could do a good job, I can do the thing the way it needs to be done. Nope, I would not be a good President, because politics is filled to the brim with acts of diplomacy and the delegating of tasks. I’m too much of a lone wolf, and I know that would be a recipe for disaster.

We are living in a reality TV shitshow. The entire planet is suffering an existential crisis of common sense, kindness, and community. Calmer heads are not prevailing, and the only credentials one seems to need in order to run a country is that they’re louder than the loudest person in the room. (And more orange, but I digress.) There’s a novel virus tearing ass through all of the countries, and glaciers are melting; kids are eating laundry soap pods and yeeting themselves out into traffic. We are arguing about how we all deserve a piece of the pie but that we don’t want to pay the wages to get it. People in this country are dying because yes, they have insurance and yes, they do work fulltime, but they’ve been diagnosed with MS and the copay for a series of shots as treament is over $100,000. Yes, you read that right – I have facts to back that up. Insulin is unaffordable. Life-sustaining drugs and healthcare are unaffordable in this country for most.

Going to college means taking on debt in your first semester and not being able to pay it off until it’s time for your kids to start college. You have to be situationally aware everywhere you go, because somewhere, there’s a mentally unstable person, off his meds and growing increasingly paranoid, who may decide that the day you chose to go get groceries was the day he was going to shoot up the store; that is, after he posted his manifesto on 4chan.

Your kids are being taught by teachers who qualify for food stamps, have to work second and third jobs, and who buy a lot of the school supplies your kids use themselves because the school district’s budget doesn’t include funding for pencils, erasers, and yes, even paper. And let’s not even get started on kids in cages and robbing Peter (The Pentagon) to pay Paul (The Wall).

Meanwhile, your President plays his 238,004th round of golf on your dime, tweets reflexively and compulsively, and undermines the authority of every organization on the planet. He’s a fucking imbecile, but he does this with aplomb.

These are just some of the problems our country faces, deals with, and wades into. We, the people, face these realities every day. “It all needs fixed,” we say, “but what do we do?”

Elizabeth Warren had a plan for it all.

Elizabeth thought through all of these problems and wrote down her thoughts. She methodically consulted with experts and asked constituents what they thought. She weighed pros and cons and ins and outs and ups and downs. Then, she came up with plans. No, they weren’t perfect, but they were smart, and allowed for a fostering of ideas and a coming together of like minds. It would be hard, and dirty, and decidedly not pretty, but she rolled up her sleeves and beckoned to us, “Let’s go DO THIS.”

We let her down. In refusing to get behind her and to make her our candidate to defeat the Orange McMenace, we essentially said, a-fucking-gain, “A woman cannot lead.We let so many down, from the first woman who said, “No, you may not disrespect me simply because I’m a woman” to the Suffragettes, to every woman who burned her bra or walked into a roomful of men and explained her ideas. We let down the female warriors of the past and present: Harriet Tubman, Eleanor Roosevelt, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, Abigail Adams, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, Gloria Steinam, Louisa May Alcott, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sandra Day O’Connor, Sally Ride, Sacajawea, and Oprah. We let down Oprah, y’all.

We let down RBG; RBG, who famously said “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”

Mostly, in continuing to allow old, white men to advance in a world that is so 🅒🅞🅛🅞🅢🅢🅐🅛🅛🅨 🅕🅤🅑🅐🅡🅔🅓 that it doesn’t even resemble itself anymore, we let down ourselves.

This cocked-up mess desperately needs a woman to fix it. It needs her to inject new life into old attitudes and mores that have become stagnant. It needs her to find all the misplaced things the men can’t find – values, decency, empathy, patriotism, truth, and fundamental good – that are hiding in plain sight, like the car keys/his glasses/his phone. We’ve been doing that for millenia. We’re doing it now. We’re the “fixers”; the doers, the nurturers, and the no-nonsence pragmatists. We need COMPETENCE. And Elizabeth Warren is the epitomy of that. She is nothing if not credentialed to the max; she is unapologetically exemplary.

Yes, Elizabeth had a plan for it all, and yet here we are, facing a choice between Statler and Waldorf to overcome the old, demented, but eminently dangerous self-tanning nightmare currently inhabiting the Oval Office.

We deserve everything we get.