I miss Mexico too, which was what I originally meant to write about, when I thought about returning to writing on this site. Looking over my pictures from my Mexico City visit in November 2016, though, the thing I realized that I missed above all was possibility and that sense of looking.
On that trip, I took pictures of my teapot at breakfast, a bike in the background against the brick entryway of the cafe’s courtyard. Of spicy corn puffs being sold in tall, upright, cylindrical bags on tables on the sidewalk. Ads pasted on walls. Vendors selling tiny wrestling rings at a lucha match. Food and drinks, shiny garlands over streets, dozens of alebrijes in museums, everything sold in mercados, everything everything everything. I was immersed in somewhere new, and my brain was alive, gorging itself on color and art and all of it at once, or things slightly familiar but suddenly in front of me in three dimensions and colors so vivid that I couldn’t completely comprehend them immediately. So vivid they seemed to vibrate in front of me. Things that shook my rods and cones, and things that rearranged my brain.
My boyfriend and I, quarantine buddies here in my apartment, talk sometimes about where we want to go, you know, after. The real answer is everywhere. The answer is also Mexico. Philadelphia. Montreal. Paris, again, always. Los Angeles. Vietnam. Peru. Iceland, as he’s never been. Anywhere but here.
In the perpetual habit of the employed and guilt-laden, I think fairly often that it could be worse. It can always be worse! We usually aren’t literally on fire, so yes, it could be worse. But I am not currently afraid for my job, and I have a good home situation in the form of a one-bedroom I share only with someone I love and with one cat, perpetually annoyed with us. I think a lot of people are facing some realizations about their lives right now, things that felt tolerable when they could be outside 40 or 50 hours a week but absolutely are not fine when they’re immersed in it almost every hour they’re alive. Mostly, I’ve had the realization that I’ve had a nice meeting of good planning and good luck.
It’s all true. It can be worse.
And also, worse than I usually am, I am buried in FOMO. My last trip was in the second week of March to go to my niece’s first birthday party, which meant going to Canada. I was less than confident about getting home according to our initial plans, bought with credit card points in a completely different era. Concerned but not quite fearful, I had brought cash and some tentative knowledge of alternative ways of getting across the border, imagining grounded planes and disrupted movement. I brought resources to fund a frantic game of Ticket to Ride meets Planes, Trains, and Automobiles as I would try to get us back across the country in a time of unknown panic and danger. Alternatively, we could have stayed in my stepsister and brother-in-law’s spare room for a few extra days, taking over cooking and diaper duty while waiting out uncertainty, so as to be decent guests. These were the two forks in fate I foresaw.
Instead, we boarded our plane, cleaned our seats and trays with alcohol, and adopted the handwashing rituals that are now part of what it means to be human and even vaguely careful and conscientious. On that flight, watching Rocketman in the dark and occasionally peering around the emptiest plane I’m likely to ever see, I had the strong feeling that this would be our last flight and trip for a while. I had already flown less in 2019, in part because I was trying to wean myself off casual air travel for environmental reasons, to approach old habits in a newly mindful way. So it had been a while already since my last significant international trip.
I didn’t fully understand what a while meant, though, on that quiet Air Canada flight. A couple of months? That’s a long time, right?
And so I think about the things I could have done, if I’d ruthlessly overstuffed my life before all this with things I couldn’t energetically fit in. I changed jobs in December; I could’ve gone to Europe for a couple of weeks between gigs, instead of taking just a week to do a little personal admin. I could’ve taken a long weekend somewhere in January. I could’ve just flown places last year, like anywhere, I could’ve FLOWN FUCKING ANYWHERE AND I DIDN’T JUST DO IT CONSTANTLY, WHAT WAS I FUCKING THINKING, FUCK FUCK FUCK–
And other thoughts while spending 23.5 hours a day in an apartment. I am lucky: my apartment is literally my favorite place in the world. What I’m discovering is that, like with my favorite people and experiences, I can only really enjoy my apartment when I get a break from it sometimes, when it isn’t mandatory. We don’t want cake for every meal for days on end, you know? It needs a carrot contrast to be a treat.
I split my time, outside of my blessing of a job, giving myself space to do nothing productive or useful – and getting ready for things, when I have the ability to do so joyfully. I’ve returned to learning French, because my god I am going to Paris for at least two weeks once we can travel safely again, and I am going to be able to understand at least 20 percent of what people say to me! I exercise a lot, because my god I will not have my next trip spoiled by back fuckery! I read and I plot and I cook and I put aside some of the money I usually spend on going out. (Not all of it, of course. I keep some flowing to the people who make food or provide wonderful entertainment or other important parts of being human. I put some money toward preservation, so that we have something to look forward to when we emerge, so people with jobs that were put on hold don’t all get pulled under by this.)
I watercolor and make clay animals and sometimes try to write, the things that always light me up but so often get set aside with work and showing up for people I care about and going to other places and then being at them. It’s what I have. This is what I have. It turns out that being a self-regulating and misunderstood kid is great practice for having to amuse yourself while also keeping from circling the drain too hard. I don’t believe in silver linings; I believe we’re a really adaptable species with a skill for making the most of what we’re handed. I’m adapting. I generally feel salty, and I treat myself like I’m approximately 20 percent rage by volume as a baseline these days, but I’m adapting nonetheless.
I keep having this vision of how it’s going to be when people can go outside again. It looks a lot like this, only more exuberant. For me, I wonder if it’ll look like a quick DM to my manager saying, at the same time as all my other coworkers, that I’ll be back in three weeks, that my passport and I are on a train to SFO, and I’m going to just run to an airline desk and see where they can take me that roughly matches the three outfits I frantically stuffed in a tote bag.
Do you know what I really want? It’s not adventure or thrills or amazing new cultural immersion (though I will take that too). I want to fucking people-watch. I dream of doing it in my own neighborhood, of having a coffee at a sidewalk table and getting to see people without being scared, without them being scared of me. I dream of other people being microcosms of possibility instead of the vector that might lead to my death, or being the cause of someone else’s sickness or horrible death. I dream of it so much that I realized a few days ago that I miss talking to strangers.
I mostly do not like talking to strangers. Or, to be more precise, I don’t like it when strangers talk to me unbidden.
Usually. But, in the way of humans, something is forbidden to me, and now I want it more than almost anything. I want to see people enjoying the spring flowers as much as I am. Instead, the blooming irises and wisteria in my neighborhood are my new soap opera, viewed mostly solo; I go out not quite often enough and check in, seeing them rise and blossom and wither, and I have sunny thoughts about infinite possibility and gloomier ones about the circle of life and death.
I’ve spent a lot of time there lately. The first couple of weeks of the quarantine were also the two weeks I spent saying farewell to one of my cats, my first cat, my buddy who’d been with me since 2009, my friend who I loved beyond description or measure. I spent those two weeks periodically exclaiming, “It feels like the end of the fucking world!” and Sean would assure me that it wasn’t, not in total, while I laughed darkly in the way I do when I’m immersed in grief.
But seeing restaurants and all these other places we go to be alive together close while watching my buddy wane before me, the entire outside world and almost my entire heart closing up shop at once, it felt like being buried in armageddon, like everything actually was on fire, like these were things that would never be redeemed or healed. Like my new state was hurt, and there wasn’t anything that could temper it, let alone end it. There was only through, to walk forward and forward and keep enduring.
I’m still alive. And the only useful thing I can do now is stay inside 23.5 hours a day, possibly a little more. The same place we all are, mostly, if we don’t have one of those essential but often curiously badly paid jobs that requires that we go outside and keep the world moving.
I don’t have any resolutions or even any conclusions, not yet. Maybe the only ending now is the way all emails and previously light encounters end now:
I hope you’re safe.
I hope the people you love are safe.
And I hope to see you again someday.
In the meantime, I’ll be here, making polymer clay nudibranches and dreaming, trying to stave off the despair long enough for the world to enter another kind of spring, all of us blossoming safely together again.